Monday, February 9, 2009

The Japanese banana diet, Smith DeWaal and other top headlines

Bananas are the most affordable of all fruit, and, as Chiquita says, quite possibly the world's most perfect food. Thus, this report that states the Japanese banana diet" is causing shortages of the fruit in South Korea should come as no great surprise. From the story:

One of them, the industry says, is a "banana diet" fad in Japan, which started after a Japanese pharmacist couple recommended two to three bananas for breakfast and normal meals for lunch and dinner to lose weight. This has reportedly caused growing demand for bananas in Japan and thus shortage of supply in Korea.

TK: Look here under "Hearings" for links the testimony from last Thursday's Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on food safety. From Caroline Smith DeWaal of CSPI:

Successive outbreaks caused by tainted spinach, lettuce, salad mixes, tomatoes, peppers, pot pies,peanut butter, ground beef, chili sauce, and now numerous products made with contaminated peanuts have demonstrated that our hundred-year-old legal foundation and outdated strategies are inadequate to protect our citizens. Twenty-month-old “CJMinto from Mobile, Alabama, contracted Salmonella poisoning after eating peanut butter cracker sandwiches that are now part of the recall. CJ's symptoms continued for two weeks, including one week when the child was unable to eat. He was treated with antibiotics for nearly constant diarrhea and vomiting until he resumed eating. Believe it or not, CJ was luckier than some. Shirley Mae Almer was a 72-year old survivor of cancer surgery and radiation therapy. Her family planned to bring her home from a nursing home for Christmas, but she died on December 21 from salmonellosis linked to the peanut butter. A family member said that the death seemed so ironic, “With all the battles she overcame- to have a piece of peanut butter toast take her. The evidence that FDA reform is needed has been crystal clear in Congressional hearings, victims’ stories, and stakeholder agreements. I think you will hear from all the witnesses today that the time for reform is now. Let’s begin. And, let’s get it right.

TK: What is "getting it right"? Edited remarks from Smith DeWaal:

1. Absence of a Food Safety Plan and Response to Positive Test Results The heart of any effective reform effort lies in prevention, not response. Congress should require every food plant regulated by FDA to have food safety plans detailing that it has analyzed its operations, identified potential hazards, and is taking steps to minimize or prevent contamination. This Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)-style planning is already a requirement for all meat and poultry plants, and it should be a prerequisite for all food processors that want to sell food in the U.S. This establishes the industry’s fundamental responsibility for ensuring food safety and provides a foundation for the government audit inspections. However, the history of these programs in the seafood area demonstrates that Congress must also give FDA the authority and funding to enforce compliance through regular inspections and access to company records.

2. The State of Georgia and FDA did not provide effective inspection oversight
The failures to detect and correct the unsafe practices at PCA highlight how FDA’s infrequent inspections (averaging one visit in 10 years) and the agency’s oversight of state contracted inspections contribute to illness outbreaks. FDA hadn't inspected the PCA plant in eight years. Meanwhile, press reports show inspections by the Georgia Department of Agriculture found minor violations that may have pointed to larger problems. It's particularly troubling, though, that the FDA didn't seek either the company's records or the Georgia inspection reports – information that might have prevented the outbreak from occurring - even after it found that some of the products had been rejected by a firm in Canada. To address these problems, legislation should set specific inspection frequencies for all food plants. Higher-risk foods should be inspected at a greater frequency, preferably no less than annually, with lower risk food facilities being inspected at least once in any two year period. Those inspection rates would still be well below the rate established for restaurant inspections of once every six months. Setting frequencies will require a commitment to fund the agency or find new resources, and some legislative proposals have established a modest registration fee to offset the costs associated with increased inspection oversight. Current FDA funding shortfalls have reached a critical level, leaving the agency with fewer inspectors, even as the workload continues to increase. Since 1972, domestic inspections conducted by FDA declined 81 percent. Just since 2003, the number of FDA field staff dropped by 12 percent, and between 2003 and 2006, there was a 47 percent drop in federal inspections. Just those declines in inspectors and inspections can be traced to an ngoing funding shortfall in the food safety program estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.FDA and state inspectors are also hampered in conducting inspections by restricted access to plant records that could have identified problems at PCA. After the outbreak, FDA obtained records of 12 tests that were positive for Salmonella in the year leading up to the outbreak that had not been disclosed to inspectors. PCA was within its rights under current law to refuse to disclose the tests even if asked by inspectors in the plant. This is because inspectors cannot access records unless the requirements of the Bioterrorism Act are met and the inspector presents a written demand.10 We saw this same situation play out in the 2007 Peter Pan peanut butter outbreak where, had inspectors been given access to test records, they would have been alerted to test the plant for Salmonella. Even after the PCA outbreak was ongoing, the FDA had to invoke the Bioterrorism Act to access PCA’s records. This is unacceptable. To fix this,the law needs to be changed so that inspectors during routine inspections have access to the results of tests conducted by the plant. The ability to access plant food safety records during inspections is an essential tool to identifying problems. As it turned out, PCA , instead of fixing the problem, fixed the tests, something FDA could have determined had it been given access to the records. With regard to the shortcomings in state inspection, we must avoid drawing the wrong conclusions. Instead of illustrating that Federal/State cooperation is unreliable, the PCA example argues for improving federal oversight of and assistance to state inspectors who are used to leverage resources for inspections. In addition to leveraging inspection resources, state health departments are the front line for detecting outbreaks.

