LONDON(AP) – The E. coli bacteria responsible for a mysterious outbreak that has
left 18 people dead and sickened hundreds is a new strain that has never been seen
before, the World Health Organizationsaid Thursday. Preliminary genetic sequencing
suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different E. coli bacteria, with aggressive
genes that could explain why the outbreak appears to be so massive and dangerous,
the agency said.
"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde
Kruse, a food safetyexpert at WHO, told The Associated Press. The new strain has
"various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the
many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines. Researchers have
so far been unable to pinpoint the cause of the illness, which has now spread to
at least 10 European countries and fanned uncertainty about eating tomatoes, cucumbers
and lettuce. The strain has sickened more than 1,500 people, including 470 who have
developed a rare kidney failure complication, and killed 18 — most of them in Germany,
the country hardest hit. Fearful of the outbreak spreading east to Russia, the country
extended a ban on vegetables to the entire European Union from just Germany and
Spain, a move the bloc quickly called disproportionate.
Scientists sequencing the bacteria strains found in the outbreak said it was caused
by "an entirely new super-toxic E. coli strain" that several antibiotic resistant
genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory, BGI.
The researchers were working together with scientists from the University Medical
Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. The scientists found the bacteria is similar to a strain
isolated in the Central African Republic known to cause serious diarrhea, the Chinese
Kruse said it's not uncommon for bacteria to continually mutate, evolving and swapping
genes. It is difficult to explain where the new strain came from, she said, but
said strains of bacteria from both humans and animals easily trade genes, similar
to how animal viruseslike Ebola sometimes jump into humans. "One should think of
an animal source," Kruse said. "Many animals are hosts of various types of toxin-producing
E. coli." Some scientists suspect the deadly E. coli might have originated in contaminated
manure used to fertilize vegetables. Previous E. coli outbreaks have mainly hit
children and the elderly, but the European outbreak is disproportionately affecting
adults, especially women. Kruse said there might be something particular about the
bacteria strain that makes it more dangerous for adults.
But she cautioned that since people with milder cases probably aren't seeking medical
help, officials don't know just how big the outbreak is. "It's hard to say how virulent
(this new E. coli strain) is because we just don't know the real number of people
affected." Nearly all the sick people either live in Germany or recently traveled
there. British officials announced four new cases, including three Britons who recently
visited Germany and a German person on holiday in England. The WHO recommends that
to avoid food-borne illnesses people wash their hands before eating or cooking food,
separating raw and cooked meat from other foods, thoroughly cooking food, and washing
fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw. Experts also recommend peeling raw
fruits and vegetables if possible.
Russia had earlier this week banned fresh imports from Spain and Germany, but it
expanded the ban Thursday to include the entire EU. The United Arab Emirates issued
a temporary ban on cucumbers from Spain, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. Lyubov
Voropayeva, spokeswoman for the Russian Agency for the Supervision of Consumer Rights,
told the AP the Russian ban has been imposed immediately and indefinitely. No fatalities
or infections have yet been reported in Russia. "How many more lives of European
citizens does it take for European officials to tackle this problem?" the agency's
chief Gennady Onishchenko said to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for the EU's Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner
John Dalli, said Thursday that the European Commission would write to Russia to
demand further clarification. The Italian farmers association Coldiretti criticized
the ban as "absurd." One expert said the fact the strain is new may have complicated
the response to the outbreak. "Officials may not have had the correct tests to detect
it, which may explain the initial delay in reporting," said Paul Hunter, a professor
of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England. He said the number
of new cases would likely slow to a trickle in the next few days. The incubation
period for this type of E. coli is about three to eight days, and most people recover
within 10 days. "Salads have a relatively short shelf life and it's likely the contaminated
food would have been consumed in one to two weeks," Hunter said.
But Hunter warned the outbreak could continue if there is secondary transmission
of the disease, which often happens when children are infected. The disease can
be spread when infected people don't take proper hygiene measures, like bathing
or handwashing. Meanwhile, Spain's prime minister slammed the European Commission
and Germany for early on singling out the country's produce as a possible source
of the outbreak, and said the government would demand explanations and reparations.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Spanish National Radio that the German federal
government was ultimately responsible for the allegations, adding that Spain would
seek "conclusive explanations and sufficient reparations."
Spanish farmers say the accusations has devastated their credibility and exports.
In Valencia, protesting farmers dumped some 300 kilos (700 pounds) of fruit and
vegetables — cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other produce — outside the
German consulate. The outbreak is already considered the third-largest involving
E. coli in recent world history, and it may be the deadliest. Twelve people died
in a 1996 Japanese outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 9,000, and seven
died in a 2000 Canadian outbreak.
Teenage girls are found to have dangerously low levels of iodine which could put
the health of their offspring at risk, a new British study has claimed.
The study, which measured iodine levels in more than 700 schoolgirls across Britain,
found that seven out of 10 girls are deficient in the trace mineral, partly because
consumption of milk has plummeted in recent years.
The results revealed that an average of 70 per cent of girls were iodine deficient,
the Daily Mail reported.
The researchers, who analysed urine samples of the girls to examine their levels
of iodine, said the finding is is of"potential major public health importance".
Iodine is essential for the neurological development of the foetus. The results
suggest at least 100,000 babies may be intellectually handicapped annually.
But lack of iodine in pregnancy, according to the researchers, can lead to mental
retardation in babies and even"mild"levels of deficiency can be harmful.
The study, published in the British medical journal'The Lancet', is the latest to
warn of a growing number of young and pregnant women who may jeopardise the future
health of their babies by not eating a balanced diet, or taking additional vitamins
Dr Mark Vanderpump, who led the research, said the potential impact of iodine deficiency
in pregnancy could not be under-estimated.
"Mild iodine deficiency impairs cognition in children, and moderate to severe deficiency
in a population reduces IQ by 10-15 points,"he said.
NEW DELHI: A new variant of a well-knownantibiotic resistant superbug has been discovered
in cow's milk in the UK.
Though, Meticillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus(MRSA) — that's what the superbug
is called — is quite common in Indian hospitals, the new strain is genetically different
and cannot be detected by traditional genetic screening methods.
The findings reported in the June 3 edition of the British medical journal "The
Lancet Infectious Diseases" shows that cows are a reservoir of this new-variant
of MRSA infection in humans.
The study says, "evidence suggests that a bovine reservoir exists, from which this
new variant of MRSA is transmitted to people."
The authors, however, made it clear that pasteurization of milk will prevent any
risk of infection via the food chain but individuals in close contact with cattle
could be at higher risk of carriage.
