Sunday, July 17, 2011

National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Threatens Small Growers

"Big Ag" is at it Again
The most powerful “Big Ag” players in the leafy green industry are pushing the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).   The sellers, processors, and distributors that sign on to the rule will require that the farmers they purchase from comply with its standards. The rule adds a second and conflicting layer of food safety standards and audits on top of FDA food safety rules.
This confusing and duplicative rule could effectively shut small and mid-sized farmers out
of the leafy greens market
.  Tell the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to withdraw their unnecessary and confusing rule.

Add your comments to USDA using the link below and then click on the submit button.  Use the following talking points to help compose your comment.  It is best, however, if you use your own words.

1.    The Agricultural Marketing Service is NOT a food safety agency and it should leave food safety regulation to the Food and Drug Administration.   AMS staff is made up of economists and marketing specialists who convene industry to reach agreement on orderly marketing of produce.  They are NOT food safety scientists.

2.    The governance structure for this agreement is dominated by processors and distributers and provides only token representation for farmers and consumers.  The standards developed under this rule are likely to be driven by the most powerful voices and the largest players in the leafy greens market to the detriment of small and mid-sized farmers and processors.

3.    Consumers expect food safety standards to apply to all produce, not just those subject to a marketing agreement.  Food safety should not be used to gain a competitive advantage in the market place.

4.    If a final rule is issued it should include those provisions in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that provide food safety alternative compliance measures for small and mid-sized producers and processors.   Food safety must be achieved without obstructing the growing interest and investments in producing for local and regional food systems.  Broad access to these growing markets is vital to rural economic recovery, public health and nutritional well-being.


Please submit your comments here:
http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5735/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=4109

Catchy Propaganda

Chinese and Swahili Versions of Mandy and Fanny Cartoon Book on Biotech

The novel educational cartoon featuring two characters, "Mandy" and "Fanny" impersonating biotech maize and biotech cotton, is now finding its way to China and East Africa through Mandarin and Swahili versions.

The 60-page educational cartoon publication features a lively dialogue between Mandy (biotech maize) and Fanny (biotech cotton). Eye-catching frames present factual messages about biotech crops as contributors to sustainable agriculture. The educational cartoon publication aims to demystify misconceptions/notions that biotech crops are harmful to human beings and their environment.
Dr. Clive James, Founder and Chairman of ISAAA commented that "Sharing knowledge with young people about the new technologies of the 21st century, such as biotech crops, is vital, because they will be the decision-makers of tomorrow. The educational cartoon illustrations will enhance the understanding of children and young people about the utility and safety of biotech crops, which represent an essential element in a global strategy that will contribute to food security and the alleviation of poverty in developing countries."

Follow "Mandy & Fanny" on http://www.facebook.com/mandyandfanny and log on to http://www.chinabic.org and http://www.isaaa.org/india for more information about the cartoon and illustrations, selected images and a print copy of the cartoon publication "Mandy & Fanny: The Future of Sustainable Agriculture". For a print copy of the Chinese version contact China BIC at zhangt@mail.las.ac.cn and zhanghx@mail.las.ac.cn. The Chinese, English, and Swahili versions of Mandy & Fanny are available at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/mandy_and_fanny/default.asp

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fight for FDA Funding Turns to Senate

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration works to meet deadlines and implement an ambitious new food safety law, the agency's budget for the next fiscal year remains highly uncertain. The House recently approved a $285 million cut to FDA, $87 million of which would come from the agency's food safety program. Now, food safety advocates are turning their focus to the Senate to make the case for a strong budget, or at the very least, no budget cuts.

The Senate has been slow to begin the appropriations process as Democrat and Republican leadership and the president work to strike a broad deficit-cutting deal as part of a plan to raise the debt ceiling, which the U.S. government is projected to be in danger of reaching August 2.

"No one had much insight into what the Senate will do next on appropriations, nor was their great optimism that any agency or program will do well," says Steven Grossman, deputy executive director of Alliance for a Stronger FDA, referring to recent meetings with staff. The Alliance -- a coalition of consumer and industry interests advocating for FDA funding -- is stepping up lobbying efforts on agency's behalf.

"We received positive feedback on the Alliance's fundamental position: programs that are the necessities of a stable functional society must be funded regardless of the overall budget situation," wrote Grossman, on the Alliance's blog last week. "When Congress makes those judgments, FDA should (properly) be seen in the same company as national defense and air traffic controllers ... rather than with other programs."

But Grossman, and others in the food safety community, are not taking the steep cuts the House cleared lightly.

"The threat from the House position is still under-appreciated. Many offices did not understand that the House FY 12 position on FDA funding (a $285 million cut) is larger than the cut we faced in FY 11 in the House-passed HR 1 (a $242 million cut)," explains Grossman.

Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at FDA, has stressed on numerous occasions that the agency will need resources to enforce the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed by president Obama in January.

