U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., last week introduced legislation giving the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to initiate mandatory meat product recalls.
Under current law, USDA does not have the authority to issue a mandatory recall of meat believed to be dangerous. The decision to recall or comply with requests from the USDA to recall unsafe products is voluntary (left in the hands of food processors.) This forces the USDA to engage in time-consuming negotiations with meatpackers before pulling tainted meat from store shelves, and it gives meatpackers an effective veto on recalls. Udall first introduced the legislation in 2003.
“When the USDA cannot get tainted meat off the market swiftly, all our consumers are at risk,” said Udall. “This legislation will give USDA the authority to act quickly and decisively to protect the public.”
Last week, the Denver-based King Soopers grocery chain recalled 466,236 pounds of ground beef products that were distributed to stores in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Only one store in New Mexico received the recalled meat, but in Colorado fourteen cases of salmonella were reported and six people were hospitalized.
Last year, the USDA requested a recall of 143 million pounds of beef from a slaughterhouse that was being investigated for unsafe practices. USDA’s Commodity Foods Program had sent 3,000 cases of the questionable beef to New Mexico’s Human Services Department to be distributed to school lunch programs. Most of the recalled beef was found before it was served.
Udall noted that:
- 5,000 people die each year from food-borne illnesses,
- 325,000 people are hospitalized each year from food-borne illnesses, and
- 76,000,000 people get sick each year from food-borne illnesses.