MRSA infection is caused by a strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics commonly
used to treat ordinary infections. It is found across the world.
Professor of medicine at AIIMS Dr Randeep Guleria told TOI, "MRSA is quite common
in India, especially in hospital settings. Since it is found mainly in surgery ICUs,
it's mostly hospital acquired. However, it is more common in Europe and the US."
The latest paper from the University of Cambridge says this new variant is associated
with clinical disease in people, yet some existing testing methods would wrongly
identify this new variant as meticillin-susceptible, where wrong antibiotics could
be prescribed. The study has been conducted by Dr Mark A Holmes, department of veterinary
medicine, University of Cambridge.
It shows evidence that cows could be an important reservoir of this new-variant
of MRSA infection in humans.
First, the isolates found in humans were either of a strain thought to be unique
in animals or other strain types detected in cattle, but not seen in humans.
Secondly, none of the strain types come from lineages earlier associated with human
MRSA carriage or infection.
Professor David Coleman from the University of Dublin said, "The results of our
study indicate that new types of MRSA that can colonize and infect humans are emerging
from animal reservoirs inIreland and Europe. It is difficult to correctly identify
them as MRSA. This knowledge will enable us to rapidly adapt existing genetic MRSA
detection tests, but has also provided invaluable insights into the evolution and
origins of MRSA."
Spain's Prime Minister hit out at the European Commission and Germany on June 2
for singling out the country's produce as a possible source of a deadly bacterial
outbreak in Europe, and said the government would demand explanations and reparations.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the EU commission “was slow because from the moment
the minister in Hamburg had ruled it (E.coli outbreak) was not caused by Spanish
cucumbers it should have reacted more decisively and faster.” The bacteria outbreak
has killed 17 people, most in Germany, over the past week. The crisis paralysed
Spanish exports of fruit and vegetables.
Zapatero told Spanish National Radio that the German federal government was ultimately
responsible for the allegations, adding that Spain would seek “conclusive explanations
and sufficient reparations.”
Spanish farmers say the wrongful accusations have devastated their credibility and
thus their exports to the rest of Europe. In Valencia, protesting farmers dumped
some 300 kilograms (700 pounds) of cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other
produce outside the German consulate. Meanwhile the World Health Organisation has
said the E. coli bacteria is a new strain that has never been seen before.
Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different
E. coli bacteria, with lethal genes that could explain why the Europe-wide outbreak
appears to be so massive and dangerous, the agency said.
So far, the mutant E. coli strain has sickened more than 1,500 others, including
470 who have developed a rare kidney failure complication. Reasearchers have been
unable to pinpoint the cause the outbreak, which has hit at least nine European
Russia extends ban
Fearful of the outbreak spreading into Russia, the country extended its ban on vegetable
imports to all of the EU. Russia had banned fresh imports from Spain and Germany
The outbreak is already considered the third-largest involving E. coli in recent
world history, and it may be the deadliest. Twelve people died in a 1996 Japanese
outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 12,000, and seven died in a 2000 Canadian
NEWYORK: In a new report, a large group of American doctors urge kids and teens
to avoid energy drinks and only consume sports drinks in limited amount.
The recommendations come in the wake of a national debate over energy drinks, which
experts fear may have side effects. “Children never need energy drinks,” said Dr
Holly Benjamin, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who worked on the new report.
"They contain caffeine and other stimulant substances that arent nutritional, soyou
dont need them,” he said.
And kids might be more vulnerable to the contents of energy drinks than grownups.
“If you drink them on a regular basis, it stresses the body. You dont really want
to stress the body of a person thats growing,” said Benjamin. For the new recommendations,
published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers went through earlier studies and
reports on both energy drinks and sports drinks, which dont contain any stimulants.
They note that energy drinks con taina jumble of ingredients — including vitamins
and herbal extracts — with possible side effects that arent always well understood.
While there aren’t many documented cases of harm directly linked to the beverages,
stimulants can disturb the hearts rhythm and may lead to seizures in very rare cases,
Recently, she saw a 15-yearold boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
who came into the hospital with a seizure after having drunk two 24-ounce bottles
of Mountain Dew, a soft drink that contains caffeine. The boy was already taking
stimulant ADHD medication, and the extra caffeine in principle might have pushed
him over the edge, according to Benjamin. “You just never know. It’s definitely
a concern,” she said.
Earlier this year, Pediatrics publishedanother review of theliterature on energy
drinks. Init, Florida pediatricians de scribedcases of seizures, delu sions,heart
problems andkid neyor liver damage in people whohad drunk one or more non-alcoholic
energy drinks- including brands like Red Bull, SpikeShooter and Redline.
Whilethey acknowledged thatsuch cases are very rare, andcant be conclusively linkedto
the drinks, they urged caution, especially in kids with medical conditions. US sales
of non-alcoholic energy drinks are expected to hit $9 billion this year, with children
and young adultsac counting for half the market. Manufacturers claim their products
will enhance both mental and physicalperform ance, and were quick to downplay the
Februaryre port. “The effects of caffeine are wellknown and as an 8.4 oz can of
Red Bull contains about the same amount ofcaf feine as a cup of coffee (80 mg),
it should be treatedaccording ly,” Red Bull said in an emailed statement to Reuters
Benjamin said that for most kids, water is the best thing to quench their thirst.
If they happen to be young athletes training hard, a sports drink might be helpful,
too, because it contains sugar. But for kids who lead less-active lives, sports
and energy drinks might just serve to pile onex tra pounds, fueling thenation al
obesity epidemic. While she acknowledged that morere search is needed, Benjamin
said the safest thing to drink is water. Reuters
India’s organic and conventional cocoa has been gaining ground in Switzerland over
the last four years with Indian Organic Farmers Producer Company Ltd (IOFPCL) and
Switzerland-based Chocolate Stella exploring new markets there and training farmers
in cocoa processing.
The two companies are particularly focussed on value addition and export of organic
and conventional cocoa to Switzerland on a long-term basis.
“Earlier India had poor processing methods of cocoa and farmers from Kerala used
to process it themselves through traditional practices,” Joykutty Vincent, director,
IOFPCL, Kannur, Kerala, informed FnB News in a chat over telephone.
Vincent explained that in their effort to modernise cocoa processing, prominent
farmers from Kerala were trained by experts from Chocolate Stella on quality improvement
of cocoa and chocolates.
“The IOFPCL has taken an initiative to train farmers by the way of collecting cocoa
from them and processing it in a collective way. The company has undertaken various
experiments on fermentation and drying and good methodologies in processing to cater
quality cocoa in the market.”
