by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Bill-Marler

May 22 2014

A roundup on pet food items

I haven’t said anything about pet food in a while, but plenty is happening with it since my pet food books came out—Pet Food Politics (2008) and Feed Your Pet Right (2010).

A few items I’ve collected over the past month or so.

  • FDA regulations: The FDA finally issued its proposed rule for processing standards for all facilities engaged in manufacturing, processing, packing or holding animal feed and pet food.  These include  Good Manufacturing Processes (GMPs) and risk-based preventive controls (formerly known as HACCP), among other provisions.
  • Safety tips: Food Safety News lists ten ways to make pet food safer—pay attention and follow food safety procedures diligently, for one thing.
  • Double standard: Bill Marler complains that the FDA is constantly announcing recalls of Salmonella-contaminated pet foods, even though few of them result in cases of Salmonella in pets or humans, whereas foods for humans take forever to get recalled even when they cause illness.
  • Pet food recalls: The FDA certainly lists plenty of pet food recalls, and even has a web page for them.
  • FDA oversight: The FDA is on the job and testing.  Bravo issued recalls because of potential Listeria contamination.  It did so because the FDA says an independent lab detected the bacteria in a sample.
  • Marketing wars: Pet Food Industry, the excellent publication for manufacturers, has a juicy story about the marketing claims war between Nestlé (no relation) Purina PetCare and Blue Buffalo.  Each has sued the other.  Blue Buffalo has already been called on its advertising claims, perhaps in response to a complaint from  Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
  • The ongoing mystery: Pet jerky treats, mostly imported from China, linked to at least 3 human illnesses and more than 1,000 dog deaths and 4,800 dog illnesses, mostly from gastrointestinal problems, liver and kidney disease, and neurological and skin conditions.  The FDA says it still can’t figure out the cause, despite 7 years of trying. symptoms in their pets,” said FDA.

If we can’t get pet food right, there’s not much hope for human food either.

Oct 10 2013

Annals of Government shutdown: What’s up with Salmonella Heidelberg?

I’ve been trying to make sense of what’s happening with the latest horrible food poisoning outbreak: this time of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg.  Food Safety News and attorney Bill Marler have been following the events closely.

They reported that USDA—not CDC (which was on furlough)—issued the Public Health Alert.

But the outbreak is so serious that CDC recalled staff from furlough.  Now the CDC is back on the job.  It reports that as of October 7:

  • 278 persons in 17 states are infected with 7 outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg.
  • 42% of them are hospitalized (this is unusually high), and no deaths have been reported.
  • 77% of cases are in California.
  • The source is Foster Farms chicken

What does Foster Farms have to say about this?

First, it blames the government:

Consumers should know that as recently as Oct. 8, USDA-FSIS publicly assured the safety of our chicken:  “Foster Farms chicken is safe to eat but, as with all raw chicken, consumers must use proper preparation, handling and cooking practices.” There is no recall in effect and FSIS continues to inspect our poultry on a daily basis, certifying it as Grade A wholesome.”

Then, Foster Farms argues that toxic, antibiotic-resistant salmonella are normal on poultry:

Raw poultry is not a ready-to-eat product. All raw poultry is subject to naturally occurring bacteria… According to the CDC, “It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella bacteria. CDC and USDA-FSIS recommend consumers follow food safety tips to prevent Salmonella infection from raw poultry produced by Foster Farms or any other brand.”

Bill Marler asks how come Foster Farms is not issuing a recall?

Good question.  Take a look at CDC’s most recent Epi curve.  Usually, these show a standard distribution pattern over time with cases rising to a peak and then declining.  This one shows no sign of decline.

Persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Typhimurium, by date of illness onset as of October 7, 2013

OK, so what, as Bill Marler asks, will it take to close Foster Farms or force it to recall its tainted products?

For starters, how about getting the government opened again.  And insisting that FDA issue the final food safety rules and start enforcing them.

Update, October 11:  On October 7, USDA sent three letters of intended enforcement to Foster Farms:  Letter #1Letter #2, and Letter #3.  Now, according to a report from Bill Marler, the USDA has decided not to close Foster Farms or force a recall.

And here are two useful articles from Politico:

Feb 21 2013

Grand jury indicts Peanut Corporation of America officials

The wheels of justice really do grind slow, but they sometimes do grind.  A federal grand jury has indicted four officials of the Peanut Butter Corporation of America for “conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and others offenses related to contaminated or misbranded food.”

Translation: Salmonella that sickened more than 500 people and killed at least 8.

The documents in the case have just been unsealed:

I’ve been following this particular food safety tragedy for several years now.  The offenses were so egregious—officials blatantly ignored positive tests for Salmonella, for example—that some kind of punishment seemed warranted.

