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7/28, 2003
ISSUE:75

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Homeland security law shields industry from press inquiries

source from: BY FRANK JAMES
Chicago Tribune
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Could the Homeland Security Department, created to protect Americans from terrorists, have the perverse effect of making Americans in some ways less safe?
Some critics fear that will be the result of a provision buried deep within the law that established the department.The Homeland Security Act has language aimed at encouraging companies to voluntarily tip the government to vulnerabilities in their operations that could be potentially exploited by terrorists to kill or injure huge numbers of Americans.As an incentive, the law protects much of that information from the public by placing it off-limits to requests made under the federal Freedom of Information Act, an open-government law meant to let citizens look at government's inner workings.But some observers worry that companies will be tempted to send not just homeland-security information but potentially troublesome worker and public-safety information to the new department as well, effectively shielding data from the public.
"The upshot of this is that information may be withheld for no good reason other than the corporation that has the information would likely be embarrassed by the disclosure," said Michael Tankersley, a senior staff attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington. A Homeland Security Department spokesman insisted the agency won't let itself be used to keep inconvenient corporate secrets from the public. "We're only going to be looking for information and requesting information that is related to homeland security," Gordon Johndroe said. "But it's in this department's best interests to be able to work with these companies so we can obtain the information so that we can make the country more secure. "This is not going to be a shield for any kind of criminal or civil negligence by any companies," Johndroe said. Indeed, the law specifically says information related to criminal behavior won't be exempt from FOIA. Requests for government documents under FOIA are a mainstay for journalists and public-interest groups, frequently used to obtain information about government agencies and the businesses they regulate. Such disclosures have frequently led to reforms. In 2000, for example, Public Citizen used a FOIA request to obtain an Environmental Protection Agency-funded study that showed that manufacturing workers who were exposed to hexavalent chromium, a metallic compound used in paints, inks and plastics, suffered lung cancer at twice the rate of similar individuals. Public Citizen and a union representing chemical industry workers later filed a lawsuit to get the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reduce the amount of the compound to which workers could be legally exposed. A year earlier, the Detroit Free Press used FOIA the same open-government act to obtain Agriculture Department documents that showed that its inspectors had serious concerns about conditions at Sara Lee Corp. subsidiary, Bil Mar Foods. The hotdogs and lunchmeats processed at a Bil Mar plant in Michigan were linked to a deadly outbreak of the Listeria bacteria. Critics of the Homeland Security Act fear such information could be made off limits to the public by the new law. But lawmakers viewed shielding the submitted information as essential for the government to learn enough about the vulnerable points in the nation's critical infrastructure. More than 80 percent of it - the energy pipelines, power plants, railroads, chemical factories and telephone networks that form the economy's bone and muscle - are privately owned, making the government largely dependent on the corporations for such information. Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs, said the corporate community's fight for the FOIA exemption in the Homeland Security Act evolved from a 1998 battle. It concerned an Environmental Protection Agency initiative to put details about the locations of industrial chemicals on the Internet to inform local communities of potential dangers. The chamber and the Federal Bureau of Investigation fought successfully to keep such information off the Web, arguing that it could give terrorists a roadmap. Kovacs doubted that companies would use the law to hide copious amounts of embarrassing information. "Having information sitting with the government is not exactly the safest thing to do," he said, because the agency or a court could interpret the law as permitting the release of the information. Critics also have voiced concerns that the Homeland Security Department's proposed rules to implement the law may go even further than the law in protecting companies. For instance, a draft version of the rules could be interpreted as protecting from public disclosure information voluntarily submitted to any government agency, not just Homeland Security.
"There's this embedded assumption that the only way in which we are in danger is at the hands of terrorists, when we are in much greater danger, frankly, every day from industry that's allowed to hide wholesale (dangerous) practices from the public," said Charles N. Davis, executive director of the Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Of such worries, Johndroe said, "I can understand their concerns because this is a new area and new rules and regulations for homeland-security purposes." But he called the FOIA exemption "very narrow" that "only covers proprietary infrastructure information, which if it was to be made public, could be used to harm us." Despite such assurances, some lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this year meant to strengthen the right-to-know features in the Homeland Security Act. But as Democratic-sponsored bills in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and adamantly opposed by business groups, the legislation isn't given much chance of passing.

Spotlight on food safety agencies
source from : FoodNavigator
28/07/03 - Italy will hand over the EU Presidency to Ireland at the start of 2004. Food safety, close to the heart of the Commission and Europe, will be the focus of an international conference organised by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

In conjunction with the Department of Health and Children, the conference ?to take place on the 11 ?12 March ?will coincide with an open meeting of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Ireland on 10 March.
A three pillar structure dominates the Commissions approach to food safety policy. Firstly an effective range of food safety legislation, secondly the brand new European Food Safety Authority and thirdly, the development of a new approach to official controls.

To achieve these goals, Member States and their respective food control authorities will be required to develop national multi-annual control plans, including contingency plans in case of emergency. Central authorities will have to ensure that the work of control authorities at regional and local levels are effective and co-ordinated and that auditing systems are in place to monitor efficacy.

According to the organisers, the aim of the conference is to provide a forum where the requirements and impact of the new food policies in Europe can be fully explored by food control agencies. The goal will be to identify where the risk management strategies of Member States and Candidate Countries can be harmonised, if possible or desirable, in the best interest of protecting consumers.

