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MAD COW News

by We The People Monday, Jan. 05, 2004 at 12:09 AM

Citizens Required to Ask County if BSE Meat sold in restaurants, supermarkets.

From the WE THE PEOPLE Newswire

Mad Cow Contaminated Meat Sold in At Least Nine California Counties

IS LOS ANGELES COUNTRY ONE OF THEM???

California Officials Agree to Rules Imposed by Bush Administration to prevent information from reaching Citizens.

According to USDA spokesman Matthew Baun, it's up to consumers [citizens] to check with their grocers, butchers or restaurants to find out if any of the recalled meat may have landed on their tables.

County health departments have been asked, but are not legally required, "to respect the proprietary nature'' of the information it receives from the USDA.

Bones from cattle with mad cow disease have been found in six restaurants and one food market in Santa Clara County, said Rick Fuchs, director of the consumer protection division of the County Department of Environmental Health.

California Counties Identified So Far:

ALAMEDA County

Five restaurants (among an estimated 20 restaurants in San Jose, Oakland and Fresno)

FRESNO County

An unknown number of restaurants among an estimated 20 restaurants in San Jose, Oakland and Fresno)

ORANGE County

A supermarket notified the Orange County health department that it may have sold 1,000 lbs of contaminated meat.

SANTA CLARA County

Bones from cattle with mad cow disease have been found in six restaurants (among an estimated 20 restaurants in San Jose, Oakland and Fresno) and one food market in Santa Clara County

Counties that apparently did not receive meat or bones contaminated with BSE:

Contra Costa

Marin

San Mateo

San Francisco

Sonoma

To determine your risk factors contact the Director of the Consumer [aka CITIZEN] Protection Division of the County Department of Environmental Health to find out if your county received BSE contaminated meat. If it did then you can ask locally at your supermarkets and restaurants to find out which received contaminated meat products.

For the benefit of other citizens in your county please post your reports on this site.

------------------------------------------------------

State can't say who sold beef

Rules bar telling [citizens] which stores, restaurants had tainted meat

Sabin Russell, Nanette Asimov, SF Chronicle Staff Writers

Saturday, January 3, 2004

Meat from a Washington state slaughterhouse that contained cuts from a lone cow that tested positive for mad cow disease was sold in as many as nine California counties, but current rules forbid the state or counties from telling consumers exactly where recalled meat was sold.

California Department of Health Services officials have begun notifying counties that meat from a recalled lot of 10,410 pounds of Washington state beef had been tracked to retailers, but also warned counties not to identify which stores or restaurants purchased it.

Alameda and Santa Clara counties have been informed by the state that 11 local restaurants and a market purchased soup bones from the suspect lot, but they have also declined to identify which establishments purchased them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture insists the recall is precautionary and the meat poses no health risk.

According to USDA spokesman Matthew Baun, it's up to consumers to check with their grocers, butchers or restaurants to find out if any of the recalled meat may have landed on their tables.

"We are prohibited from releasing information that companies would consider proprietary,'' he explained. "If you are concerned whether you may have purchased the product, you can call your retail store. They would know. .. . The only way to know for sure is to contact stores."

All this secrecy is grounded in USDA rules surrounding the voluntary nature of tainted meat recalls, and in an 18-month-old memorandum of understanding that arose in an earlier tainted-meat episode. The memorandum was agreed to between the federal agency, California and several other states, and was meant to give states a bigger role in verifying that the recall was working.

Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director for prevention services for the state health services department, said affected counties have been notified under terms of the agreement that allow the state to obtain information from the USDA but restrict what the state can publicize.

Included in the information it cannot share with the public is a listing of the counties where the recalled meat has been distributed. Sources say the meat has been traced to at least nine counties, but Reilly declined to confirm it.

"We have information that we can act on, right now, that we otherwise would not have,'' he said. Violating the agreement could nullify it in the future, something the state is reluctant to do.

The memorandum of understanding struck with the USDA in July 2002 stemmed from a dispute between the state and federal agencies over handling of a major recall of tainted beef by agribusiness giant ConAgra Beef Co. It had to recall 19 million pounds of beef after an outbreak of E. coli O157/h7, a dangerous bacteria that, when consumed in uncooked hamburger, can cause bloody diarrhea and lethal kidney damage.

