Abandoning Food Recall Rule Does Disservice to Consumers

May 4, 2005

Abandoning Food Recall Rule Does Disservice to Consumers

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Food Program

We are extremely disappointed at the capitulation to industry by the Bush administration, which today withdrew a proposed rule that would have required the public disclosure of the names of retail outlets where recalled meat and poultry products have been sold, thereby making it easier for consumers to identify and return contaminated food. 

Currently, press releases from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) list only the name of the producer, the type of food and a code number – not the stores where the item was distributed. Further, consumers practically need a degree in forensic science to decipher all of the codes to determine whether the food sitting in the refrigerator is being recalled. If this weren’t enough, the confusion and the finger-pointing among local, state and federal agencies that resulted from the recall of meat from the Washington state cow diagnosed with mad cow disease in December 2003 should have provided enough evidence that the current recall system is not working properly. (In that case, California officials notified counties that meat from the infected cow had been sold in stores in their jurisdictions, but USDA rules forbid the state or county from telling consumers which stores sold the meat.)

With the health and welfare of consumers at stake, we should have a recall system that gets information about contaminated food to the public as expeditiously and clearly as possible. FSIS had apparently recognized this shortcoming when it sent this proposed rule to the Office and Management and Budget in February for review. However, some in the food industry don’t want to make it easier for consumers to return their products, so they vehemently opposed and successfully blocked the rule. 

It is appalling that Bush’s devotion to the meat industry trumps his commitment to the public health. This was a commonsense solution to a weak policy.

###

For more information about meat safety, click here.