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lawmakers and lobbyist groups try to limit proposed FDA ban on antibiotics
July 15, 12:24 AM
The FDA and the Obama administration have begun the process to initiate
the banning of antibiotic use in US livestock. Antibiotics, ones regularly
used by humans, are commonly added to the feed of conventionally raised,
healthy chickens, cows, and pigs to encourage faster growth and prevent
disease from spreading. The FDA and the administration, along with the
American Medical Association and several expert scientists, are concerned
that the rampant use of antibiotics in US food has and will continue
to lead to the development of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant.
Many experts in both the
science, medical and farming fields have raged for years about this
practice. It is estimated that 70% of the pharmaceuticals consumed in
America is given to healthy livestocka and poultry. Antibiotic-resistant,
possibly dangerous super strains of bacteria, such as e.coli 0157, campylobacter,
and salmonella, have emerged over the last decade as this practice has
become more widespread.
But skeptical lawmakers debated
the benefits of this bill Wednesday, along with - surprise! - lobbyists
for the Pork and other self-interested groups. Illinois Republican John
Shimkus believes that more science is needed before passing of a bill
that would potentially have devastating economic impacts on the livestock
industry. Several Republicans, along with agricultural lobbyists, oppose
the bill, even though the CDC, the FDA, and officials from the Agriculture
department believe that evidence is strong enough to indicate a possible
Use of antibiotics in livestock
for growth purposes have already been banned in several European countries.
The FDA received a significant
increase in funding and power under the Obama administration last summer.
During the Bush administration, insufficient funding and a tendency
to overlook safety issues by Congress contributed to a laxity of oversight.
Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner under Obama, has stepped up the
amount of inspections and punitive actions toward corporations since
taking office last summer.
The use of antibiotics in
livestock has been an issue of concern for several decades. The creation
of resistant, super strains of bacteria, as well as just the effects
of too much antibiotics, have always been of concern.
There's no doubt that there
will be a financial impact on the livestock industry - conventional
animal farms seek to grow and fatten up their livestock as quickly as
possible. Scientists have discovered higher levels of bacteria in these
animals as opposed to organically, free range livestock.
Perhaps this issue, concerning
the public health of America, for once should not be about politics
and money. Here's an idea - why not raise less livestock, thus encouraging
a lesser consumption of animal protein, like our grandparents did?
But profits rule - as consumers,
we should speak with our pocketbook and either limit our consumption
of animal protein or purchase socially and environmentally conscious
free range livestock and poultry. It may be more expensive, but eating
a lesser portion will be healthier for all.
in livestock affect humans, USDA testifies
By PHILIP BRASHER ? firstname.lastname@example.org
? July 15, 2010
There is a clear link between
the use of antibiotics in livestock and drug resistance in humans, President
Barack Obama's administration says, a position sharply at odds with
In testimony to a House committee on Wednesday, even the Agriculture
Department, which livestock producers have traditionally relied on to
advocate for their interests, backed the idea of a link between animal
use of antibiotics and human health.
The Agriculture Department "believes that it is likely that the
use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture does lead to some cases
of antimicrobial resistance among humans and in animals themselves,"
said John Clifford, the USDA chief veterinarian.
The Food and Drug Administration,
which regulates antibiotics in animals and humans, has recently proposed
to end the use of many drugs as growth promoters in hogs and other livestock.
Only antibiotics such as ionophores that have no human use would be
permitted to speed animals' growth. The FDA has set a schedule for phasing
out the drugs' use or proposed specific restrictions.
Officials said the ban is needed to ensure that the drugs remain useful
in human medicine.
Clifford was joined by officials
from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in telling
a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that there was evidence of
a link between animal uses of antimicrobials and human health.
At an earlier hearing, government health experts said U.S. data on the
linkage was lacking. But Wednesday, administration officials tried to
make a closer connection. Studies of salmonella, for example, have shown
that giving antibiotics to livestock causes bacteria in the animals
to develop resistance and that resistant bacteria in food can be transmitted
to people, said Ali Khan, the assistant surgeon general.
and their allies on the committee said more research is needed.
