On the heels of the largest meat recall in the nation's history, Consumers Union urges USDA to disclose the retail outlets that have sold Westland/Hallmark beef that was just recalled.
"Currently, USDA refuses to disclose to the public the names of retail outlets involved in meat recalls," explained Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. "Consumers have no way of knowing whether the store from which they've purchased their meat was involved in a recall."
Halloran noted that when it comes to recalled meat, there is no easy answer to "Where's the beef?" A consumer must search through dozens of lot numbers on the USDA website. Many of the Westland/Hallmark shipments were in large lots, so the information about the source of the meat may not appear on the retail package. If a consumer has already discarded the meat package, there is no way to track back the meat.
Last week, a coalition of groups asked USDA to disclose retail outlets carrying tainted beef. In March 2006, USDA proposed to change its rules and disclose the names of retailers involved in meat recalls, but has yet to take final action. The group asked Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer for an immediate change in policy. A copy of the letter can be found at:
Consumers Union supported legislation in California that required stores to notify California public health officers if they had received USDA-recalled meat and poultry, so that consumers can better protect themselves from food-borne illnesses.
Under this law California consumers should be able to learn if their local store carried tainted meat. However, consumers in other states do not have this important information.
"This recall indicates that unhealthy 'downer' cows have been entering the food supply--and going into the school lunch program--for over a year," Halloran said. "Our food safety system is clearly broken and needs a major overhaul."