From: Mike Lee, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Published October 2, 2004 12:00 AM

Beef Recall Data to Remain Secret in California After Governor's Veto

Oct. 2—Details about where recalled beef and poultry have been sold will remain secret in California.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 1585, which would have made public information from a federal tracking system for potentially tainted meat. He directed the state Department of Health Services to work with the federal government to give more recall information to local public health officials.


The Thursday veto drew criticism from bill co-author Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough. "Officials should not be allowed to withhold vital information about these hazards from consumers," she said in a statement.


In 2002, California health officials cut a deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that gives the state access to information about recalled meat but prevents the public release of details, such as the names and addresses of establishments where the products were sold.


USDA treats those details as confidential business information and says secrecy is the key to getting cooperation from meat companies.


That strategy came under fire after the country's first case of mad cow disease was reported last December. Some of the recalled beef was served at California restaurants that were unaware the meat possibly was tainted.


SB 1585 would have authorized the state to share meat recall details with local health officials and the public. Restaurants would have been exempt from public disclosure if no recalled product was on site when health officials inspected.


The state's health department said this summer that the legislation could "improve the current process." But it opposed the bill because it did not pay for the additional workload. One estimate pegged the cost at $400,000 a year, mostly for personnel.


Schwarzenegger said in his veto message that the legislation could have compromised the state's ability to get information from USDA because it conflicts with the current state-federal agreement.


He directed the state Department of Health Services to seek an agreement with USDA that would allow sharing of information with local health officials. A health department spokesman said the agency has been working on such an agreement for several months.


Ken Kelly, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a public safety watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., said, "Federal and state (officials) should be more concerned with protecting consumers from unnecessary ... food-borne illness, and less concerned with protecting grocers and meat producers from bad publicity."


To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com. (c) 2004, The Sacramento Bee, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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