According to the account in USA Today:

The indictment alleges that PCA officials affirmatively lied to their customers about the presence of salmonella in PCA’s products,” said Stuart Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Delery also said some officials at PCA, no longer in business, fabricated lab results certifying to customers that the products were salmonella free “even when tests showed the presence of salmonella or when no tests had been done at all.”

As lawyer Bill Marler writes,

These indictments will have a far reaching impact on the food industry.  Corporate executives and directors of food safety will need to think hard about the safety of their product when it enters the stream of commerce.  Felony counts like this one are rare, but misdemeanor charges that can include fines AND jail time can and should happen.

Is this a sign that courts might be taking food safety problems more seriously?  If so, it’s about time.

Addition, February 22:  Food Safety News has a handy timeline of the Peanut Corporation events.

Aug 4 2010

We need S. 510 to pass, despite tea bagging

My policy is to ignore snippy comments on this site but I recently received one that raises an issue worth attention.  In response to my most recent post about the endless—and to my mind, appalling—delays in passing S. 510, a bill that will give the FDA authority to require safe food production, a critical reader, Harry Hamil, writes:

Dr. Nestle, your statement, “What’s holding up this bill? Nothing but politics of the worst kind,” is absolutely false and you know it.  As you well know, there is broad, deep and large opposition to the industrial-size-only approach to food safety that S 510/HR 2749 will make the law of the land….And, once again, I challenge you to a debate of the actual provisions of the bill. Your previous blogs demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of the actual provisions and little understanding of the real world consequences.

As readers of this blog know, I believe that all food, no exceptions, from large producers and small, should be produced safely, meaning that producers should follow food safety plans that involve preventive controls.  But this comment raises another issue: the unhelpful tone of this debate.

Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represents the victims of food poisonings, gets such comments all the time.  In a post on FoodSafetyNews.com, he deals with the tone issue in response to rather nasty comment about his views of raw milk.  Marler says:

Actually, I get more than a few emails like this.  Most do a bit better at spelling and punctuation, but nearly all are from raw milk proponents, producers, or consumers (although there are a few from the anti-S. 510 cabal).  Some, but not all, have a level of passion that borders on violence.  Perhaps not directed at me, but generally in the “do not tread on me”–“tea party” shouting that we have been subjected to over the last year.

Frankly, I was perplexed at the “yell fest” that passed for discussion of whether we should expand health care to the 40 million of our fellow citizens without health insurance.  I am shocked at how we scream at each other via email or blog comments about raw milk or honest differences about how food safety legislation should be modeled.  It is like screaming at and belittling each other at the dinner table–albeit, a very large table.

What is with all this anger over food?  I mean, honestly, it seems like there are bigger fish to fry.  What about the wars?  Global warming?  Energy policy?

But, folks are angry about their view of food–especially the proponents of raw milk (affectionately, “raw milkies”) and the anti-S. 510 folks (affectionately, “organic tea baggers”).  Both groups view themselves as victims of big government and big business bent on reducing them to servitude or extinction.  They cannot see that perhaps, just perhaps, people who see the dangers of raw milk or the value of S. 510, might simply have an honest disagreement with those that see raw milk as the nectar of the gods or S. 510 as more than a method of lining the pockets of Monsanto.  But, hey, that is just me.

So, do the yelling, threats and belittling of the anti raw milk/pro S. 510 crowd actually work?  Are some convinced that those that yell the loudest have the best arguments?  Or, do some simply shy away from their positions after being the target of a nasty blog post or scathing email or comment?  I think some do.  I know I have been tempted to simply focus on other pressing issues surrounding food safety–there are many–and let folks guzzle raw milk to their heart’s content and let S. 510 die a lingering death.

But, that is not my style.  Even as a child when told to do A I usually did B.  When the raw milk party calls me a tool of big dairy or an ambulance chaser, I come back with reasoned pros and cons of raw milk consumption, videos of raw milk consumers sickened, and a website–Real Raw Milk Facts–dedicated to having a reasoned discussion about raw milk.  I am also beginning to work on a raw milk retail sampling project to test its safety.

As for S. 510, the nastier the emails from small producers who want little or no food safety regulation, the more money I donate to political campaigns, the more trips I take to DC, and the more often I fund victim visits to their favorite senator.

And, to do the above, I hardly raise my voice.  Well, once in awhile I do.

Me too.  Thanks Bill.
Jun 7 2010

The raw milk fights: economics, ideology, or both?

Today’s New York Times has an op-ed, “Crying over raw milk“, about the political fights over raw milk in Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin legislature has introduced a bill allowing dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.  The conventional dairy industry is not happy about that.

The author of the piece, Michael Feldman, is dubious about the purported health benefits of raw milk but is quite clear about its economic benefits: “you can’t get $6 a gallon for pasteurized milk.”