"So far there's nothing that links use in animals to a buildup
of resistance in humans," said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.
A representative of the drug makers, Richard Carnevale of the Animal
Health Institute, said there is "no unequivocal evidence"
of a connection.
A committee member, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Ia., said there were "very
real production concerns" with restricting the drugs. He said "this
is an issue that demands thoughtful careful consideration of all points
Presses FDA on Gulf Seafood Safety
by Suzanne Schreck | Jul 16, 2010
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), chair of the Energy and Environment
Subcommittee in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is leading
the congressional investigation into the BP oil spill, sent a letter
to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg
this week concerning the safety of Gulf seafood.
Markey's letter is a follow-up to a letter he sent in May requesting
information relating to the potential impacts on seafood safety from
the prolonged use of chemical dispersants on oil flowing out of the
Deepwater Horizon oil well. In it he states, "Although I have yet
to receive any response to my letter, new developments that seem to
indicate that the marine food chain in the Gulf of Mexico has already
been contaminated by oil and arsenic raise new questions about the impact
that this catastrophic oil disaster will have on marine life in the
While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues
to increase the area of federal waters closed to fishing, samples of
crab larvae have tested positive for hydrocarbons. Markey says that
this is, "a major concern given that crab is a favorite food for
both humans and multiple fish species that live in the marshes."
Markey fears that predators that eat oil-tainted food like crab or crab
larvae will swim into areas that are not closed to fishing and that
those predators will enter the human food supply.
Another concern he voices is that the amount of arsenic in Gulf waters
is increasing as more and more oil continues to spill. A study published
by a team from Imperial College London earlier this month revealed that
oil spills can partially block the ocean's ability to naturally filter
arsenic out of seawater.
According to a press release issued by the Imperial College London team,
"High levels of arsenic in seawater can enable the toxin to enter
the food chain and can disrupt the photosynthesis process in marine
plants and increase the chances of genetic alterations that can cause
birth defects and behavioral changes in aquatic life. It can also kill
animals such as birds that feed on sea creatures affected by arsenic."
The researchers found that oil spills can partially block the ocean's
natural filtration system and prevent it from naturally cleaning arsenic
out of seawater. The scientists say this shutdown of the natural filtration
system causes arsenic levels in seawater to rise, which means that it
can enter the marine ecosystem, where it becomes more concentrated and
the further it moves up the food chain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arsenic
is found in both organic and inorganic forms in nature. Inorganic arsenic
is typically used in industry, in copper chromated arsenate-treated
lumber, and in private well water in some parts of the country. Organic
arsenic is found in many foods--particularly shellfish such as bivalves
(clams, oysters, scallops, mussels), crustaceans (crabs and lobsters),
and certain cold water and bottom feeding finfish, and seaweed or kelp.
Organic forms of arsenic found in seafood are generally considered to
be nontoxic, and are excreted in urine within 48 hours of ingestion;
however, a 2007 study found high levels of inorganic arsenic in hijiki
Non-cancer effects of arsenic exposure can include thickening and discoloration
of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands
and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness. Arsenic has been linked
to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver,
Markey asks Hamburg to provide answers to a number of questions regarding
seafood safety with regards to both hydrocarbon and arsenic contamination
by July 28. Among them are:
1. What is FDA doing to assess whether the ingestion of contaminated
species by other more mobile fish is not resulting in the contamination
of marine seafood caught outside the areas closed to fishing?
2. While FDA's Webpage states that "FDA and NOAA have agreed on
a protocol to determine when closed federal harvest waters can be re-opened."
The protocol relies heavily on the ability to pass a sensory and chemical
analysis to identify oil and its residues. Does this protocol also identify
when seafood is contaminated with arsenic?
3. How does FDA plan on monitoring the long-term effect that oil, other
hydrocarbons, and other toxic compounds such as arsenic have on aquatic
life in the Gulf of Mexico and any potential effect that consumption
of seafood from the Gulf has on human health?
4. Will FDA continue to conduct long-term monitoring for arsenic to
ensure that the chemical does not bioaccumulate in the food chain for
months or years after the leak has stopped and the oil is visibly removed?
