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Foodborne Illness Costs U.S. $152 Billion Annually, Landmark Report Estimates
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration economist Robert L. Scharff estimates the total economic impact of foodborne illness across the nation to be a combined $152 billion annually.
"The costs associated with foodborne illness are substantial," says Scharff, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Consumer Sciences at The Ohio State University and author of The Health Related Costs of Foodborne Illness. "This study puts the problem of foodborne illness in its proper perspective and should help facilitate reasonable action designed to mitigate this problem."
The Make Our Food Safe coalition's interactive online map uses data from the report to graphically represent foodborne illness cost information for every state in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 76 million new cases of food-related illness?resulting in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations?occur in the U.S. each year. The ten states with the highest costs per case are: Hawaii, Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, the District of Columbia, Mississippi, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
While the Make Our Food Safe coalition does not necessarily endorse any single method to develop such estimates, coalition members agree that this study highlights the magnitude of the problem and the need for action to reduce foodborne disease. Furthermore, the coalition agrees that steps to reduce or eliminate contaminated food are sometimes pressing public-health measures that must be taken even when, due to data gaps, a comprehensive monetized economic analysis is not possible.
Interactive Map: Annual Health-Related Costs of Foodborne Illness
Report: The Health Related Costs of Foodborne Illness

More Calls for Senate to Act on Food Safety
by Helena Bottemiller | Feb 26, 2010
Beltway insiders are hearing more calls to pass the FDA food safety reform bill pending in the Senate. This week, The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, featured several Op-Eds which highlighted the bill's bipartisan support and urged the Senate to act.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, penned an article yesterday emphasizing the broad, bipartisan support for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, a bill that would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) authority and capacity to regulate 80 percent of the food supply.
"Amid the rancorous partisanship that has marked the past year in the nation's capital, a bipartisan effort to pass food safety legislation has been quietly taking shape," wrote Smith DeWaal.
"While the healthcare negotiations have broken down, restarted, and now seem to be in limbo, efforts quiet but sure to upgrade the Food and Drug Administration's food safety mandate are progressing steadily."
"The last push for Senate action is near. And that effort is evidence that Washington can sometimes work, albeit slowly," she said.
There has been a lot of uncertainty over when the Senate will schedule the bill for a vote ever since it was unanimously voted out of committee in November.
The longest-serving member in the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), recently criticized the upper chamber for moving too slowly on the issue.
"Unfortunately, even with bipartisan support, the Senate has been slow to act," Dingell told The Hill last week. "We need the Senate to act as soon as possible so that we can get a bill to the president's desk that will give the Food and Drug Administration the authorities and resources to address this real threat."
Smith DeWaal argued that the Senate should stop putting food safety issues on the back burner.
"It is urgent that that FDA food safety legislation, which could improve the safety of 80 percent of the food supply, not get pushed behind other pressing issues that are less likely to garner bipartisan support," she said. "Passage of FDA food safety legislation this year would be a huge achievement for Congress and the administration."
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee, also called for urgent action in his Op-Ed. "The Senate must act this year to restore consumer confidence and ensure a safe and abundant food supply."
Dingell joined the chorus of opinion pieces, urging the Senate to schedule the bill for a vote.
"There is nothing more basic and necessary than protecting the food supply," he wrote. "Without congressional action, it will only be a matter of time before we have another major food safety scare on our hands."
Dingell said he understands his Senate colleagues "are a bit overwhelmed."
"They are sitting on nearly 290 House-passed bills held up over there," he said. "But I would argue this one must be acted on soon. We should not have to explain to a grieving family why something didn't get done even though we knew there was a problem, but that is exactly what will happen if we fail to act."
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee, which oversees the USDA and FDA budgets, also spoke up in favor of Senate action with an Op-Ed.
DeLauro went a step further and called for simplifying the food safety system by centralizing food safety activities into one agency. Currently, 15 government agencies share jurisdiction.
"Each one of these overlapping jurisdictions represents a point of fracture in our food safety system, where unsafe food might well slip through the cracks," wrote DeLauro. "It is time to revamp, consolidate, and streamline our food safety bureaucracy into a single, independent food safety agency."
DeLauro has long advocated for a single food safety agency. Neither the food safety bill passed in the House or the pending Senate bill consolidate food safety regulation into a single agency.
Senate aides and consumer lobbyists are saying leadership could schedule a vote on S. 510 sometime in March, but the timing is still far from certain.

