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2/9
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More Salami/Pepper Salmonella News: Where is the contaminated pepper?
http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2010/02/articles/foodborne-illness-outbreaks/more-salamipepper-salmonella-news-where-is-the-contaminated-pepper/
Posted on February 3, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
The Rhode Island Department of Health announced today that recent test results strongly suggest black pepper is the source of the Salmonella outbreak associated with Daniele Inc. salami. According to the CDC, the outbreak has sickened at least 207 people in 42 states.
Daniele purchased black pepper from two different distributors (Mincing Oversees Spice Company and Wholesome Spices) who buy imported black pepper. Samples of pepper from both distributors have tested positive for Salmonella. All other tests of employees and the facilities are negative at this time. These findings are consistent with Daniele Inc.¡¯s history of no Salmonella findings by in-house testing and USDA periodic testing. No additional food items have been added to the recall list.
As part of the outbreak investigation, it was determined that both distributors who supplied black pepper to Daniele imported pepper from common sources.
¡°These recent findings show that black pepper used during the manufacturing process at Daniele was the likely source of this outbreak,¡± said Director of Health David R. Gifford, MD, MPH. ¡°This outbreak only underscores the importance of closely monitoring food that is imported from other countries as they may not have the same food safety standards as we do.¡±
Adding even more concern to an already devastating outbreak, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health indicates that some of the outbreak victims don't have a known exposure to salami. What does this mean? Bad news for the american consumer. If there are lots of people out there who have been sickened by a strain of Salmonella that genetically matches the strain on Daniele Inc salami, there is a high likelihood that plain old pepper, or pepper on foods other than salami, is making people ill too.
What needs to happen now is that both suppliers of black pepper to Daniele Inc.--Mincing Oversees Spice Co. and Wholesome Spice--need to tell the government and everybody else who they distributed potentially contaminated pepper to. Pepper is a product with a long shelf life, and is ubiquitous in every home. This makes it a particularly risky food when there is a possibility that it is contaminated. Oversees Spice and Wholesome: do what's right. If your products and sales are traceable, as they should be, then tell the public where the potentially contaminated product went. You may be facing multiple lawsuits now, but there will be many more to come if this outbreak continues to grow.
Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak Linked to Black Pepper Salami Sickens 202 in 42 States
http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2010/01/articles/foodborne-illness-outbreaks/salmonella-montevideo-outbreak-linked-to-black-pepper-salami-sickens-202-in-42-states/
Posted on January 29, 2010 by Bill Marler
The CDC reports that a total of 202 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo have been reported from 42 states and District of Columbia since July 1, 2009. The number of ill persons identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AK (1), AL (2), AZ (5), CA (30), CO (4), CT (4), DC (1), DE (2), FL (3), GA (3), IA (1), ID (2), IL (11), IN (3), KS (3), LA (1), MA (12), MD (1), ME (1), MI (3), MN (4), MO (1), NC (9), ND (1), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (7), NM (2), NY (16), OH (9), OK (1), OR (9), PA (5), RI (2), SC (1), SD (3), TN (4), TX (7), UT (7), VA (1), WA (15), WV (1), and WY (2). Because this is a commonly occurring strain, public health investigators may determine that some of the illnesses are not part of this outbreak.
Among the persons with reported dates available, illnesses began between July 4, 2009 and January 11, 2010. Infected individuals range in age from < 1 year old to 93 years old and the median age is 37 years. Fifty-three percent of patients are male. Among the 148 patients with available information, 38 (26%) were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Vietnam's Black Pepper is Outbreak Source
http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/vietnams-black-pepper-is-outbreak-source/
by Dan Flynn | Feb 02, 2010
Somewhere in the 135,000 tons of fresh black pepper Vietnam shipped around the world last year is the end of a supply chain that is making people sick in the United States.
Brooklyn's Wholesome Spice, which until recently had Rhode Island's Daniele Inc. as a client, got its black pepper from a supplier in Vietnam.
Sold by Wholesome Spice to Daniele Inc., the imported pepper was contaminated with Salmonella. Daniele, Inc. used the pepper to coat its salami, and Americans are becoming sick.
An outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo associated with brands of salami made by Daniele has now spread to 42 states and sickened 203. No deaths have been reported.
Daniele has recalled almost 1.26 million pounds of its ready-to-eat meat products, including some not containing pepper that might have been cross-contaminated during processing.
Rhode Island's Department of Health last week found an opened container of black pepper used in the manufacturing of at least some of the recalled products that tested positive for the Salmonella Montevideo strain with a DNA "fingerprint" that matched the outbreak strain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pepper, is investigating the supply chain. FDA has been collecting samples of black pepper, but so far all have come up negative.
FDA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulate the meat in the Italian sausage products involved, are working with state public health departments on the epidemiologic investigation.
In a statement Monday, CDC said the investigation is the first to use shopper card information to determine specific brands of a product suspected to cause illness.
As for pepper imported from Vietnam, FDA blocked shipments from the Asian nation several times last year. Importers that had shipments blocked include: Olam Vietnam Ltd. VKL Vietnam Ltd., Phuc Hung Food Co. Ltd., Vinh Hiep Co., and Ltd Sonaco.
It is not known if any of these companies imported to Wholesome Spice.