The training programme has been attended by over 1,000 farmers till date. The participation
is expected to increase in the current year.
IOFPCL has been associated with Chocolate Stella since 2009 for manufacturing cocoa,
used in preparing dark chocolates, which has immense demand in the global market.
Vincent reiterated that the company’s intention was to provide assistance to the
farmers to help them gain addition benefits that they deserved by the way of reducing
the involvement of intermediaries in the value chain and facilitating Indian cocoa
in the international market.
About the market, Vincent said that there was a slump in the cocoa export market
last year, however, the market was still positive for all cocoa farmers with the
increasing domestic demand for the item due to higher consumption. He added that
care should be taken while processing cocoa beans and be done in a professional
manner, thus meeting all the requirements needed to obtain the real cocoa.
According to reports, the need for a comprehensive government policy with emphasis
on sustainable growth for promotion of cocoa industry was realised last fiscal.
Vincent confirmed that the company had taken various initiatives not only in South
India, but also in north-eastern states, with NGOs working with farmers and helping
them obtain maximum benefits and also promoting exports.
“The farmers were paid Rs 105 to Rs 150 per kg in 2009-10 after our intervention
as against Rs 78 per kg in 2008-2009.”
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), UK, is changing its advice to ministers on allowing
meat and milk from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs into the food chain.
If the advice is accepted, it could pave the way for the offspring of cloned animals
to enter the UK food chain this year.
Last summer, the agency insisted meat from the offspring of cloned animals sold
into the food chain by a Scottish farmer should have been authorised by FSA under
European Union novel foods rules and was therefore ‘illegal.’
But on Wednesday, the FSA Board accepted the recommendations of a paper presented
to it which stated: “FSA is minded to adopt the position taken by the European Commission
and others, that food obtained from the descendants of clones of cattle and pigs
does not require authorisation under the novel foods regulation.”
The FSA Board changed its viewpoint at the end of last year. The decision was based
on evidence and advice from the European Food Safety Authority and the Advisory
Committee on Novel Foods and Processes that ‘there are no food safety grounds for
regulating foods from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs.’
The agency then issued a consultation on changing its advice to ministers before
confirming its new stance at Wednesday’s Board meeting in Belfast. This conclusion
applies specifically to the use of cloning for cattle and pigs because the use of
cloning technology in other food-producing animals is currently ‘limited.’
The FSA is stressing, however, that cloned cattle and pigs are still within the
scope of the legislation and any foods from them will therefore require pre-market
authorisation by the agency before being sold into the food chain.
Farming minister Jim Paice has indicated the government is unlikely to require labelling
of meat and milk from cloned animals.In December, he told the EFRA committee of
MPs that while the government recognised consumer power, consumer information and
the right to choose, it is not possible to detect whether meat and milk is from
a cloned animal. It is therefore impossible for mandatory labelling to be implemented
effectively, he said.
The European Commission has asked EFSA to conduct a full re-evaluation of the safety
of aspartame by July 2012, due to MEPs’ concerns and EFSA’s decision to look more
closely at two recent studies on carcinogenicity and pregnancy effects.
EFSA spokesperson Lucia de Luca told FoodNavigator.com that the agency has received
a mandate for a complete re-evaluation of aspartame, and that the scientists are
“looking at it and verifying what the risk manager is looking for”. While EFSA has
not yet completed the administrative work to accept the request, a full review of
aspartame was already planned for 2020; EFSA has been reviewing the safety of all
food additives previously approved for use in the EU, and having made its way through
colours and flavourings, sweeteners were the last category to be looked at.
A spokesperson for John Dalli, Commissioner for Health and Consumers, said there
are several reasons for bringing forward the review with a 13-month deadline. Firstly,
he said “there have been concerns lately and questions from MEPs”. At the second
reading of the proposed food information regulation last month MEPs voted for a
mandatory warning label on products about aspartame consumption in pregnancy. In
addition, he said EFSA said earlier this year that two recent studies on aspartame,
a mouse study on carcinogenicity and an epidemiological study in sweeteners and
pre-term delivery, did not give reason to reconsider safety of aspartame and over
approved sweeteners – but subsequently decided to do an in-depth study.
EFSA’s scientific opinion on interpretation of the results of the carcinogenicity
study, as well as suggested implications of methanol reported in both studies, is
due by the end of this year. Commenting on bringing forward the full re-evaluation,
de Luca said: “It is fine if we have to do it before." There is no guarantee that
the MEPs’ call for warning labels on aspartame will be hushed until the findings
of the full re-evaluation are published next year, however.
Dalli’s spokesperson said: “EU decisions have to be based on science.” There is
a precedent of MEPs pressing ahead with actions before EFSA’s opinion is available,
however. In 2008 they succeeded in a last minute addition to the FIAP additives
package requiring a warning label on products containing the so-called Southampton
colours due to hyperactivity concerns. In EFSA’s opinion the Southampton study did
not give scientific grounds for linking the colours to hyperactivity in children.
The spokesperson said that in this case “there was more nuance in some phrases”
which may indicate the colours could be problematic for some consumers.
There has already been a clash between MEPs and EFSA over aspartame. In March the
agency expressed disappointment over the Parliament’s reporting of a hearing over
aspartame in which it participated. It said in a statement: “Unfortunately, when
reporting the outcomes of this meeting, the organisers of the hearing continue to
repeat errors and misinformation. EFSA reaffirms that any possible risks from aspartame
have been considered by scientific bodies worldwide and the current Acceptable Daily
Intake (ADI) ensures consumers are protected.” A spokesperson for aspartame producer
Ajinomoto declined to comment on the mandate for earlier re-evaluation of the sweetener
until EFSA has communicated its acceptance.
An India-Africa food processing cluster will be established soon. This was informed
by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh while addressing the Plenary Session of the
2nd Africa-India Forum Summit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday. The Prime Minister
is on a four-nation visit of Africa.
Addressing the session, Dr Singh said, “I wish to propose the establishment of the
following new institutions at the pan African level: an India-Africa food processing
cluster, which would contribute to value-addition and the creation of regional and
export markets, and an India-Africa centre for medium range weather forecasting,
which would harness satellite technology for the agriculture and fisheries sectors.”
He stated that an India-Africa institute of agriculture and rural development would
be established. Dr Singh added, “At the bilateral level, we propose to establish
food testing laboratories and food processing business incubation centres.”
With many kinds of processed foods available in the market, it has become customary
to take a look at the ingredients that go into its making. We have learnt: monosodium
glutamate is bad for health, to avoid eating food that has added colours and also
to keep away from transfat. Now, there is one more to the list and this one can
be a painful revelation for it will cut out ever so many things from your diet!
