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USA Today reports that retailers who sell contaminated food are the target of a California law and proposed federal regulations that require that the names of these retailers be disclosed in the event of a food safety crisis.

The California law takes effect on July 1, and “will authorize health officials in that state to inform consumers which retailers sold meat and poultry covered by the most serious recalls,” according to the paper. “The national proposal comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which wants to post retailer names and store locations on its website for all meat and poultry recalls. The agency expects to finalize its plans by year's end. If it follows through, it will break ranks with the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees other food recalls. The FDA has no plans to release retailer names, as it considers them confidential business information.”

Among those fighting the federal proposal are the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which believe that recalls will be less effective if retailers are named. Their concern seems to be that in the event of a recall, consumers will pay attention only to where the products were bought rather than the products being recalled…and are more likely to eat contaminated food. Another concern is that by identifying retailers, manufacturers essentially will be making their customer lists public, and both retailers and manufacturers would prefer that this information remain confidential.
KC's View:
It seems to us that at some level, the argument against retailer name disclosure is obsolete, because if consumers really wanted to create such a list and make it public – without the cooperation of the food industry – the Internet makes it entirely feasible to do so. In fact, it probably would be easy…and then the names would be out there anyway, and retailers would have to deal with the fact that they didn’t want the data made public.

It’s 2007. In a lot of ways, there is no such thing as confidentiality.