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Links With Your Coffee - Tuesday

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Science erects high barriers to otherwise well-educated people, some of whom wear "I'm hopeless at science and maths" like a badge of honour. But the level of ignorance among our decision-makers and opinion-formers is far from honourable. It is shameful and dangerous.

What the hell, you want a free pass when it comes to food safety if you're small.

The blame lies with a tight Senate calendar, a stubborn senator from Oklahoma and an unusual coalition of left- and right-wing advocates for small farmers who have mounted a surprisingly effective Internet campaign. Their messages have warned, among other untruths, that the bill would outlaw organic farming.


 

Comments

What the hell, you want a free pass when it comes to food safety if you're small.

I think their summary of the coalition opposed may be accurate, but coburn of OK isn't opposing the bill because organic farmers told him to.

It's also worth noting that an overwhelming amount of corporate food producers get thier food by a conglomeration of small farms. So its not really a strange bedfellows issue. It's corporations and their suppliers that are opposing regulation in some forms of food production.

On the other hand some large companies (like the spinach producers) support the idea because the cost of regulating all their small farm suppliers is high and the bill would move some of that burden onto the Gov.

Also, I am pretty sure that the USDA and not the FDA regulate egg production.

re: when our friends lie:

i kind of enjoyed the overall tone of the article, it sounded like it was written by a human being. then i saw this line:

My objection is when a company that wants to do the right thing falls victim to using lies, distortion and hyperbole to sell their products.

really? a company that "wants to do the right thing"? and "falls victim" to the use of lies, distortion and hyperbole to sell their products?

listen, it happens to the best of us. aliens are really good at impersonating human beings. i hear you can sometimes identify them by their 2 middle fingers not operating independantly of one another. also, some of them apparantly have 3 toes. but all of them can be identified by the kind of sentence i highlighted above. let's have more humanization of the humans, and less of the corporations, ok? we're not that stupid. are we? and norm--tsk, tsk tsk. don't make me apply for the revokation of your radical progressive humanist credentials. can you read that line in good concience and post it for your readers as "something worth considering"? really, it's horrible horrible horrible. i'd rather see you go back to israel bashing. having pangs of conscience about the way palestinians are treated is at least understandable. feeling the same way about corporations just takes you out of the concience game entirely.

listen, for the few of you who may not already get this: corporations are NOT people, no matter what american law says. and anyone who talks about them as if they are is from mars (god of war etc., you know) as far as i'm concerned.

Why do we need a food safety bill? If our existing regulatory apparatus worked effectively, we wouldn't have so many food safety issues.

According to a recent survey by the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology at Iowa State University, nearly half of the scientists and inspectors polled at the FDA and USDA said businesses and members of Congress had intruded on their work.

"Almost half of those surveyed said that in the last year they had experienced 'situations where corporate interests have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health.'

"And 45% said they had experienced similar interference by members of Congress."

...

"Dean Wyatt, a supervisory public health veterinarian who has worked for nearly 20 years at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the agency went out of its way to protect businesses from costly shutdowns for failing to comply with food safety standards."

...

"In an interview, Wyatt cited examples of food safety violations that were suppressed or ignored. He said he suspended plant operations on three occasions. Each time, his supervisors intervened to allow the plant to reopen."

This bill is just a feel-good measure to make it appear as if de gubmint is doing something about food safety. I predict that if the bill gets passed, we will not see a significant decrease in food-borne deaths & illnesses.

Perhaps further illustrating this protection racket is the fact that former Monsanto VP, Michael R. Taylor, is the recently appointed "food safety czar."

Well, we need both laws and enforcement. But you are right, either one without the other is pretty much worthless.

But we already have the laws.

I don't know what all ended up in this bill becasue last I read up on it was early in the year, but I believe the bill includes regulation of sourcing (so you can figure out where the spinach came from once it starts making people sick) and funding, so we have enough inspectors to visit all locations more than once in 10 years.

Those things aren't duplicative.