Ten Years of Bribery and Bad Tomatoes
by Dan Flynn | Feb 20, 2010
In ten years of tomato racketeering and bribery, it was probably inevitable that food safety would take a back seat at California-based SK Foods. But with the federal grand jury indictment Thursday of the former owner and chief executive officer of SK Foods it became clear that willfully selling impure food was a central aspect of the racketeering enterprise.
And buyers of those tomatoes who were on the receiving end of bribes totaling more than $330,000 worked for such top national brands at Kraft Foods Inc., Safeway Inc., Frito-Lay North America and B&G Foods. It is also a story of wiretaps, international intrigue, and tough talk.
All the pieces of this "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO)" prosecution have fallen into place since the Feb. 4th arrest of Frederick Scott Salyer, SK's former CEO, by FBI agents at Kennedy International Airport. Salyer, in an ironic ending twist to the case, was returning to the United States for a 24 hour stay when he was arrested.
After several of SK Foods employees and customers plead guilty in the tomato bribery scandal, Salyer left the country. According to federal prosecutors, Salyer planned to relocate abroad permanently and had transferred millions of dollars to accounts in the Caribbean and Liechtenstein. He was looking into how to obtain permanent resident status in Uruguay, Paraguay, Andorra, and France.
But he was apparently not aware that federal agents had obtained a sealed arrest warrant for him in early January, and for reasons that are unclear, he arrived at in New York on a flight from London on Feb. 4th. He was booked on a return flight the next day, but FBI agents met his incoming flight and arrested him.
Among the seven-count grand jury indictment Salyer is now facing are charges of adulteration and misbranding of food. Court documents show multiple "racketeering acts" where mold counts were falsified and production dates were changed.
Prosecutors say SK Foods was unable during 2007 to provide processed "low mold" tomatoes, so Salyer purchased tomatoes from a competitor he knew were "high mold" and ordered an employee to "misbrand the adulterated high mold paste and allocated the high mold paste to domestic SK Foods customers."
The customer the "high mold" tomatoes were sent to was Kraft, but the documents sent with them were falsified.
The 54-year old Salyer, who resided in Pebble Beach, led SK Foods LP into bankruptcy in May 2009. Singapore-based Olam International purchased its assets.
The Criminal Investigation units of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the FBI, and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department are involved in what they call "a joint and extensive investigation" that is continuing.
In the RICO Act indictment, Salyer is accused of being on top of a racketeering enterprise that regularly paid bribes to purchasing managers of its corporate customers to make sure they bought tomatoes from SK Foods. The customers they bribed then bought at above market prices. Sometimes SK paid bribes to obtain proprietary bid information.
The indictment says Salyer was the leader of the racketeering enterprise and he directed a widespread practice of "selling and shipping processed tomato product that did not meet contractual specification, contained mold levels in excess of thresholds established by FDA and was thus unsalable domestically."
Indeed, Randall Lee Rahal, the former SK salesman who is awaiting sentencing after pleading gulity, became concerned about just how bad the company's tomato products had become, saying "We pack garbage for them anyway and they always take it, but we've hit new lows."
A key to bringing Salyer down appears to be the related indictment of Steven James King, the 46-year old vice president of SK Foods. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of food adulteration and misbranding and cooperate with the investigation in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean C. Flynn, have obtained guilty pleas from four other SK Foods executives and from former employees of other companies including Safeway, B&G Foods, Frito-Lay, and Kraft Foods.
Only 60-year old Robert Watson, who worked for Kraft, has been sentenced. He was ordered to pay $1.858 million in restitution and sent to prison for 27 months. Most of the others will be sentenced on May 4.
SK Foods was involved in bribery over tomatoes from 1998 through 2008, according to court documents.
UPDATE: Anthony Ray Manuel, 57, of Turlock,CA plead guilty to wire fraud and filing a false tax return. His plea was for embezzling approximately $1 million from Morning Star Packing Co. when he was working there prior to his employment at SK Foods. Food Safety News did not intend to imply that Morning Star Packing was in anyway involved in the SK scandal. It was in fact a victim of one of the defendants.
Editor's Note: Sean C. Flynn is not related to the writer.

Food Safety Attorney Fred Pritzker Calls on Food Retailers to Keep Precise Beef Handling Records
Knowing quickly and exactly the origin of every pound of beef sold at checkout could help save lives when E. coli outbreaks happen because detailed records speed vital traceback investigations conducted by public health officials. "Tracebacks help us identify the products that are making people sick in order to bring outbreaks under control as quickly as possible,'' stated national food safety attorney Fred Pritzker.
Minneapolis, Minn. (PRWEB) March 1, 2010 -- As the United States heads into warmer months when outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 become more prevalent, national food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker is calling on food retailers large and small to keep precise beef handling records.
Knowing quickly and exactly the origin of every pound of beef sold at checkout could help save lives when E. coli outbreaks happen because detailed records speed vital traceback investigations conducted by public health officials.
"It's hard to believe in 2010 that many retailers don't keep records or that the records they keep are inadequate for tracing,'' said Pritzker, whose firm is a leader in representing victims of food poisoning. "Tracebacks help us identify the products that are making people sick in order to bring outbreaks under control as quickly as possible.''
Pritzker, founder and president of Pritzker Olsen attorneys, is actively involved in efforts to strengthen the food safety system in order to prevent outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella infection, Listeria,Campylobacter and other pathogens. He believes it is possible to build a food safety system in which foodborne illness outbreaks are rare and short in duration.
The current safety gap caused by improper ground beef record keeping at the retail level is acknowledged by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is currently trying to address the problem in a series of public meetings. The agency has been frustrated by the lack of records kept by retailers who grind their own ground beef. It's essential for them to document where the bulk trimmings and cuts come from in the event a package of ground beef purchased by a consumer is later found to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
"If investigators can quickly identify by traceback what products are making people sick, they can also trace contaminated products forward through the distribution system and issue appropriate recalls and warnings,'' Pritzker said.
Orderly documentation of what beef is used in a retail chain's grindings also will put more pressure on suppliers to eliminate contamination. A major benefit of tracing is to allow the USDA to assess the establishment that produced the contaminated product to detect if there's a systemic problem at the plant.
The CDC estimates that as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year from foodborne illnesses and millions become ill and don't even realize that it is connected to tainted food. Estimates of E. coli infection are imprecise, but microbiologists guess that more than 70,000 Americans fall ill every year from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the largest source of which is contaminated ground beef. Of those infected, more than 5 percent develop life-threatening HUS E. coli, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, the leading cause of kidney failure in children and the leading cause of E. coli deaths.
The harmful microbes live in the intestines of cattle and are expelled in feces. The volume of germs surges in warmer weather and the bacteria can contaminate meat during the slaughter process when intestines are nicked or when feces flake off hides. It takes very few bacteria to make a person sick and testing doesn't catch all lots of beef that are contaminated.
Pritzker said that grocery retailers can help reduce the spread of E. coli O157:H7 by pinpointing the origin of the ground beef they sell with well-kept records.
Pritzker Olsen is a nationally recognized food safety law firm that has represented victims in practically every major outbreak of food poisoning in the U.S. The firm is one of the few in the nation practicing extensively in the area of foodborne illness and it has collected millions for victims of E. coli HUS and other disease caused by pathogens in food. For more information, contact Fred Pritzker at 1-888-377-8900 (toll free). The firm has offices at Plaza VII, Suite 2950, 45 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402.