Officially opened by the Irish Minister for Health and Children, Miche? Martin, the conference will include speakers from the European Commission and the EFSA.

USDA creates food safety risk assessment group

from IFT: 7/28/2003-On July 25, The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa A. Murano announced the establishment of a Food Safety Risk Assessment Committee to enhance coordination and communication among various USDA agencies in planning and conducting activities related to risk assessments. On July 10, 2003, Under Secretary Murano released a vision document to guide continuing food safety initiatives, including strengthening the use of risk assessments to support and guide response to emerging public health threats. The new risk assessment committee will combine the expertise of several USDA agencies to build a solid scientific basis on which to base regulatory and policy decisions.

 

 

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USDA amends bovine tuberculosis classification of New Mexico

by Joshua Lipsky on 7/28/03 for Meatingplace.com
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is amending the bovine tuberculosis regulations regarding state and zone classifications by removing New Mexico from the list of accredited-free states and adding it to a list of modified accredited advanced states. Recently, two tuberculosis-infected herds were detected in Roosevelt County, N.M. Under APHIS regulations, if two or more affected herds are detected in an accredited-free state or zone within a 48-month period, the state or zone will be reclassified as modified accredited advanced. The two New Mexico herds have been quarantined and a complete epidemiologic investigation into the potential sources of the disease is being conducted. In cooperation with the state, APHIS has tested cattle continuously for tuberculosis since the disease was detected. Notice of this action was published in the July 24 Federal Register.

LEGIONNAIRES DISEASE OUTBREAK IN MURCIA, SPAIN
August 2003
CDC ?Emerging Infectious Diseases
Ana Garc?-Fulgueiras,* Carmen Navarro,* Daniel Fenoll,?Jos?Garc?,*Paulino Gonz?ez-Diego,* Teresa Jim?ez-Bu?ales,* Miguel Rodriguez,*
Rosa Lopez,* Francisco Pacheco,* Joaqu? Ruiz,?Manuel Segovia,?BeatrizBaladr?,?and Carmen Pelaz?*Regional Health Council of Murcia, Murcia, Spain; ?ouncil of Murcia,Murcia, Spain; ?irgen de la Arrixaca Hospital, Murcia, Spain; MoralesMeseguer Hospital, Murcia, Spain; and Health Institute of Carlos III,
Madrid, Spain
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol9no8/03-0337.htm
Summary An explosive outbreak of Legionnaires?disease occurred in Murcia,
Spain, in July 2001. More than 800 suspected cases were reported; 449 of these cases were confirmed, which made this the worlds largest outbreak of the
disease reported to date. Dates of onset for confirmed cases ranged from June 26 to July 19 , with a case-fatality rate of 1%. The epidemic curve and
geographic pattern from the 600 completed epidemiologic questionnaires indicated an outdoor point-source exposure in the northern part of the city. A
case-control study matching 85 patients living outside the city of Murcia with two controls each was undertaken to identify the outbreak source;
the epidemiologic investigation implicated the cooling towers at a city hospital. An environmental isolate from these towers with an identical molecular pattern as the clinical isolates was subsequently identified
and supported that epidemiologic conclusion.
Legionnaires?disease (LD) has been an emergent disease since the 1970s. In the last few years, the increased use of a simple test for detecting
urinary antigen Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 in patients with pneumonia has facilitated diagnosis (1). Transmission by aerosols has been extensively
reported, and evidence of Legionella in aerosols derived from cooling towers has been provided (2?). Although a considerable body of epidemiologic evidence exists for the association of LD outbreaks with aerosols
produced by cooling towers, some controversy exists about the role that cooling towers play in LD (6?3).
We describe an explosive outbreak of LD that occurred in July 2001 in Murcia, a municipality with 360,000 inhabitants in southeastern Spain. We also report results of a case-control study performed to identify the
source of this outbreak, which turned out to be a cooling tower. The outbreak of pneumonia was first detected on July 7. At the end of the first day of active surveillance, July 8, approximately 100 cumulative suspected
cases were reported. More than 800 suspected cases were recorded by July 22, when the last case was treated, 2 weeks after the onset of the investigation. The
epidemiologic investigation using a case-control study emphasizes a combination of strategies to measure and analyze an outbreak of LD that occurs in an area with many large potential sources of environmental
contamination.

G-RADIATION DECONTAMINATION OF ALFALFA SEEDS NATURALLY CONTAMINATED WITH SALMONELLA MBANDAKA

June/July 2003
Journal of Food Science, Vol.68, No. 5
pp. 1771-1776
D.W. Thayer, G. Boyd, and W.F. Fett
http://confex2.confex.com/store/ift/
ABSTRACT:
Samples of alfalfa seeds inoculated with Salmonella Mbandaka isolated from a naturally contaminated lot were g-irradiated to 1 of 8 doses between 0
and 2.8 kGy, producing a maximum inactivation of 3.3 logs CFU/g. Analysis of the data indicates that the g-radiation D value is 0.81 6 0.02 kGy. An absorbed
dose of 4 kGy, but not 3 kGy, eliminated viable S. Mbandaka from naturally contaminated seeds. Results of experiments with different percentages
of inoculated seeds indicate that the dose required to inactivate a contaminating pathogen on alfalfa seeds is dependent upon the maximum contamination per seed, not the mean contamination of the lot.