State Names Second Bad Pepper Distributor
http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/state-names-second-bad-pepper-distributor/
by Dan Flynn | Feb 04, 2010
Brooklyn's Wholesome Spice and Seasonings was not the only company supplying black pepper contaminated with Salmonella Montevideo to Daniele Inc., the Rhode Island Department of Health said Wednesday.
Dayton, NJ's Mincing Overseas Spice Company also supplied the black pepper that was used by the Rhode Island-based Daniele to coat ready-to-eat salami.
Tests by Rhode Island health officials "strongly suggest black pepper was the source of the Salmonella outbreak associated with Daniele Inc."
Daniele purchased black pepper from two different distributors (Mincing Overseas Spice and Wholesome Spice) who buy imported black pepper.
Samples of pepper from both distributors have tested positive for Salmonella. All other tests of employees and the facilities are negative at this time, state health officials said.
Rhode Island said the findings are consistent with Daniele Inc.'s history of no Salmonella findings by in-house testing and periodic testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No additional food items have been added to the recall list, which consists of more than 1.25 million pounds of salami (salame) produced by Daniele for its own and other labels.
As part of the outbreak investigation, it was determined that both distributors who supplied black pepper to Daniele imported pepper from common sources. It was previously reported the black pepper originated in Vietnam, but an importer has not been named.
"These recent findings show that black pepper used during the manufacturing process at Daniele was the likely source of this outbreak," said Rhode Island's Director of Health David R. Gifford, MD, MPH. "This outbreak only underscores the importance of closely monitoring food that is imported from other countries as they may not have the same food safety standards as we do."
Daniele now purchases black pepper that has already been treated to assure the elimination of Salmonella and other infectious organisms. Daniele is testing all lots of new products before they leave the manufacturing plant for distribution. In addition, the company continues to clean and sanitize all areas and equipment to ensure safe products.
Rhode Island is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine any other distribution of this black pepper in the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta updated its report on the outbreak yesterday, saying 207 people in 42 states and the District of Columbia were known to be infected with the Salmonella Montevideo strain as of 9 p.m., Feb. 2.
FDA Updates Statement on the Investigation into the Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak
http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm199902.htm
For Immediate Release: February 4, 2010
The Food and Drug Administration, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service, continues to work closely with the Rhode Island Department of Health and other states in the investigation of an outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo infections associated with certain Italian-style sausage products including salami/salame.
The CDC reports that 207 people have been infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo in at least 42 states and the District of Columbia. Recently, the CDC and public health officials in multiple states conducted an epidemiologic study by comparing foods eaten by 41 ill and 41 well persons. Preliminary analysis of this study suggested salami/salame as a possible source of illness: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/montevideo/index.html.

On Jan. 23, 2010, Daniele International Inc. recalled ready-to-eat varieties of Italian style meats and expanded its recall a week later to include additional ready-to-eat meats. The recalled products, including salami and Hot Sopressata Calabrese, are regulated by the USDA: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_006_2010_Expanded/index.asp.
Recent samples of black pepper collected by the Rhode Island Department of Health at Daniele International Inc. tested positive for Salmonella. One sample from an open container matched the outbreak strain. The remaining supply of pepper testing positive for Salmonella has been voluntarily placed on hold by both of Daniele¡¯s suppliers.
The FDA is actively investigating the supply chain of the black pepper used in the manufacturing of the recalled meat products to see if it poses a risk to consumers. The agency has collected and is currently analyzing both domestic and imported black pepper samples. To date, all the samples collected and analyzed by the FDA have tested negative for Salmonella; however, sample collection and analysis continues.
If FDA identifies a public health risk associated with black pepper, or any other product, the Agency will take the appropriate action necessary to protect the publics health.
The recalled meat products have an extended shelf life up to one year. Consumers are advised to check the USDA list of the recalled products to make sure they do not have any of them in their homes. If they do, consumers should throw the products away immediately.
Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections ( infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. Individuals having consumed any Italian sausage products and who may be experiencing these symptoms should contact a health professional immediately. For details on salmonella sources, symptoms, and treatment, please refer to the Salmonella page on FoodSafety.gov: http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/salmonella.html.

