Archive for the ‘food safety’ Category

Ban on non-therapeutic antiobiotic use fails

June 12, 2009

A bill that would have gradually phased out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in food animals died in the California Senate last week. Its author, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.


California Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter)

“The reason the bill didn’t get passed in the Senate is that Big Ag can still flex its muscles,” said Florez in an interview Tuesday. Florez is also a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.

Senate Bill 416, had it passed, would have begun phasing out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics (NTAs) in animals raised for food. Beginning with an outright ban in public schools on meat from animals treated with NTAs in 2012, the bill would have ended the use of the NTAs in food animals throughout the state by 2015. The bill that was finally put before the Senate for vote, however, was notably different than the version Florez introduced. By the time it hit the Senate floor for its third and final reading, it said “This bill allows a school district to make every effort to purchase poultry and meat products that have not been treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics” with no mention of the 2015 ban.

Support and opposition

Support for, and opposition to, the bill fell along the usual lines. Organizations such as Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, and Union of Concerned Scientists supported the proposed legislation, while agricultural and veterinary groups such as California Pork Producers Council, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Veterinary Medical Association opposed the bill. Two labor organizations, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and United Food & Commercial Workers Western States Council also opposed SB 416.

In an April letter to Florez, California Veterinary Medical Association lobbyist Michael Dillon stated his organization’s opposition to the bill, comparing it to earlier similar legislation that had been defeated in the past.

“Not unlike SB 416, those measures made declarations that the food animal industry and veterinarians were somehow responsible for antibiotic resistance in humans,” Dillon wrote, “yet there was little effort to examine if there is a nexus with the over-prescription of antibiotics for humans, by physicians.”

Food & Water Watch cited European efforts to end the use of NTAs. Citing a ban on NTAs by Sweden in 1985, the organization said that “Over the next decade, the total amount antibiotics given to animals for any purpose dropped by 50 percent.” Improved hygiene in barns, reduced animal stress, and new animal husbandry practices helped diminish farm animals’ vulnerability to disease, they added.

Although the bill went down 20-15 in the Senate vote, it was approved for reconsideration, and may be introduced in the next session.

Given the size of the livestock industry in California, said Florez, “we’re going to have to be in the forefront.”

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Not your kid’s juicebox

June 9, 2009

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

ScienceDaily – In a surprise discovery that may help boxed wine shake off its image as a gauche alternative to bottles, scientists in Canada are reporting that multilayer aseptic cartons (a.k.a. ‘boxes’) may help reduce levels of substances that contribute odors to wine and can lower its quality. Full story

China’s new Food Safety Law now in effect

June 4, 2009

China begins the overhaul of its food safety system with new laws that went into effect Monday.

While the phrase “herding cats” comes most readily to mind, China has begun its gargantuan effort to regulate and improve the safety of its food and drug industries. China’s new Food Safety Law, a far reaching piece of legislation with which the government hopes to change the country’s battered food safety image, came into effect Monday.

The law, which was passed in March, replaces regulations enacted in 1995. That legislation “was outdated and the food monitoring system has long been blamed for lacking efficiency, which led to repeated scandals ranging from tainted dairy products to vegetables with excessive pesticide,” reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency, earlier this week.

It was the dairy scandal in 2008 which brought China’s faltering food safety system to world-wide attention. More than 300,000 people were sickened and several infants died after drinking milk which had been mixed with melamine, a fire retardant which processors used to increase the protein readings in their products. A year earlier, thousands of animals in the United States were sickened with melamine contaminated pet food made in China. Numerous other scandals, ranging from poor or non-existent food safety standard to outright fraud, exacerbated the problem.

The Chinese government, however, was already at work on the legislation that finally became law this week. The overhaul of the country’s food safety regulations began back in 2007 in recognition of the fact that officials were largely powerless in their ability to oversee the production of more 200 million farmers and half-a-million food processors.

“China’s Food Safety Law appears to be as much a consequence of recent food safety scares as it is the result of protracted consideration and drafting,” noted an advisory from the international business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

Back in 2007, however, the Chinese government was hailing its food exports as the safest in the world, noting in a report “Japanese quarantine authorities found Chinese food exports had the highest acceptance rate at 99.42 percent, followed by the EU (99.38 percent) and the United States (98.69 percent)”.

Following the melamine dairy scandal, as well as outbreaks of Salmonella contamination from American products in the United States, figures exposing the weaknesses of the American inspection process began to crop up. Those high acceptance rates the Chinese touted had more to do, it seemed, with a lack of resources on the part of the US than with over-all quality. In 2007, the United States imported more than $4.5 billion in food products from China, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Only 1 percent of food imported into the US in 2007 was actually inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, reported USA Today two years ago. The FDA is responsible for all drugs and food products other than meat, poultry, and eggs.  That figure was down from 8 percent in 1992, when food imports to the US were significantly lower, the same article reported.

The FDA sealed an agreement with China last year to allow a small number of inspectors to work alongside Chinese officials inspecting products destined for US markets, reported Only eight positions were approved, however, to be installed over a period of 18 months. More than 3,000 pharmaceutical plants manufacture goods for export to the US, and thousands more produce food.

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Organic acids and irradiation: a love story

May 30, 2009
Fried chicken

Irradiated, battered, and fried, just like Mama used to make.

ScienceDaily – A mixture of some organic acids and some extracts from plants turns out to be enough to greatly reduce pathogenic bacteria on chicken breast meat. Add some irradiation to the mix and it makes a lethal combination against the bacteria. Full story

Consumers want more action by the FDA, poll finds

November 20, 2008

Consumers want more inspections of food processing plants, according to a poll by Consumer Reports. While the country’s meat processing plants must be inspected daily by the United Stated Department of Agriculture, those plants that fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration have no such requirements.

“While 73 percent polled currently regard the overall food supply as safe, nearly half (48%) said their confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply has decreased,” said Consumer Reports in a press release. “A bare majority of Americans feel the government is doing all it can to ensure food safety (54%). Eighty-three percent of respondents are concerned with harmful bacteria or chemicals in food and 81 percent are concerned with the safety of imported food.”

Consumers are worried, too, about FDA plans to not require labeling of cloned or genetically engineered meat. That issue will become even more visible as the FDA has just closed the public comment period on its draft plan for how it will approve genetically engineered animals.