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SAN FRANCISCO - A California consumer group on Tuesday called for beef sold in the state to carry country-of-origin labels and said Safeway, Inc. had been selling unlabeled beef from Canada -- a country which has not banned a feeding practice linked to mad cow disease -- according to a report from Reuters.
The Consumer Federation of California said Safeway had been selling unlabeled Canadian beef in the state since last fall at a time of heightened public concern over food safety issues and Canadian cattle-raising practices.
A California legislative committee introduced a bill on Tuesday, sponsored by the consumer group, that would extend labeling laws for beef to the nation's most populous state. If the legislation becomes law, California would join three other states in requiring country-of-origin labels for beef.
Reuters reported that Safeway released a statement saying that it purchases only a small quantity of beef products from Canada and that all of those products meet strict federal requirements for food safety.
"Statements questioning the safety of our products are completely untrue," said company spokesman Brian Dowling. "We source our beef products from reputable suppliers who adhere to the highest standards for safety."
Last December a single cow in Washington state tested positive for mad cow disease, the first time the brain-wasting disorder had been found in the United States. Humans can contract a version of the disease by eating infected meat.
The deadly disease had been found in Canada last May, prompting the United States to close its border to Canadian beef and live cattle. The livestock ban is expected to be lifted soon. Canadian beef imports resumed last September.
"We are not charging anyone with breaking the law," Richard Holober, a spokesman for the consumer group, told Reuters. "They are currently selling beef products that we believe should be labeled a product of Canada so the consumer can be informed of what they are purchasing."
In response to mad cow disease, the United States and the European Union have prohibited the use of cow products in cattle feed. This also includes an upcoming U.S. ban on the feeding of cow blood to calves, Holober said.
"Canada has not banned the feeding of cow blood to calves," the consumer group said in a statement. "Scientists believe this practice is a potential method for spreading mad cow disease."
Holober said his group learned that Safeway was importing unlabeled Canadian beef through butchers at the supermarket chain who cut the meat for sale under the "Ranchers Reserve" brand. The cuts included porterhouse, T-bone steak, filet mignon, and New York steak.
He said most of the stores the group focused on were in the greater San Francisco Bay area, but added it was likely that Canadian beef had been sold throughout California.
"The issue is over cow blood because they have an inferior standard for the safety of the feed compared to the United States and the European Union," Holober said. "It increases the possibility of transmission of mad cow from one cow to another."