Spices: emerging threat or clear and present danger?
Posted on February 27, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Over the last several years, there have been multiple outbreaks linked to, and recalls of, various kinds of spices. From white pepper, to red pepper, to black pepper and beyond, spices are a potentially ideal vehicle for the transmission of foodborne disease. More and more people are becoming ill from contaminated spices, and more and more recalls are occurring. So is this problem merely an emerging threat? Or is it a problem that food producers must confront here and now, finding ways to better ensure the safety of the consumers they profit from.
Spice outbreaks in recent history:
1. Veggie Booty
In May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a multi-state investigation in response to an increase in laboratory reports, first posted on PulseNet on April 2, 2007, of Salmonella Wandsworth. Salmonella Wandsworth is a very rare serotype that was never before implicated in a U.S. outbreak. As of September 6, 2007, there were 69 reported cases of Salmonella Wandsworth in 23 states and 14 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium in six states who became ill after consuming Veggie Booty, a puffed vegetable snack food with a raw, dried vegetable coating. A total of 61 bags of Veggie Booty were ultimately tested in twelve states. Salmonella was isolated from thirteen of them. Eleven of the thirteen bags were positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Wandsworth, and one bag was positive for Salmonella Typhimurium and Enterobacter sakazakii. One bag also tested positive for Salmonella Kentucky, and Salmonella Haifa and Saintpaul were isolated from other bags.
2. Union International
The Union International Food outbreak sickened more than 79 people in Western states between December 2008 and April 2009; the majority of the illnesses were in California. Public health officials traced the outbreak to white pepper manufactured by Union International and sold under the brand names Uncle Chen and Lian How. Ultimately the company recalled more than 50 products, including spices, oils, and sauces, due to potential contamination with Salmonella.
3. Wholesome Spice Company and Overseas Spice
This outbreak and recall is, of course, still going on. According to the CDC just days ago, 238 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Montevideo, which displays either of two closely related pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns, have been reported from 44 states and District of Columbia since July 1, 2009. Epidemiological investigation showed that these 238 sick people all ate Daniele Inc salami products contaminated by salmonella. Daniele used salmonella-contaminated pepper in the production of the various kinds of recalled salami.
4. Today¡¯s recall of Johnny¡¯s brand French dip au jus powder?
Will the Johnny¡¯s recall, announced today out of Tacoma, Washington, be another recall or outbreak to add to this list? The ingredient list for the recalled prodcut states that it contains: 'MSG, Wheat, Soy & Milk; Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (corn, soy, wheat), yeast extract, salt, rice flour, monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soy & cottonseed), caramel color, whey solids, non-fat milk solids, mono & diglycerides." Only time will tell, hopefully, what happened at Johnny's to prompt today's recall. Spices? Certainly possible.
The historical trend:
These kinds of events naturally prompt the question why are we suddenly seeing outbreaks and recalls linked to pepper and other spices. Is this truly a new phenomenon; a new species of failure by food importers and producers?
The combination of Google and about 5 spare minutes will show you that spice problems are, by no means, a new phenomenon. As stated in a 2006 Journal of Food Protection article (¡°Journal article¡±): "We reviewed spice recalls that took place in the United States from fiscal years 1970 to 2003. During the study period, the FDA monitored 21 recalls involving 12 spice types contaminated with bacterial pathogens." See Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 69, No. 1, 2006, Pages 233?237(Recalls of Spices Due to Bacterial Contamination Monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: The Predominance of Salmonellae). See article at:
Indeed, as the name of the Journal article suggests, the problem of spice contamination has long been known. And not only that, it has long been known to be predominantly one of Salmonella contamination specifically.
Defining the problem:
Lest we delude ourselves into believing that the risk is not that great, it is clear that spice outbreaks are on the rise. The Journal article further states that ¡°Although five of these recalls transpired during the preceding 30 years (one each in 1971, 1983, 1989, 1995, and 1996), the remaining 16 (76%) occurred during fiscal years 2001 to 2004.¡± And the other outbreaks described above (i.e. Veggie Booty, Union International, Wholesome/Overseas, and possibly Johnny¡¯s) are too recent to have been included in the Journal article¡¯s study.
But to add even further concern, it is evident that counting recalls and outbreaks may only partially define the problem. The Journal article further notes that, of the 105,440 spice brands imported at the time into the US, 258 were coded as "refusals" and were thus prevented access to US markets:
178 (69%) were refused because the manufacturer had a history of shipping Salmonella-contaminated spices. In 131 (74%) of these 178 refusals, the importer chose not to challenge the refusal; in 44 (25%) instances, Salmonella was shown to be present by laboratory analysis. In the remaining three (1%) instances, the spices were refused because of the presence of mold or filth.
Thus, upon inspection, there were an additional 258 refusals of spice products during the one year period analyzed, thereby preventing those contaminated spices from being included in the Journal article¡¯s analysis. Admittedly, some were refused entry only because of past problems associated with the exporter, and some due to contamination by mold or other filth, but 44 were refused entry because they were, in fact, contaminated.
Where do all these contaminated spices come from? Again, the Journal article:
The country of origin of the spice was known for 15 recalls: 12 involved imported spices (India [three recalls], Spain [three recalls], Turkey [two recalls], and one recall each from Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, and Taiwan), and the remaining three involved domestically produced spices (two recalls due to Salmonella and one recall due to L. monocytogenes).
Overall, there were 6,112 unique spice manufacturers in the 129 nations from which the United States imported spices; the three countries with the leading numbers of spice manufacturers were India (629 manufacturers), China (547), and Mexico (441). During fiscal year 2003, there were 9,911 unique spice consignees in the United States who purchased imported spices. Approximately 85% of the spices imported in fiscal year 2003 were produced in China, and the next four leading spice exporters to the United States?Honduras, Mexico, Lebanon, and Peru?contributed an additional 13%.
Further defining the problem:
As we know from past experience with food products, certain items are more susceptible to contamination, or to causing higher rates of infection and illness, due to their very nature. For instance, ground beef is a risky food because of the oftentimes preventable contamination that is so rampant in the production process. And lettuce and other leafy greens are susceptible to contamination because they are grown in an environment particularly capable of causing the contamination.
Spices have numerous ¡°performance characteristics¡± that make them a ready vehicle for contamination and illness. First, they are generally a dried product that have a long shelf-life . . . even for those of us who do not have spices still on our shelves for the 1990s. Second, they are ubiquitous and widely-sold; everybody has them, and everybody eats them, from the very healthy to the young and old, and all people in between. Third, the Salmonella bacteria, which is far and away the most prevalent contaminant of spices, is a hearty bug capable of surviving for long periods in a dry environment (e.g. a container of spices). As the Journal article notes, in a 1993 spice outbreak in Germany, testing 8 months after the contaminated product was identified produced positive results for viable Salmonella bacteria.
And the threats from a public health and surveillance standpoint? Long shelf-life frustrates the efforts of investigating health authorities to detect outbreaks and stop them. Also, again, everybody eats these spices, which works to the detriment of public health in investigating spice outbreaks because investigators are not necessarily able to hone in on the suspect product as easily. Even though everybody buys them and uses them, people may use many different brands on their shelves and would not be able to retrospectively identify which particular brand they used days, weeks, or months ago. And finally, spices are often a post-cooking flavoring ingredient, and thus there is often no kill step.
So what are we to do?
Certainly, the solution does not lie in not using the product. Very few, even among those who truly know the scope of the problem, will stop using spices altogether. And nor does the solution lie in preventing US food companies from using imported spices. These solutions are both totally unrealistic, forcing the bottom line conclusion that the food companies themselves must act as a buffer against the purchase, manufacture, and distribution of contaminated spices.
With respect to spices, the buck stops with the industry. It is time for the process of irradiation to gain a stronger foothold in the United States with respect to all products, and most definitely with respect to those food products that carry the greatest risk.
But irradiation is not the only answer. The Journal article describes others as well:
A number of methods exist to reduce or eliminate pathogens from spices (e.g., the use ethylene oxide, heat treatment, or irradiation [UV, infrared, or gamma]). Ethylene oxide is highly diffusive; is simple to use; does not significantly alter either the aromatic or flavor components of spices (unlike heat treatment, which can destroy the aromatic and flavor components of spices as well as their color (12)); and is effective in destroying microorganisms (18). However, the effect of ethylene oxide on spores is not as great as it is for vegetative cells (12). The FDA has established a maximum tolerance of 50 ppm for residues of ethylene oxide in ground spices (2). On the other hand, at least one study has suggested that irradiation represents the most effective and safe method of treatment of spices, and it is a process that yields no toxic by-products (17). For the microbial disinfection of spices, the FDA has established that, when irradiation is used, the maximum dose should not exceed 30 kilogray (3 Mrad) (3).
And yet another solution is good old fashioned hard work by food companies. Do your job better by instituting and following rigorous standards in the import, production, distribution, and sale of your products. This involves knowing your suppliers, and their track-record with respect to food safety; don¡¯t simply look at cost as the sole conclusive factor in deciding who to buy spice products from. Also, take all necessary precautions to avoid contaminating your production environment. This was certainly a factor in the Union International outbreak, and possibly one in the Daniele salami outbreak linked to black and red pepper. And finally, as is the case in any outbreak of foodborne illness, act quickly and proactively in informing the public and investigating health authorities about the probability and scope of a contamination problem with your products. Media exposure, and the resulting business loss, that occurs in the wake of outbreaks and recalls is only worse when more people get sick; and hiding the ball is certainly a good way to make more people sick.