China Launches Emergency Sweep for Tainted Milk

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/02/02/world/AP-AS-China-Tainted-Milk.html?_r=3&scp=2&sq=milk&st=cse

Filed at 6:42 a.m. ET
BEIJING (AP) -- China has launched a 10-day emergency crackdown on tainted milk products after several were found creeping back onto the market despite a massive scandal that sickened hundreds of thousands of children in 2008.
No one knows how many tainted milk products are still on the market, a member of the country's food safety committee, Chen Junshi, was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper Tuesday.
The national food safety office has sent eight inspection teams to check products in 16 provinces, an unnamed official said Tuesday in a question-and-answer session posted on the Health Ministry's Web site.
The sweep that started Monday comes after milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine were pulled from shelves in Shanghai and the provinces of Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. Some had been recalled in the previous scandal and repackaged.
''In some places, the work to lock up and destroy milk powder from the 2008 scandal has not been thorough enough,'' the official said Tuesday.
At least six children died and more than 300,000 fell sick in the 2008 scandal, where melamine, normally used in making plastics and fertilizer, was added to watered-down milk to fool inspectors testing for protein and increase profits.
At the time, China promised sweeping changes for the country's food safety. In November, it executed a dairy farmer and a milk salesman to show how serious it took the scandal.
But health concerns peaked again early this year after authorities in Shanghai said they secretly investigated a dairy for nearly a year before announcing it had been producing tainted milk products.
The case was especially troubling because Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. was one of the 22 dairies named by China's product safety authority in the 2008 scandal, with its products having among the highest levels of melamine.
This time, China is again promising a thorough crackdown. ''All melamine-tainted milk products will be found and destroyed,'' Xinhua quoted Health Minister Chen Zhu as saying over the weekend.
But China has found that policing a supply chain from cow to milk collection plant to dairy to distributor hasn't been easy.
''Development isn't equal everywhere, and the integrity of companies is uneven,'' the official said Tuesday, blaming the problem on smaller businesses.
Chinese authorities won't be able to get every tainted packet in the emergency crackdown, but it's still a good move, said Victoria Sekitoleko, representative for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Beijing.
''For now, it's best to go in right away and get it off the shelves,'' she said. ''These traders are not about to give up, so officials will have to be vigilant all the time.''
In other recent cases, officials in late January said tainted dairy products from three companies were pulled from more than a dozen convenience stores around the southern province of Guizhou. Officials said products recalled during the previous scandal somehow made it back to the market.
Again, one of the companies, Laoting Kaida Refrigeration, was among companies named in the original 2008 scandal.
In December, the general manager of a dairy in northern Shaanxi province and two employees were accused of producing and selling more than 5 tons of tainted milk powder. The deputy head of the regional public security department told Xinhua that none of the powder reached the market.


Did science change overnight?

Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond
February 02, 2010
http://www.meatingplace.com/MembersOnly/blog/BlogDetail.aspx?blogID=10

I am going to ask the readers of this blog to indulge me, and let me try one more time to make a point that I believe was not clear, and therefore not discussed, in my last blog Friday, January 28.
Today's blog is not about treating beef trim with ammonia, or even treating beef carcasses with low dose irradiation. Instead, I would like to see a discussion about how policy decisions are made in DC, and who makes them.
Five years ago, in 2005, AMI petitioned FSIS and USDA to allow whole carcass, low dose irradiation to be considered a processing aid. Three years ago, in 2008, AMI asked me why no action had been taken on the petition. That was the first I had heard of the petition, but the next thing I did was to ask FSIS to schedule a public hearing on the subject so all voices could be heard, hoping that would start a science based deliberative process moving forward. This meeting was held Sept 18 amd there's a transcript of those proceedings. Later, we were told that it was in FDA's hands, as they had the power to decide if this was a processing aid or a food additive.
A couple of months ago, AMI asked the deputy undersecretary for food safety where FSIS was at with the petition. A few weeks ago, the NY Times wrote about a processing aid using ammonia to treat beef products, and one week ago, FSIS told NMA that "because of other recent events, processing aids in general are under greater scrutiny now" and the petition was not moving forward.
Five years to look at the science and respond, but instead we were told it was an FDA issue. Now, when the heat is turned up, FSIS suddenly has the authority to hold up the petition, even though no new science has emerged.
Making major policy decisions on the fly is not science based and is not right. Dr Hagen has always used science to back her decisions, and the fact this was announced hours before the announcement of her nomination bothers me. I hope it bothers the readers enough to respond. And I hope we find out who made this decision, and how high up it was vetted.