Crass economics is behind much of the politics of raw milk these days.  The conventional dairy industry is in trouble: too many cows, too much milk, and not nearly enough regulation of supply.  In contrast, raw milk has passionate advocates willing to pay premium prices.

Not fair, says the dairy industry, which wants raw milk to be regulated:

In a letter to two senior members the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the dairy groups called for a measure obliging all facilities producing raw or unpasteurized milk products for direct human consumption to “register with FDA and adhere to the tried-and-true food safety requirements that are followed by all other facilities producing milk products”.

As for the safety of raw milk, it is useful to take a look at Seattle attorney Bill Marler’s website: “Real Raw Milk Facts.”   There, he summarizes recent cases of illness caused by toxic E. coli and Salmonella contaminants in raw milk.  These constitute a full employment act for attorneys like Marler who represent victims of foodborne illness.

My position on raw milk has long been that people have a right to drink it but it had better be produced safely.  I believe that all foods–no exceptions–should be produced under well designed and carefully followed HACCP plans (or their equivalent) with pathogen testing at intervals commensurate with the level of risk.

But food safety experts tell me that raw milk can never be tested frequently enough to be confident it is safe.

Raw milk carries a greater risk of bacterial contamination than pasteurized milk and people who buy it should know what those risks are.  The risk may be small, but it is finite.  Putting a child at risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome from toxic E. coli just doesn’t make sense to me.

Like Michael Feldman, I’m dubious about the claims made for the health benefits of raw milk.  No question, it tastes better and that may be reason enough to want it.  But until I can be sure that the producer is scrupulous about safety, my personal choice favors pasteurization.

But that’s just me.  You?

May 22 2010

The source of E. coli 0145?

Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney who represents victims of food poisonings, consistently urges federal food safety agencies to reveal what they know so consumers can protect themselves from unsafe food.

He is especially annoyed that the FDA has not revealed the name of the farm in Yuma, Arizona, linked to the bagged romaine lettuce that has sickened more than 30 people in several states so far with the unusual form of E. coli, 0145.

Marler knows how to get information (although not always accurate results, apparently – see update below).  He first offered $5,000–and later offered $10,000–as a reward to anyone who revealed the name of the farm before the FDA did (the money goes to charity).  He got two takers. Both identified a particular firm in California as the source.

Update, May 22:  I received a message today from Leslie Krasny, partner in the law firm of  Keller and Heckman, LLP, San Francisco, which represents the farm named by those sources.  She advises me that there is no evidence linking her client’s romaine lettuce to the outbreak and that her client is not even under investigation by the FDA.  She asks that I delete reference to her client, which I have done.  Mr. Marler also has done so.

Feb 20 2010

Wyoming’s idea of “food freedom:” liberty or safety hazard?

The Wyoming House of Representatives, in its infinite wisdom, has introduced House Bill 54, the Food Freedom Act, ostensibly to “allow for traditional community social events involving the sale and consumption of home made foods and to encourage the expansion and accessibility of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, ranch, farm and home based sales and producer to end consumer agricultural sales by:

  • Promoting the purchase and consumption of fresh and local agricultural products
  • Enhancing the agricultural economy
  • Encouraging agri-tourism opportunities in Wyoming
  • Providing Wyoming citizens with unimpeded access to healthy food from known sources
  • Encouraging the expansion and accessibility of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, ranch and farm based sales and direct producer to end consumer agricultural sales.”

Doesn’t this sound great?

It might, except that the Act exempts from licensing everyone who sells foods directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or at home.

Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food poisonings, thinks the law should be retitled, “The Bill Marler Full Employment Act.”

Let’s hope the Wyoming legislature rethinks this bill.  My endlessly stated opinion: Everyone who produces food, even small food producers, should be required to produce food that is safe.

Oct 14 2009

Larry King Live on unsafe meat

Bill Marler has posted a handy link to his Monday night appearance on Larry King Live on which he, and many others, were on to discuss meat safety.  As Marler puts it, the discussion got sidetracked – I would say derailed – from food safety to whether eating meat is good for you or not. Among others, Colin Campbell, the committed vegan scientist who wrote The China Study, was given plenty of air space to argue no it is not.

Despite Marler’s best efforts, and those of mothers and grandmothers of children sickened by eating meat contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, King refused to let anyone get a word in edgewise about the need to fix our food safety system.

Forgive me, but we know what needs to be done about food safety.  As I am ever intoning, we need a single agency devoted to food safety that combines the safety functions of FDA and USDA.  That agency needs to require and enforce a science-based safety system (of the HACCP type) for all foods, from farm-to-table.

Will we ever get it?  Only if people like Larry King catch on to the problem and help generate enough public outrage to get Congress to move on food safety.  King had the chance.  He blew it.

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