Food Companies Pledge Safety Crackdown
Congress Hears Testimony on Recent Spate of Food Recalls
Feb. 26, 2008 -- CEOs from some of the nation's biggest food companies tried
to allay safety fears Tuesday, telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill that they're
cracking down on violations that have lead to dozens of food recalls.
The latest recall was a record halt on sales of 143 million pounds of beef
from California's Hallmark/Westland company. The company was the No. 2 supplier
of meat to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's school lunch program, which
feeds millions of children.
Investigators have found no cases of illness being caused by the
Hallmark/Westland meat. But a secret tape made by the Humane Society showed
workers slaughtering weak or sick "downer cows" for food.
Leaders of companies including Dole, ConAgra, and tuna canner Bumble Bee all
told lawmakers they were embarrassed by recent food recalls from their
An analysis by a House investigative subcommittee showed that companies have
issued food recalls more than 90 times in the last year. They included a recall
of Peter Pan peanut butter and Banquet turkey pot pies last year, both because
of salmonella contamination. Both products are made by food giant ConAgra.
Gary M. Rodkin, ConAgra's CEO, told lawmakers that the company has
"completely revamped its safety procedures and has also hired 250 new
"I want to reiterate how truly sorry we are for any harm that our
recalled peanut butter or pot pie products may have caused any consumer,"
Lawmakers praised the Humane Society for the secretly-made videotape, but
some Republicans questioned why the group held the tape secret for more than
three months before notifying the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this
"If you're concerned about the public health aspect ... why not do
something," said Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican who is also a
Michael Greger, MD, the Human Society's public health director, said the
group kept the tapes secret at the request of California prosecutors, who
pursued criminal charges against some plant workers.
"They asked us not to publicly release this information, to hold off so
they could carry out their own criminal investigation," he said. Greger
said Humane Society investigators did not know that Hallmark/Westland supplied
meat for school lunches when the tape was made.
The Westland beef recall has refocused already intense congressional
attention on food safety. Several lawmakers repeated calls Tuesday for food
safety divisions of the CDC and the FDA to be combined into one single food
Democrats are also pushing to give government agencies the power to
unilaterally order recalls of potentially tainted food. Companies conduct
recalls now on a voluntary basis.
"My constituents are frankly shocked when they find out that these
agencies don't have mandatory recall authority. They think they do," said
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.