Of course, it’s not over yet.
Of course, it’s not over yet.
The Philadelphia city council votes sometime today on whether to pass a soda tax, with most—but not all—of the revenues targeted to pre-kindergarten education. I’m getting on an airplane pretty soon and will miss the vote, but it is widely assumed to pass.
The decision is up to the city council. Although the soda industry spent more than $4 million on public relations to urge the council to vote no, and promised to fund the first year of pre-K, its efforts don’t seem to be working.
To put this in context: Sodas are an easy target for public health measures. Nobody needs them, they are candy in liquid form, and they have no nutritional value. But it seems as though their makers are willing to spare no expense to stop any city that attempts to tax them. The total in Philly is $4.9 million by the latest rumors.
Americans are highly likely to support taxes that are earmarked for social purposes, as the Philly tax mostly is.
Every other city council can see that Berkeley gets more than a million a year for discretionary child health programs. Philadelphia is a bigger city and will get more, but is using it to fill budget holes as well as Pre-K. I’m guessing lots of places will figure out that they can do this too.
At the very least, the soda industry will be willing to donate huge amounts of money to get city councils to delay or block measure, as it did in Philadelphia.
This vote is worth watching closely (you can do that here). I’m sorry to be missing it but will try to catch up with it later.
The Senate just voted to reverse a decision of Congress last year to remove catfish inspection from the FDA (which is usually in charge of regulating seafood) and give it to the USDA (which usually regulates meat and poultry).
Why did the 2008 and 2012 farm bills say that catfish inspection should be given to USDA?
It depends on whom you ask.
Indeed, the USDA inspection program is finding antibiotics and other unapproved carcinogens in catfish imported from Vietnam.
This issue, however, is a sticking point in US negotiations with Vietnam over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Vietnam wants the USDA catfish inspection removed as an unfair barrier to trade.
What is this about? Not fish safety, really. It’s about protecting catfish farmers in the South and setting up “more rigorous” safety criteria that will exclude competitive foreign catfish imports, especially from Vietnam.
Food retailers and retail trade associations are for reverting inspection to FDA. They say USDA’s catfish inspection program will take years to allow imports from Vietnam, thereby causing the cost of domestic catfish to rise.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has 10 times stated that this program is “duplicative” and at “high risk” for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement…This is not a food safety issue. USDA acknowledges that catfish, regardless of where it comes from, is considered a “low risk food.”
It’s not surprising if USDA’s import safety system is better than the FDA’s. USDA gets $14 million a year to run its currently non-operating catfish inspection system. The FDA gets $700,000 and, according to the Government Accountability Office, has managed pretty well with it.
My conclusion then and now:
If the political fuss over catfish inspection reveals anything, it is why we so badly need a single food safety agency—one that combines and integrates the food safety functions of USDA and FDA—to ensure the safety of the American food supply.
The Beverage Daily newsletter always has something interesting from its business perspective. Its June 3 mailing was a special edition—a collection of its articles—about “functional” beverages. In nutrition-speak, functional means something added above and beyond the nutrients that were there to begin with.
Here’s what Beverage Daily says about them:
Once, beverages were simply about hydration. Now, people want hydration and more from their drinks.
Rich with innovation, the functional beverage category is full of exciting developments and new ideas. From beauty beverages to digestive health drinks, these beverages offer something extra to consumers.
The functional beverage market accounts for around 7% of total beverages by volume, according to figures from Zenith International. But the real interest is in value, with functional beverages accounting for around 13% of the beverage category in terms of value.
- ‘Functional water is predicted to grow very fast’: Euromonitor on functional beverage trends: Energy drinks, sports drinks, and functional bottled water are among the functional and fortified beverage categories to watch, according to Euromonitor International… Read
- Probiotic punch: ‘Consumers are realizing they can get probiotics in beverages they already consume and love’: Cold-pressed juices, cashew-milk smoothies, energy drinks, water and even cold-brew coffee: probiotics are making their mark across on-trend beverages… Read
- New look and new horizons: NOA Relax & Focus: Inspired by the wilderness of the Swedish archipelago, NOA Relax & Focus has now set its sights on 30 markets worldwide. One lesson learned so far was the need for a rebrand: ensuring consumers can immediately identify what the drink is all about. .. Read
- Bella Berry beauty drink on finding the right retailers and investors: Beauty drink Bella Berry launched in the UK last year with a mission to bring beauty drinks to a mass market. One of the key lessons for the brand has been to learn who the right retailers for the drink are, as it continues to build listings both in the UK and abroad. .. Read
- CCE launches sports cap packaging for Glacéau Smartwater: Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has launched a sports cap for its bottled water brand, Glacéau Smartwater, following a £14m ($20m) investment at its Morpeth, Northumberland site… Read
From my perspective, functional beverages are about marketing. You want hydration? Try water!