Lustig, a professor of paediatrics from the University of California is convincing
and charming, so chances are that after you hear his 90 minute talk titled The Bitter
Truth, life will not be all that sweet anymore. And yet there is hope.
Lustig begins by addressing a question all of us grapple with at some time or other.
What is obesity? Is it all about overeating? What is common about all the “diets”
across the world be it Atkins diet or the Japanese diet? If diet is all that causes
obesity, if obesity is all about “gluttonary” and sloth, then why is a six month
old child declared overweight?
A great truth that Lustig casually lets drop is that, no one chooses to be obese,
particularly not kids. And also that this is not just an American epidemic, but
something that affects people around the world. “Sure enough we are all eating more
than we did fifty years ago,” says Lustig giving figures of the calories intake.
And he says we are eating more because there is something called leptin that is
produced by the fat cells which gives the signal that the food intake has been enough.
Today he says the leptin in our bodies is not working. “So there is something wrong
with our biochemical negative feed- back system that normally controls the balance
and we have to figure out what caused it and how to reverse it,” says Lustig.
“The increase in calories intake comes all from carbohydrates, not fat. Specifically,
which carbohydrate? Beverage intake,” says Lustig. “If you have a big coke, a snickers
bar and a baggage of chips everyday, all for 99 cents… you would be 112 pounds extra
per year…” says Lustig amidst laughter.
We have shunned aerated drinks all this while because of the caffeine content and
so now we have drinks that do not contain caffeine and there are fruit drinks which
we actually consider “healthy.” Lustig debunks this myth by picking out one single
ingredient called High fructose corn syrup (hfcs).
This is sweeter than sugar and far cheaper. It also adds colour to the product.
While most of us would believe it when told that this is just an alternative to
sugar, Lustig shows that it actually does far more harm than sugar and suppresses
the secretion of leptin.
We identified fat as the cause for all our illnesses like hypertension, cardio diseases,
diabetes etc., but Lustig says even after consumption of fat has gone down, these
diseases have not decreased. The reason being hfcs. Lustig shows this as a political
conspiracy in the US to make food cheap. High fructose corn syrup (hfcs) is cheap
and so found its way into everything, be it hamburgers, ketchup, pretzels or even
bread! So much so that 25 per cent of the need for energy of youngsters comes from
Lustig says we are all careful with our fat consumption and so low fat items hit
the market. But low fat products taste horrible and so once again hfcs is added
to make it palatable making the products as harmful or more harmful that very fatty
What makes this dietary quirk worse is the fact that our fibre intake has dropped
drastically. In the fast food culture, food with fibre does not have enough shelf
life and also takes longer to chew, so fibres are almost entirely out of our diet.
And Lustig points out that where fructose is available in nature, it comes with
a lot of fibre, like sugarcane. So eat fructose from nature or eat sweets without
hfcs, the risks of obesity are much reduced…and that is the hope he hold out. But
ideally, Lustig advises, have only water and milk. Eat carbs with fibre. Wait 20
mts for second portions and the fourth piece of advice is to buy your screen time
minute to minute for physical activity.
After the voluntary recall of two batches of instant noodle products for possible
traces of salmonella by Nestle Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration of
that country made plans to inspect and test other noodle products in the market.
FDA director Suzette Lazo said they would monitor other brands of noodles and make
sure they were safe. "We consider what happened on Thursday (the recall) as a signal
to put our monitoring system in place," Lazo said.
When asked if the FDA would send teams to factories of other makers of noodles,
she said her agency would do "much more than that."
"We will follow a procedure but I cannot give details because it is part of our
operation," she said. She added that the FDA was authorised to test processed food
products. According to Lazo, fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables and fish are
the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture.
On Thursday, Nestle Philippines voluntarily recalled at least two batches of Maggi
Rich Mami Noodles beef and chicken flavours. It said its quality testing found possible
traces of salmonella in them. Covered by the recall are batches with lot codes 11020598A2
Lazo said there is no timetable for the tests of sample noodles. She advised consumers
who bought the product with those lot codes to return them to Nestle Philippines
Food poisoning involving salmonella may cause complications in weakened elderly
patients, pregnant women, infants and children, and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy,
Meanwhile, Lazo advised consumers to boil noodles to kill the salmonella bacteria,
even if some makers advise cooking the product at 70 degrees Celsius. Agencies
Cough syrups and diet drinks which are normally distanced at could soon become more
tastier as scientists have found a new compound which they claim blocks taste buds'
ability to detect bitter flavours.
The discovery of the compound, called GIV3616, which is tasteless and prevents tart
tastes being sensed by the tongue, could be added to foods and beverages to make
them more palatable, said the researchers.
Ioana Ungureanu of the research team that developed the compound at Givaudan Flavors
Corporation in Cincinnati, Ohio, said in a release, "A lot of people are very sensitive
to bitter taste in medicines, calorie-free sweeteners and foods."
"We'd like to be able to make their diets more enjoyable by masking the off-putting
flavours of bitterness," Ungureanu said. "Blocking these flavours we call 'offnotes'
could help consumers eat healthier and more varied diets. It could encourage them
to switch to non-calorie soft drinks and help children and seniors swallow bitter-tasting
medications," Ungureanu added.
WASHINGTON: For the first time, scientists have managed to transform inert
white fat into brown fat that burns off more energy — a breakthrough they say could
soon lead to better treatments for people suffering from obesity.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that by knocking
down the expression of an appetite-stimulating protein not only helps cut calorie
intake and weight but also it turns white fat into brown one.
"If we could get the human body to turn 'bad fat' into 'good fat' that burns calories
instead of storing them, we could add a serious new tool to tackle the obesity epidemic
in the United States," said study author Sheng Bi, an associate professor at the
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
According to scientists, the body produces two fats or adipose tissue. The white
one, called the storehouse for the extra calories we eat, ends up being stored in
the body, while the brown fat which generates body heat in animals or newborns is
considered as good fat.
It may be possible to transplant or inject brown fat stem cells under the skin to
burn white fat and stimulate weight loss, said Bi. "Only future research will tell
us if that is possible," he added.
New research from Serbia has raised hopes on the antioxidant benefits and shelf
life extension properties of a sugar beet fibre derived ingredient, Fibrex, when
added to biscuits.
Fibrex, produced by Nordic Sugar, is produced by a clean-drying process. Building
on previous research, the Serbian research team compared it with treated sugar beet
fibre (TF) that had been extracted with sulphurous acid and treated with hydrogen
peroxide, according to the portal bakeryandsnacks.com.
