The Kansas Department of Agriculture this week held its final hearing on a regulation that would ban labels advertising a dairy product as “rBGH free,” “rBST free” or “artificial growth hormone free.” As of January 2010, the measure would also require products marketed as “derived from cows not supplemented with growth hormones” to carry disclaimer language stating, “the FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-supplemented and non-rBST-supplemented cows.” The department proposed the rules to reduce consumer confusion on the issue, but organic and environmental groups have since formed a coalition to lobby against the regulation. According to the Center for Food Safety, “94 dairy farmers; consumer, farm and agricultural groups; public health, animal protection and environmental organizations; food processors; and retailers” signed a letter to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D), claiming that the “proposed rule puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of…

Toronto’s city council has approved a ban on the sale and distribution of bottled water at city facilities, making it the largest city in the world to impose such a ban. The council also approved a measure requiring shoppers to pay five Canadian cents for plastic bags and business owners to offer reusable bags and carry-out containers. Environmental concerns have apparently spurred the initiatives, which come on the heels of a complaint filed by environmental interests in Canada against Nestlé accusing it of misleading the public by claiming that its bottled water is “the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” A company spokesperson reportedly stood by the claim, saying that most water bottles are recycled and that bottled water takes less water to produce than soft drinks, sliced bread or a can of vegetables. See Globe and Mail, December 1, 2008; Wikinews Shorts, December 4, 2008.

China has reportedly estimated that nearly 300,000 infants were sickened and six died after ingesting melamine-tainted formula linked to kidney stones and renal failure. The government has increased the number of illnesses six-fold from its first calculations and doubled the death toll as the Health Ministry investigated fatalities purportedly involving infant formula. “The new figures are more realistic and objective than previous figures,” said one Beijing lawyer who represents several families seeking compensation and is considering the creation of a public fund for victims. “I assume the government is worried about the situation of the dairies and is afraid the companies may fall if they have to pay compensation amid the current financial crisis. The government may be worrying about the interests of the companies first.” See Associated Press, December 2, 2008. In a related development, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated its safety assessment for melamine and…

GAO has launched a new “Urgent Issues” Web page that outlines food safety priorities and possible government actions to secure the national food supply. According to GAO, “the fragmented nature of the federal food oversight system undermines the government’s ability to (i) plan more strategically to inspect food product process, (ii) identify and react more quickly to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and (iii) focus on promoting the safety and integrity of the nation’s food supply.” The government watchdog also urges the executive branch to “reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety” and “develop a government-wide performance plan that is results-oriented and provides a cross-agency perspective to help ensure agencies’ goals are complementary.” In addition, GAO calls on Congress to “commission the National Academy of Sciences or a blue ribbon panel to conduct a detailed analysis of alternative organizational food safety structures” and “enact comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”

Farmers have reportedly reacted unfavorably to an EPA proposal that would regulate greenhouse gases from “stationary sources,” including cows and other livestock, as well as cars. The “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” suggested that farms exceeding a 100-tons-per-year emission limit–those with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs–would need to obtain an annual air pollution permit, which respondents estimated would cost upwards of $175 per cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 per hog. The U.S. Department of Agriculture joined with several state farm bureaus in pointing out that “[It] is neither efficient nor practical to require permitting and reporting of [greenhouse] emissions from farms of this size . . . These operations simply could not bear the regulatory compliance costs that would be involved.” Although some officials have described the overwhelming response as “almost a panic,” media sources have noted that strong opposition…

FDA this week released a progress report on the Food Protection Plan launched in November 2007 to address “both food safety and food defense for domestic and imported products.” The report states that federal regulators are "working collaboratively across the agency to implement the three-core elements of protection: prevention, intervention and response.” It particularly notes that FDA has (i) established offices in China and India, with the intention of expanding its presence in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East; (ii) developed melamine and cyanuric acid testing for animal feed; (iii) developed rapid detection methods for E. coli and Salmonella; (iv) enhanced its ability to track foodborne illness outbreaks; (v) signed cooperative agreements with six states to form rapid response teams to handle emergencies; and (vi) approved the use of irradiation for iceberg lettuce and spinach. FDA also inspected 5,930 high-risk domestic food establishments in fiscal year 2008 and plans…

USDA is asking the pork industry to decide whether to hold a referendum on the Pork Checkoff Program, a mandatory promotion fund overseen by the National Pork Board and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The agency’s request for referendum gives pork producers and importers between December 8 and January 2, 2009, to vote in favor of a referendum on the program. “If 15 percent of the total number of eligible producers and importers want a referendum on the Pork Checkoff Program, the referendum will be conducted within one year after the results for the Request for Referendum are announced,” stated USDA, which issued the request in accordance with the settlement agreement stemming from a 2001 lawsuit initiated by the Michigan Pork Producers Association. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food Policy Blog has urged the pork industry to back the referendum, in part because the checkoff program is “an ineffective way of increasing…

Strict liability and breach of warranty claims filed in an Ohio state court in July 2008 after an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef sold by Nebraska Beef sickened at least 19 in that state have been removed to federal court. Schlagel v. Nebraska Beef, Ltd., No. 08-01091 (S.D. Ohio, removed November 17, 2008). The named plaintiff of this putative class action is a 4-year-old girl, who allegedly “suffered serious physical and emotional injuries.” The proposed class would include “All Ohio claimants who have suffered personal injury caused by Nebraska Beef’s contaminated E. Coli 0157:H7 meat.” The contamination led to the recall of more than 5 million pounds of meat. The company has reportedly denied the allegations and challenges the suitability of the case for class treatment. See Product Liability Law 360, November 18, 2008.

A University of Arizona scientist has reportedly warned the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more than 40 percent of prepackaged meats sampled in 2006 tested positive for Clostridium difficile, an intestinal bug usually associated with hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, Professor of Veterinary Science J. Glenn Songer apparently found that 30 percent of the contaminated meats carried a highly toxic strain of C. difficile that is also resistant to drug treatments. He warned that not only is this disease difficult to trace to its source, but it survives most forms of sterilization, including cooking. “These data suggest that domestic animals, by way of retail meats, may be a source for C. difficile for human infection,” Songer told MSNBC.com, which reported on the emergence of the superbug in supermarket products like ground beef, turkey and ready-to-eat summer sausage. Yet, “There are no documented cases of people getting Clostridium…

A study commissioned by the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health has reportedly linked genetically modified crops to lower fertility rates in mice, prompting Greenpeace International to reiterate its call for a global ban. Led by University of Vienna Professor of Veterinary Medicine Jurgen Zentek, researchers concluded that compared to mice on a normal feed mix, those fed a diet of 33 percent GM corn produced third and fourth litters with fewer offspring of lower birth weights. The team described the results as “statistically significant,” adding that more females in the GM-diet group “remained without litters than in the control group.” In response to the finding, one Greenpeace scientist told the Daily Mail that GM food “appears to be acting as a birth-control agent, potentially leading to infertility. If this is not reason enough to close down the whole biotech industry once and for all, I am not sure what…

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