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From: TSS (
Subject: Mad cow secrecy may end (in California, but i am not holding my breath for the rest of us)
Date: August 27, 2004 at 8:19 am PST

Mad cow secrecy may end

A bill requiring better public notification goes to
Schwarzenegger's desk.

By Jon Ortiz -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Friday, August 27, 2004

A measure that would make public the details of beef or poultry recalls
cleared the Legislature on Thursday, despite opposition from state
health officials who said they would be overworked and underfunded if
the bill became law.

A state and federal agreement that keeps details secret became a point
of contention last year after the country's first reported case of mad
cow disease. Some of the recalled beef was served at California
restaurants that were unaware that the meat was possibly tainted.

SB 1585, if signed by the governor, would require any business that
produces, ships or sells recalled meat or poultry products in California
to tell the state Department of Health Services. State authorities
working with local health officials would then notify the public.

The measure went to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk on a 22-15
concurrence vote in the Senate.

The measure would effectively kill a 2-year-old agreement between the
state DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible
for issuing all food recalls. The USDA treats beef recall particulars,
such as the names and addresses of affected businesses, as proprietary
and confidential information.

The USDA defends its policy by pointing out that federal law makes all
food recalls voluntary, which makes protecting a company's privacy key
to gaining its cooperation.

Agency officials would not comment Thursday on the bill or its provisions.

The restaurant industry withdrew its opposition after legislators added
language exempting restaurants from public notification if local health
inspectors determine that the recalled product has been removed from the
site or has already been eaten.

The cattle, meat processing and grocery lobbies have taken a neutral

"Nine times out of the 10 when we get notified, the genie has been long
out of the bottle," said Paul A. Smith, vice president of government
relations for the California Grocers Association. "The bill doesn't
really affect us."

That left the Department of Health Services as the bill's foe.

"Although DHS believes the provisions in SB 1585 could improve the
current process, the bill fails to provide any funding for this
increased workload, and the department cannot absorb any additional
workload within existing resources," wrote agency Deputy Director
Jennifer Kent in a letter last month to one of the bill's authors,
Democratic Sen. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough. "For this reason, DHS
cannot support this measure."

A Senate analyst estimates that SB 1585 will cost the state about
$400,000 per year, mostly from added personnel costs.

Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, said a spokeswoman
for the governor.

The USDA nondisclosure policy became an issue in 2002, after the agency
refused to give California health officials distribution lists
associated with an E. coli outbreak. Later that year, the state hammered
out the deal with the USDA that DHS would keep recall details from the
public in exchange for specific information from the federal agency
about where recalled beef was sent in the state, how much was consumed
and the amount returned, among other details.

The agreement ignited a controversy in December, when recalled beef
associated with a case of mad cow disease was sent to restaurants and
grocery stores in a dozen California counties. The USDA and DHS did not
name the businesses, even though restaurant customers had eaten some of
the beef. County health officials also received the information on the
condition that they adhere to the USDA agreement.

Consumer advocates and local health officials, including Alameda County
Public Health Officer Anthony Iton, have pushed for access to recall
data. Iton has been one of the most vocal critics of the agreement and
he called on Schwarzenegger to sign the legislation.

"This law isn't about mad cow or the USDA. It's about the people's right
to know and the government's obligation to tell them about unsafe food,"
Iton said. "It should be a no-brainer for him."

Speier, calling current recall notifications "an outrageous failing of
government," also urged Schwarzenegger to sign the bill.



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