Earlier research, said the authors, indicated that the particle size and colourless
and odourless properties of sugar beet fibre made it a 'promising ingredient' in
the formulation of biscuits.
The Serbian team's findings, published in the journal Sugar Industry, indicate that
the substitution of wheat flour with commercially available Fibrex in formulation
upgraded the antioxidant activity and could prolong their shelf life.
There was no impact on the shelf life of biscuits produced with the hydrogen peroxide-
treated fibre, observed the team.
"The better antioxidant activities of Fibrex-enriched cookies could be attributed
to the presence of ferulic acid," concluded the researchers.
According to Nordic Sugar, prior to the outcome of this research, it had not been
aware of the antioxidant properties of Fibrex. Anneli Martensson, a spokesperson
for the company, said that its R & D team would collaborate with its bakery customers
on establishing how much dosage of Fibrex would be required per product to generate
the antioxidant benefits.
The biscuits were prepared by the addition of 0, 7, 9 and 11 per cent of sugar beet
dietary fibre as a substitute for wheat flour in the product, and the antioxidant
properties of the cookies were tested every seven days using a DPPH (1,1-diphe-nyl-2-picrylhydrazyl-)
radical scavenging activity test during 6 weeks of storage at room temperature (23
And the Serbian team members point out that previous studies in the literature have
demonstrated that sugar beet dietary fibres were good sources of antioxidants.
"Ferulic, gentisic and p-coumaric acid have been identified and reported to be predominant
phenolic acids in the ethanolic extract of sugar beet pulp and have proved to be
relative potent antioxidants," they observed.
Though there's no immediate need to turn your PB & J's into jelly-only sandwiches,
there is a chance that peanut butter may contain the carcinogen aflatoxin. The soft
and porous shell that encases peanuts can allow fungus with aflatoxin to penetrate
into the nut, explains Organic Authority.
Although aflatoxin has yet to be proven to cause cancer in the United States, it
has been documented as causing liver cancer in developing countries where corn,
peanuts and grains are grown without strict soil quality regulation. Currently,
all commercially-produced peanut butters must be tested for aflatoxin, but grind-your-own
peanut butter may actually be at a higher risk because the peanuts sit around the
longest without refrigeration, allowing more mold to develop, according to Organic
Authority. Planet Green also adds that natural peanut butters may be more susceptible
since "they are less processed and have a shorter shelf life, therefore the mold
is more likely to thrive."
This alarm bell has been sounded before. In an informative write-up, Celeb doc Andrew
Weil explains that the Consumers Union found the exact same results about a decade
ago, when it was discovered that supermarket brands like Peter Pan, Jif and Skippy
contained the less afloxtin than natural brands. Consumer Reports has researched
aflatoxins since 1972, but still says peanuts are worth eating for their health
There's a simple precaution if you're concerned. Refrigerate your peanut butter
-- it'll keep out the mold.
An industry initiative to cut levels of acrylamide in food continues to have a limited
impact, with lower quantities found in just three of the 22 food groups evaluated,
according to the latest results of an ongoing European monitoring project.
Acrylamide is a chemical compound formed during by heat-induced reaction between
sugar and an amino acid called asparagine. Known as the Maillard reaction, this
process is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and
In 2005, EFSA said the carcinogenic and genotoxic properties of the substance meant
its presence in food was a possible health hazard. Two years later an annual monitoring
scheme involving 20 EU members and Norway was introduced. The most recent data set
in 2009 has seen 3,287 new results compared to 3,728 results for 2008 and 3,350
results for 2007.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that, on comparing data from 2009
with 2007, a trend towards lower acrylamide levels was detected only in crackers,
infant biscuits and gingerbread.
However, over the same three-year period it found that levels of the substances
actually increased in crisp bread and instant coffee. There was no change in six
groups: potato crisps, oven fried potatoes, breakfast cereals, jarred baby foods,
processed cereal-based baby foods and ‘bread not specified’.
The highest average levels of acrylamide were detected in potato crisps and substitute
coffee, which includes coffee-like drinks derived from chicory or cereals such as
The upper bound mean acrylamide levels ranged from 37 μg/kg for ‘bread soft’ to
1504 μg/kg for substitute coffee. The highest 95th percentile value – the highest
value of the most reliable 95 per cent of the results - was reported for substitute
coffee at 3976 μg/kg and the highest maximum value for ‘potato crisps’ at 4804 μg/kg.
The latest results showed that European exposure levels in different age groups
were similar to previous years, said the research.
The food safety watchdog concluded that so far the ‘acrylamide toolbox’, and launched
by the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) in 2005 to
help food processor cut levels of the chemical, had so far had only a limited impact.
“As in previous annual acrylamide reports it can likewise be concluded that the
application of the acrylamide toolbox has had only limited success,” said the report.
The report also highlighted a number of limitation with the data, saying that no
European trend could be identified in eight of the 22 food groups, whilst there
was insufficient information available for wafers, and coffee not specified, as
well as and muesli and porridge.
The EFSA experts said that three years was not enough time to reveal trends across
all food groups and said differences in test methods and sample number across different
member states also contributed to the current unclear picture. It called for greater
consistency in these areas in order “to be able to distinguish random fluctuations
from real observable trends”.
The body concluded: “To lower overall exposure it would be desirable to further
reduce acrylamide levels in food groups contributing the most to acrylamide exposure,
like fried potatoes (including French fries), soft bread, roasted coffee, biscuits.”
The United Kingdom plans to scrap “best-before” dates on foods in a move to reduce
the 5.3 million tonnes of edible food ending up in landfills each year – an amount
equivalent to 4,700 Olympic-sized swimming pools, a section of the British press
The country’s ministers also plan to withdraw “sell-by” and “display-until” stickers
to reduce food wastage, which cost each family around £700 a year. Only “use-by”
dates will be kept.
New labels highlighting the health risks of leaving food on the shelf or in the
fridge for a long period could be introduced
Industry federation the CIAA has branded MEP’s desire for mandatory labelling of
trans fats on food and beverage products as ‘a step too far’, supporting the council
view that trans fats info should be voluntary.
MEPs voted in a package of proposals in the second reading of the food information
regulation, with 57 votes in favour, 4 against and 1 abstention. They agreed that
key nutritional information such as energy content, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates,
sugars, protein and salt, must be indicated in tabular form on the back of the pack
and expressed per 100g/ml and also per portion.