5. What federal standards are in place for how much arsenic can be present
in seafood consumed by humans?
China Sends Mixed Messages on Food Safety
by Helena Bottemiller | Jul 19, 2010
The recent seizure of 76 tons of melamine-tainted dairy products in
China has again sparked concern over the country's food safety system.
While it remains unclear whether the recently-seized dairy was left
over from previous incidents, or a new batch, or whether any illnesses
have been connected to the dairy, Chinese government officials sought
to assuage worries last week, again pledging to improve enforcement
of newly revamped food safety laws.
"China attaches great importance to food safety, particularly dairy
quality and safety," Deputy Secretary for Health Supervision Chen
Rui told reporters at a recent conference at the Ministry of Health.
"The ministry will continue to organize the national dairy safety
standards to track evaluations, listen to the food production companies
and consumer opinion, and constantly revise and improve the national
dairy safety standards."
Striking another tone, a senior Chinese health official said last Monday
that more food safety incidents, like melamine-tainted milk scandals,
are likely given China's size and unbalanced development.
"With such a huge territory and population in China, it's hard
to avoid all food safety threats and to put all unscrupulous businessmen
under scrutiny," said Su Zhi, director of the health supervision
bureau under the Ministry of Health at an international food safety
forum last week. Su also said the Chinese government would investigate
every food safety incident and punish responsible parties.
Xinhua, an official Chinese media outlet, reported that Su refused to
comment on whether the recently seized dairy products were leftovers
from the 2008 scandal, which sickened over 300,000 and killed six infants.
After a 10-day food safety raid last February, which turned up more
melamine-laced milk, the Chinese government announced that most of the
tainted milk had been destroyed.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in many plastic products. The
chemical is an attractive means of economic adulteration for milk producers
because it makes watered-down, low quality milk appear to have a higher
protein content in certain tests. When ingested, melamine can cause
bladder or kidney stones, bladder cancer, and acute kidney failure.
China's national food safety office responded to the recent melamine
raid by announcing it will restart a nationwide overhaul of milk powder,
including its source, manufacturing, storage, and sales, according to
Debate Over Antibiotics in Ag Rolls On
by Helena Bottemiller | Jul 19, 2010
The debate over the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture
brought veterinarians, public health officials, scientists, and industry
representatives to Congress last week for a hearing, the third in a
series held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health
on growing antibiotic resistance.
The hearing comes just a few weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) issued a draft guidance "intended to help reduce the development
of resistance to medically important antimicrobial drugs," which
are widely used in food animal production to ward off disease and promote
In the meeting, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) called the draft guidance "a
good first step," but stressed that more could be done to combat
"We must do more to tackle this piece of antibiotic resistance
puzzle. And we must do so as part of a comprehensive strategy designed
to safeguard the vitally important public health tool that is our antibiotics.
It is critical that we encourage the development of new drugs,"
he said. "But it is also essential to preserve the antibiotics
we already have. That means we must move expeditiously to slow the advancement
of antibiotic resistance in both humans and animals."
Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and FDA discussed the link
between antibiotic resistance in humans to the use of medically important
antibiotics in animals.
"USDA believes that it is likely that the use of antibiotics in
animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antibacterial resistance
among humans and in the animals themselves, and it is important that
these medically important antibiotics be used judiciously," Dr.
John Clifford, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deputy
administrator for veterinary services, told the committee last Wednesday.
"We need to work together to conduct research and develop new therapies
that protect and preserve animal health, without increasing the risk
of resistance to medically important antibiotics," said Clifford
in his prepared statement, adding that the agency must partner with
farmers and producers, in addition to federal agencies, to facilitate
the judicious use of antibiotics "in ways that are feasible to
farmers and ranchers."
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of CDC, submitted responses to questions
in time for the committee hearing, clarifying the agency's position
on the issue. Using much stronger language than in previous testimony,
Frieden said there is "strong scientific evidence of a link between
antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans."
