Here's the Beef
Happy Monday folks. Sorry I've been radio silent for a week. I had a lot of tomatoes and pepper news to weed through. And beef news too, which is what I'm going to tell you about today.
Last Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond announced the agency would soon begin disclosing the names of retailers that receive recalled meat but only in situations where there's a high chance of people getting sick from eating the recalled meat.
Raymond has been pushing for this rule for two years. Two.
And it finally cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle (a.k.a. the Office of Management and Budget), just as USDA is in the middle of the latest ground beef outbreak/recall.
The rule, Schafer told reporters, will probably be published this week in the Federal Register and go into effect 30 days after that.
The name of retailers won't appear magically the next time a recall happens. Raymond said at the press conference it still takes them a few days to completely trace forward and identify all of the retail outlets involved. USDA will update the list online as they get information, he said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.) was not happy because had the new rule been in effect earlier this year, consumers would still not have been able to find out where the meat from the Hallmark/Westland plant in California went. (Hallmark was the plant where the Humane Society of the United States documented inhumane treatment of dairy cows headed to slaughter.) Because there was an extremely low chance of anyone getting sick from eating that meat, USDA called it a Class 2 recall. The new rule applies only to the most serious Class 1 recalls.
The rule was cleared over the objections of the meat industry. Mark Dopp, senior veep for regulatory affairs and general counsel for the industry trade group, the American Meat Institute, had this to say in a statement:
"Although this rule seems consumer-friendly on its face, it has the potential to mislead and confuse consumers." He explained that during recalls, product distribution information could expand over time.
"If a consumer sees an early version of a list of businesses that received recalled product, that consumer may conclude that he could not have purchased the product," he said. "Three days later, the consumer's local grocery store may appear on the list, but the consumer is unlikely to check the list again and may consume recalled products."
At the press conference, Raymond acknowledged that the people most at risk of getting seriously ill from foodborne illness, the really young and the really old, most likely aren't surfing the Internet for the latest list of retail outlets that may have received recalled meat. But he's hoping that by going public, local health officials can take that list and jump on the local radio or TV news outlets and further disseminate the information.
Actually, the first thing he said was he thought such a list would be front-page, above-the-fold kind of news. I was really touched that someone still thinks of the old paper as the first place people turn to for breaking news. Sigh.
Anyway, as always, I consult with the wisdom of the crowds. Are we better off with the rule? Or is the American Meat Institute right? Will it only confuse us?
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