Obama Boosts FDA Food Safety in FY2011 Budget
http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/obama-boosts-food-safety-in-fy2011-budget/
by Helena Bottemiller | Feb 03, 2010
What Obama's budget means for food safety: FDA gets big bump, but relies on fees in pending food safety legislation; FSIS budget leaves experts concerned
President Obama's 2011 budget, released Monday, proposes increased spending on food safety activities, especially for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)--which has historically received a disproportionately small cut of federal food safety spending compared to its U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) counterpart.
Though the President's budget requests a boost in funding to both FDA and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for food regulation, FDA's increase far exceeds the rate of inflation, while the FSIS budget remains essentially flat.
FDA's food safety programs receive a 30 percent increase in funding for 2011 under the proposal (pdf). According to the agency, the budget invests approximately $1.37 billion to strengthen food safety efforts, up $318.3 million from 2010.
FSIS, on the other hand, receives a less than 2 percent increase of $18 million in the budget (pdf)--$1.046 billion for 2011, compared to $1.028 billion in 2010.
FDA
About 75 percent of FDA's hefty increase in resources for food regulation will depend on the passage of an FDA food safety reform bill, which includes food facility registration fees.
The agency does not currently have the authority to collect the fees needed to fund its proposed budget increase.
"Without the enactment of the registration fee for FDA, the $146 million in increased appropriations proposed for the food safety budget will leave the agency in a little better shape than it is today," said Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food & Water Watch.
In addition to relying on registration fees, much of the budget won't go directly to food safety activities, according to David Acheson, former associate commissioner of foods at FDA.
"It is not even as good as $1.37 billion for the foods programs. Of that $1.37 billion, just a little over $1 billion is actually going to the food programs in the Centers, the Field and in the Office of Commissioner; the rest is used for rent," said Acheson in a blog post, after the budget was released.
According to FDA, the increase will allow the agency to implement core elements of the President's Food Safety Working Group, and "set standards for food safety, expand laboratory capacity, pilot track and trace technology, strengthen its import safety program, improve data collection and risk analysis and begin to establish an integrated food safety system with strengthened inspection and response capacity."
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chairwoman of the Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, reacted to Obama's budget proposal with praise for the FDA portion and concern for the FSIS proposal.
"I commend President Obama for his understanding of the important work being done at the Food and Drug Administration," said DeLauro in a statement Monday. "Supporting the FDA in their role of maintaining the safety of our food and medicine is essential."
FSIS
"The proposed focus on transforming food safety, protecting patients, and advancing regulatory science reflects the president's commitment to a strong food safety system, and I am very pleased with his continued support," said DeLauro. "However, while there are new food safety initiatives that deserve consideration, I am concerned that funding for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service remains essentially frozen."
"The FSIS is responsible for front-line inspections and recalls, and will be stretched beyond its capacity by the growing population of our country and the resulting increase in food consumption," said DeLauro. "Recent food-borne illness outbreaks, such as a recent recall involving salami that has sickened 202 people in 42 states, clearly demonstrate that the FSIS is confronting ever more serious and widespread food safety concerns."
"FSIS should be given the resources to perform the critical food safety activities that comprise USDA's public health mission area," added DeLauro.
According to Corbo, the FSIS proposal might not even cover the additional workload for inspectors. Though the agency's budget increase is less than 2 percent, the budget predicts a 7.8 percent increase in the number of slaughter facilities and a 2.2 percent increase in meat and poultry processing facilities.
"Because these new facilities will require continuous government inspection, this proposed budget puts an already stretched FSIS workforce under increased pressure," said Corbo. "Even more troubling is that the proposed budget would cut funding for FSIS' import inspection program by 15.8 percent."
"It is encouraging that the proposed budget would substantially increase the number of microbiological and antibiotic residue samples collected and analyzed in FY 2011, but we hope that the agency will have enough inspection personnel to collect those samples, as well as scientists to conduct the tests," added Corbo.
The White House budget proposal is just the beginning a long and arduous budget process through both the House and Senate, which will likely not conclude until FY2011 has already begun.

Food safety improvements slow in coming

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/01/31/

Published: Jan. 31, 2010 at 2:18 PM
ATLANTA, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Efforts to improve the safety of peanut butter after a major food-borne illness outbreak are moving slowly, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday.
The newspaper said promises by the state of Georgia and the U.S. government to crack down on food safety mostly remain unfulfilled, with new food testing regulations passed by the Gerogia Legislature still mainly not implemented.
Federal efforts to cut down on food-borne illnesses via food safety legislation are stuck Congress and have been supplanted by healthcare reform efforts, the report said.
The Journal-Constituted also said no criminal charges have been filed against the owners of the bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America plant where officials say contaminated peanut butter was put into products that sickened 700 people and has been linked to nine deaths nationwide.
"Nothing's happened," Minnesota resident Jeff Almer, whose mother, Shirley, died from eating contaminated peanut butter traced to Peanut Corp., told the newspaper. "It's very frustrating."
"It could peter out," added Tony Corbo of the non-profit consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch. "This has gotten off the radar."

