Score one for access to information.
The USDA announced today that starting next month, it will publicize the names of retail stores that have received shipments of recalled meat and poultry. Up until now, recalls were issued for slaughtering or processing companies; consumers were informed that meat processed at Hallmark-Westland packing plants might have some downer properties, or that Topps ground beef could give you an extra bacterial bang for your buck. If you were actually interested in information that could help you avoid these supplies, though, you'd be out of luck. As Marc reported in a February post, Topps meat was packaged and sold nationally under no fewer than eleven different brand names. And the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service wasn't going to tell you where the contaminated meat might have been purchased.
It's welcome news that the USDA has chosen to reform that policy. Its website will now feature a list of retail stores that receive products subject to Class I recalls-- those that involve "a reasonable probability of serious health consequences or death for those with weakened immune systems." The site will not include the names of distribution centers or institutions that might be serving the meat, however, so parents whose kids eat from the school lunch program will still be in the dark. But come on -- with all the administration's recent attempts to prevent us from accessing information about the food system, we should take what we can get, right? Good luck, kids.
The information is particularly important in light of the fact that the USDA can't actually require companies to recall contaminated meat; they can only ask nicely and issue public warnings. (See Marc's post for detailed info.) At least they're giving consumers a shot at self-advocacy.
Of course, the new policy does nothing to address the root problems that plague our country's meat supply, which is based around a production system that encourages the spread of pollution and disease (a system that has been heavily subsidized by the same federal government now struggling to manage all the meat recalls). To quote Marc:
The question "should the USDA have recall authority?" is certainly an important one, but perhaps a better one would be, "Have we lost our minds?" Less flippantly, shouldn’t we reevaluate the potential downside of allowing meat companies to process tens of million pounds each year and sell their product under multiple brand names across the country?
Let's add that to the roster for the new administration.