The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced two public meetings on a proposed rule requiring mandatory FSIS inspections of imported and domestic catfish and catfish products. The meetings will be held May 24 in Washington, D.C., and May 26 in Stoneville, Mississippi. The proposed rule was highlighted in Issue 383 of this Update. See Federal Register, May 9, 2011.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) has evidently declined to revisit a final rule published February 17, 2010, that dealt with access to pasture requirements for livestock. In addition to establishing “a pasture practice standard for ruminant animals,” the rule established conditions for organic slaughter stock at “finish feeding” operations, where cattle is typically fed grain crops to improve the grade of beef. In particular, NOP exempted these animals from a provision requiring organically raised ruminants to derive “not less than an average of 30 percent of their dry matter intake (DMI) requirement” from grazing. The agency then solicited comments addressing (i) whether NOP should consider infrastructural and regional differences in finish feeding operations; (ii) the length of the finishing period; and (iii) the use of feedlots for finishing organic slaughter stock. Based on the 500 individual and 14,000 form letters received in response to this request,…

A study presented at the 2011 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver, Colorado, has evidently suggested an association between prenatal bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and wheezing in childhood. According to a May 1, 2011, press release, researchers followed 367 pairs of mothers and infants, measuring BPA levels in the urine of pregnant woman “at 16 and 26 weeks’ gestation as well as when they delivered their babies,” and asking mothers “every six months for three years… whether their child wheezed.” Although “99 percent of children were born to mothers who had detectable BPA in their urine at some point during pregnancy,” those infants “whose mothers had high levels of BPA during pregnancy were twice as likely to wheeze as babies whose mothers had low levels of BPA.” The researchers noted, however, that the association held true in the youngest group of children only, with no differences in wheezing rates by…

A European study has reportedly raised questions about the impact of low-sodium diets on heart health, finding that people who apparently consumed the least amount of salt did not lower their risk for high blood pressure and, contrary to expectations, increased their risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, et al., “Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion,” Journal of the American Medical Association, May 4, 2011. Researchers based their results on 24-hour sodium excretion measurements taken over a median 7.9 years from 3,700 subjects “randomly enrolled in the Flemish Study on Genes, Environment, and Health Outcomes (1985-2004) or in the European Project on Genes in Hypertension (1999-2001).” The findings from this cohort evidently indicated that while higher sodium excretion aligned with an increase in systolic blood pressure, “this association did not translate into a higher risk of…

“Known in the food business as ‘aquatic chicken’ because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood,” writes New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Rosenthal in a May 2, 2011, article exploring the global tilapia market. “[P]romoted as good for your health and for the environment at a time when many marine stocks have been seriously depleted,” tilapia is mostly imported from Latin America and Asia for consumption in the United States, where its newfound fame has also drawn attention to aquaculture practices overseas. In particular, Rosenthal notes that critics have raised questions about raising tilapia in pens, a practice that purportedly pollutes lakes and damages local ecosystems, and on diets that nutritionists say can reduce the production and quality of omega 3…

According to an April 29, 2011, New York Times article, a plan to regulate purchases under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continues to gain steam in New York City, where officials recently asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve a two-year pilot project prohibiting the use of food stamps to buy sugar-sweetened beverages with more than 10 calories per serving. Proponents of the measure have apparently estimated that city residents each year spend “$75 million to $135 million in food stamp benefits” on sugar-sweetened beverages, which advocates say are “the single largest contributor to the obesity epidemic.” But industry groups and other opponents have warned that the pilot project will serve only to stigmatize some consumers while giving government leave to police other purchasing decisions. “Once you start going into grocery carts, deciding what people can or cannot buy, where do you stop?,” asked one American…

A New York gallery has reportedly offered cheese made with the breast milk of three nursing women as part of a research project studying the ethics of modern biotechnology. The Lady Cheese Shop, a temporary art installation, recently gave out samples of West Side Funk, Midtown Smoke and Wisconsin Chew made from breast milk, screened for diseases and pasteurized. Miriam Simun, a New York University graduate student responsible for the art installation and the cheese, told a news source that she hoped her effort prompted people to contemplate how human bodies are used as “factories” that produce blood, hair, sperm, eggs, and organs harvested for others. “Cheese is a conversation starter,” Simun was quoted as saying. “Some people are loving it, and some people are gagging.” See Reuters, May 2, 2011.

The Cancer Council Australia (CCA) Alcohol Working Group has published a position statement in the May 2011 Medical Journal of Australia, claiming that alcohol use causes cancer and that any level of consumption “increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.” According to the statement, an analysis verified by “external experts” found that “the level of risk increases in line with the level of consumption” and that an estimated 5,070 cases of cancer “are attributable to long-term chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.” It also noted that “alcohol use may contribute to weight (fat) gain, and greater body fatness is a convincing cause of cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, bowel, endometrium, kidney and breast (in postmenopausal women).” CCA recommends that consumers (i) reduce “the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime” by drinking “no more than two standard drinks on any day,” and (ii) reduce the risk of…

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, drawing attention to a plan that would allegedly prohibit FDA from considering drug residues in bob veal calf tissues “as an indicator of possible drug misuse on dairy farms.” According to CSPI, bob veal cattle are young beef animals “harvested directly from dairy farms, and therefore, these cattle are key indicators of drug use on the specific farms and are also important indicators of potential use in dairy cattle residing on those farms.” The consumer group thus feels that a policy barring test results from these animals “would make it harder for FDA to detect misuse of animal drugs in dairy cattle and, as a result, consumers may be more likely to be exposed to hazardous drugs in milk and milk products and/or resistant strains of human pathogens…

The Department of Justice recently took action against seafood producers in Wisconsin and Alabama for products that were either processed in plants lacking Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans or misbranded. In Wisconsin, a U.S. attorney filed a complaint to seize a variety of breaded seafood products in the possession of Soderholm Wholesale Foods, Inc. and Fellerson, Inc. and sold under the “Seaside” label. United States v. “Seaside” Breaded Cod Fillets, No. 11-277 (W.D. Wis., filed April 18, 2011). According to the complaint, these products are adulterated “in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.” Investigations in 2010 allegedly revealed that the companies did not have a written HACCP plan and failed to adopt one after warning. Meanwhile, seafood wholesalers Karen Blyth and David Phelps have reportedly been sentenced in an Alabama federal court to 33…

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