The stricter standards follow a 2009 investigation by USA Today that found safety standards set by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), a part of the USDA that buys meat for school lunches, were lower than those set by many fast food restaurants. The investigation found cases in which the AMS bought ground beef that retailers and fast-food chains would have rejected because of high amounts of so-called indicator bacteria – which can indicate an increased probability that the product contains dangerous pathogens.
In addition, the investigation found that the AMS testing procedures for ground beef are sorely deficient. Regardless of how long the production day runs, AMS combines eight samples of school-bound ground beef for a single combined pathogen test. That means 100,000 pounds of ground beef could be tested only once for pathogens. In comparison, many fast food chains take samples of their ground beef every 15 minutes and test the combined sample every one or two hours. So, basically, a fast food restaurant tests their ground beef five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests school lunch beef. Thankfully, the new school lunch standards will require that AMS test their ground beef at the same rate as fast food restaurants.
The investigation also found that the school lunch program purchases tons of chicken for schools that KFC or the Campbell Soup Company wouldn't use. The chicken bought by the USDA might otherwise go to compost or pet food if it weren't being eaten by schoolchildren.
As Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), an advocate of school lunch reform put it:
"Our schools and parents have a right to know where food is coming from and whether it's high-quality. I don't know why we're not putting better protections in place for our most vulnerable population. We have to reform how we feed our children in schools."
USA Today, which should be commended for its work, also found many other problems with school lunch safety during its examination of the program last year.
A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.
What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):
SALMONELLA AND EGGS
Final rule, July 2009
Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.
STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS
Final rule, July 2009
Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.
Final rule, October 2009
The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.
The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).
But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.
GAP coalition partner Public Citizen is calling on the FDA to stop a trial that compares the effects of diabetes drugs Avandia and Actos.
The group argues that the study, named TIDE, endangers the health of the 16,000 participants it intends to study because "a wealth of data now suggests" that Avandia poses significant risk to the heart. Public Citizen contends that TIDE is "exposing thousands of high-risk patients with diabetes to a drug with an unfavorable safety profile and no clinical advantage over [Actos]."
An interesting article in the New York Times today discusses the rise of the phrase "If You See Something, Say Something," which is prominently seen throughout the New York City subway system, and has spread to other public transportation systems around the world. The slogan also includes the phone number for a counter-terrorism unit.
According to the article, a New York advertising executive wrote the slogan on September 12, 2001, before the Metro Transit Authority, a former client, even asked for a new phrase to respond to the to the World Trade Center attacks. The executive says of the slogan:
“I’m proud of what it’s done and the potential it has to do more. Some things you just can’t stop. But if it is stoppable, and that thought makes someone think twice and say something that stops something, that’s its reason for being.”
Which got us here at GAP thinking, what if this slogan was posted on the wall in workplaces around the world, instead of just in transportation systems?
What if society encouraged workers to blow the whistle on fraud, waste, and bureaucratic carelessness, as enthusiastically as it encouraged people to report a suspicious package?
Food, Inc. examines the myriad problems with food integrity in America. The United States agribusiness model reliably generates more food on less land and at a lower cost than that of any other nation.
However, Food, Inc. takes a look at the cost of the many well-known issues that have arisen because of the factory farm model, including animal cruelty, environmental damage, foodborne illness, and health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The documentary also examines several less-known but no less shocking problems with the food industry, including a revolving door of employment that prevents workers from blowing the whistle on food integrity issues and the millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by agribusiness.
Recent studies have raised concerns about the safety of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in many soaps and hand sanitizers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, triclosan is so common in household products that traces of it are found in the urine of 75% of the population. These new studies show that the chemical may disrupt the human endocrine system and help to create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
In response to a letter from Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the FDA (along with the EPA) indicated that they would be taking a closer look at the chemical. Markey responded:
"The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product -- most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys," Markey said. "It's in our drinking water, it's in our rivers and as a result, it's in our bodies. . . . I don't think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children's toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger."
Other countries have banned or restricted usage of triclosan, including members of the European Union. However, the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products industry, which utilizes triclosan in its products, is claiming concerns over the safety of the chemical are unfounded.
The FDA says it is taking a “fresh look” at the chemical, and working quickly "to understand better the health effects" of it, in hopes of developing new regulations.
Now American food producers are urging the FDA to take a stronger stance on fraud, which occurs when food is improperly labeled.
Incidents of this type of fraud have been on the rise. Examples include a store was selling expensive "sheep's milk" cheese that was actually made from cow's milk; cheap, common fish being passed off as expensive catches; and “100% Honey” being made with sugar beets or corn syrup. Food fraud seems to pose a special risk to the fish industry; the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory randomly tested seafood between 1988 and 1997 and found that 34 percent had been sold as a different species.