Representing FDA at the hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy
commissioner of the agency, said the agencies were having "good
discussion" on antimicrobial resistance, as it relates to food
safety, in the President's Food Safety Working Group.
Sharfstein also pushed back against criticism of FDA's draft guidance,
telling lawmakers the document was based on a "mountain of scientific
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Animal Health
Institute, a trade group representing veterinary pharmaceutical companies,
questioned the science linking growing resistance to agricultural use,
called for more research, and described antimicrobials as a critical
tool for food safety and animal health.
According to Dr. Christine Hoang, assistant director of the scientific
activities division at AVMA, "a direct epidemiological investigation
still cannot be completed." Hoang cautioned lawmakers about the
potential of unintended consequences from any "preemptive"
ban on antimicrobials.
"Simple solutions may not solve such complex problems," said
Hoang, in her prepared statement. "Inappropriate reactions could
have unknown and unintended consequences that negatively affect animal
health and welfare, and ultimately, could create other public health
risks, such as increased foodborne illness."
Dr. Richard Carnevale, vice president of scientific, regulatory and
international affairs at the Animal Health Institute expressed similar
"Research shows that the first link in the chain of producing meat,
milk, and eggs is keeping animals free from disease," said Carnevale
in his prepared testimony, adding that the industry is committed to
working with FDA to address concerns about antibiotics use in food animal
The FDA is inviting comments on the draft guidance, The Judicious Use
of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals
(pdf). See the Federal Register notice (pdf) for more information.
The agency is accepting comments on a rolling basis, but recommends
submitting before August 30 for comments to be considered in the next
Agency 'will remain' government promises
20 July 2010
The government says it will retain the Food Standards Agency, following
concerns the independent watchdog would be scrapped under reforms.
But it will hand over some responsibilities to government, Health Secretary
Andrew Lansley confirmed.
The Department of Health will oversee nutrition policy and the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will handle food labelling.
This, says the government, will leave the FSA to focus on food safety.
Charities said government must follow through with this reorganisation
and "should not let the good things the FSA achieved disappear
into a black hole".
The FSA was set up as an independent food safety watchdog in 2000, in
the wake of the BSE crisis and a number of high-profile outbreaks and
deaths from foodborne illness.
More recently, the FSA has led calls for the Europe-wide introduction
of a traffic light system requiring food companies to label the front
of their products with red, amber or green symbols to denote the amounts
of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar contained per serving.
Mr Lansley said bringing some policy-based functions 'in house' made
sense. Nearly 100 of the Agency's posts will be moved, leaving 2,000
"It's absolutely crucial for the Food Standards Agency to continue
providing independent expert advice to people about food safety. But
bringing nutrition policy into the Department makes sense.
"It will enable a clear, consistent public health service to be
created, as our Public Health White Paper later this year will set out.
"I believe - in the-long term - we'll have a clearer and less bureaucratic
system for public health. The end result will focus on turning expert
advice and support into better health."
Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs said: "It makes perfect sense to bring policy on food origin
and associated labelling to Defra to sit with wider food policy. The
Government has made very clear its commitment to clear and honest labelling
- particularly origin labelling.
"These changes will enable the FSA to focus on food safety and
it is right that this should stay in the hands of an independent body."
Lord Rooker, Chair of the FSA, said: "Food safety and hygiene have
always been at the heart of what the Agency does. They are our top priorities
in protecting the interests of consumers."
Peter Hollins, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said:
"The Government must follow through with this reorganisation, by
recognising its responsibilities in relation to food labels now it has
brought the issue in-house.
"The FSA did much to promote healthy diets and now the Government
must demonstrate it will not let the good things the FSA achieved disappear
into a black hole.
"Regardless of the European jurisdiction issues, the Government
should recognise it has an opportunity to put the health of the UK population
first and continue battling for traffic light colours on food labels."
Rise in food imports heightens contamination risk
By LJ Anderson
Daily News ColumnistPosted: 07/20/2010
As computer jobs have gone offshore, so has the production and processing
of food. In addition, the U.S. now imports more food than it exports
? with fresh produce, and fresh and frozen fish and shellfish among
the leading imports. Mexico is the No. 1 exporter of fruit to the U.S.,
and China is in second place.