In addition to this established list the MEPs added trans fats, unsaturated fat
with trans-isomer fatty acids produced through partial hydrogenation, which raise
the risk of coronary heart disease.
However CIAA has pointed out that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established
in 2004 that the intake of trans fats in most EU member states was already below
the WHO recommendation maximum of 1 per cent of total energy, leading it to conclude
that they are do not pose a public health hazard.
“The CIAA supports the Council’s view that trans-fats should be labelled on a voluntary
basis,” it said in a statement late last night.
Back to front
The ENVI MEPs said the eight nutrients on back-of-pack may accompanied by guidance
daily amounts (GDA), the industry’s favoured format, and energy content may be duplicated
on front of pack.
The CIAA has focused in on the portrayal of energy by portion in addition to per
100ml/g, saying: “This will create an unnecessary duplication of information for
energy per 100g/100ml because this information is already listed (along with other
nutrients) in the nutrient declaration (usually back-of-pack) for comparison purposes.
“Moreover, food manufacturers have been providing voluntary information for energy
FOP per portion using the GDA scheme for a number of years.” The federation
referred to consumer research that indicates information by portion is useful for
making informed choices. “Industry calls on MEPs to prevent duplication ‘on pack’
in their Plenary vote in July,” is said.
The MEPs also voted in several measures to safeguard legibility of mandatory information,
including a minimum font size of 1.5mm for mandatory information, or 0.9mm for packs
under 80cm2 in size; clear labelling of allergens; and the freezing date on fish,
meat and poultry products, but not composite foods.
The CIAA said that the exemptions for small packs are welcome, as well as factors
such as font type, contrast, line and character pitch. However it is still in opposition
to a minimum font size – and if one were to be set it should be no more than 1mm,
Trilogues and beyond
The Parliament, Council and Commission will now enter a series of triglogues over
the food information legislation, the first of which is scheduled for 10 May.
The Parliament said in a statement that, following yesterday’s vote, rapporteur
Renate Sommer now has a strong mandate to enter into negotiations with to achieve
a second-reading agreement with Council ahead of Parliament's plenary vote in July.
The CIAA , meanwhile, says it “now looks to the institutions to reach a balanced
agreement, in view of the proposal’s original aim, i.e. to combine and simplify
existing legislation, and to improve consumer understanding.”
Saying that the Committee result seems to bring in provisions beyond this basic
goal, it is calling for “a more pragmatic approach to ensure that food labels are
not overcomplicated for the consumer, and, at the same time, that the final outcome
presents a workable piece of legislation for food manufacturers, helping to promote
the competitiveness of Europe’s food and drink industry.”
Once the legislation is adopted food companies will have three years to put the
new rules into practice, plus an additional two years for the rules on nutritional
Organic Valley, the nation's largest name-brand marketer of organic eggs, is being
accused of misleading consumers about the living conditions of its California hens,
and for violating federal organic standards, according to a story in the morning's
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The bombshell was dropped by the California-based organic watchdog group Cornucopia
Institute, which says the hens at the Petaluma Egg Farm were confined in screened
"porches" and not allowed to forage naturally in pastures with direct sunlight.
"The federal organic standards clearly state that 'year-round access for all animals
to the outdoors' is a requirement," says Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst
with the group in a release on their website.
The Cornucopia Institute has filed a legal complaint with the USDA over the matter.
The current dust-up may be prompted by the USDA's National Organic Standards Board
meeting scheduled for the end of April, where the board is expected to address whether
"porches" meet the definition ofaccess to the outdoors.
Organic Valley does not refer to Petaluma Egg Farm by that name, but identifies
the operation as Judy and Steve's Egg Farm, a tactic often used by large-scale agriculture
"We call it Petaluma Poultry and Steve and Judy's," Theresa Marquez, Organic Valley
spokesperson tells Slashfood. "Just because it was a big ag tactic doesn't mean
it was our tactic. We have a transparency page where our position is very clear."
"I'm outraged Mark Kastel called our integrity into question. We do everything we
can to have high quality standards. He doesn't like porches. I'm not sure I do either,
but porches are actually part of the organic certification. In California, it's
considered access to the outdoors. We were approved," Marquez says.
To be clear, eggs from Petaluma Egg Farm that fall under the Organic Valley brand
are not labeled pastured. (Organic Valley eggs from Midwest producers are pasture-raised.)
The California eggs are labeled cage-free and organic. The exception for the use
of porches is addressed on the company's website:
"Our farmers are required to provide 1.75 square feet per bird indoors and five
square feet per bird outdoors. An exception to this is made for our producer in
California, where state veterinarians and the California Department of Agriculture
strongly advocate that birds not have free-range outdoor access because of the risk
of Avian Influenza transmission. Our California farmer-owner has screened houses
with lots of natural light, and his outdoor access method is approved by his organic
certifier, Oregon Tilth."
Petaluma Egg Farm also sells eggs under the brand names Rock Island, Uncle Eddie's,
Judy's Family Farm and Gold Circle.
Cornucopia Institute has, in addition, filed a legal complaint with the USDA against
Michigan-based Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, also for violating federal organic standards
by confining hens in buildings.
"We'd like to paint this topic black and white, but the fact is, it's a very complex
issue. We are trying to be straightforward and now we're being punished for it?'
says Marquez. "The question is, how do we produce organic in a large enough commercial
way that we can drive the price down and not be food for the elite?”
Country of origin labelling may harm small businesses, and is likely to prove the
trickiest point in trilogues over food information, says rapporteur MEP Renate Sommer
after today’s ENVI vote. She suspects some member states’ votes may have been influenced
"Born in France, raised in Spain, cooked in the UK... but I'm ALL European!"
Sommer made her remarks following the vote of the Parliament’s ENVI committee vote
on 420 amendments to the food information regulation this morning, at which MEPs
approved three compromise agreements that had previously been made between political
These compromises covered legibility of mandatory information, including a minimum
font size of 1.5mm for mandatory information, or 0.9mm for packs under 80mm in size;
clear labelling of allergens; and the freezing date on fish, meat and poultry products,
but not composite foods.
Country of origin labelling (COOL) was not subject to a compromise, and the consolidated
amendment, requiring COOL for all fresh meat, dairy, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables,
as well as single meat, poultry and fish ingredients in composite products, was
Sommer said this may prove problematic in the forthcoming trilogues between the
Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the first of which is planned for 10
May – and, if it makes it into the final version, would create huge headaches for
small and medium food companies (SME).
While she said that personally she has nothing against COOL, “it has to be realistic
She pointed out that this means when fish, meat or poultry is not born, raised and
processed in the same country all three countries must be listed.
