Digest: FDA gets food safety czar, rural broadband $ misused, honeybee update

Note: The Digest is going to be published every other day for a bit until we figure out how to better balance our paid and unpaid commitments.


Melamine crisis & FDA developments:

  • That new czar smell: The FDA has appointed a new food safety czar — Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA’s food division, who oversaw last year’s investigation into tainted spinach from California. (Acheson has no immediately obvious ties to industry.) Consumer advocates said they were skeptical that creating a safety czar and a new food strategy would make much difference without much more money and stronger enforcement powers for the FDA. (Los Angeles Times)
  • We are so not reassured: Experts say that the melamine found in pet food that is now in the human food supply via pork and chicken is unlikely to pose threat to humans. Or at least that’s what the headline says. Or take is that the details are much less persuasive. The tests cited were done on pure melamine, rather than the adulterated scrap used in this case, and there’s no way to assess low-level exposure from a variety of sources, or how the presence of other chemicals commonly used in animal feed (like arsenic in chicken) would interact with melamine. (New York Times)
  • Buy local gluten: In an excellent overview of the fallout from the melamine crisis, Rick Weiss mentions the one player that may benefit from the still-spreading disaster — the U.S. wheat gluten industry, which has been struggling for years to compete against cheaper Chinese imports. Washington Post
  • Melamine’s legion of consumers: Buried in page two of this story about how the Chinese firm using pet food in animal feed dodged inspection by marking its exports as non-edible, is the nugget that on Friday, China “banned melamine from use in any vegetable protein for export or for use in the domestic food market.” We’re assuming that means the “human” food chain. Anyone looked at kidney problem rates in China? Or in U.S. vegetarians, the No. 1 consumers of “textured vegetable protein” products? (International Herald Tribune)
  • Give’em hell, Henry!: Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Oversight committee held a hearing on Tuesday about the FDA’s mission, with testimony from three former FDA commissioners and the current commissioner. Prepared statements and video available. (House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)
  • Handing the FDA some teeth: Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D, CT), are submitting legislation that will give the FDA more power in times of food crisis, such as the power to order mandatory recalls of contaminated or dangerous food. Durbin press release

High-speed misappropriations: Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists. (Washington Post)

Sigh, no bee pun today: A look at the honeybee crisis has two updates. One, a study seems to rule out pesticides as the cause of colony collapse disorder, and two, genome mapping indicates honeybees may be peculiarly vulnerable to disease and toxins, more so than other insects. San Francisco Chronicle (AP)

Anorexics rejoice: Salk Institute for Biological Studies researchers discover first gene that specifically links calorie restriction to longevity. Still not clear to us: Is life worth living on a permanent diet? (Salk press release)

Despite public relations disasters of E. coli and rats, Yum Brands (operator of KFC and Taco Bell) reports strong first-quarter earnings (New York Times)

Canadian cheesemakers peeved at new federal initiative that would force them to use more actual milk in their cheese (Press release)

Publix Super Markets announced its private label brand milk will be rbST free (Press release)


The price of rice: Rice fields are one of the leading emitters of methane gas, which has over 20 times more global warming potency than carbon dioxide (on a mass basis). Changes in growing practices can reduce methane emissions (draining fields, burning the rice husk instead of letting it decompose in the fields), but most farmers in rice growing countries are struggling to feed themselves and don’t have time to experiment with new practices. Perhaps this is an area where international emissions trading can make a difference, with outside investors paying to improve growing practices of poor farmers. Houston Chronicle (via AP)

Getting tough on fish farms: A new moratorium on salmon farming expansion on British Columbia’s north coast and the compulsory conversion of existing farms to closed-containment systems are among the recommendations expected this month from a government review of B.C.’s aquaculture. Vancouver Sun

Corn ripples in Canada: The massive American push into corn planting is slurping up nitrogen fertilizer at an unprecedented rate, causing the price to go through the roof and induce shortages in some agricultural products, like seed treatment for disease-prone crops like chickpeas. (Saskatoon Star Phoenix)

Start with smaller plates: Brian Wansink, the Cornell professor who has spent his career doing brilliantly mischievous experiments about the psychology of eating, visits the reporter’s kitchen to tell him everything that’s wrong with it. (New York Times)

Not very?: A Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, rep looks at how safe transgenic Bt cotton is for livestock. Counter Currents

Seattle’s fresh and local produce scene (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)


Silver lining in melamine cloud: Natasha, who Dairy Queen recently met, points out the larger repercussions of the melamine food crisis — and the larger opportunity. “If each of us had to personally investigate every single supplier of goods and services in our lives, we’d do little else. We’d trade with fewer people and the economy overall would suffer and become disjointed. But you know, maybe it’s worth it to know more about where our food is from.” (Pacific Views)

PR 101: What pet food companies should do to regain customers’ trust. Do they want to be like Union Carbide after Bhopal or like J&J after the poisoned Tylenol? Spacko’s Brain

The future of agriculture: Dan Owens at the Blog for Rural America looks at a Des Moines Register story about Vande Rose Farms, which ships 40,000 pounds of premium Duroc pork and Hereford beef products to California each week and twice that amount to the East Coast, as an example of what it takes to succeed in agriculture today.

Elegy for a market: DC’s Eastern Market, a 134-year-old community food emporium, burned down on Monday. Local resident and “Organic, Inc.” author Sam Fromartz mourns: “lost in the embers of the three-alarm fire were neighborhood businesses – several butchers, a fish monger, two vegetable stands, a cheese vendor, a pasta maker, a bakery and a market lunch counter – 14 market stands in all. Together they made up the heart of a community.” (Chews Wise)

Links o’ love: Our e-friend Jay of San Diego restaurant The Linkery has been filing a series of reports on his visit to North Carolina, which grew out of the “peculiar challenge of developing a farm-to-table restaurant in an area with essentially no local independent livestock farmers.” (Casing the Joint)

Skewered: “If Someone Wanted To Publish My Blog Entries For Money, I Wouldn’t Say No.” The Onion

2 Responsesto “Digest: FDA gets food safety czar, rural broadband $ misused, honeybee update”

  1. Lew Orban says:

    Thanks for forwarding the information to the scientist. There is a great deal
    more information about high nitrogen foods and auto immune disorders. Nitrogen
    spikes in crops have always been problematic for the health of all animals who
    might be feeding on the fields. In the past this situation was thought to occur
    from either improper fertilizer use or from weather pattern changes from global
    warming that effected the crops uptake of nitrogen. Now that we know our own
    food supply has been tampered with to include a “high nitrogen spike”
    ingredient…. the auto immune disorders and health of millions of Americans
    may have been effected negatively. I hope you have shut down all imports of all
    processed gluten and protein imports into the USA for all food
    categories…human, animal, pharmaceutical etc. If you fail to take this action
    and this tampering is discovered in our normal processed foods, I am afraid
    then the FDA will be held liable….. now that the problem has surfaced and
    been discovered. You do not want to be the target of millions of lawsuits based
    on inaction on your part. The FDA needs to implement the change to ban these
    imports to protect itself…..

  2. unityworks says:

    Unfortunately, there’s little oversight of carrier’s use of their USF funds, carriers should have to submit a broadband upgrade plan specifically for rural areas before and after receiving funding. Carrier plans should have to meet a new national goal of 10 mbps down and at least 2 mbps up by 2010. Carriers that don’t meet the goal or deadline should be subject to penalties up to and including the reimbursement of USF monies obtained.

    For more information regarding high speed Internet issues and proposals check out the Speed Matters Campaign at http://www.speedmatters.org.