Mande Warns About Pathogens Off Radar
http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/mande-worries-about-pathogens-off-radar/
by Dan Flynn | Feb 01, 2010
Jerold Mande, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, told a University of Florida audience last week that as many as 80 percent of foodborne illnesses could be caused by agents other than the top 30 pathogens that are currently being tracked. These agents could be responsible for 70 percent of hospitalizations and 65 percent of deaths attributed to foodborne illness.
Mande's remarks came at dedication ceremonies for Florida's new Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) located in Gainesville. He urged the new institute to focus its research in four areas.
"First, we need your expertise to develop new and better tools to help America's farmers and ranchers join the fight against foodborne pathogens. To take the next big step forward on food safety we need to do more to have fewer pathogens on food animals when they arrive at the slaughterhouse gate," Mande said.
"Second, we need more effective testing. We need better sampling methods based solidly in science. We need better tests that more rapidly detect a broader range of harmful pathogens, including whether pathogens are resistant to antimicrobials. We also need stronger assurance that laboratories used by companies have the expertise and experience to do effective food safety testing.
"Third, we need to arm our frontline inspectors with more sensitive and effective ways to detect foodborne hazards. FSIS has been given a powerful legal tool requiring us to inspect each animal carcass on its way to becoming the food we eat. We need to do a better a job equipping our inspectors with the means to not let harmful pathogens slip by as we stand watch.
"Finally, we need to discover the unidentified pathogens that are still responsible for the majority of foodborne illness. I don't think it will surprise any of you here today when I say that too large an amount of foodborne illnesses and deaths is attributed to unknown agents.
"In fact, according to CDC, as many as 80 percent of illnesses, 70 percent of hospitalizations, and 65 percent of deaths could be caused by agents other than the 30 pathogens they currently track.
"We must meet these challenges."
Until the U.S. Senate confirms Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as the new Under Secretary for Food Safety, Mande remains on top of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, currently USDA's chief medical officer, was nominated Jan. 25th, more than a year after President Obama took office. That why it has been left to Mande since his appointment last summer to speak for FSIS.
"We appreciate the work of researchers who help us understand the pathogens that threaten the safety of our food supply. What they are. How they emerge, evolve, and spread--or more simply put: how they travel from farm to plate," Mande told the University of Florida audience.
"It is only by understanding these pathogens that we're able to develop smart policies to combat them," he added.
Others speaking at the dedication ceremonies included: UF President Dr. Bernie Machen, UF VP for Research Dr. Win Phillips, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, Florida Deputy Commissioner for Agriculture Dr. Joanne Brown, and Infectious Disease Society of America president-elect Dr. Jim Hughes.

Should We Care About Genetically Modified Foods?
http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/should-we-care-about-genetically-modified-foods/
by John N. Shaw | Feb 01, 2010
Genetically modified foods have recently garnered more attention as the issue becomes a hotly debated and popular subject. Several environmental organizations and public interest groups have actively protested against Genetically Modified Foods (also, Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs) for various reasons. The main question many have asked is, "should we support or oppose GMOs?"
Deborah Whitman sheds some light on this subject and does an excellent job summarizing the issues involving GM foods in her article "Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?" Whitman presents numerous advantages and criticisms for GMOs.
In my opinion, the advantages of GMOs versus the cons are overwhelming. Although some believe GM foods impinge on consumers' health, I believe this is de minimis--so small or minimal in difference that it does not matter. In order to understand my opinion on this issue, I submit that I am no scientist; merely an interested student.
Although GMOs are often the subject of controversy, a number of people do not understand exactly what they are and why their use is debated. GMOs are foods derived from genetically modified organisms. The term GMO is used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time-consuming and are often not very accurate. However, genetic engineering can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy.
What are some advantages? Most advantages appear to be diminutive; however, they have an enormous impact on our society and food supply. Some of the advantages include pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. These advantages are listed below in further detail:
Pest resistance can be extremely costly, requiring farmers to spend a lot of time and money on pesticides. Additionally, these pesticides bring about numerous hazards and can encroach on consumers' health. GMOs can help eliminate pesticides and reduce costs. These advantages can mean reduced costs for farmers that are eventually passed along to consumers. Further, crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries.
Another important advantage of GMOs is the fact that biologists are working to create plants with genetically engineered resistance to plant viruses, fungi, and bacteria. This would also help farmers and others be more efficient and save money.
An antifreeze gene has been introduced into several plants, giving the plants the ability to tolerate colder temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings.
Researchers are working to create a strain of "golden" rice that contains several vitamins and nutrients. This is significant because it could improve the diet of populations dependent on rice while reducing malnutrition in countries that don't have access to other crops.
GMOs help lower costs for much needed medicines and vaccines that are too expensive for impoverished countries.
Although the advantages of GMOs seem to make the case for their use a "no brainer" at this point, there are several criticisms and concerns. Critics often include environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations, and other scientists and government officials. Their main concerns are comprised of a belief that private corporations are pursuing profits without concern for potential hazards and a belief that the government is failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Whitman states that GM food concerns generally fall into three categories: 1) environmental hazards, 2) human health risks, and 3) economic concerns. The environmental hazards consist of unintended harm to other organisms. For example, a study showed that pollen from Bt corn, corn bioengineered to resist the European corn borer, a crop pest which can cause significant damage to crops, caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Although the killing of insects may be the goal in pest resistance, it flows into other unintended species. Additionally, some populations of mosquitoes and other insects may become resistant to crops that have been genetically modified.Human health risks are an enormous concern. The main argument against GMOs is that there are several possible unknown risks. Two main concerns are that introducing foreign genes into food plants COULD have a negative impact on human health by introducing a new allergen or that ingesting these foods could cause problems with consumers' intestines. However, this is up for debate and critics claim that the concerns are not warranted.

