WASHINGTON — Consumers will be told if their local grocery store received tainted meat during a recall under a new policy announced Friday by the Agriculture Department.
The planned rule change comes in the wake of the nation's biggest-ever beef recall, 143 million pounds from a slaughterhouse in Southern California.
Under the new rule, which is expected to be published next week and take effect 30 days later, retailers' names will be posted on the Agriculture Department Web site during so-called "Class I" meat and poultry recalls, those deemed to pose a definite public health risk.
Currently when there is a meat recall, the Agriculture Department makes public the name of the establishment recalling the meat, a description of the recalled product, and any identifying brand names or product codes.
But the public is not told where it is being sold.
That would change under the new rule, although because it is limited to Class I recalls, the Southern California recall would not have been affected. It was classified as "Class II" because authorities determined there was minimal health risk.
Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer said disclosing retailers' names during Class I recalls will allow the public to know when their health is at risk without creating unnecessary confusion or fear.
"When you have a public health risk, people need to know," Schafer said.
"When it isn't a public health risk, we don't want the public to be confused that this is something that can harm you. ... We don't want to unnecessarily scare the public."
The decision drew mixed reactions. The meat industry, which has opposed any retailer disclosure, contended that the change might hurt consumers more than it helps them, because information may be incomplete or out of date.
Some consumer groups and lawmakers praised the new rule but said it didn't go far enough, while others criticized it outright for being limited to Class I recalls.
"If we are serious about protecting consumers from unsafe foods, it is critical that this information be provided for all recalls," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has pushed for years for publication of retailers' names during recalls, something the Bush administration initially opposed.
The Consumer Federation of America called the announcement "a welcome change that will help protect consumers."