Reilly said the state, which had four cases of E. coli at the time, was unable to get timely information from the USDA or the company, and negotiated the agreement to avoid a repeat. He acknowledged, however, that "there are still issues with the federal recall process. ... It did not make reaching out to the community easy for us.''

In the mad cow meat recall, it took several days of negotiation with the USDA before the state was even able to share the information with county health departments, Reilly said. County health departments have been asked, but are not legally required, "to respect the proprietary nature'' of the information it receives from the USDA.

Reilly said that the USDA is concerned that release of proprietary information volunteered by meat distributors could threaten that system of voluntary cooperation.

Federal, state and local health officials stress that the USDA considers all the recalled meat from Washington safe, as it does not contain brain or spinal cord tissue thought to be able to harbor the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"This is a zero-risk product,'' said Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Cohen said that the same rules in the voluntary system would apply if a more immediate threat to health appeared in the food supply. "We're frankly working with industry groups to improve this system and find a way to expand the information available,'' he added.

Alameda County health officer Dr. Tony Iton said that nevertheless, local health authorities should be free to disclose information about the recall to their citizenry.

"I do think that the USDA has erred in its judgment here. It has sacrificed the public's health in favor of the beef industry,'' said Iton. "It's absurd to think the most efficient way to conduct a recall is through visiting retailers to see if they have notified their customers.''

Iton said that it would be better to let the public know specific information about where the meat was sold, with instructions to destroy it, return it or at least not consume it.

However, when Iton learned later Friday that all five retailers in Alameda County were restaurants, rather than grocery stores, he said it was not necessary to identify them. Any meat sold to restaurants would have already been consumed, he reasoned, whereas meat sold to grocers might still be in consumers' freezers and could be returned.

The Chronicle has learned the soup bones were purchased from T&V Wholesale, a Santa Clara distributor that services primarily Vietnamese restaurants. T&V was notified of the recall by its distributor, Willamette Valley Meat Co., of Oregon, but not until the leg bones had been sold to an estimated 20 restaurants in San Jose, Oakland and Fresno.

"It's been sold to the restaurants, and already cooked,'' said Nang Quach, owner of T&V Wholesale. He said he was able to send back a couple of unsold cases of bones to Willamette.

Quach said he learned of the mad cow problem from the news and contacted the Oregon distributor right away. At first, he was told there was no problem, but he said the company called him back a few days later after learning that the bone order was being recalled. Quach said he has discussed the transactions with FDA inspectors as well.

Bones from cattle with mad cow disease have been found in six restaurants and one food market in Santa Clara County, said Rick Fuchs, director of the consumer protection division of the County Department of Environmental Health.

Fuchs said he was unable to disclose the names of the restaurants and market because of the California Department of Health Services' food and drug division request.

"The recall is being handled by USDA, and I assume that agents were in the process of visiting the (Santa Clara County) facilities or contacting them, " he said, adding that he did not yet know what role, if any, the county would play in following up on the finding.

Health, environmental or agricultural authorities from Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco and Sonoma counties said that the state had not contacted them, and said they were reasonably certain their counties had no tainted beef.

Meanwhile, an Orange County grocer has been notifying his customers that he had purchased at least 500 pounds of tenderloin and hind shanks from the recalled lots, and has retained only about 100 pounds that remained before he learned of the problem on Christmas Eve.

"We get our meat from various distributors. This order happened to come from one in Oregon,'' said Robert Tran, owner of the A Chau Supermarket in Fountain Valley. Customers, he said, have been understanding since he first posted notices of the recall.

Pat Markley, spokeswoman for the Orange County health department, said the office learned of the recall of meat from the supermarket on New Year's Eve, and has been working with the grocer to improve the signage that it used to notify customers of the problem. The original postings were in English, and most of the store's customers speak Vietnamese.

The county said it was told there were 1,000 pounds of meat from the lot sold by the grocer, and Markley said that discrepancy has yet to be sorted out.

###



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