California State Assemblymen Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D- San Rafael) have introduced a bill (A.B. 376) that would prohibit the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins. Apparently in demand for shark fin soup, “the ingredient is very high in mercury and the FDA warns that it could be dangerous to consumers’ health,” according to a joint press release issued by the lawmakers. Calling shark finning “a senseless act” in which fins and tails are cut from living sharks with the remainder of the fish thrown back in the ocean, Huffman noted that the practice “can seriously destabilized the food chain” because of sharks’ predatory status “in ocean ecosystems around the world.” Although shark finning is illegal under federal and California statutes, Fong called those laws “insufficient when we have species of sharks depleted up to 90 percent. The demand for shark fin is growing and the…

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies has rejected an article 13.5 application submitted by Piimandusühistu E-Piim, the manufacturer of a probiotic cheese, claiming that its product “helps to maintain the cardio-vascular system/heart health through reduction of blood pressure.” The applicant evidently submitted 38 publications and four proprietary reports related to the maintenance of normal blood pressure and the Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA™ bacteria found in its “semi-hard Edam-type” Harmony™ “heart cheese.” EFSA ruled, however, that “none of these publications addressed the effects of L. plantarum,” while three of the four unpublished proprietary reports were uncontrolled and therefore inadmissible. The fourth study, according to EFSA, “was a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over human intervention,” but ultimately failed “to show an effect of L. plantarum TENSIA™ on blood pressure.” The panel therefore concluded that “a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of Lactobacillus plantarum…

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has announced a preliminary program for a consultative workshop on draft guidance on the selection of comparators, or controls, for the risk assessment of genetically modified organism (GMO) plants. Scientists and risk assessors from European Union (EU) member states, industry and non-governmental organizations are expected to attend the March 31, 2011, workshop in Brussels. According to EFSA’s website, agenda items include (i) “Principles of risk assessment in the EU legal framework”; (ii) “GMO risk assessment: pros and cons of different approaches”; (iii) “Specific food and feed/molecular characterization and environmental needs for selection comparator”; and (iv) “Risk assessment when no comparator is available.” Meanwhile, EU’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain has reportedly “returned no definitive opinion” on whether to approve or veto the use of three GMOs for maize and cotton. According to a news source, the inconclusive vote could thwart other forms of…

Canada Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq has announced revisions to food allergen labeling regulations with the aim of reducing the number of food recalls and adverse reactions. The revisions strengthen the requirements by adding gluten sources to the list of allergens that must be disclosed on product labels and specifying in plain terms what food makers must say about their ingredients, including “hidden” allergens, gluten sources and sulphites. According to Health Canada, the changes will take effect August 4, 2012, to allow the industry time to implement them. The agency claims that the revisions will “provide a clearer ingredient label so that consumers can better avoid foods that contain the ingredient to which they are allergic or sensitive,” and will ensure that allergens, gluten sources and sulphites “will be labelled in a systematic and consistent manner.” See Health Canada Press Release, February 14, 2011.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Under Secretary for Food Safety, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have announced a February 22, 2011, public meeting in College Park, Maryland, to provide information and receive public comments on draft U.S. positions to be discussed at the 5th session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF) on March 21-25 in The Hague, The Netherlands. Among other things, CCCF “establishes or endorses permitted maximum levels of contaminants, and where necessary revises existing guidelines for contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants in food and feed.” Agenda items include proposed draft maximum levels for melamine in liquid infant formula, deoxynivalenol and its acetylated derivatives in cereals and cereal-based products, and total aflaxtoxins in dried figs. Topics for discussion papers include mycotoxins in sorghum, arsenic in rice, ochratoxin A in cocoa, and furan. See Federal Register, February…

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have solicited public comment on complementary draft policies aiming “to enable the development of sustainable marine aquaculture.” According to NOAA, these policies apply to “the farming of marine organisms such as shellfish, finfish, and algae for food, habitat restoration, and rebuilding of wild fish stocks,” and outline how the agency plans “to fund research into innovative aquaculture technologies, work with partners to create job initiatives that encourage the growth of the industry, and grant access to favorable sites for aquaculture facilities.” To this end, the NOAA draft policy specifically offers “a national approach for supporting sustainable commercial production, expanding restoration aquaculture, and researching and developing new technologies.” It also includes principles meant to guide the regulation of aquaculture in federal waters, with an emphasis on (i) ecosystem compatibility, (ii) compatibility with other uses, (iii) the best available…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued a determination of nonregulated status for a corn variety genetically engineered (GE) to facilitate ethanol production. Developed by Syngenta Seeds, Inc., Event 3272 or Enogen™ corn produces a microbial enzyme that, according to the petition for deregulation, is “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk and, therefore, should not be a regulated article under APHIS’ regulations in 7 CFR part 340.” After reviewing the scientific data and soliciting public feedback on a draft environmental assessment, APHIS has agreed that this variety of GE corn “should be granted nonregulated status” as of February 15, 2011. See Federal Register, February 15, 2011. Meanwhile, corn millers and other food industry interests have reportedly criticized the decision, telling The New York Times that cross-pollination with food-grade corn “could lead to crumbly corn chips, soggy cereal, loaves of bread with soupy…

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued an update to its “High-Risk Series” report in which it attempts to “focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.” Among other matters, the report continues to call for revamping federal oversight of food safety. Citing the nationwide 2010 Salmonella-tainted egg recall as an example, GAO contends that fragmented federal oversight has created food safety challenges. While the Food Safety Modernization Act has expanded Food and Drug Administration oversight authority, GAO recommends that Congress “also consider enacting comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation [and] commissioning a detailed analysis of alternative organizational structures for food safety.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a regulatory petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking the agency to prohibit two types of caramel coloring used in cola, beer, soy sauce, and other foods. According to CSPI, “the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures,” resulting in “the formation of 2-methylimidazole [2-MI] and 4-methylimidazole [4-MI], which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats.” The consumer watchdog is thus urging FDA to prohibit Caramel III and Caramel IV food colorings because both are made with ammonia. Experts with ties to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have also penned a letter in support of this request, citing several NTP animal studies finding “’clear evidence’ for carcinogenicity” of both 2-MI and 4-MI. “[T]he…

A recent study claims that teenagers notice but ultimately disregard calorie counts on fast-food menu boards, ordering the same number of calories as they did before New York City’s mandatory labeling laws took effect. B. Ebel, et al., “Child and adolescent fast-food choice and the influence of calorie labeling: a natural experiment,” International Journal of Obesity, February 2011. In a follow-up to a 2009 study, New York University researchers collected survey and receipt data from “349 children and adolescents aged 1–17 years who visited the restaurants with their parents (69%) or alone (31%) before or after labeling was introduced.” The findings evidently showed “no statistically significant differences in calories purchased before and after labeling,” although 9 percent of the subjects reported that calorie information influenced their purchasing decisions. In addition, 70 percent said that taste, followed by cost, was the most important factor in their choices, and the majority underestimated…

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