Yeah, that's probably true. I'm not exactly opposed to the legislation; it's just that, as with most things, corporate influence will prevent any meaningful improvement. I mean, we didn't used to have monthly e. coli and salmonella outbreaks. Why don't we just go back to doing whatever it was we were doing before, which was to inspect facilities and punish violators?

I remain pessimistic that this bill will have any effect.

Also, the FDA can not Mandate a recall under current law. The bill gives them that power.

By the time a recall is needed, it's too late. It should never even get to the point of a recall.

I am sure a recall can be the difference between 5 deaths and 50 deaths.

Like so many issues surrounding food and farms, this is one where the devil is in the details.

Many on both sides argue from more passion than knowledge. Journalists are rewarded for posing the issues in the most inflammatory fashion possible.

The problem with food safety regulation arise, I think, from the reality that a big farm or food processor is a REALLY DIFFERENT environment than a small farm or processor. Risks are different (both in probability of occurring and impact on the public if they do). Economics, feasibility and potential effectiveness of particular process improvement approaches - all are so significantly different as to require DIFFERENT regulation.

"Large farm" advocates may choose to characterize the "small farm" position as one which seeks some exemption from a requirement to offer safe food to the public.

In fact, as an operator of a small diversified Organic farm, I beg no indulgence from highest possible quality expectations for the food I produce and sell to the public.

Instead, what I'm sayin' is that the small farm environment is REALLY DIFFERENT from a large operation. "One size fits all" is not the way to achieve a goal of enhanced food safety from regulations. To assume otherwise is sort of like assuming that rules for safe operation of an oil rig on land should be the same as rules for safe operation of a floating rig drilling a mile deep in the ocean.Both are Oil production facilities. Yet in fact, the risks are different, effective ameliorations are different. Regulations must be different.

To be sure, too often, regulation is devised by lobbyists who cannot be faulted for crafting rules that offer the least problem for their big farm constituents, and, if possible, ALSO provide some competitive advantage to those folks who pay their bills. But I think they are successful at this because too many of us are so alienated from the source of our food sustenance that we really don't get that big difference between big and small, and hence are easily mislead when regulation issues are discussed.

"Small farm" advocates may equally misunderstand food safety issues. I've heard said (for example), that HACCP is a conspiracy to destroy small farms.

(HACCP - Hazardous Access and Critical Control Points) is a methodology, and has done a lot to improve food safety. Though many SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) arising from HACCP analysis are large, expensive, cumbersome and inappropriate for small operations, the methodology CAN be scaled and applied to a variety of environments.

What this methodology really does, is to exchange "end of process" testing for a systematic look at the entire lifecycle food production process, identifying where pathogens or bad things might happen, then come up with ameliorating practices at these critical control points. All processes along the food chain - growing (raising), picking (slaughtering), processing (hanging), packaging (butchering), storing and distribution offer potential risk for contaminants. By identifying the critical control points where these risks might be introduced, and implementing processes to minimize them there, the resulting product is much more likely to be safe as well as healthy. As a small farmer / food producer, you bet I've found ways to benefit from such a useful tool.

It's easy to understand why some advocates for small farms see "regulation" as the enemy when too many regs have the effect of destroying small farms. I think the real foe is this fundamental misunderstanding on the part of regulators and the public of the significant difference between large and small farm operations.

I could provide so very many examples. NAIS might be a good one. The National Animal Identification Standard requires in States that adopt it, that poultry producers identify all their birds, and notify the government within 48 hours when a chicken dies. OK, I can see the logic. If you are writing regs for large confinement poultry producers, this regulation might offer early warning of potential danger from such things as outbreaks of birdflu. Well you might ask, "What's the problem?" well, if you operate a large confinement chicken production facility, you probably already have staff assigned to the job of picking up dead chickens every morning. Count the dead birds, log and send off a message to the govt. A hassle, but no real problem.