Over 99 per cent of the 310,000 companies making up the European food sector are
SMEs, and the burden of such detailed COOL would be too great for many of them.
She also warned that such requirements would make it much easier for big players
“to squeeze little ones out of existence”.
Sommer illustrated her point using the example of strawberry jam. In the globalised
world we live in, the origin of the strawberries may change from one week to the
other depending on cost and seasonality.
Is the manufacturer supposed to print 20 different labels for each batch, or list
all the possible origins? What benefit would that be to the consumer, she asked.
According to the rapporteur, consumers are not asking for COOL; she said we don’t
actually know what consumers want to see as the scientific research in this area
is not yet complete.
However Glenis Willmott, S & D shadow rapporteur, who favours a label of origin
for all meat and poultry, on both fresh and processed products, said:"Consumers
concerned about animal welfare and the environment should know where the meat you
buy comes from, including meat in processed products like sandwiches and ready meals."
Mrs Sommer, however, said she suspects that the voting of some member states was
along national lines and led by desire to protect their markets – an influence she
called “very dangerous protectionism”, and “a shameful decision”.
European food rules are based on the requirement that food must not make consumers
ill; quality, meanwhile, depends on how much you want to spend. Mrs Sommer said
she is concerned that with mandatory COOL “it could be the case that products from
some members states are kept out of others”.
She added that no-one is stopping manufacturers from using COOL on a voluntary basis
– and indeed this could be a good marketing argument for regional or local foods,
or those produced in areas associated with traditional produce.
“If the consumer really wants to know the country of origin, that will happen through
market forces,” she said.
When it comes to packaged fish or meat, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between
fresh goods and their inedible counterparts.
But German researchers have now developed a sensor film that can be integrated into
the package itself, where it takes over the role of quality control. And if the
food has spoiled, it changes colour to announce the fact.
The sensor film, developed by the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid
State Technologies EMFT in Munich, can immediately give a green - or rather: yellow
light, or warn of spoiled goods. EMFT developed the film in a project sponsored
by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
The sensor film is integrated into the inside of the packaging, where it responds
to biogenic amines. Amines are molecules produced when foods - fish and meat foremost
among them - decay. They are also responsible for their unpleasant smell. If amines
are released into the air within the packaging, the indicator dye on the sensor
film reacts with them and changes its colour from yellow to blue.
"Once a certain concentration range is reached, the colour change is clearly visible
and assumes the task of warning the consumer," explains Dr Anna Hezinger, a scientist
at EMFT. This is not only interesting when it comes to identifying foods that have
become inedible. Many people are also extremely sensitive to the presence of certain
amines, which makes a warning all the more important for them.
"Unlike the expiration date, the information on the sensor film is not based on
an estimate but on an actual control of the food itself," Hezinger emphasises. At
the same time, the system is very inexpensive. This is important if it is to be
used on a broad scale. Other solutions - such as electronic sensors, for instance
- would lead to a steep increase in the price of packaged meat. Things that come
in direct contact with food products must also meet high standards.
"Food safety is ensured by a barrier layer between the sensor film and the product
itself. This barrier is only permeable to gaseous amines. The indicator chemicals
cannot pass through," Hezinger explains.
ATLANTA: Half the meat and poultry sold in US supermarkets may be tainted with the
staph germ, a new report suggests.
The new study is based on 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased
from grocery stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Flagstaff, Ariz. and
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Proper cooking kills the germs, and federal health officials estimate staph accounts
for less than three per cent of food-borne illnesses. The new study found more than
half the samples contained staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can make people
sick. Worse, half of those contaminated samples had a form of staph that's resistant
to at least three kinds of antibiotics. "This study shows that much of our meat
and poultry is contaminated with multidrug-resistant staph," said Paul Keim, one
of the study's authors. Staph germs are commonly found on the skin and in the noses
of up to 25% of healthy people and can cause food poisoning.
Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from the Environment Committee have voted
to allow European Union countries to ban or restrict the use of GMOs (genetically-modified
organisms) on environmental grounds, giving them better legal protection in the
event of challenges from trading partners opposed to a ban. "Our proposal offers
states a solid, legal basis," said French Liberal Corinne Lepage, Parliament's draftswoman
for the rules, in a press release on Wednesday. GMOs was just one of the proposals
on food quality under discussion this week in EU Parliament.
"The report aims to give greater freedom to member states. The draft is balanced
and it reflects wishes and concerns of different parties. But we are concerned that
there should also be a community evaluation," Lepage said.
"This vote is a clear signal from Parliament to the Council and Commission: the
EU authorisation system should be maintained but it should be acknowledged that
some agricultural and environmental effects, as well as the socio-economic impact
linked to contamination, can be cited by member states to justify a ban or restriction
on GMO cultivation," she added. The report is expected to be on the June plenary
Member states will be able to restrict or ban GMO cultivation on agro-environmental
grounds, for example pesticide resistance, the invasiveness of certain crops and
a threat to biodiversity. But they will not be able to ban them on health grounds.
MEPs expect the inclusion of a ban specifically on environmental grounds to give
member states better legal protection in the event of challenges to the GMO ban
via the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The changes will not alter the safety approval procedure for GM crops, which is
carried out by the European Commission on the basis of an independent risk assessment
from the European Food Safety Authority.
Further, food labelling was under discussion, but there were still differences between
MEPs on issues including mandatory labelling of trans fats and extending country
of origin indications. The Environment Committee is expected to vote on the same
on April 19.
Also new rules on food quality were presented to the Agriculture Committee on Monday,
dealing with a quality system for agricultural products, geographical indication
and guidelines. It will introduce the compulsory labelling of place of farming and
make it easier to promote traditional food.
Following the failure by the Council and EP to agree new rules on novel foods, like
clone-derived products or food using nanotechnology, the EP's negotiators are planning
to make a statement during the May plenary.
That premium extra-virgin olive oil you shelled out a little extra for may not be
quite as premium as you'd hoped, according to a second study released yesterday
by the UC Davis Olive Center and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory.
According to the report, researchers found that five of the top-selling imported
"extra virgin" olive oil brands in the U.S. were inconsistent, and that 73 percent
of the samples tested failed sensory standards, which indicated they were of poor
quality or had been adulterated with cheaper refined oils like canola, seed or nut
The Los Angeles Times reports that the brands tested included Filippo Berio, Bertolli,
Pompeian, Colavita and Star.
It's the second study released by the groups in the last year. The first was published
last summer, but drew heavy criticism for small sample sizing, unknown storage conditions
and testing methods. And already, the current report is coming under attack by the
North American Olive Oil Association, which represents marketers, packagers and
importers of olive oil.
