Tag Archives: USDA

The Complicity of the USDA

From the New York Times:

Two years ago, after an 8-year-old girl in Albany County, N.Y., was sickened by Topps ground beef, the Agriculture Department scrutinized the Elizabeth plant and found relatively few problems. But since then, the department said, Topps cut its microbial testing on finished ground beef from once a month to three times a year, a level the department considers inadequate.

Federal investigators said they had recently learned that the company failed to require adequate testing on the raw beef it bought from its domestic suppliers, and it sometimes mixed tested and untested meat in its grinding machines.

The Agriculture Department acknowledged that its safety inspectors, who were in the Topps plant for an hour or two each day, never cited the company for these problems.

Now I’m no legal expert in any sense of the term, but it seems to me that if the USDA knew about the indiscretions of the Topps company, and then did nothing, then the USDA is partially culpable for the outbreak.

AGGGH!! This is what is so frustrating about our food regulations! The USDA and FDA know that it’s better to have these regulations on the book. There’s no scenario in which it’s a good idea to not check for E.Coli on a monthly basis, especially when you deal with high volume meat products.

And yet for reasons that are not adequately explained, it was the friggin’ government inspectors who didn’t say anything when Topps decided to go off the ranch? What the hell????

Toothless. Benign. Impotent. All of these adjectives describe the USDA and FDA.

From later in the article:

“When someone says we are a toothless tiger and we are not doing anything, this is an example of something we are doing that I believe is making the food supply safer,” Dr. Raymond said.

Dr. Raymond, when you order detailed and aggressive inspections after an outbreak, then you’ve already failed in your job. There’s simply no other way to spin this.

Raw Milk

There’s an article on Salon about Raw Milk (warning: Nag ad click-thru needed) which should not be missed for those interested in said topic. There’s so much to talk about within the piece, that it would be impossible to cover it all in one post here.

Instead, I’m going to quote the item that caught my attention:

Meanwhile, the FDA has just announced that it’s safe to eat meat and drink milk from cloned animals. In such an Orwellian universe, where raw milk from cows that have two biological parents is considered dangerous, while pasteurized milk from cloned cows is safe.

I flip flop a fair amount on raw milk — I don’t believe it’s a drink that should be taken for granted. I have little doubt that the tasteless pasteurized milk is a safer product, especially if industrial dairies ever decided to get into the raw milk business.

Within the article, there’s a raw milk comparison to Sushi which I think is apt. A dairy farmer that has skills equivalent to those a Sushi chef, or heck, even a decent fish monger, would have enough experience to limit risk in the drinking of raw milk. Given proper attention to sanitary conditions, and respect for the cows and their environment and upbringing, I think a safe product could be brought to market. The amount of work and resources needed to create such a product would make it an expensive one, especially when taking the sort shelf life of the milk into account.

But in the real world, I don’t think the USDA or FDA would ever allow it. The primary influence upon food standards is what works best for industrial farms and dairies. And what works best for industrial farms is often counter-intuitive for the local small farms.

At any rate, there’s a fair amount of interesting bits in the piece. As a side note, this quote…

“Milk is big business. When you think milk, think Exxon.”

…is spot on. Or more to the point – Dean’s Dairy is to milk as Exxon is to Oil. In my opinion, they are THAT ruthless in their pursuit of profits.

Technorati Tags: Milk, Raw Milk

FDA Farm Regulation

Look, I’m all for the appropriate amount of regulation surrounding food production. But any talk about adding FDA oversight to agri-business as a response to the Spinach/E.Coli outbreak is only asking for further problems.

As long as the FDA is underfunded and overextended, any added regulation and industry for them to oversee is a waste of money.

Technorati Tags: Food+Safety, Spinach, E.Coli

Kudos to the USDA

Kudos goes to those deserve it, even if I don’t happen to like the group deserving the kudos all that much.

In this case, it’s the USDA. In a rare case of common sense and health concern (even if it’s the health of cattle and not consumer), they withdrew a proposal that would have allowed the import of Canadian cattle over 30 months old. As Canada is having some difficulty with BSE of late, this decision made perfect sense.

Technorati Tags: Food Politics, Mad Cow

Wither Mad Cow and the USDA

I’m a bit late to the Mad Cow story from last week, but several folks have asked for my opinion and I thought best to share here instead of via e-mail.

First and foremost, the fact that the USDA wants to cut back on testing should surprise no one. Their job is not public safety, but rather “farm” advocacy. I use the quotes around “farm” as the reality of the farm is no longer the tractor, ducks, geese and silos, but rather the Confined Animal Feeding Operations from which we Americans get a fair amount of our beef.