On the other hand, I have a small flock of Organic layer hens who spend their days foraging in pasture with the cows. They are trained to come in to the roost house at night when I call them. They are not trained to stand still for a head count. Unless I see that Mama Fox, bird in mouth, tearing across the pasture, I don't actually know from one day to the next whether a bird has met her match. Death from disease is rare in a healthy Organic flock. I oppose NAIS because I know that every time I do a chicken head count, I'm near sure to loose count at 18 when too many of these very active live girlies decide to move around. That is a REALLY DIFFERENT environment that one that does a daily DEAD BIRD count.

Is this small farm environment in which I raise my birds more likely to produce unhealthy poultry or eggs when compared to the large industrial confinement poultry facilities for which this regulation was devised? Not likely. Not even CLOSE to likely. And yet, with NAIS regs., I'm liable for hefty fines for not reporting bird loss.

Regulators, even IF they might be totally immune to powerful Agribusiness lobbyists, are clueless about such implications of what, for the uninformed, appears to be a perfectly reasonable effort to improve food safety, but is, in fact, damaging to the small farmer (to whom they like to pledge allegiance), and IRRELEVANT to food safety of our population.

What do you think the line is? Most of the organic food I buy is corporate. Do all those producer deserve an exemption?

If there is a problem with a small farm, someone gets sick, or even dies we are much less likely to hear about it than if it's a big corporation.

Betty Jo makes a good point it isn't realistic to have exactly the same rules for the small as the big, but if someone gets sick eating food from a small farm there needs to be penalties that are proportional to those invoked against big corporations. I suspect a lot of small farms incorporate or form limited liability companies to protect themselves from personal liability just like the big boys.

I haven't looked at the bill but typically there are exemptions built in for small businesses.

re: "What do you think the line is? Most of the organic food I buy is corporate. Do all those producer deserve an exemption?"

The issue is Regulation, and it's appropriate applicability to Large and Small farms.

It is not an Organic versus Conventional farm issue. My position is that whether Conventional or Organic, regulations must be made with reference to the very different environments of large and small.I think that regulations should define objectives, not prescribe the mechanisms by which that objective is achieved.

We have the same "large/small" problem with Organic regulation. Indeed we are currently considering additional animal welfare issues and potential new regulation by the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board). Proposed new regs intended to improve animal welfare on large scale confinement dairies and confinement poultry operations are in some ways as inappropriate to small farms as those food safety regs proposed for all farms but designed with reference only to large farm environments.

For example, if one operates a large confinement poultry operation, regulations that demand a certain number of doors onto grassed sun runs might be desirable for animal welfare. But if the birds are out on pasture all day long,a sun run attached to the chicken house might well be both irrelevant to animal welfare and costly to the small farmer. Or, regulations demanding that herds be moved with a specific 'low stress' herding technique (such as "herder must be behind the shoulder of the lead cow") may be helpful to a large cattle operation with inexperienced personnel, but seem rather bizarre not to mention intrusive to a farmer who has trained their cows to come running to a whistle.

I think the problem with food safety in the US is that independent Government inspection, audit and enforcement capabilities by FDA and USDA have been stripped of staffing over the last decades to the point where they are just a paper pussy cat. Industry 'self-regulation' only goes so far. If the food industry can be confident that the probability of independent audit is remote, then it's just too easy for sloppy practice to creep in. When a food safety problem occurs, more regulation always seems to be the response. Staffing inspection, audit and enforcement never seems to be considered.

Though I fuss over the hassle and cost of rigorous annual independent on-site Organic Certification inspections, I also take a lot of pride in passing them. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss food production issues with some other person who is equally literate in a fairly complicated and poorly understood discipline.

I ask the question also because the farm that caused the spinach recall was less than 5 acres.

I think you are right that the small farms need similar levels of regulation with some customization to ensure they are not overwhelmed with burdens designed for enormous operations.

Jonathan is quite right. Since I discovered the site here in an earlier thread, I have exchanged comments with them.

I used to think that the major problem currently with GMO's was economic rather than health. Maybe I was wrong. Recent research seems to indicate otherwise.

"Glyphosate formulations induce apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19105591?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.PubmedResultsPanel.PubmedDefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

"This work clearly confirms that the adjuvants in Roundup formulations are not inert. Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R formulation-treated crops."