"Consumers can continue to trust the quality of the imported olive oils they buy
in supermarkets throughout the United States, contrary to what the authors of a
report funded by a small contingent of domestic oil producers would like them to
believe," the release says.
But Patricia Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council told
Slashfood that the new study used two International Olive Council (IOC) recognized
panels and extended the original study by using more samples of each brand. The
first study analyzed 52 samples of 14 brands. The current study looked at 134 samples
from eight producers.
"The results were similar," says Darragh. "What that means for consumers is they
need to read the labels very carefully. There are a lot of good olive oils produced
throughout the world, but consumers need to check the labels."
By definition, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality of olive oil.
While it can vary in taste and color, to be labeled extra virgin, it must meet standards
set by the IOC. The issue around olive oil purity has been heating up. In October,
the USDA updated olive oil standards for the first time since 1948.
It has also been getting serious attention in California, which produces 99 percent
of the olives grown in the U.S. Earlier this month, the California Senate Health
Committee approved a bill introduced by Sen. Lois Wolk tightening the standards
for what can be labeled "extra virgin" in California, and will impact what is brought
into or sold in the state should it eventually be approved by the legislature and
be signed by the governor.
On Sept. 16, 2010, a team of U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators arrived
at a Shanghai purveyor of dough, macaroni and baby cereal. Federal authorities had
long suspected that Shanghai Chuangi Food Co.'s plants were unsanitary. Many of
its products, like soup base, had been shipped to the port of New York and ultimately
placed in an unknown number of goods that ended up on kitchen tables in the U.S.
That's why federal authorities assigned to one of the FDA's new Chinese offices
warned that country's government of their plans to pounce. FDA inspectors and a
Chinese translator went to several Shanghai addresses listed for the company. Each
time, representatives who answered the door refused to make executives available
or allow inspectors inside. They even said the company didn't ship to the U.S. —
which, of course, was a lie. Within a month, the FDA issued an import alert, banning
Shanghai Chuangi's products from the U.S.
If you find that story reassuring, don't. The U.S. receives scores of tips about
unsafe imported food each year, but the FDA inspects only about 1% of the roughly
10 million products shipped into the country annually. Blame it partly on a lack
of funding and, until recently, authority.
In January, however, things changed. President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization
Act, potentially the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's food-safety system in
nearly three-quarters of a century. The law directs the FDA, regulator of about
80% of food consumed in the U.S., to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses like
salmonella. That's no small matter: nearly 1 in 6 Americans — 48 million people
— contracts a food-borne illness each year; 3,000 die as a result. Much of the new
law will deal with domestically grown food, which accounts for about 85% of what
Americans eat. But one of the most intriguing effects of the law will be the launch
of a massive effort to inspect the increasing amount of imported goods: in the coming
years, the FDA is expected to spend nearly $1.4 billion to hire hundreds of staffers
and private contractors to inspect the expanding number of foreign food suppliers.
The question is, Can the FDA police the world? It was only a century ago that Upton
Sinclair wrote The Jungle, a groundbreaking book that described, in horrific detail,
how spoiled meat was doused with soda to remove the scent of rot before it was hauled
off to free-lunch counters. The book led to the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug
Act and the formation of the FDA.
Today, of course, the FDA is a massive agency: it regulates more than $466 billion
worth of food and about 25¢ of every consumer dollar spent. Yet its imported-food
mandate will be difficult to execute, mainly because globalization has sharply broadened
the American palate. At ordinary supermarkets in Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., or Boise,
Idaho, ingredients like chipotle sauce, couscous and coconut milk are no longer
marginalized to the imported-food aisle — if such a section exists. About 60% of
the U.S.'s fresh fruits and vegetables are imported, as is about 80% of seafood,
much of it from countries with questionable food-safety regulations. "Globalization
has presented its own food-safety challenges, which must be addressed," the FDA's
deputy commissioner for foods, Michael Taylor, told a Shanghai audience recently.
The truth is, the FDA has struggled to keep up with the globalized food business.
The evidence regularly appears on the evening television news: In 2008, the FDA
warned that melamine, a compound frequently used to make plastics, had been found
in Chinese infant formula, leading the agency to ban such products. In another case
that year, clusters of illnesses in the U.S. prompted the FDA to investigate how
jalapeño and serrano peppers imported from Mexico had become infected with salmonella.
Ultimately, the agency warned consumers to avoid the peppers. Partly in response
to such cases, the FDA has opened offices in far-flung cities like Guangzhou, Mumbai
and Mexico City and has even dispatched a team of seafood experts to train Bangladeshi
officials about U.S. food-safety standards.
The new law will take those efforts to a higher level. For starters, the FDA will
hire hundreds of staffers to inspect thousands of overseas food facilities in the
coming years. In Shanghai recently, Taylor said, "It is clear that the FDA can't
be everywhere all the time, especially when it comes to the oversight of imported
foods." So the agency will hire third-party certifiers. The handful of firms that
inspect and certify food are preparing for an uptick in business. One of those firms
is Bureau Veritas, a French concern. The company is already familiar with the U.S.
regulatory process. Its office across from Walmart's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters
advises the retail giant on how its products can meet U.S. safety standards. The
company has conducted certification tests with the FDA on Vietnamese shrimp. Patrick
Bele, Veritas' food-business-development manager, says of the new safety law: "It's
going to be an opportunity to hire more people, invest in more labs. It will give
us an extra push in growth."
Two potential barriers to the law's implementation are politics and money. Congressional
Republicans have suggested that the FDA's budget be trimmed by $220 million. "Certainly,
food safety is a high priority," says Congressman Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia,
who argues that the relative rarity of food-borne illness means the current system
is effective. "But money is scarce," he says.
It may seem easy to dismiss such rhetoric since the Senate, which remains dominated
by Democrats, is unlikely to erode a signature legislative victory backed by the
Obama Administration and Big Food. But the law's advocates fear that the drive to
cut the FDA's budget could gain traction in the next two to four years if Republicans
take control of both chambers of Congress. "It's good to say the food supply is
safe, but it has to turn out that way," warns Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety
director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy
group. She adds, "There are risks to their own constituents if they're exposed to
contaminated foods ... The Republicans will be left holding the bag."
Meanwhile, back in China, Shanghai Chuangi hasn't taken key steps toward redemption,
like testing questionable plants. FDA inspectors have yet to return to the company's
facilities either. Without adequate funding, it's worth wondering if they ever will.