Pre-harvest food safety revisited
Source: Zone
By: James Marsden
Recent developments in bacteriophages, vaccines and other technologies have changed my thinking about the importance of pre-harvest interventions in an integrated food safety system.
Pre-harvest interventions by themselves are not going to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in beef. However, the strategic use of technologies that can eliminate peaks in the incidence of pathogens and generally reduce contamination in and on cattle, make it more likely that the interventions applied at slaughter and post-slaughter will effectively eliminate pathogen contamination on beef carcasses.
Pre-harvest technologies also reduce environmental sources of E. coli O157:H7, which in turn reduces the risk of contamination of fresh cut produce and other foods that are harvested in beef producing areas. A reduction of E. coli in cattle holding pens associated with pre-harvest interventions may also impact the risk of airborne vectors of contamination at beef slaughter plants.
One of the most promising pre-harvest interventions involves a bacteriophage that is specific to E. coli O157:H7. The phage is applied as a spray directly onto the hides of animals without causing discomfort or stress. It then works its way over the hide surface and inactivates E. coli O157:H7 on contact as it binds to specific receptors on the surface of the E. coli cell. The earlier the phage is applied, the more effective it is at reducing E. coli numbers. Currently, most phage applications are done on receipt at packing plants and this approach has been shown to be effective. If the phage were applied upstream, prior to loading cattle onto trucks, it may be even more effective and also have the added benefit of reducing contamination on trucks.
Other pre-harvest food safety technologies are also emerging. The Epitopix and Bioniche E. coli vaccines have received conditional approval in the US and are being tested at several feedlots across the US. Research on competitive exclusion probiotics and Sodium chlorate (produces a cytotoxic effect) is also underway.
Historically, E. coli O157:H7 has been more of a problem over the summer and fall. According to the CDC, 89% of the E. coli outbreaks that occurred from 1982 - 2002, happened during the months of May - November. If a pre-harvest intervention like the phage can eliminate the spikes in E. coli that occur over this time period, there would be an important corresponding public health benefit.
Ultimately, the beef industry, like the dairy industry, will likely employ some form of pasteurization to eliminate pathogens from consumer products. Pre-harvest interventions will still play an important role in the overall food safety systems of the future by reducing microbiological hazards on cattle prior to slaughter.

