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Senate Passes Historic Food Safety Bill!

December 1st, 2010

The Food Safety and Modernization act passed yesterday with strong bi-partisan support. This is a very important day for our food supply, which was hardly regulated previously. The FDA has many new regulatory powers, a few of which are listed below.

  • The FDA now can demand a recall of foods if they find contamination
  • Imported foods will now have more control over food imports, including increased inspection of foreign processing plants and the ability to set standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown abroad. (Currently, the FDA only examined 1 pound for every million pounds of imported foods!)
  • Conduct more frequent inspection
  • Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulation
  • Access records to determine the source of an outbreak

Hopefully the tainted meat, spinach, and peanut butter are a thing of the past! For more on this historic bill, click here.

Food Safety

Senate Vote Tonight on Food Safety Bill For the Ages

November 29th, 2010

The senate will vote on the Food Safety and Modernization Act tonight, in the hopes of finally regulating the safety of our foods. I wrote earlier about the farmers in Iowa who’s eggs caused the recent salmonella outbreak. It seems as if a bill is much needed and well overdue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 76 million new cases of food-related illness – resulting in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations – occur in the United States each year. According to a study done by an FDA economist, all these illnesses cost the US $152 billion annually.

Here is a summary of the bill:

S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Summary: This legislation would expand the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies to fortify the food safety framework. Particular new abilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Conduct more frequent inspections, including required annual inspections of high-risk facilities
  • Set forth requirements for mandatory testing
  • Order mandatory recalls after allowing responsible parties the opportunity to cease distribution voluntarily
  • Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulations
  • Access records to determine the source of an outbreak
  • Produce more comprehensive tracking and data collection methods
  • Establish standards and regulations, and issue guidance documents to ensure firms are aware of these standards
  • Help state, local and tribal governments stay prepared to handle agriculture and food emergencies
  • Ensure that imported products meet the same standards imposed upon domestically produced food

Seems like a no-brainer. However, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma doesn’t think so. Here are some of his opposing points , quoted from his website:

  • “In 1996, for every 100,000 people in this country, we had 51.2 cases of foodborne illness–the best in the world, by far. Nobody comes close to us in terms of the safety of our food . But, in 2009, we only had 34.8 cases” (Estimates much different from the numbers cited by the CDC above)
  • “Do my colleagues realize right now when we buy a pizza at the grocery store, if you buy a cheese pizza it comes through the FDA, but if you buy a pepperoni pizza, it gets approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture? How many people in America think that makes sense?”

Coburn also objects to the bill due to the cost of $1.5 billion over the 2011-2015 period. However, if passing this bill even decreases the costs associated with food-borne illnesses by 0.25% each year, it will pay for the bill. Not to mention all the potential lives saved and hospital visits eliminated.

As Coburn explains, this bill does not eliminate the redundancy involved in the current state of food safety regulation. In 2003, FDA and USDA activities included overlapping and duplicative inspections of 1,451 domestic food-processing facilities that produce foods regulated by both agencies. He makes a great point, and this needs to be addressed. However,  that does not mean this bill is not fundamental. You can read more of Coburn’s criticisms here.

Stay tuned for the results. Fingers crossed.

What do you think about these objections to the bill?

Food Safety

Egg Farm Salmonella Outbreak: A Blessing in Disguise

October 24th, 2010


The FDA has cleared Hillandale farms to sell their eggs again, as a recent inspection has revealed they are taking steps to reduce salmonella poisoning (Entire story here).

For those of you who were unaware, this past summer, public health officials in a few states noticed a rise of cases of Salmonella poisoning. It was traced back to two farms in particular: Wright County Egg & Hillandale Farms, which led to a nationwide-recall of about 500 million eggs. Meanwhile, roughly 1500 people got sick.

It doesn’t take a public health degree to surmise that the results of the congressional investigation were not pretty. According to the New York Times, the congressional report discovered the presence of dangerous bacteria as far back as 2008. Over a 2 year span, there “were 73 instances…in which sponges swabbed on egg conveyor belts and other areas in Wright County Egg’s barns showed the presence of salmonella bacteria, including the strain that infects eggs and causes human illness.” In other words, the farmers knew there was salmonella present in their farms, but according to congress, didn’t do much about it. A really scary thought, considering how many people eat eggs every day.

Unfortunately this seems to be the rule, not the exception.

To the vast majority of animal and egg farmers in America, food safety and responsible farming take a distant back seat to their bottom line. If you could imagine the filthiest, most inhumane, living conditions in which the animals you get your food from are raised, you would probably just scratch the surface of reality. Since we are talking about eggs in particular, lets take a look at chicken farms.

The chickens pictured above can be defined as “Free Range” as long as they have “access to the outdoors.” This could be a small door at one corner of the barn that is open for a short period of time each day. The chickens that aren’t put directly by that door are out of luck.  Not the warm, green, outdoor scene of happy chickens I pictured when reading “Free Range” on my egg containers.

In actuality, Free Range birds tend to be in a dark barn with thousands of other birds. Their feed, which often contains chicken parts, is infused with antibiotics to try to prevent the diseases they will inevitably get living in these conditions.

As genetics research and technology improved, chickens were genetically engineered to grow larger breasts and reach their maximum size in a fraction of the time it would take a typical bird. An incredible achievement for the meat industry, enabling them to make more money per chicken. Unfortunately, the chickens’ legs were were forgotten in this process. Many of these chickens can hardly walk more than a few steps, due to their unnaturally heavy upper bodies supported by their normal legs.

If you buy chicken from the super-market, it is almost certain that they were raised this way, even if the packaging says “All natural, free-range, cage-free birds.” This applies to restaurants as well. Factory farming has become such a profitable business because just about any restaurant or fast food chain that serves meat buys from these factory farmers. Why wouldn’t they? It’s so much cheaper than buying from a local farmer. Chipotle is one of the few major companies that does not agree with this philosophy. You can read about their “food with integrity” here.

This doesn’t mean everyone must become a vegetarian. Buying your meat and eggs from local farmers or Whole Foods can help. Although it isn’t perfect, Whole Foods provides meat that is antibiotic free and usually raised in much better conditions. Eating at Chipotle instead of Qdoba or another chain will help as well.

Sometimes a crisis is needed to catalyze change. Hopefully this was that crisis.

For more information on factory farming and the current state of the food industry, you can read books like: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, or Michael Polan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Food Marketing, Food Safety