Here it is and welcome. Hope you like it. I’ll be working on the debugging and updates over the next few weeks so it should only get better. Thanks for your patience!
One of the first things President Obama did on his first day in office was to freeze last-minute regulations squeezed in by the Bush administration, among them Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
On January 15, cutting it close, the USDA issued final rules for COOL for meat, poultry, and fish, as well as for plant crops: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as, oddly, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The rules were supposed to take effect March 16. They excluded foods that were cooked, cured, or smoked, or mixed with other food ingredients (examples: chocolate, breading and tomato sauce). These were the same as previous versions and full of loopholes (see previous posts on the topic). I thought the lame-duck rules were better than nothing, but now it seems we are starting over.
Big question: will the Obama administration make the rules better or worse? Fingers crossed.
The USDA has finally posted its rules for health claims on meats in the January 16 Federal Register. After dealing with the 44,000 or so comments it received on the issue, the USDA defines what “naturally raised” means for meat and livestock. In sum: no growth promoters, antibiotics, animal by-products, or fish by-products. This is a voluntary standard, but should help.
Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a class-action lawsuit against Coca-Cola, the parent company of Glaceau Vitamin Water. Vitamin Water, says CSPI, makes sugary drinks that promote obesity but positions these products as healthful because they contain added vitamins and herbs. Does this make them healthier? No, but it certainly makes them sell better.
I’ve been out of the country for the past week (Panamá, warm and lovely) but have been kept up on the peanut butter outbreak, courtesy of Eric Burkett of Examiner.com. His posts thoroughly cover events in this latest outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium. The outbreak is so widespread that the FDA has a special site devoted to it with a useful Q and A. The FDA warns consumers not to eat any recalled peanut butter or foods made with it (the list is on the FDA site). Peanut butter in jars seems to be OK, so far. If you want to see the epidemiology, the CDC has the case-report charts and state maps online. The lawyers are also getting into the act: Marler Clark is always a source of information about actionable foodborne illnesses, and O’Steen & Harrison also seems to be keeping close track. At issue is where the contamination occurred, where the contaminated peanut butter was distributed, and what other food companies are using this peanut butter. That this information is not readily available is further evidence of the need for better food safety requirements, oversight, and traceability. Let’s hope the new administration takes this on, and soon. And until it does, best to grind your own peanuts!
Update January 19: Just ran across this article on how Salmonella gets into peanut butter in the first place. The usual way: animal feces. Roasting the peanuts should kill Salmonella, so the contamination must have occurred later. Did the factory have a HACCP plan in place? If so, they must not have been paying much attention to it.
Update January 20: Add Cliff and Luna bars to the list.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has released its annual statistics on use of such therapies. I love the definitions: complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine; alternative is in place of, and integrative uses both. And here’s what everyone is using:
Thanks to Robyn O’Brien of AllergyKids.com for telling me about CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) and its website devoted to exposing Richard Berman (www.bermanexposed.org) and the various nefarious activities of his Center for Consumer Freedom. The Center is set up in a way that allows it to keep its clients secret. This allows groups like the National Restaurant Association to pretend they are interested in public health while supporting the Center’s attack-dog tactics against critics (like me and others – see previous posts). A source of information about this group is most welcome.
Update September 13, 2009: By this time, I suppose everyone has seen the open letter written by Rick Berman’s son, David, formerly with the Indie rock group Silver Jews. Dated January 19, 2008, it is titled “My father, my attack dog.” It begins, “Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction: My father.” A heartbreak.
Update June 24, 2010: PR Watch has a feature on Rick Berman.
The National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks such things, reports that the percentage of Americans defined as obese now exceeds the percent who are just overweight, 34% as opposed to just under 33%. This means that while the prevalence of obesity (BMI >30) has doubled since 1980, the prevalence of overweight (BMI 25-29) has stayed about the same. The big are getting bigger. Some overweight people are moving into the obese category. And their places are filled by the formerly non-obese. It doesn’t look like this problem is going to go away soon.