China official wanted toxic bean case hushed up
By ANITA CHANG (AP) ? 2 days ago
BEIJING ? The discovery in Chinese markets of tons of beans treated with a highly toxic pesticide has prompted an indignant response from an official responsible for the safety of the produce, despite a public outcry over recent food safety scandals.
One city's decision to publicize the problem was "inconsiderate of friends," according to Zhou Qingchong, deputy director of the agriculture bureau law enforcement team in the southern city of Sanya where the contaminated beans originated.
Authorities in the central city of Wuhan recently announced it had destroyed 3.5 tons of "yard-long" beans from Sanya that had been treated with isocarbophos, a pesticide that is banned from use on fruits and vegetables. Several southern provinces have since reported finding the tainted beans in their markets, although no one has been reported sickened.
Zhou told China National Radio for a report this week that his city and the Ministry of Agriculture had lost face because of the complaint from Wuhan.
His response underscored how Chinese bureaucrats often prefer to handle sensitive issues privately, in a manner where public outcry and blame can be minimized.
That mindset has been at least partly to blame for past food safety scandals in China, including the 2008 case of tainted infant formula where the producers and local authorities knew the product contained a toxic chemical but tried to keep it hushed up. At least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill.
The pesticide used on the beans ? which are pencil-thin and similar to green beans ? is still relatively easy to buy in Sanya, CNR reported. Two bottles of isocarbophos cost 18 yuan (US$2.60), while approved pesticides would cost 50 yuan ($7.30).
"Due to the lack of effective supervision of pesticide sales, farmers can still get the banned ones fairly easily, which they prefer for their low prices," Sun Shubao, secretary-general of the China Crop Protection Industry Association, was quoted as saying by the official China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.
Authorities are stepping up inspections of yard-long beans from Hainan, where Sanya is located, checking them repeatedly from farm to market, the Ministry of Agriculture said on its Web site Monday. Hainan province has also dispatched six teams to cities around China to promote its yard-long beans, it said.

Alamosa sued over salmonella in drinking water
By David Olinger
The Denver Post
Posted: 03/02/2010 01:00:00 AM MST
Updated: 03/02/2010 08:04:31 AM MST
Twenty-nine families afflicted by the salmonella outbreak in Alamosa's water supply sued their city government Monday.
The plaintiffs include the widow of 54-year-old Larry Velasquez, who died after salmonella bacteria infected his bloodstream.
"He was running a high fever," said his daughter, Anna Velasquez. "He couldn't eat anything. His stomach was upset, throwing up all the time. He had diarrhea."
An Alamosa hospital gave him a shot for nausea and sent him home, she said. Finally, she and her mother took him to a hospital in Pueblo, which found the salmonella infection.
By then, "it was already septic ? there was nothing they could do," she said. "He passed away at the hospital."
Larry Velasquez had colon cancer and a weakened immune system when his body was invaded by bacteria in the city water supply. But "I think if Alamosa had taken better care of their water supply, my dad would still be here," his daughter said.
An investigation by the state Department of Public and Health and Environment concluded that salmonella bacteria from animal feces probably got into the drinking-water supply early in March 2008 and infected the entire water system for the next week.
That caused the worst waterborne- disease outbreak in the U.S. since 2004. In Alamosa, a city of 8,900, an estimated 1,300 people might have been ill, including 40 percent of its infants. State officials identified 442 cases of "probable salmonella infections" and pointed to a cracked water reservoir as a likely point of origin.
The lawsuit claims that the reservoir, Alamosa's primary water well, had cracks and noticeable holes, 12 to 18 inches of sediment at the bottom, and had not been drained and cleaned since 1984.|
It also had not been professionally inspected since 1997, and the structural deficiencies noted in that inspection "remained uncorrected through the time of the 2008 Alamosa water outbreak," the lawsuit claims.
Alamosa had been exempted since 1974 from a state requirement to treat drinking water with chlorine, which kills salmonella bacteria, because it drew water from deep underground wells. State health officials have since canceled many of those exemptions.
Don Koskelin, Alamosa's public works director, said he had not seen the lawsuit. "We're just going to have to let the process work," he said.
A state immunity law limits liabilities of city and state governments to $600,000 per occurrence.
The lawsuit against Alamosa was filed jointly by John Riley, a Greenwood Village lawyer, and Drew Falkenstein of Marler Clark, a Seattle- based firm that specializes in bacterial contamination cases.
The lawsuit does not specify a dollar figure, but "I'm looking for an amount that fairly compensates these people for what they've been through," Falkenstein said.
Fourteen of the plaintiffs are parents suing on behalf of children sickened by salmonella-infected water.
One is Cassandra Wobith, whose 13- month-old daughter lay on the floor, rolling around, screaming and grabbing her belly and then "started having really bloody diarrhea," she said.
Another is Louise Malouff, whose 6-year-old son asked in a hospital emergency room, "Mom, if I'm losing all my blood, am I going to die?"

