Don Thompson of the Associated Press reports that food distributors would have to provide the state with a list of stores and restaurants that received deliveries of recalled meat or poultry, under a bill sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday.
Local public health officials want the information so they can publicize potential outbreaks of E. coli or other contaminants. They have been thwarted by an agreement by the state Department of Health Services to keep secret any information about recalls that comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Current USDA policy does not allow the release of meat distribution lists during a recall, and states have to agree to follow that policy to get information about recalls. California agreed to that requirement in a 2002 memorandum of understanding with the USDA that prohibits the state from giving meat distribution information to the public.
The bill, given final approval by the state Senate on a 23-13 vote, attempts to get around the federal restrictions by requiring poultry and meat suppliers to directly inform state health officials when they recall products.
The state could then tell county health officials and the public.
Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2004, saying the state Health Department should try to compromise with the federal government. The USDA is proposing to release information about recalls of meat from groceries but not restaurants.
In a letter to the USDA on May 5, State Public Health Officer Mark Horton said the state strongly supports unrestricted sharing of recall information, calling it ”critical… to ensure that consumers are protected from contaminated meat and poultry.”
The letter came a day after Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, said she would push ahead with her bill. Schwarzenegger has 12 days to act on her bill, but hasn’t taken a position, his office said.
”We have a right to know,” Speier told senators, who approved Assembly amendments to the measure before sending it to the governor.
The state restaurant association no longer opposes the bill, but the National Meat Association remains opposed, saying the bill may increase consumer confusion and the disposal of perfectly good meat.
Speier said the state’s ”outrageous” agreement meant that during a recall of meat potentially tainted by mad cow disease in December 2003, ”county health officers were gagged and couldn’t tell the public.”
Seventeen-thousand pounds of the meat were never recovered, creating a health danger that might not become apparent for decades, Speier said.
”We’re canceling lunch,” responded Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.