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Rule Change Would Make More Information on Retailers Available to the Public

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today applauded a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule, which would improve consumer awareness in the event of a food recall. Specifically, the rule establishes that USDA will make available to the public lists of retailers of meat and poultry products that have been recalled because of contamination.

Currently, USDA only provides information about the manufacturer of the tainted product during recalls, but not the retailers, which can make it difficult for consumers to apply to purchasing decisions. The four senators wrote to USDA Secretary, Ed Schafer, in February asking for the rule to be imposed.

“Consumers deserve to have more information available to them so they know the products they bring home from the grocery store will not cause harm to their families,” said Senator Casey. “This rule change is a vital first step in ensuring that becomes a reality and I am pleased that the USDA has taken the initiative.”

The senators asked for the rule change following a recall of 143 million pounds of beef products earlier this year – the largest meat recall in U.S. history. That recall revealed that information made public by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is often incomplete and confusing to consumers. This rule change will allow for a more timely and complete reporting of recall information.

“American families should not have to play guessing games when it comes to the safety of their food. That is why we asked for USDA to consider this type of regulation,” Durbin said. “I am somewhat disappointed that the proposed rule is limited to only recalls of tainted food that could cause serious injury or result in death, and hope the USDA will broaden the rule to include other classes of recalled products as well. That said, today’s announcement is a positive step to protect consumers and I appreciate the USDA's willingness to take our suggestion to heart.”

“The massive Hallmark/Westland beef recall from earlier this year demonstrates why consumers need to know where recalled food products were sold,” Harkin said. “Today’s announcement by USDA is a common-sense approach on conveying information about food safety that will strengthen consumer confidence in the products they are purchasing for their families. This rule could have gone further, and I am still hopeful that the agency will continue to work to broaden it, but today is a welcome first step.”

“There may be a gap in time between the need for a recall and the recall itself, but there should be no gap in public information. This rule is important, and I’m glad it’s finally in-force.”

Last year, Senator Casey introduced the Ending Agricultural Threats: Safeguarding America’s Food for Everyone otherwise known as the EAT SAFE Act of 2007. The bill, among other things, authorizes the USDA to hire and train additional inspection personnel, requires private laboratories conducting tests on FDA-regulated products on behalf of importers to apply for and be certified by FDA and establishes civil penalties for importers who circumvent the USDA import reinspection system.

Senator Durbin has been actively engaged on food safety issues for over a decade. This Congress he’s called for the implementation of a food safety program to standardize American food safety initiatives (The Imported Food Security Act of 2007 - S.1776) and led the fight to protect consumers through reform of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

As a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senator Brown co-founded the House Food Safety Caucus and helped negotiate food safety provisions of 2003 Bioterrorism Bill. In the Senate, he continues his work on food safety, introducing the Food and Product Responsibility Act which would give USDA, FDA, and CPSC the authority to issue recalls and would help ensure that importers are able to cover the costs of recalls.

A copy of February’s letter can be found below

February 27, 2008

The Honorable Ed Schafer
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Schafer:

We strongly urge you to immediately approve the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed rule that would provide to the public lists of retail consignees of meat and poultry products that have been voluntarily recalled by federally inspected meat or poultry plants. This rule has been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) once before and is currently under final review at USDA. We urge you to approve the proposed rule and forward it to OMB in a timely manner. This is an important consumer protection measure that should be implemented as soon as possible.

The announcement by USDA this week of the largest meat recall in U.S. history – 143 million pounds of beef products – highlights the importance of providing consumers with sufficient information during a recall so that they can take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. This week’s announcement comes on the heels of more than 20 beef recalls in the last year. Consumers are understandably concerned about the safety of the food supply and are particularly anxious for information when a recall is announced.

When a recall is announced, consumers need sufficient information so they can determine if products they have purchased are part of the recall. In the case of the Westland Meat recall, information provided to consumers has been incomplete and confusing. If this rule had been in effect, consumers would have been provided additional information to help them determine if they had purchased the recalled meat and where they could return it.

Unfortunately, a series of memoranda of understanding between the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and State and Federal agencies currently denies consumers the right to know where recalled meat products have been sold. This is unacceptable and only serves to keep useful information from consumers when recalls are announced.

We strongly support the FSIS proposed rule and urge you to immediately approve the proposal and forward it to OMB for final clearance. Implementing this rule will enhance the current recall process by giving FSIS another tool to help ensure safe and effective recalls of contaminated products. This is an important consumer protection measure that should be implemented in a timely manner.