USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is seeking comments on policies that regulate whether processors can use animal raising claims in labeling for meat and poultry products. “[R]ecent experience with labeling claims related to the raising of poultry have led FSIS to initiate a review of its evaluation and approval process for labels of meat and poultry products that contain animal raising claims,” stated the agency in a recent Federal Register notice. Animal raising claims include language that describes a product as “raised without antibiotics”; “not fed animal by-products”; “free range”; “vegetarian fed diet”; and “raised with added hormones.” FSIS currently evaluates such claims “by reviewing testimonials, affidavits, animal product protocols, and other relevant documentation provided by animal producers.” The agency is soliciting public input on this approval process, which also allows meat and poultry establishments to submit certification from outside organizations or entities in support of animal raising claims.…

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) Cancer Project has filed a petition with the USDA asking the agency to prohibit processed meats from school cafeteria menus. The initiative follows an advertising campaign warning about the purported cancer risks of processed meat consumption. Further details about the campaign appear in issue 277 of this Update. PCRM advocates a vegetarian diet and opposes animal research. See PCRM Press Release, October 9, 2008; meatingplace.com, October 13, 2008.

The Cornucopia Institute has reportedly filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA and the California Almond Board seeking documents on which the government agencies relied in adopting a rule requiring the pasteurization of raw almonds grown in California. The Wisconsin-based organization has apparently been unable to obtain information and scientific studies supporting the agencies’ position on the effectiveness of pasteurization and “the comparative nutrition, quality, and safety of pasteurized almonds and raw untreated almonds.” According to the Institute’s research director, “We have taken this step because we have been frustrated by the Almond Board and the USDA’s unwillingness to share the science behind the rule, the science that purports to show that treatment with either a toxic fumigant or steam heat is safe and does not affect the almond’s taste and nutritional qualities.” The Institute claims that the rule may have been adopted before scientific studies were complete…

GAO recently presented a new report, titled Food Labeling: FDA Needs to Better Leverage Resources, Improve Oversight, and Effectively Use Available Data to Help Consumers Select Healthy Foods before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. The report claims that FDA oversight, which has failed to keep pace with the growing number of food firms, offers “little assurance that companies comply with food labeling laws and regulations for, among other things, preventing false or misleading labeling.” In particular, GAO found that FDA (i) “does not have reliable data on the number of labels reviewed”; (ii) conducted only “limited” testing for the accuracy of nutrition information for labels from 2000 through 2006; and (iii) “does not track the complete and timely correction of labeling violations or analyze these and other labeling oversight data in routine reports to inform managers’ decisions, or ensure the…

A recent FSAI report addresses the application of nanotechnology to the food industry and urges the European Union (EU) to provide a legislative framework for regulating nanotechnology in food. Citing a general lack of information concerning the purported risks of nanoparticles in food, FSAI recommends the following: (i) “food business operators should conduct risk assessments on all foods involving introduction of new nanoparticles into foods and packaging”; (ii) “legal provisions should be considered at EU level to ensure that food and feed should be re-evaluated in terms of safety whenever the properties are changed/re-engineered to the nanoscale”; (iii) “the FSAI should promote the establishment of a publicly available inventory of nanotechnology-based food products and food contact materials”; (iv) “urgent consideration should be given to whether additional controls are required on the disposal and/or recycling of nanoparticle-containing food and other materials”; and (v) “food surveillance programmes should include investigation of the…

A GAO report has claimed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “examined less than 1 percent of the 7.6 million fresh produce lines imported from fiscal years 2002 through 2007.” “Moreover, FDA acknowledged that it has not yet been able to conduct certain fresh produce work crucial to understanding the incidence of contamination of produce by pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella,” according to GAO, which attributed the failures to a lack of resources for either extramural research grant programs or internal research agendas. The report also noted that the agency “has no formal program devoted exclusively to fresh produce” and has not “reliably tracked its fresh produce spending. “What I found most interesting is that fresh produce has been a priority for FDA for nearly a decade, but all the initiatives the agency said it needs to implement to improve its oversight efforts have been delayed because…

Country-of-origin labeling rules, long-delayed for fresh, perishable foods other than fish and shellfish, went into effect on September 30, 2008. They require supermarkets and mass-merchandise outlets to label or display the country of origin for meats, poultry, produce, and some nuts. Small food outlets, such as butcher shops and restaurants are exempt, and the rules do not apply to processed foods, like smoked salmon and cooked shrimp, or mixes, like bagged mixed salad greens, trail mix and fruit salad. Meats blended with products from several countries are not required to list the countries in any particular order. Any covered foods produced or packaged before September 30, do not have to include the COOL information. For many years, foods packaged in another country have been required to carry origin labeling; with the latest COOL implementation, almost all food should carry this information. Consumer groups have hailed the mandatory rule change, calling…

USDA has requested that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) revoke the standards-development accreditation of the Leonardo Academy, the entity behind the development of a sustainable agriculture standard that was published as a draft standard for trial use in ANSI’s Standards Action in April 2007. Details about an initial stakeholder meeting held in November to discuss the draft standard appear in Issue 237 of this Update. USDA has also asked ANSI to withdraw the draft standard for trial use. In its September 2008 letter to ANSI, USDA contends that (i) the draft standard exceeds the scope of the academy’s approved scope of standards activities by straying into fair labor practices, community benefits, product quality, and product safety and purity; (ii) the academy failed to develop or publicize “its procedures with respect to draft standards for trial use”; (iii) the academy “failed to afford materially affected interests the opportunity to challenge…

FDA has issued a final rule “amending its labeling regulation authorizing a health claim on the relationship between calcium and a reduced risk of osteoporosis to include vitamin D so that, in addition to the claim for calcium and osteoporosis, an additional claim can be made for calcium and vitamin D and osteoporosis.” Effective January 1, 2010, the rule would also eliminate (i) “the requirement that the claim list sex, race, and age as specific risk factors for the development of osteoporosis”; (ii) “the requirement that the claim does not state or imply that the risk of osteoporosis is equally applicable to the general U.S. population, and that the claim identify the populations at particular risk for the development of osteoporosis”; (iii) “the requirement that the claim identify the mechanism by which calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis and instead make it optional”; and (iv) “the requirement that the claim…

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week issued the results of “its interim safety and risk assessment of melamine and melamine-related compounds in food, including infant food.” Prompted by “reports of melamine contamination in milk-derived ingredients” manufactured in China, FDA reviewed its scientific literature on melamine toxicity, pointing to “gaps in our scientific knowledge” regarding the threshold at which the industrial chemical becomes dangerous in infants. “There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern,” according to an October 3, 2008, FDA press release, which noted that for other food products, “levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 parts per million do not raise concerns.” Meanwhile, U.S. officials have reportedly located more melamine-tainted candy from China in New Haven, Connecticut, where two specialty stores were selling the White Rabbit Creamy Candy brand implicated in the global dairy scandal.…

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