The economic concerns, and probably the most warranted, claim that the process of bringing a GMO to the market is a lengthy and costly process in which companies pursue a profitable return on their investment. The problem occurs when companies patent these new plants and raise the price of seeds.
In conclusion, Genetically Modified foods have enormous potential to save money, eliminate poverty, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and promote innovative practices. Some individuals believe GM foods infringe on the environment and human health, however, I believe these concerns are de minimis and unwarranted. Although we must proceed with much caution and detailed research, technology is constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible. Consumers should weigh the positives with the negatives and embrace this innovative process to help rid the world of numerous problems.
Additional references:
1. "GM corn poses little threat to monarch larvae" (Nature, Vol. 399, No 6733, p. 214, May 1999).
2. "Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?" Deborah B. Whitman, 2000.
Found at: http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php
3. FDA; Federal FD&C Act. See "http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Testimony/ucm115032.htm"
4. http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/genetically-engineered-foods.htm

Tainted milk resurfaces in China, pointing to perennial food safety challenges: experts
http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5gNtU6Q1Cp6EqJ2-fTBIYiKm1PgKA
By Gillian Wong (CP)
BEIJING ? The resurfacing of tainted milk products in China highlights the challenges of policing the food supply in a country where close ties between local authorities and companies hamper regulation while producers are undertrained, experts said Thursday.
The problems have dealt another blow to China's efforts to restore confidence in its dairy supply after a massive contaminated milk scandal in 2008 left at least six babies dead and sickened 300,000 other children. At the time, China promised sweeping changes and punished dozens of officials, dairy executives and farmers. In November, it executed a dairy farmer and a milk salesman.
But the penalties failed to deter others, and local governments with close ties to dairy companies often shield them from being punished, leading to the new misdemeanours, said a food safety expert at Renmin University in Beijing.
"When companies violate the law, the government raises its stick high, but lets it fall down softly," said Zheng Fengtian, an agricultural economics and rural development professor. "The government coddles those companies too much and considers more the economic and employment impact that would occur if such companies suffer."
The 2008 scandal exposed the widespread practice of adding melamine, a chemical normally used in making plastics and fertilizer, to watered-down milk to increase profits and fool inspectors testing for protein. When ingested in large amounts, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.
At least five companies are believed to have resold milk products tainted with melamine that were supposed to have been destroyed in the earlier sweep, the Health Ministry said this week as it launched a new 10-day crackdown on the dairy industry. The ministry has not said if anyone was sickened by the latest contamination.
"Some companies and individuals are still ignoring the safety and health of the mass of the population. Their hearts are full of greed, and they committed crimes," the ministry said in a statement.
Three dairy plant managers and one milk powder dealer in central China suspected of selling melamine-tainted milk products were the first known arrests, announced Wednesday, in the crackdown after contaminated products were recently found in several provinces.
The scandal, China's worst food safety crisis in years, prompted the government to tighten regulations and vow to step up checks. But enforcement is weakened when local governments place the interests of their local dairies above regulation, allowing milk producers to be more daring, another food expert said.
"Recently there are a lot of melamine problems happening because people thought the crackdown on melamine is over and the milk powder produced two years ago will soon be expired and there are people who want to take the risk" of selling it, Chen Yu, a professor at the Beijing Agro-Business Management University, told the Southern Weekend newspaper.
The China Dairy Industry Association's chairman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The recent spate of tainted milk reports also underscores China's struggle to effectively regulate a massive food industry full of small, scattered operations.
China adopted a food safety law last summer that places more responsibility on food producers to ensure their products are safe, but it will take more time for the law to be fully implemented, said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO senior scientist on food safety based in Beijing.
"You have millions of food producers who all also need to be trained and educated, in some cases in some very basic food hygiene and food safety principles," Ben Embarek said.
"What is a little bit discouraging is to see that there are still producers out there who have not understood the seriousness of tampering with food safety and are continuing to put profits before safety in their products," he said.
Concerns about tainted milk products peaked again early this year after authorities in Shanghai said they secretly investigated a dairy for nearly a year before announcing it had been producing tainted products.
The case was especially troubling because Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. was one of the 22 dairies named by China's product safety authority in the 2008 scandal, with its products having among the highest levels of melamine.
In other recent cases, officials in late January said tainted dairy products from three companies were pulled from more than a dozen convenience stores around the southern province of Guizhou. Officials said products recalled during the previous scandal somehow made it back to the market.
Associated Press researcher Xi Yue contributed to this report.

