andrew schneider investigates

August 29, 2008

Your food came from where?

Filed under: FDA,Food additives,Food labeling,Food Safety,Random observations,USDA — Andrew Schneider @ 17:59

Do you care where your food came from?

Wouldn’t you like to know if the ground meat you’ve purchased came from a Middle Eastern country where camels out number cattle 500 to 1?

How about those dried banana chips from someplace in the center of Washington state or coffee beans from Canada?

And can anyone really know exactly which farm, in which country, the tomatoes came from?

I’m not sure that even the youngest among us will live long enough to actually see “country of origin labeling” on all food sold at U.S. markets.

Regardless of how much science-supported raving comes from food safety advocates and the few members of Congress who understand the potential for disaster from uninspected food flowing through our porous borders, the lobbyi$ts for the huge grocery chains and enormous food importers will most likely continue to keep meaningful labeling at bay. Thus, the consumer will still get the truth about a food’s origin from honest outlets who care and anything that sells from those firms sleazy who don’t.

But progress in COOL is inching along.

In July, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service issued an interim final rule addressing country of origin labeling that covers most cuts of beef, including veal, lamb, chicken, goat and pork and ground beef, ground lamb, ground chicken, ground goat and ground pork; perishable agricultural commodities such as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts; pecans, ginseng and macadamia nuts.

Food Safety and Inspection says the final rule will become effective on Sept. 30, 2008, to allow time for covered unlabeled commodities that are already in the pipeline to clear the system.

However, there is a very long list of products excluded from mandatory COOL, such as meatloaf, breaded chicken tenders or sausage, and you really don’t even what to guess as to how much meatloaf and how many meatballs we import.

Yea, this is progress. If you want to see how far we have to go, check out this FSIS link
to more than you probably want to know about Country of Origin Labeling.

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More tests demanded of ‘super sweetener’

Filed under: Environmental health issues,FDA,Food Safety,GRAS — Andrew Schneider @ 15:39

Apparently, Pepsi and Coca-Cola may be introducing new beverages sweetened with an extract from a Latin American plant that the locals call sugar leaf, but the PhDs say is stevia. Those selling it commercially have named it Rebiana and claim it’s between 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

No so fast, cautions the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit food safety advocate says a new 26-page report by toxicologists at UCLA states that several laboratory tests show that the sweetener “causes mutations and DNA damage, which raises the prospect that it causes cancer.”

The organization wrote the Food and Drug Administration saying that additional testing is needed.

“A safe, natural, high-potency sweetener would be a welcome addition to the food supply,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But the FDA needs to be as sure as possible that rebiana is safe before allowing it into foods that would be consumed by tens of millions of people. It would be tragic if the sweetener turned out to cause cancer or other problems.”

Two companies — Cargill and Merisant — have told the FDA that rebiana should designated as “Generally Regarded as Safe,” or GRAS, which is a classification given less scrutiny by the FDA than ordinary food additives. The Center says a third company, Wisdom Natural Brands, has already declared that its stevia-based sweetener is GRAS and will market it without giving evidence to, or even notifying, the FDA.

Yes, you read it correctly. Corporations can hire anyone or even task their janitorial staff to evaluate the safety of a food additive. There are thousands of products out there that have never been tested by anyone beyond “experts” paid by the company selling the product.

Want an example? How about diacetyl, the butter flavoring that has sickened hundreds of popcorn and flavoring plant workers, and caused the deaths of several.

Diacetyl remains on FDA’s list of products considered Generally Regarded as Safe and concerned scientists and physicians who have tried to get our vacationing lawmakers to demand that FDA and OSHA do something about it, are often turned away by legislative staffers who can’t believe that companies alone can be making these vital public health decisions.

I have a hard believing it myself, but it’s true.

As with so many harmful products, such as asbestos or benzine or hundreds of others, we are left with a vacuum created by legislators refusing to do battle for public health and the void is filled by trial lawyers holding the offending corporations accountable with settlements in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Seems like an odd way to protect the public health. But maybe that’s just me.

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