The effects of agriculture on climate change are not something I’ve written much about, mainly because I don’t know how to evaluate the assumptions involved in assessing the effects. Different assumptions lead to different conclusions. But if we are going to develop agricultural systems that are truly sustainable, they will have to keep greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum. Yesterday’s New York Times lays out the issues pretty well. If its analysis is correct, we all need to be eating a lot less meat. In any case, this seems like a good place to start the conversation.
Food Chemical News (December 1) reports that Jason’s Deli, which has more than 200 outlets throughout the U.S., is banning high fructose corn syrup from all its products as well as trying to figure out how to get it out of soft drinks. Apparently, the chain polled customers and 65% (of nearly 3,000) said they wanted it gone. A spokesman for the chain said they consider pure cane syrup and sugar to be “more real and…not as processed or fooled with as high-fructose corn syrup.” Maybe, but they have the same number of calories and the same effects in the body!
The New York Times says the Chinese Ministry of Health has issued a new count of Chinese infants ill from melamine-contaminated formula. Would you believe 294,000? The count includes 6 deaths, along with 861 still hospitalized with kidney problems.
One result: Chinese milk exports have dropped by 92%.
The FDA has just produced a summary of the first-year accomplishments of the food protection plan it announced a year ago. According to the New York Times, FDA officials say their overhaul of the food safety system is right on track (for a summary, see consumeraffairs.com). Skeptical? Join Congressional representative Rosa De Laura (Dem-CT) who says of the FDA: “It’s got to be so totally redone…It needs resources; it needs better management; it needs less influence from the industry and more influence on the science.” Single food safety agency, anyone?
Here’s what Consumers’ Union has to say about the plan, starting with “the FDA needs a complete overhaul.”
Friday is a great day for releasing news that might be controversial. The FDA announced a 1 ppm standard for safe levels of melamine in infant formula – provided cyanuric acid is not also present. By this standard, the amount in the adulterated Chinese infant formula – 2,000 ppm or more – would be deemed demonstrably toxic. The amount in the contaminated U.S. formula – 0.1 to 0.2 ppm – would be considered safe. Of course zero would be better, but that seems hard to achieve in today’s chemically contaminated environment. A 1 ppm standard is tough enough to give the FDA plenty of leeway in banning unsafe products.
People whose pets got sick or died as a result of melamine adulteration of pet foods in 2007 are entitled to compensation. The U.S. courts approved the $24 million settlement on November 17. Now, the Canadian courts also have approved the settlement. The $24 million is in addition to the $8 million already paid out. Pet owners who have not yet filed claims can still do so by writing to: In re Pet Food Products Liability Litigation, Claims Administrator, c/o Heffler, Radetich & Saitta LLP, P.O. Box 890, Philadelphia, PA 19105-0890. Tel: 1-800-392-7785. Website: www.petfoodsettlement.com.
Happy Thanksgiving holiday!
A survey by Consumers Union finds a huge majority of respondents to want more inspection of domestic and imported foods, better country-of-origin labeling, and labeling of genetically modified and cloned foods. Me too.
Oh great. So now trace amounts of melamine are turning up in infant formulas made by all the big makers. The amounts – 0.1 to 0.2 ppm or less – are way too low to be harmful, says the FDA. This seems logical, but does this mean that trace amounts of melamine are in everything? And it would be good to know what concentration of melamine mixed with cyanuric acid – or uric acid – is safe. I can understand why the FDA might not want to get into all this but I wish the Associated Press could have gotten this information without having to file a freedom-of-information-act request.
Updates: Here’s the more circumspect account in the New York Times, and a skeptical commentary from LawyersAndSettlements.com. The Washington Post (November 29) reported specific figures: The FDA tested 87 infant formula products and has results for 77. Of these, it found melamine at levels of .137 and .14 parts per million in Nestle Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron in liquid form. It also found cyanuric acid at levels between 0.245 ppm and 0.249 ppm in Enfamil Lipil with Iron (Mead Johnson Nutritionals/Briston-Myers Squibb). These are very low levels.