Scientists: Reduce, don't ban, antibiotics
http://www.capitalpress.com/lvstk/TH-antibiotics-main-020510
Experts say farm use is one of many factors linked to drug resistance
By Tim Hearden
Capital Press
Is the high-pitched political wrangling over the use of antibiotics in livestock obscuring a legitimate public health concern?
Bold proclamations of doom by natural-food advocates notwithstanding, no one knows for sure the extent to which agriculture contributes to diseases' resistance to drugs meant to treat illness in humans and animals.
Even scientists who would abolish the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals concede that people are mainly to blame for an overuse of the drugs that researchers say caused 65,000 more deaths in the U.S. in 2008.
Exposure sources
Food is one of many potential sources of exposure to antibiotics for humans, who can also be exposed to the agents in such innocent things as Lysol and hand soaps, asserts Chad Mueller, an Oregon State University beef cattle systems researcher.
Still, many scientists -- including those in ag circles -- suspect that use of the drugs in livestock contributes to the resistance problem, and suggest that better management of herds can be part of a solution. "Our goal is ... to reduce the need to ever use the drug while still protecting the safety of food to the consumer," said Doug Call, associate professor at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"One (solution) is to ... do everything we can to minimize the probability of having illness by cleaning up operations that are poorly run," he said. "Then you have less need for therapeutic use. We also need to battle a culture of using subtherapeutics, to educate producers that this doesn't really help you in the long run."
An antibiotic is a natural or synthetic medicine that attacks microbes such as bacteria and fungi. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows antibiotics to be used in animals to treat and prevent illness or to allow the animal to more efficiently digest feed. Subtherapeutics are drugs administered below the dosage level used to treat disease, such as in animal feed.
It's that second use -- to promote the growth of animals -- that draws the most ire from advocacy groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, which claims that about 25 million pounds a year are used for such nontherapeutic purposes alone.
Groups such as the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics argue these treatments are a big reason for increases in drug-resistant infections in people, and the groups have allies in Congress and in the Obama administration. Legislation to eliminate nontherapeutic use of antibiotics is expected to move forward in 2010.
Data unclear
It's unknown how much antibiotics are used in agriculture because the government does not track it. The Animal Health Institute, a pharmaceutical industry group, estimates that 20.2 million pounds were produced for farm and companion animals in 2003.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that about 150 million prescriptions for antibiotics are given to people each year, and as many as 50 million of those are unnecessary.
"I don't think anybody has a good handle on ... the relative contribution of antimicrobial use in a different setting to the antimicrobial resistance we see in humans," said Jean Patel, deputy director of the CDC's office of antimicrobial resistance.
What is well known, Patel said, is humans' exposure to resistant germs in health-care settings such as hospitals and through over-prescription of the drugs by doctors. The CDC has undertaken public education campaigns to address both of those issues, as well as one aimed at farmers.
The exposure doesn't stop there. Federal regulators are beginning to take notice of pharmaceutical residues in the nation's drinking water. And sewage treatment plants are "loaded with everything from cosmetics to anti-cancer drugs to antibiotics," providing an ample surrounding for germs to develop resistance, said John Maas, a beef extension veterinarian at the University of California-Davis.
Even resistance itself is a moving target, noted Ellen Jo Baron, associate director of clinical microbiology at Stanford University's School of Medicine. A consensus group of microbiologists, physicians and pharmaceutical industry representatives meets each year to determine resistance criteria, she said.
"The definition of resistance is not clear cut," Baron said, explaining that the scientists must take into account such variables as dosing.
Use varies In agriculture, the use of antibiotics varies from animal to animal and farm to farm. OSU's Mueller estimates that 7 to 10 percent of producers use feed-grade antibiotics to promote growth, and more of it is used for swine than for ruminants.
With cattle on grazing land, antibiotics are typically only given when an animal is ill, said Larry Forero, a University of California researcher in Redding, Calif.
In feedlots, Maas said, three compounds are typically used as feed additives -- monensin, which increases feed efficiency, and tylosin and chlortetracycline for preventing disease. None have much relevance to human medicine, he said.
Poundage estimates for antibiotics given to livestock are often misleading, Maas argues, because they represent entire bags of feed and the active ingredient is typically only a tiny percentage of the mixture.