The CDC has started a page on the E. coli O121 (STEC O121) outbreak linked to General Mills flour:
In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Sixteen (76%) of 21 people reported that they or someone in their household used flour in the week before they became ill. Nine (41%) of 22 people reported eating or tasting raw homemade dough or batter. Twelve (55%) of 22 people reported using Gold Medal brand flour. Three ill people reported eating or playing with raw dough at restaurants.
The CDC’s “At A Glance”
It looks like cases are—or were—popping up one at a time. There is always a reporting lag.
While waiting for more information, the CDC recommends:
But really. Gold Medal flour? If flour is used for cooking or baking, the bacteria would be killed.
OK. I totally get eating raw cookie dough. I did plenty of that back in the day when I baked cookies for my kids, and they helped clean the bowl. Eating raw cookie dough may sound disgusting, but the mix is truly delicious.
If you’ve never tried it, now is not a good time to start. In 2009, there was a really nasty E. coli outbreak from eating pre-packaged raw cookie dough.
But eating or playing with raw dough in restaurants? Is this common practice? News to me.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has sued the FDA for ignoring its 2012 petition to prevent illnesses and deaths caused by eating raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico contaminated with toxic Vibrio vulnificus.
The lawsuit, filed jointly with Public Citizen, asks the FDA to set standards to make sure these bacteria are “nondetectable in oysters and other molluscan shellfish sold for raw consumption.”
The FDA is supposed to respond to the complaint by July 25.
This issue goes back a long way. I wrote about it in 2011 in the context of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Food Safety: FDA Needs to Reassess Its Approach to Reducing an Illness Caused by Eating Raw Oysters.
Vibrio vulnificus bacteria are considered “flesh-eating;” they kill half the 30 or so people who eat contaminated raw oysters. Treating the raw oysters before allowing them to be sold kills the bacteria. California requires this and nobody eating California oysters gets sick from Vibrio. As I wrote in 2011:
In 2001, the oyster industry trade association, the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), promised the FDA that this industry would substantially reduce Vibrio infections in oysters within seven years through a program of voluntary self-regulation and education aimed at high-risk groups. If this program failed to reduce the infection rate, the ISSC agreed that the FDA could require oysters to be treated after harvesting to kill pathogenic Vibrio.
So what happened? Late in 2009, the FDA said it would issue rules, but backed off under pressure from the oyster industry and friendly state officials.
Despite years of warnings and promises that it obviously has no intention of meeting, the Gulf oyster industry has been able to stave off FDA regulations for 15 years at the cost of about 15 preventable deaths a year.
CSPI and Public Citizen are trying the legal route. I hope it works.
Golden Rice, genetically engineered to contain beta carotene, has long been the poster child for the benefits of GMOs—as witnessed by this Time Magazine cover of July 31, 2000.
Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A and the idea behind this rice was that it could—a conditional word expressing uncertainty—help prevent blindness due to vitamin A deficiency in areas of the world where this deficiency is rampant.
But vitamin A deficiency is a social problem. Fruits and vegetables containing beta-carotene are widely available in such areas, but are not grown or consumed as a result of cultural or economic issues. If they are consumed, people cannot absorb the beta-carotene cannot be absorbed because of poor diets, diarrheal diseases, or worms.
Here we are, 16 years after the Time cover, and Golden Rice is still not on the market.
I predicted its current problems in my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, first published in 2003. In Table 12 (page 158) I outlined the many basic research studies and research on production, consumer acceptance and use, and clinical effectiveness that would have to be done before Golden Rice could be shown to achieve its intended purpose. Much of this research has now been done but plenty more still needs doing on getting it produced and into the mouths of people who most need its beta-carotene.
Proponents of the benefits of Golden Rice, however, complain that anti-GMO activists are responsible for keeping the rice off the market.
Not so, says an article in the Source, a publication of Washington University in St. Louis. Based on what some of its researchers have just published in an article in Agriculture and Human Values, the Source quotes one of its authors:
The rice simply has not been successful in test plots of the rice breeding institutes in the Philippines, where the leading research is being done,” Stone said. “It has not even been submitted for approval to the regulatory agency, the Philippine Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)…The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, Golden Rice is still years away from being ready for release.”
As I learned long ago, even the slightest skepticism about Golden Rice is perceived by uncritical proponents of GMOs as an attack on science and the entire food biotechnology enterprise. If you publicly express doubt that Golden Rice can solve the vitamin A problem, you will be accused, as I have been, of responsibility for the illnesses and deaths of millions of children.
As the table in Safe Food makes clear, Golden Rice is a highly technical approach to solving a nutritional problem resulting from cultural and socioeconomic factors.
Such solutions do occasionally succeed. The best examples I can think of are iodized salt to prevent goiter and water fluoridation to prevent tooth decay. But both of these interventions address geographical mineral deficiencies, not deficiencies resulting from cultural prohibitions or poverty.
Is Golden Rice worth a try? Sure it is. But not when it is used to demonstrate that GMO foods are good for the public as well as the owners of seed and pesticide companies.