A recent study of commercially available plastic products has reportedly claimed that “almost all” those sampled leached chemicals having reliably detectable estrogenic activity (EA). Chun Z. Yang, et al., “Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved,” Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2011. Researchers evidently used “a very sensitive, accurate, repeatable, roboticized MCF-7 cell proliferation assay to quantify the EA of chemicals leached into saline or ethanol extracts of many types of commercially available plastic materials, some exposed to common-use stresses,” such as microwaving or UV radiation. The results indicated that these products, “independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source,” emitted chemicals having EA despite being advertised as EA-free. In particular, products labeled free of bisphenol A (BPA) sometimes released chemicals “having more EA than BPA-containing products,” according to the study’s authors, who pointed to “existing, relatively-expensive monomers and additives that do not…

“Diet soda isn’t as addictive as drugs like nicotine, but something about it seems to make some people psychologically—and even physically—dependent on it,” opens this Health.com article on individuals who drink more than the average amount of diet soda per day. According to journalist Denise Mann, some diet soft drink aficionados imbibe anywhere from four cans to 2 liters every day, raising questions for medical professionals about whether these consumers are “true addicts.” The article cites self-reported “addicts” as well as researchers claiming, for instance, that some diet soda drinkers are simply swapping one compulsive behavior for another, or conditioning themselves to crave diet soft drinks while performing certain activities. But Mann also references research suggesting that “the artificial sweeteners in diet soda (such as aspartame) may prompt people to keep refilling their glass because these fake sugars don’t satisfy like the real thing.” In addition, she notes that although…

Friends of the Earth (FOE) International has published a February 2011 report claiming that “the biotech industry and its sponsors generate considerable hyperbole about the benefits that GMOs [genetically modified organisms] provide to farmers, consumers and the environment.” Titled Who Benefits from GM Crops?, the report criticizes data released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), alleging that, contrary to ISAAA’s findings, “GM crops do not generate increased yields or help to solve hunger but are actually increasing pesticide use, contaminating seeds and food, and destroying poor farmers’ livelihoods because of high costs and monopolies.” In particular, FOE asserts that “public opposition to GMOs is rising and the area of agricultural land dedicated to GM crops is declining” in Europe, while regulatory and legal actions in the United States, India, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina purportedly reflect an increased willingness to curb the use of GMOs. The…

An insurer that issued commercial umbrella policies to a company that makes flavorings ingredients, including those used in butter-flavored microwave popcorn, is seeking a declaration that it has no obligation under those policies to defend or indemnify the company in lawsuits alleging respiratory injury from exposure to diacetyl. Continental Cas. Co. v. Citrus & Allied Essences Ltd., No. 650548/2011 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., filed February 28, 2011). More than 50 diacetyl lawsuits have apparently been filed against the ingredients supplier by individuals alleging workplace exposures. The insurer contends among other matters that it was not timely notified about some of the suits, the injuries did not occur during the policy coverage period, pollution exclusions preclude coverage, and the insured has settled lawsuits without the insurer’s consent.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court ruling that would have required those who had planted genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings to destroy the crop. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Vilsack, Nos. 10-17719, -17722 (9th Cir., decided February 25, 2011). The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had issued permits allowing the GE sugar beet seedlings to be planted in select, remote areas and imposing conditions prohibiting flowering or pollination before the permits expired on February 28, 2011. The plaintiffs challenged those permits because they were issued before APHIS had completed an environmental impact statement, which was required by a previous court order, and the district court concluded that they were likely to prevail on the merits. Additional details about the case appear in Issues 366 and 374 of this Update. While the Ninth Circuit agreed with the lower court that…

The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption barring the release of law enforcement records whose release “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” is inapplicable to documents provided to a federal agency by a corporation. FCC v. AT&T, Inc., No. 09-1279 (U.S., decided March 1, 2011). Expressing the wish that “AT&T will not take it personally,” Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 8-0 court, rejected its argument that “personal privacy” under FOIA reaches corporations because the statute defines “person” to include a corporation. The case involved an investigation launched after AT&T voluntarily provided certain information to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) arising from the company’s participation in a program to enhance schools and libraries’ access to advanced telecommunications and information services. AT&T apparently reported that it might have overcharged the government for its program services. While the…

The Arizona House of Representatives Commerce Committee has reportedly approved a bill (H.B. 2490) that would block cities and counties from enacting laws that would prohibit restaurants, food establishments or convenience stores from offering “consumer incentive items” with meals. Scheduled to go before the House for a full vote, the law identifies the items as “any licensed media character, toy, game, trading card, contest, point accumulation, club membership, admission ticket, token, code or password for digital access, coupon, voucher, incentive, crayons, coloring placemats or other premium or prize or consumer product.” Telling a news source that “government needs to stay out of the way of free enterprise,” Representative Jim Weiers (R-Glendale) challenged arguments that toy giveaways tied with high-fat, high-calorie meals contributed to childhood obesity. “Ask the parents who are supposed to be ultimately responsible,” he said. But House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) asserted that the issue should be…

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reportedly launched an investigation to determine if a brand of ice cream made with donated breast milk has violated food safety regulations. Launched recently by a London-area restaurant, Baby Gaga ice cream was evidently pulled by the Westminster City Council after several complaints were lodged about whether the product was safe for human consumption. According to a news source, FSA joined with the council to decide if the ice cream breaches regulations mandating that “food shall not be placed on the market if it is unsafe” and that “food shall be deemed to be unsafe it if it is considered to be (i) injurious to health, and (ii) unfit for human consumption.” An industry source was quoted as saying that human breast milk donated to breast milk banks is required to pass rigorous screening to comply with guidelines established by the National…

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have called for rapid tracing of food source contamination to reduce illness and save lives. Casey Barton Behravesh, et al., “2008 Outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul Infections Associated with Raw Produce,” New England Journal of Medicine, February 2011. Investigating the 2008 Salmonella outbreak first blamed on American tomatoes but later pinpointed to Mexican peppers, researchers concluded that the outbreak—linked to approximately 1,500 illnesses and two deaths—“highlights the importance of preventing raw produce contamination.” The report calls for (i) product-tracing systems improvements, including the “ability of the systems to work together for more rapid tracing of implicated products through the supply chain in order to maximize public health protection and minimize the economic burden to industry”; (ii) “an understanding of the mechanisms and ecologies that can lead to contamination of produce on farms”; and (iii) “the institution of additional control measures from the source throughout…

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final rule that amends its food additive regulations to allow hydrogen peroxide to be used as an “antimicrobial agent in the manufacture of modified whey by ultrafiltration methods.” Effective March 2, 2011, the rule responds to a petition filed by Fonterra (USA) Inc. requesting the change as an alternative to “electrodialysis methods” used in whey processing. Hydrogen peroxide has been affirmed as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for human consumption when electrodialysis methods are used for whey processing under certain conditions. After reviewing data on ultrafiltration methods, FDA has determined that hydrogen peroxide “will achieve its intended technical effect as an antimicrobial agent under the proposed conditions of use.” FDA requests objections to the rule or requests for a hearing by April 1. See Federal Register, March 2, 2011.

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