Archive for the ‘legislation’ Category

California’s Prop 2 to get facelift

June 24, 2009

Opponents of Prop 2 see a chance for clarification on confinement standards

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Egg producers who export their product to California from other states may find themselves having to meet the same animal housing standards as their California competition.

California Assembly Bill 1437 would require that laying hens in other states be treated to the same conditions as those in California if farmers want to sell their product in the Golden State. It passed the Assembly last week and is now under review in the Senate.

Last year, California voters approved Proposition 2 which forbids confining many farm animals in ways that inhibit their ability to engage in natural behaviors. Breeding pigs and veal calves, for example, are frequently held in pens that don’t allow them to even turn around. The proposal’s guidelines on chicken cages, in particular, drew a great deal of attention and voters passed the proposition by more than 63 percent.

Prop 2 called for the elimination of cages that prevent chickens from standing up, lying down, turning around, or being able to fully extend their wings by 2015. What Prop 2 didn’t offer were the new standards by which farmers are to operate. Assembly Bill 1437, introduced by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) may offer a chance to finally delineate those standards.

“We need an enforceable legal standard,” Dennis Albiani, a lobbyist for the Association of California Egg Farmers, told Capital Press last week. “This is a criminal statute that puts the farmer and their employees at significant risk of fines and jail time.” Huffman’s AB 1437 is the means for establishing that legal standard, he said.

Indeed, legislative analysis of the bill noted “Opponents feel that AB 1437 should specify enclosure size per hen, how many hens per enclosure, and if current housing systems can be used or modified to comply with AB 1437 and Prop. 2.”

The bill moves on next to the Senate Health Committee where it will be read July 1.

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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.

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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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Marler shouts out

June 4, 2009
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California Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter)

Food safety attorney Bill Marler sent a shout out to California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) for two pieces of legislation he’s proposed. One would phase out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics on food animals beginning with meat destined for school lunches. The other would require producers to report positive tests “for any food-borne illness to the California Department of Public Health and maintain records of all testing for two years”. In addition, the CDPH would be given the authority to issue mandatory recalls.

China’s new Food Safety Law now in effect

June 4, 2009
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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 Foodnavigator.com. 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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