As far as I know, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide.

re: Science writing and readability.

So it's not the science our kids can't learn, it's the ability to craft a readable paragraph. Hard to blame the students when the scientists are illiterate. The number of Freshman students requiring remedial English even at our really good Universities is rather appalling.

Too many assume that if one is born to a language, they need not learn to use it. 'Tis a rare gift when one encounters a teacher who is both knowledgeable about science AND is able to impart their excitement in a fashion accessible to others.

We excuse it when science writing is opaque, presuming the problem to be with the listener. I had a techie working for me once. He was a talented guy, frustrated with being passed over time and again for promotion. Previous employers had done just that. The problem was that though his technical skills were excellent, his communication skills were abysmal. He was embarrassed to be told that. He'd figured that since he had a big English vocabulary, that was all that should be necessary. However since his promotion was promised upon completion, he finally agreed to take a written and verbal communication class at the local college (at company expense)

How many other techies and scientists are similarly disadvantaged, with no one to encourage attention to that "soft" science of communication?

I find it amusing that neither here nor our friends at the site Biofortified, no one has responded to my post roundup.

Is there a problem?

Biofortified doesn't follow this blog on a regular basis. You could join their forum and post your question there. I'm sure you'll get a response.

That said, considering the record of Séralini GE and his previous work on this topic, his peers have not been very kind to him, I'll need more than a study by him to be convinced. You are doing better though at least now you quote something other than Huffington Post.

Norm, I do comment at Biofortified and it can be difficult as I am not a scientist and sometimes it seems as a world turned upside down. Some of the posters there react with a superior attitude to those who who don't agree with their "pro" opinion and use rhetoric usually associated with the "antis". But it is interesting to participate and the apparent coordinator is very fair.

BTW, I hope you found something you like in the list of books I gave per your request sometime ago.

I am having a hard time understanding how this study was done. Did they take umbilical cells and place them in a pool of Roundup? Would similar results be expected if one were to place umbilical cells in hot water?

Also, unless there is some new method in use today (entirely possible), I don't think farmers are applying Roundup to crops that are ready for harvest. Roundup is usually used before and shortly after planting to knock down competing weeds.

Like most petri dish studies, I don't think this has much to do with the real world environment, and doesn't alarm me at all.

Do you have a link to the full study report?

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/tx800218n

(subscription required)

Did they take umbilical cells and place them in a pool of Roundup? Would similar results be expected if one were to place umbilical cells in hot water?

Hot water? These were refereed and this is an ACS publication.

Cell Treatments. Cells were exposed for 24 h in serum-free medium to various dilutions of the different treatments including the four Roundup formulations (R7.2, R360, R400, and R450), G, AMPA, or POEA (14 concentrations from 10 ppm to 2%) and, particularly for POEA, were tested at the very low concentrations of 1 and 5 ppm; for AMPA, we tested in addition 4, 6, 8, and 10%. In another case, cells were incubated with G, AMPA, and POEA mixtures by pairs at the final nontoxic dilution on SD of 0.5% on the human cell lines (293 or JEG3) and 0.05% on the human primary cells (HUVEC) in comparison to R360.
For the details, in each cell type, three combinations were studied. For the two cell lines, the first mixture was the combination of G (0.4999%) with POEA (0.0001%); the second was the combination of G (0.4%) with AMPA (0.1%), and the third was AMPA (0.4999%) plus POEA (0.0001%). For the primary HUVEC cells, the first mixture was G (0.04999%) with POEA (0.0001%); the second was G (0.04%) with AMPA (0.01%), and the third was AMPA (0.04999%) plus POEA (0.0001%).

Here is another report on the research I mentioned.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_16348.cfm

I simply stand in awe of your research skill, you've found an organic site willing to quote Seralini's study.

There are links at the site. If that isn't enough, ask the National Institutes of Health which put this up.

Thanks Tim and Bernarda,

This stuff is way above my head, but it appears this study and Seralini's past studies have had some significant criticism from fellow scientists.

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