California Bill to Require Public Notification of Meat and Poultry Recalls Heads to Governor

The California legislature this week approved Senate Bill 1585 which essentially rescinds an agreement between the California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture by requiring that companies notify the state if they sold or received recalled meat or poultry.

Under federal law, recalls of meat and poultry products are voluntary. To that end, the USDA typically keeps the information about the particulars of recalls as confidential. So consumers might learn that a recall of chicken from a poultry producer is under way, but the USDA will not make public a list of stores that were affected by the recall.

That policy caused a controversy in 2002 when the USDA refused to give the California DHS a list of stores effected by a recall of E. coli-infected meat. The state and the USDA entered into an agreement at that time that the USDA would provide the information and in return the DHS would not make the information public.

That agreement in turn created a controversy in December 2003 with a recall of beef prompted by a calf that tested positive fro Mad Cow disease. That recall affected quite a few restaurants and stores in California, but neither DHS nor the USDA would publicly reveal which restaurants and stores were affected.

The new bill would require the stores and restaurants to notify the DHS that they have been the subject of a recall and, in certain types of recalls, would require the DHS to in turn inform the public about the details of the recall.

The bill’s only serious opposition has been from the DHS itself which complains that collecting and publishing data on recalled meat will cost about $400,000/year, but the bill provides no additional funding for this task.

A spokeswoman for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Sacramento Bee that the governor had not yet taken a position on the bill. The full text of the legislation can be read here.

Source:

Mad cow secrecy may end. Jon Ortiz, Sacramento Bee, August 27, 2004.

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