3. FDA does not have effective penalties for PCA and for deterring similar actions by
other companies
The punishment for committing a prohibited act under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.12 This punishment, which may have been substantial in 1938, has not kept pace with the modern commercial world. Compared to PCA’s annual revenues of $17.5 million13 it is hard to see how a misdemeanor fine serves as an incentive for companies to improve their food safety practices. With over 500 people reported sick, more than 100 hospitalized and eight dead as a result of PCA putting contaminated product on the market, such trivial fines – even if found for numerous violations – do not appear fair. Criminal liability is also a burden on the agency inspectors, as it must conduct a criminal investigation, coordinate prosecution with the Justice Department, and then go through a criminal trial to recover a fairly modest fine or sentence a culpable individual to a misdemeanor jail term. Another approach Congress should consider is to provide the agency with authority to impose substantial civil penalties that can get the attention of managers and be sustained if violations are continuous. Civil liability provides a flexible deterrent to corporate misconduct that can be tailored to the violation. These remedies are available for addressing violations on the drug and device side of FDA, but not the food side except for illegal pesticide residue.15 It is time to bring FDA’s penalties for food violations in line with what is used for drugs and medical devices.
4. FDA does not require effective traceability systems, and lacks adequate authority to protect consumers by detaining and ordering recalls of unsafe food.
The ability to trace products and their ingredients is essential to speeding up response when an outbreak occurs. Under the Bioterrorism Act, food companies must maintain a record of the immediate previous source and the immediate subsequent recipient of food.16 The effort to identify the source of the PCA outbreak illustrates areas where traceback could be improved.The process of determining the source of an outbreak is difficult and time consuming. The Minnesota Department of Health has one of the best epidemiology programs in the country Faced with nine reports of Salmonella poisoning in the State, the department began interviewing victims and comparing data to find a source. The interviews turned up peanut butter, but because PCA rovided ingredients to many manufacturers, the epidemiologists could not identify a single brand. As one investigator said, “We had a lot of peanut butter eaters, but none of the brand names were matching up well.”17 A traceability systems that requires processors to recorded the sources of ingredients and provide those records to investigators could have turned up the correlation between the various brands and their single supplier, PCA.While all of the companies involved in the peanut recall have acted responsibly, CSPI continues to believe that giving FDA authority to order a recall if necessary is a critical tool for responding to future outbreaks. Today, when you see the notices of the recall, they often mention that it is voluntary. Unfortunately, while true, this may not compel consumers to act with urgency, because they might reason “If it were serious, FDA would issue a mandatory recall.”President Barack Obama has promised a "government that works," and recently promised a complete review of the FDA's food safety program. Luckily for the President and the public,Congress has been investigating problems at the FDA for several years, and many elements of a reform plan are "shovel ready" – they could be accomplished quickly and deliver real benefits to consumers.

Other headlines snatched from the Web this morning:

Cardoza and other members of Congress seek action from governor to blunt drought impact
From American Chronicle. See full text of letter at the link.

Crisis in Georgia peanut industry
From Atlanta Journal Constitution

Indeed, the fallout from the salmonella outbreak seems to have sharpened a looming recession for Georgia’s agricultural industry. While prices for this year’s expected crop were already plunging because of the oversupply of peanuts, the salmonella scare threatens to drive down demand for an extended period.

“The whole industry is on edge,” said Emory Murphy, assistant executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Earthbound Farm adds Koran as sales director
From The Packer

Costa Rica growth down poverty up
From Latin America Press

Do we need a "department of food?" NYT

Nebraska farmer soldiers help with Afghan agriculture North Platte Bulletin

Recession slows illegal immigration Dallas Morning News
Analysts agree that the number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. is falling for the first time in a long time as young people stay put in places like San Luis Potosí and do not replenish those who return home for a variety of reasons, some of them economic ones.

Diabolical science
Is there good science and bad science? SF Chronicle

Death of rational man From
“The rational man theory of economics has not worked,” Roubini said last month at a session of the World Economic Forum at Davos. That’s why he and other prominent economists are paying more attention to behavioral economics, which starts from the premise that economic decisions, like other aspects of human behavior, are influenced by irrational psychological factors.

The most compelling rebuttal of the rational model, paradoxically, was delivered by the ultimate rationalist, Alan Greenspan. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders,” the former Fed chairman told Congress last October.

Environmental protection in name only National Review: a withering look at EPA from a conservative voice

The Green New Deal

USDA's pilot project open for signup
From The News/Messenger:
f/v for program crops

Local farmer delviers f/v to UCSB
From Daily Nexus

5 a day challenge at Santa Rosa Fla. schools

Whole Foods seeks Hawaii homegrown From Star Bulletin

Pulsenet helps to detect salmonella in peanut butter From AP

Where to go for nightlife in Wenatchee Wenatchee World

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