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One hundred three years after Upton Sinclair published his meatpacking industry exposé, The New York Times has published an article explaining how current food safety standards may be responsible for the 16 E. coli-tainted beef outbreaks that have occurred over the past three years. Revealing how failure to test all the scraps and trimmings and “mash-like product” in hamburger patties in 2007 purportedly led to a 22-year-old dance instructor’s illness and subsequent paralysis, the article “shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble.” Apparently, no federal rules require grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen, and processors sample assembled products rather than individual shipments from slaughterhouses, making it difficult to trace the source of contamination. Parts of the article were reportedly read on the floor of House, and its revelations prompted a response from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the company that made the beef patties the…

Nebraska Beef, Ltd. has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking a declaration that it was not responsible for the E. coli contamination that led to the recall of nearly 7 million pounds of beef in 2008. Nebraska Beef, Ltd. v. Meyer Foods Holdings, L.L.C., No. 09-43 (D. Neb., filed January 30, 2009). According to the complaint, the defendant provided the meat subject to the recall to Nebraska Beef for processing and shipping. When contaminants were found, the defendant informed Nebraska Beef that legal claims were being made against it and demanded indemnification from Nebraska Beef. Stating that it “expressly denies the Contamination originated at its processing plant; that it was negligent in its processing or handling of any cattle or product; or that it breached any of the terms of its agreement(s) with Meyer Natural Foods,” Nebraska Beef, which has also been sued over the incident, requests a judicial declaration as…

The European Commission has reportedly indicated that it will file a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to the U.S. decision to impose new tariffs on European Union (EU) products involved in sanctions stemming from a dispute over beef hormones. The EU has banned hormone-treated beef since the early 1980s, and the WTO ruled in 1998 that the ban violated trade rules, thus opening the door for U.S. and Canadian trade sanctions. While the EU contends that it has scientific grounds to support the ban, the United States and Canada have maintained their trade sanctions against the European bloc. According to a French Roquefort cheese producer, 100 percent tariffs have been imposed on his products for nine years; a new sanctions update has increased the penalty to 300 percent. “Sales of Roquefort to the United States will be finished,” he reportedly said. At issue is a Bush administration decision to suspend the…

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.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council, representing some 100,000 producers, are reportedly calling on their government to bring legal challenges under the North American Free Trade Agreement and WTO rules to the new country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law that took effect in the United States on October 1, 2008. According to the beef and pork producers, the law has begun shutting their livestock out of U.S. markets, where domestic and foreign animals must now be segregated in feedlots and packing plants. Origination documentation and disease-free tags are also apparently adding to producer costs. The Canadian producers claim that some companies are refusing to import Canadian cattle altogether and others will slaughter them only on certain days, a situation that threatens to cost the Canadian producers some $800 million annually. In a letter to Canada’s prime minister, the Cattlemen’s president reportedly said, “Our preliminary estimate is that COOL is reducing…

According to researchers in Australia and the United States, those who persistently eat red meat may be more susceptible to E. coli infection. Apparently, the meat contains sugar molecules, Neu5Gc, that accumulate in cells lining the intestines and blood vessels and act as a “magnet” for E. coli toxins. The scientists reportedly tested the affinity of the bacteria for Neu5Gc in a lab dish and noted, “The human samples showed the presence of the Neu5Gc toxin binding sites in the gut and the kidney, the two target organs for the disease.” Then, they confirmed the results with genetically modified mice that have the gene which produces Neu5Gc suppressed. The research appears in Nature, but was not available when the Update was prepared. See The Australian, October 30, 2008.

A rancher in eastern Washington has reportedly sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in federal court, seeking changes to its country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules for beef products. According to a news source, Easterday Ranches claims that the regulations are adding to costs for the U.S. beef industry and consumers. Apparently, cattle born in other countries must be segregated from domestic animals and cannot be slaughtered on the same day; extensive records must be kept and buyers must keep the meat separate in processing plants. Easterday’s president reportedly claims that commercial buyers are paying far less per head for Canadian or Mexican cattle, and there is no premium price being paid for U.S. cattle. He also contends that the regulations do nothing for food safety and contradict the North American Free Trade Act. See Tri-City Herald and meatingplace.com, October 28, 2008.

A federal court in Ohio has dismissed the putative class action claims filed by a woman who alleged that Kroger Co. deceived the public by selling its beef as aged, when it was actually selling beef packaged and shipped almost immediately after slaughter. St. Clair v. Kroger Co., No. 7-03798 (N.D. Ohio, decided October 14, 2008). The case was originally filed in state court and removed on defendant’s motion under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA). Because the plaintiff failed to allege that Kroger had prior notice that its conduct was “deceptive or unconscionable,” the court was compelled under Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA) to dismiss the class claims. Prior notice, under the law, must be “in the form of a rule adopted by the state Attorney General or a judicial decision made publicly available,” neither of which was referred to in the complaint So ruling, the…

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently convened a board meeting to discuss reducing the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) testing requirement for cattle. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) “recognized an increase in the age at which cattle intended for human consumption are BSE tested would represent a ‘minimal to negligible increase in the risk to human health,’” according to an October 15, 2008, press release. FSA has consequently agreed to “support a move to increase the age at which UK cattle are BSE tested from 30 months to 48 months, subject to a review of current and continued BSE surveillance.” FSA Chief Scientist Andrew Wadge also emphasized that other BSE controls offer sufficient consumer protection. “Prevention of exposure to BSE rests primarily with SRM [specified risk material] controls and not BSE testing,” he was quoted as saying. See FSA Press Release, October 15, 2008.

The WTO has reportedly issued a ruling supporting the United States in its decision to impose duties on European imports in response to a ban on beef from animals treated with growth hormones. According to the U.S. trade representative, “The Appellate Body’s report confirms that WTO members that are subject to additional duties for failing to bring themselves into compliance with the WTO’s rulings and recommendations must do more than simply claim compliance in order to obtain relief from such duties.” The ruling ends an EU appeal from a March 2008 ruling by the trade organization finding that the EU failed to justify its ban on these imports and allowing the United States and Canada to impose duties on Roquefort cheese, truffles and chocolates because the EU’s practice violated international trade rules. The WTO Appellate Body apparently reversed that part of the March ruling which criticized the United States for…

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