The Union of Concerned Scientists' 25 million-pound estimate refers to active ingredients, counters Margaret Mellon, the group's director of food and environmental programs. The estimate was made after considering a variety of factors, including which drugs are approved for which species, what dosages are used and the lifespans of animals given the drugs, she said.
"This is an enormously important public debate about the use of the drugs and the overuse in animals and humans," said Mellon, who coauthored the 2000 book, "Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock."
Forero compares the drugs' use in feedlots to immunizations of schoolchildren who can pass germs in close quarters.
"It's a tool to keep those animals healthy," he said.
Ag has role
Dr. Stuart Levy, an author and nationally recognized expert on antibiotic resistance at Tufts University in Boston, concedes that "finger-pointing to animal usage as the cause for human problems of resistance is a gross error."
But agriculture certainly contributes, Levy said -- particularly with strains of drug-resistant salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter, which have been proven to be transmitted from animals to people.
Such things as runoff from farms into streams and the use of manure on vegetables contribute to the broader problem, said Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.
Antibiotics' growth-promoting qualities were discovered "by accident" in the 1950s, largely because the drugs were preventing illness, he said.
"The practice has continued, but the question is do you still need it? Europe has proven that you don't need it," Levy said.
"When I entered the field 30 years ago, the argument from the industry was that the farm was on a different planet than people," he said. "If you want to look at what is the environmental impact of this, it's enormous, so if you don't need it, get rid of it. There are those that don't accept that. They're asking for more data and more data, but there are those of us who feel the data is there."
Stanford's Baron agrees.
"I think there's so much pressure on these enormous factory farms ... to have fast-growing, healthy animals and they're using antibiotics," she said. "When you cram all those animals together in an unnatural environment, it's much more likely disease would spread quickly.
"I think there's economic reasons why antibiotics are used in our livestock, but I think it's a bad thing," she said.
At least some concerns about agriculture-related resistance problems have merit, acknowledges WSU's Call. A "fairly strong smoking gun" exists when it comes to a class of synthetic drugs called fluoroquinolones, which interfere with the ability of bacteria to replicate DNA.
"The challenge with this class of drugs is that bacteria can become resistant by some very simple mutations in the chromosome," Call said. "You might imagine that if you put a large number of bacteria under pressure from the drug, some of them will come up with a mutation and become resistant. In a couple of generations or one generation ... that resistant population expands in the niche."
One fluoroquinolone, Baytril, was recently banned for use in poultry because of evidence that it spawns resistance in campylobacter, which typically doesn't affect chickens or turkeys but is harmful to humans.
A majority of antibiotics used in livestock belong to classes of drugs that are also used to treat human illness, asserts the National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases. Those include tetracyclines, sulfonamides, penicillins, streptogramins and other classes, explains the agency, which is part of the CDC.
That doesn't mean putting heavy restrictions on the use of antibiotics in agriculture would necessarily be effective, Call said. In some tests when antibiotics are taken away or when none were ever given, scientists still notice an increase in resistance, he said.
"The question becomes what has happened with these strains?" he said. "Is the horse already out of the barn?"
Adding to the resistance problem is the fact that in many developing countries, antibiotics can be bought right off the shelf, he said.
That said, scientists need to help agriculture reduce its impact on antibiotic resistance, perhaps by genetically making it more expensive to the bacteria or by enhancing delivery of natural antibody-laden colostrum to calves, he said.
"We have to have a cheap and easy way to help producers make those judgment calls," Call said. "There's a variety of ways that can be addressed, but it needs to be more aggressively pursued. ... On the other hand, there have got to be better ways to solve the problem than to call for blanket restrictions that don't do any good."


American Veterinary Medical Association policies on antibiotics: www.avma.org/issues/policy
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Get Smart on the Farm: http://www.cdc.gov/narms/get_smart.htm">www.cdc.gov/narms/get_smart.htm
Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics: http://www.tufts.edu/med/apua/
Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/
National Cattlemen's Beef Association primer on antibiotics: http://www.beefusa.org/uDocs/antibioticsleavebehind.pdf
National Pork Board brochure on antibiotic use: http://www.pork.org/PorkScience/Documents/AntibioticUse.pdf
Food Marketing Institute essay on antibiotics in livestock and poultry: http://www.fmi.org/docs/media/bg/antibiotics.pdf
National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System: www.cdc.gov/narms
Animal Health Institute: www.ahi.org

 



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