This unprecedented growth in globalization of food sources is accompanied
by concerns about health risks to consumers. Regulations governing food
production in many developing countries are often negligible. For example,
two-thirds of the world's production of farmed fish is grown in ponds
fertilized by animal manure or human sewage.
Michael Doyle, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Food Safety at the
University of Georgia (www.ugacfs.org). His Ph.D. is in microbiology,
and his research is in the area of food microbiology with a focus on
bacterial foodborne pathogens.
Q: In general, what are the challenges in preventing foodborne illness?
A: One of the biggest challenges is keeping manure out of the food.
The reason is that animals, in large part, carry harmful microbes in
their intestines and shed it in the feces. Especially, in foods of animal
origin ? such as meat, poultry and raw milk ? these bacteria can be
found. They also can be found on fruits and vegetables because manure
can get into soil and irrigation water, and feces from wildlife get
into the fields ? so there are lots of different sources from which
foods can become contaminated.
The other piece of the equation is that many of these foods may be eaten
without further cooking ? like fresh foods, vegetables or raw milk ?
which would kill harmful bacteria if they were present. Consumers themselves
can take control by using good food-handling practices, properly cooking
the food, and avoiding cross-contamination.
Q: What trends are occurring regarding food imports to the U.S.?
A: It depends on the food category, but a major portion of our food
supply comes from other countries. Many of these are developing countries
that do not have the same level of sanitation that we have in the U.S.,
and so harmful microbes can be present. (I've seen) an outhouse stationed
right over a pond where shrimp or tilapia are grown, and untreated chicken
manure as the nutrient primarily used to feed the shrimp and tilapia.
Currently, more than 15 percent of all foods that we consume are imported,
and the number is growing. Labor is a primary cost of producing processed
or consumer-ready foods, and that is the category of imported foods
that is growing most rapidly. An example is fruit that is processed
and canned in California, and then shipped to China or Thailand in (industrial)
cans where the fruit is repackaged into small plastic containers, and
sent back to the U.S. for sale. There are a lot of things out there
that people don't realize are processed in other countries. And the
oversight that occurs is largely from U.S. companies that buy ingredients
or have foods processed in these countries, and the level of oversight
varies dramatically. Some companies have third-party auditors go in
and take a snapshot view for the particular day they're there. Others
may take a certificate of analysis from the company, and don't even
check out where it's coming from.
Q: What foods are most prone to foodborne pathogens?
A: Seafood can be contaminated with salmonella from the chicken manure
or other manure that is used in aquaculture, or from processing water
that is not properly treated. Up until last year in the U.S., seafood
inspection was totally under the FDA. But their inspection oversight
is totally different from the USDA. which mandates its inspectors be
in the plant during processing of meat and poultry. The law was changed
to include catfish (under the USDA) ? because catfish growers in Louisiana
and the Southeast were concerned about improperly labeled catfish coming
into the U.S. from Asia, and growers thought continuous oversight or
inspection would prevent that false labeling from occurring.
Q: How, if at all, do you eat differently because of what you know?
A: I don't eat raw oysters, for sure, and I won't drink raw milk because
we know the potential for pathogens. I prefer shrimp from the Gulf Coast
of the U.S., and I'm very careful that hamburger is well cooked. I handle
chicken with care, and my wife and I make our own salads from whole
heads, and avoid bagged salads. With lettuce, (harvesters) remove the
leaves and core the lettuce in the field. But if the knife hits the
ground and there are harmful microbes in the ground ? and the knife
is then used to remove the core ? bacteria are trapped and will not
wash away. The lettuce head is put on a belt where it goes through chlorinated
water, but that doesn't do much in terms of killing any harmful microbes.
It used to be that lettuce was cut in the field and then taken to a
processing facility, where it was cored and the outer leaves were removed.
But the waste had to be taken back to the field, so to save on transportation
costs, (growers) decided to core the head and remove the outer leaves
in the field, and leave the waste out there. On top of that, there's
dust blowing around, and they're exposing the outer leaves that we're
going to eat.
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