Australia Ends Import Ban on ¡®B.S.E.¡¯ Countries
Bryan Salvage

SYDNEY ? Although Australia¡¯s nine-year ban on beef imports from countries reporting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E.) cases was lifted March 1, it will take several months before imported beef products arrive on its supermarket shelves, according to The Australian. What¡¯s more, no countries have yet to apply to send beef to Australia following this lifting of the ban.
According to the new rules, the country of origin must apply to Food Standards Australia New Zealand for permission to export beef to the region. Once the request is received, FSANZ will take a minimum of 20 weeks to assess each application, and it reserves the right to send inspectors to the country of origin for an in-country inspection, further prolonging the waiting period.
Australia banned beef from countries where the brain-wasting disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy occurred in 2001. Only imports of muscle meat, or products of muscle meat, which is thought to not carry B.S.E., will now be permitted into Australia. Fresh meat will also require clearance from Biosecurity Australia. Before the bans, most beef imports were in processed products, such as soup and gelatine used in confectionery. The U.S. exported roughly 34 tonnes of beef annually to Australia before several cases of B.S.E. ended the trade in 2001. Australia exports about 280,000 tonnes of beef annually to the U.S.
Changes to the beef import rules were "about aligning our science-based protocol", said Justin Toohey, Australian Red Meat Advisory Council secretary. Australia¡¯s new protocols are ¡°science-based," he added.
Conditions under the new import rules include traceability that is equivalent to or better than Australia's.

Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Foiling E.P.A.
Published: February 28, 2010
Thousands of the nation¡¯s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act¡¯s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.
Toxic Waters
As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.
Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.
The Clean Water Act was intended to end dangerous water pollution by regulating every major polluter. But today, regulators may be unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation¡¯s largest known polluters because officials lack jurisdiction or because proving jurisdiction would be overwhelmingly difficult or time consuming, according to midlevel officials.
¡°We are, in essence, shutting down our Clean Water programs in some states,¡± said Douglas F. Mundrick, an E.P.A. lawyer in Atlanta. ¡°This is a huge step backward. When companies figure out the cops can¡¯t operate, they start remembering how much cheaper it is to just dump stuff in a nearby creek.¡±
¡°This is a huge deal,¡± James M. Tierney, the New York State assistant commissioner for water resources, said of the new constraints. ¡°There are whole watersheds that feed into New York¡¯s drinking water supply that are, as of now, unprotected.¡±
The court rulings causing these problems focused on language in the Clean Water Act that limited it to ¡°the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters¡± of the United States. For decades, ¡°navigable waters¡± was broadly interpreted by regulators to include many large wetlands and streams that connected to major rivers.
But the two decisions suggested that waterways that are entirely within one state, creeks that sometimes go dry, and lakes unconnected to larger water systems may not be ¡°navigable waters¡± and are therefore not covered by the act ? even though pollution from such waterways can make its way into sources of drinking water.
Some argue that such decisions help limit overreaching regulatory efforts.
¡°There is no doubt in my mind that when Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 they intended it to have broad regulatory reach, but they did not intend it to be unlimited,¡± said Don Parrish, the American Farm Bureau Federation¡¯s senior director of regulatory relations, who has lobbied on Clean Water issues.
But for E.P.A. and state regulators, the decisions have created widespread uncertainty. The court did not define which waterways are regulated, and judicial districts have interpreted the court¡¯s decisions differently. As regulators have struggled to guess how various courts will rule, some E.P.A. lawyers have established unwritten internal guidelines to avoid cases in which proving jurisdiction is too difficult, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former E.P.A. officials.
The decisions ¡°reduce E.P.A.¡¯s ability to do what the law intends ? to protect water quality, the environment and public health,¡± wrote Peter S. Silva, the E.P.A.¡¯s assistant administrator for the Office of Water, in response to questions.
About 117 million Americans get their drinking water from sources fed by waters that are vulnerable to exclusion from the Clean Water Act, according to E.P.A. reports.
The E.P.A. said in a statement that it did not automatically concede that any significant water body was outside the authority of the Clean Water Act. ¡°Jurisdictional determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis,¡± the agency wrote. Officials added that they believed that even many streams that go dry for long periods were within the act¡¯s jurisdiction.
But midlevel E.P.A. officials said that internal studies indicated that as many as 45 percent of major polluters might be either outside regulatory reach or in areas where proving jurisdiction is overwhelmingly difficult.
And even in situations in which regulators believe they still have jurisdiction, companies have delayed cases for years by arguing that the ambiguity precludes prosecution. In some instances, regulators have simply dropped enforcement actions.
In the last two years, some members of Congress have tried to limit the impact of the court decisions by introducing legislation known as the Clean Water Restoration Act. It has been approved by a Senate committee but not yet introduced this session in the House. The legislation tries to resolve these problems by, in part, removing the word ¡°navigable¡± from the law and restoring regulators¡¯ authority over all waters that were regulated before the Supreme Court decisions.
But a broad coalition of industries has often successfully lobbied to prevent the full Congress from voting on such proposals by telling farmers and small-business owners that the new legislation would permit the government to regulate rain puddles and small ponds and layer new regulations on how they dispose of waste.
¡°The game plan is to emphasize the scary possibilities,¡± said one member of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which has fought the legislation and is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and other groups representing industries affected by the Clean Water Act.
¡°If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen¡¯s switchboards,¡± said the coalition member, who asked not to be identified because he thought his descriptions would anger other coalition participants. Mr. Beck, a conservative commentator on Fox News, spoke at length against the Clean Water Restoration Act in December.
The American Land Rights Association, another organization opposed to legislation, wrote last June that people should ¡°Deluge your senators with calls, faxes and e-mails.¡± A news release the same month from the American Farm Bureau Federation warned that ¡°even rainwater would be regulated.¡±
¡°If you erase the word ¡®navigable¡¯ from the law, it erases any limitation on the federal government¡¯s reach,¡± said Mr. Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation. ¡°It could be a gutter, a roadside ditch or a rain puddle. But under the new law, the government gets control over it.¡±
Legislators say these statements are misleading and intended to create panic.
¡°These claims just aren¡¯t true,¡± said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. He helped push the bill through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. ¡°This bill,¡± he said, ¡°is solely aimed at restoring the law to what it covered before the Supreme Court decisions.¡±
The consequences of the Supreme Court decisions are stark. In drier states, some polluters say the act no longer applies to them and are therefore refusing to renew or apply for permits, making it impossible to monitor what they are dumping, say officials.
Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M., for instance, recently informed E.P.A. officials that it no longer considered itself subject to the act. It dumps wastewater ? containing bacteria and human sewage ? into a lake on the base.
More than 200 oil spill cases were delayed as of 2008, according to a memorandum written by an E.P.A. official and collected by Congressional investigators. And even as the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act has steadily increased each year, E.P.A. judicial actions against major polluters have fallen by almost half since the Supreme Court rulings, according to an analysis of E.P.A. data by The New York Times.
The Clean Water Act does not directly deal with drinking water. Rather, it was meant to regulate the polluters that contaminated the waterways that supplied many towns and cities with tap water.
The two Supreme Court decisions at issue ? Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006 ? focused on the federal government¡¯s jurisdiction over various wetlands. In both cases, dissenting justices warned that limiting the power of the federal government would weaken its ability to combat water pollution.
¡°Cases now are lost because the company is discharging into a stream that flows into a river, rather than the river itself,¡± said David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan who led the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department during the last administration.
In 2007, for instance, after a pipe manufacturer in Alabama, a division of McWane Inc., was convicted and fined millions of dollars for dumping oil, lead, zinc and other chemicals into a large creek, an appellate court overturned that conviction and fine, ruling that the Supreme Court precedent exempted the waterway from the Clean Water Act. The company eventually settled by agreeing to pay a smaller amount and submit to probation.
Some E.P.A. officials say solutions beyond the Clean Water Restoration Act are available. They argue that the agency¡¯s chief, Lisa P. Jackson, could issue regulations that seek to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
Mrs. Jackson has urged Congress to resolve these issues. But she has not issued new regulations.
¡°E.P.A., with our federal partners, emphasized to Congress in a May 2009 letter that legislation is the best way to restore the Clean Water Act¡¯s effectiveness,¡± wrote Mr. Silva in a statement to The Times. ¡°E.P.A. and the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to implement our water programs to protect the nation¡¯s waters and the environment as effectively as possible, including consideration of administrative actions to restore the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act.¡±
In the meantime, both state and federal regulators say they are prevented from protecting important waterways.
¡°We need something to fix these gaps,¡± said Mr. Tierney, the New York official. ¡°The Clean Water Act worked for over 30 years, and we¡¯re at risk of losing that if we can¡¯t get a new law.¡±