It’s these owner of these CAFO’s who will benefit the most from this decision, as less testing means less of a chance of finding a cow with BSE, and all of the subsequent bad press that follows. Find a mad cow in Alabama means no longer selling beef in Japan or South Korea. A multi-billion dollar loss of revenue is never a good thing, and someone, somewhere was going to push various lobbying buttons to see how to regain some of that marketplace back. It’s about money, not about health.

But is the USDA justified in making this cost decision? I’ll repeat some of the points I’ve made in previous posts about Mad Cow.

  • Their sampling data was ridiculously low: The USDA loves to throw out numbers, but never a benchmark to which one should compare the number. They love to say that they’ve tested 759,000 cattle over the past 18 months. The number they don’t tell you is 154,000,000 – which is roughly the cow population (including those slaughtered) during the same time period.

    If you divide the amount tested into the population, you get a statistical sampling of .5% of the cattle population was tested. Is this a large enough sample? I don’t know. But I promise you that the USDA and the cattle industry would prefer if people didn’t know this fact.

  • Their testing methodology was suspect: They only tested cows that showed possible symptoms. Downer cows and cows that were agressive or agitated were tested. But BSE doesn’t make every cow show outward signs of the disease. Cattle can have the disease for months or years before showing any outward symptoms.

    Oh, and testing was voluntary and not done randomly. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general found serious flaws in the testing process

  • They’re ignoring Canada: Canada has found 7 cases of BSE. These Canadian cattle intermingle with herds from the States. Since the border opened up between the two countries, the USDA has not commented on the Canadian cases at all.
  • A new wrinkle in the feed: The USDA touts the new feed restrictions put into place around 1998 as if it’s a line in the sand. Before 1998, feed had cattle remnants within it. Afterwards, not so much.

    Because of this, the USDA and the cattle ranchers have implied that cattle born after the feed restriction were less at risk than those born prior.

    However, the most recent case of BSE from Canada was found in a cow less than five years old, who had been fed feed regulated under somewhat similar restrictions (if anything, the Canadian feed restrictions are more stringent than those here in the US). The USDA nor the cattle industry has commented on this finding either.

I could list three or four more items here, but I think you get the point.

Now it is possible that there is no or little issue with BSE in our meat supply. But there is no way we could have learned this from the USDA. There’s simply too many variables that they haven’t addressed.

Technorati Tags: Food, Mad Cow, BSE

Organic Milk Update

One of the major contentions within the Organic movement is how some companies are stretching the definition of what “organic” should be. Milk is a prime example of this, where dairy cows are supposed to have access to pasture. Unfortunately, several companies operate under the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it, by ensuring that there’s an access, but no cows crossing the threshold of the access.

Nice, huh?

Gristmill is reporting that this may change here in the near future, with the USDA’s National Organic Program will address this very issue.

the NOP is now considering a proposed regulation that would require all organic dairy farms to meet a certain standard for letting their cows out into pasture. Current USDA regulations only require that organic cows have “access to pasture,” which, says (Samuel) Fromartz, “is akin to requiring a gym membership without mandating regular visits to the gym.”

Big Dairy clearly doesn’t like this, but smaller dairies do, because it will seperate their product from the likes of Horizon. If you’re looking for the first big battle between small organic versus industrial organic, this would be it.

Technorati Tags: Milk, organic+foods

The Food Uniformity Act update

I have a bit of bad news/good news in regard to the Food Uniformity Act that passed the House of Representatives back in March. Even though it passed the house, I had stated that it was unlikely to become law, as the act was no where to be found on the Senate’s docket.

The bad news is that three U.S. senators – Richard Burr, R-N.C., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. – introduced the National Uniformity for Food Act on May 25 into the Senate. In short, they are moving to place it on the Senate docket.

The good news is that 21 senators are opposing the bill. This is even before the bill has gone into committee. The senators, listed below, have acted swiftly.

That’s not to say that the battle is done. In fact it has only started. Remembering my civics class, what happens next is that the bill is to be discussed and voted on in committee. If it passes there, it goes to the floor of the Senate to be debated. This gives two moments in time to call your Senator and voice your concern in regard to this piece of legislation.

The Senators who are on the side of good are: Diane Feinstein of California, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Barack Obama of Illinois, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Charles Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Technorati Tags: Food Uniformity Act, Senate, Food Politics