More from the Food Safety Project - Co-managing for Food Safety and Ecological Health in the California's Central Region
We should all be thankful for the hard work from the folks over at the Food Safety Project. Here is a well-done piece on how to produce safe food while not ruining the environment at the same time:
The safety of fresh produce persists as a pressing national issue. Farmers, environmental groups, and others are working together toward a common goal of promoting food safety and environmental stewardship. Members of these groups have expressed concerns that certain on-farm food safety requirements may do little to protect human health and might in fact damage the natural resources on which agriculture and all life depend. This report analyzes the state of the science behind integration of food safety and ecological health. Drawing from multiple sources ? including more than 100 interviews with experts, observations at 68 farms, two large-scale surveys of growers, and a review of more than 250 scientific studies ? the report provides the most in-depth examination to date of this topic. The main finding is that growers report yielding to tremendous pressure from auditors, inspectors, and other food safety professionals to change on-farm management practices in ways that not only generate uncertain food safety benefits, but also create serious environmental consequences. Environmental concerns include reduction of water quality, removal of wetland, riparian and other habitat, and elimination of wildlife on and near farmland. Many growers and a wide consortium of regional experts believe that ¡°co-management¡± for food safety and environmental protection represents the optimal path forward, albeit one that faces several key obstacles. Co-management is defined as an approach to minimize microbiological hazards associated with food production while simultaneously conserving soil, water, air, wildlife, and other natural resources. It is based on the premise that farmers want to produce safe food, desire to be good land stewards, and can do both while still remaining economically viable. Although the report focuses on lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens grown in the Central Coast region of California, its findings reflect concerns across the nation.

Food safety: Veterinarian to detail slaughterhouse breache

Peter Eisler, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON ? Department of Agriculture officials failed to act on reports of illegal and unsafe slaughterhouse practices, letting suspect operations continue despite public health risks, a USDA veterinarian alleges in testimony to be aired today at a congressional hearing.
The charges by Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious.
"When upper-level FSIS management looks the other way as food safety or humane slaughter laws are broken ¡¦ then management is just as guilty for breaking those laws," Wyatt says in testimony sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. USA TODAY obtained a copy of the testimony in advance of today's hearing.Wyatt's testimony follows several outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 and other potentially deadly illnesses linked to contaminated meat. It also raises issues linked to the 2008 recall of 143 million pounds of beef from the Westland/Hallmark processing plant in Chino, Calif., which was caught slaughtering "downer" cows that were too sick or weak to walk on their own. Such animals are considered risks for carrying mad cow disease and other illnesses.
USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver says inaction on Wyatt's reports occurred before the tenure of current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is "fully committed" to enforcing safe and humane slaughtering rules.
In 2008 and early 2009, Wyatt ordered suspensions in operations three times at Bushway Packing Inc., in Grand Isle, VT. Among other things, he found downed calves being dragged through pens to slaughter ? a violation because contact with excrement can contaminate animals. In each case, he says, managers overruled him and allowed the plant to keep running.
Bushway subsequently made headlines last fall when the Humane Society of the United States filmed undercover video of workers hitting and using electric prods to move calves. The plant was shut down. Vilsack ordered a criminal investigation.
Bushway has "made changes to comply fully with the Humane Slaughtering Act and we hope to ¡¦ reopen in the near future," says Peter Langrock, a lawyer for the company.
Wyatt also says superiors dismissed violations he reported in 2007 and 2008 at a Seaboard Foods pork plant in Guymon, Okla. He cited the plant for slaughtering conscious pigs, beating pigs and trampling of pigs.
In some cases, Seaboard successfully appealed Wyatt's citations, says company marketing director David Eaheart. And Seaboard always "took steps to ensure that if there were any deficiencies, they were addressed."
But Wyatt says his reports and those of other inspectors were shelved by regional supervisors without consulting on-site personnel. Instead, he says, writers of citations were chastised and threatened with transfer.Wyatt's experiences "illustrate a pattern that FSIS is broken and must be fixed," says Amanda Hitt of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower organization representing Wyatt.
"The new administration must recognize past wrongs and ¡¦ ensure the proper treatment of animals and the safety of our food supply," says Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who will chair today's hearing.

Aflatoxin cancer burden estimated

Exposure to aflatoxin, a group of toxins produced by mould that grows on cereals, spices, and nuts, could be behind up to 28% of global cases of the most common form of liver cancer, according to a risk assessment published in Environmental Health Perspectives. More than five billion people worldwide are exposed to uncontrolled levels of the toxin.
¡°Aflatoxin contamination in food is a serious global health problem, particularly in developing countries,¡± write Yan Liu and Felicia Wu from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA. The toxin could account for 4?28% of all cases of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), with sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, and China shouldering the heaviest burden.
Aflatoxin is produced by a fungus that can grow on food crops in tropical and subtropical climates. Maize and groundnuts, staple foods of many African and Asian diets, are most prone to having the mould. As many poor people living in these regions cannot afford a varied diet, potentially contaminated foods make up a significant proportion of their diets. People in these regions are also more likely to be infected with the hepatitis B virus, which raises the odds of developing aflatoxin-related liver cancer 30-fold compared with uninfected people.
Although it has been known for some time that aflatoxin is carcinogenic, this is the first study to estimate the proportion of liver cancer cases worldwide attributed to the exposure.
To come up with their estimate, Lui and Wu pooled national and regional data from published research to estimate maize and groundnut aflatoxin contamination levels in different world regions, as well as population size and hepatitis B prevalence for the same areas. They incorporated data, available from the WHO, on average maize and groundnut consumption in different regions of the world. Using a threshold level of aflatoxin exposure likely to cause cancer, which was devised by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, they estimated that the exposure is probably responsible for between 25,000 and 155,000 cases of HCC each year globally.
Yun Yun Gong, from the University of Leeds in the UK, says the findings suggest that aflatoxin is a key contributor to the number of cases of HCC reported worldwide. This is the first step towards quantifying the health risks posed by aflatoxin globally, he explains.
The results will alert scientists and policy makers to re-examine aflatoxin exposure limits, says Gong.
Authorities in many countries have set standards for aflatoxin levels in food. Although such standards are also in place in developing countries, where the population is typically exposed to the highest levels of aflatoxin and has a high burden of hepatitis B, they are seldom enforced due to lack of resources, say Lui and Wu. ¡°Indeed, the food in subsistence farming and local food markets is rarely formally inspected,¡± they write. They calculate that halving a hypothetical limit of allowable aflatoxin contamination in foods would cut by 300 the cases of HCC per billion people living in countries at high risk of the disease.
Gong calls for ¡°urgent action¡± to strengthen and enforce food aflatoxin regulation in these countries. The toxins are not only responsible for a higher risk of cancer, she says: impaired growth in children exposed to it over long periods of time is becoming a major concern among scientists.
The amount of aflatoxin that contaminates food can be reduced by drying and storing grains properly, explains Gong. Sorting and washing the grains before cooking can also reduce levels of the harmful substance. She believes that global prevention strategies should include education campaigns to improve the public¡¯s awareness of the risks.
Lui and Wu suggest that increasing hepatitis B vaccination rates in the counties hardest hit would be ¡°highly effective¡± at reducing aflatoxin-related HCC.
¡°While it is impossible to completely eliminate aflatoxin in food worldwide, it is possible to significantly reduce levels and dramatically reduce liver cancer incidence worldwide,¡± the authors conclude. ¡°The challenge remains to deliver these interventions to places of the world where they are most needed.¡±

Reference and link
1.Liu Y, Wu F. Global burden of aflatoxin-induced hepatocellular carcinoma: a risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect 2010. Article

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information about aflatoxin

Harkin: S. 510 Could Be Signed by May
by Helena Bottemiller | Mar 04, 2010
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) predicted Tuesday that, if all goes well, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, will be "on the President's desk by May."
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)--which unanimously approved the Senate's version of the food safety legislation in November, Harkin tends to stay in the loop on food safety issues in the Senate.
The pending bill has been stuck behind the health care gridlock for months, after the House approved a similar measure last July.
After a series of lobbying pushes and public calls for action, the Senate has yet to consider S. 510. First, there was the Thanksgiving push, where consumer and public health advocates asked for revamped food safety laws by turkey day.
Leading food safety lawyer, and an early candidate for undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bill Marler, even sent t-shirts to each and every senator to encourage action on the bill in the fall.
After Thanksgiving, there was the Christmas push. Advocates again called for action, this time calling for a bill on the President's desk before Christmas. The bill was voted out of committee, but remained stuck behind health care reform.
Then came the recent Valentine's Day push. Victims from the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter outbreak sent letters to the senators urging action before the Hallmark Holiday.
Now the effort is up against another holiday: Easter.
As Sen. Harkin, noted at an appropriations agriculture subcommittee hearing earlier this week, the bill is now "about ready to go."
"We're hopeful we'll have the food safety bill on the Senate floor, if not this work period, then it'll be at the top of the list when we come back after Easter," Sen. Harkin said at the hearing.

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