"While we build on a strong foundation and we have a base of resources that we can do a lot with, you can't build a new house without new financing," said Taylor at a recent meeting of food and drug officials in Plano, Texas. "You can't pretend that all the new programs and systems that this law calls for can be achieved without new resources."

The Alliance has been working to especially highlight FDA's critical role in ensuring the safety of imported food. Among the group's talking points is pointing out that a decade ago, 6 million shipments of FDA-regulated goods came in through U.S. ports, this year that number is 24 million shipments.

"Along with our points about safe foods and more/better medications, the safety/quality issues raised by imports captured attention, interest and sympathy," adds Grossman.

A debt ceiling agreement between party leaders is expected to jump start the appropriations process in the Senate --i f leaders can agree on general domestic spending levels for the next few years, then Senate committees will have ballpark figures to work with for each appropriations bill.

Because the House agriculture appropriations bill, which covers FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has already been completed, it could be one of the earlier bills taken up by the Senate, but the timeline remains up in the air. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Biotech Country Facts and Trends

Biotech Country Facts and Trends are one- to two-page summaries that highlight the commercialization of biotech crops in the developing countries. Data on biotech crop commercialization (hectarage and adoption), approvals and planting, benefits and future prospects in each country are presented in a brief and easily understandable manner. The contents are all based on the annual ISAAA Brief on the Global Report of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, authored by Clive James.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Genetically modified food labels don't sit well in U.S.

Activists rejoiced last week when a hard-fought battle over international standards for labeling genetically modified food came to an end — finally — after decades of debate.

But the agreement, which many say opens the door for labels to be placed on such foods, will probably have little effect on food labels in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. 
 
And that could be a good thing, some scientists said.

"The public gets bogged down on whether [crops are] genetically engineered or not. We think that's a distraction," said Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC Davis. "The consumer needs to know: Is it safe to eat?"

Delegates to the so-called Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body created in 1963 by the United Nations to set voluntary standards for food safety and handling, have been arguing over labels for genetically engineered food for the better part of 20 years.

Concerned that the biotech food is not adequately tested and could be unsafe for people or the environment, some countries, particularly ones in Europe, have pushed for mandatory labeling. Others, including the U.S., have argued that such labels are misleading because the genetically modified products that are on the market have been thoroughly tested and deemed safe.

Requiring that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such would be unfair, said Nathan Field, director of biotechnology and economic analysis at the National Corn Growers Assn. in St. Louis, echoing the feelings of many in the food production industry.

"There is no nutritional content difference between the products," he said. Genetic engineering "doesn't affect the environment or food or feed quality in any way. If there's no evidence they're different, there shouldn't be a label."

But some consumer advocates argue that chronic effects of eating genetically engineered foods could go undetected by what they see as lax oversight.

"Consumers have a legitimate right to be skeptical, given the imperfections of our safety system," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday in Geneva, Codex delegates agreed on guidance that had been cobbled together to give each side of the debate a little bit of what they wanted.

The document declared on the one hand that "different approaches regarding labeling of foods derived from modern biotechnology are used" around the world. And, in what was probably a concession to the U.S., it also declared that it "is not intended to suggest or imply that foods derived from modern biotechnology are necessarily different from other foods." The document then pointed to 10 existing Codex standards that countries should comply with in food labeling.

Though this might seem like a very modest achievement after 20 years of consideration, it broke up a logjam and — simply by laying out some ground rules — legitimized the practice of labeling genetically modified foods.

"This is a major victory and milestone for consumer rights," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for the Consumers Union, a consumer advocacy organization in Yonkers, N.Y.

Still, the agreement fell short of what many activists, including Halloran, wanted because it didn't call for mandatory labeling. Countries are free to do what they want.

In some Latin American and African countries — "battlegrounds" where consumer groups are fighting for labeling laws, Halloran said — that might very well mean new labeling policies. But the Codex decision is highly unlikely to affect practices in places like the U.S. and Canada, where many genetically engineered crops are grown and products are consumed. In the U.S., more than 70% of processed foods contain genetically engineered or biotech ingredients.

Labeling here is voluntary; what labeling exists is mostly used to declare that a food has no genetically modified ingredients. Products labeled organic, for instance, fall into this category.

The official acknowledgement that genetically modified foods can be labeled does at least mean that countries that label such foods shouldn't have to worry about sparking trade disputes, Halloran said. "It seems to us a major step forward."

In Europe, where modified foods are labeled, the European Union Parliament is taking steps to go much further: It voted last week on draft legislation to give countries greater authority to ban such crops altogether.

While critics of genetically modified foods said they believed oversight in the U.S. is too lax, many scientists say that ample studies have demonstrated the items are safe.

"People have been eating products from genetically modified crops for almost 15 years," said UCLA molecular biologist Bob Goldberg, who helped develop a genetically engineered canola plant that is widely planted in Canada and produces more oil than conventional canola. "They've been more tested than any food product you can imagine, without even a sneeze."

Ronald of UC Davis, who is married to an organic farmer and whose lab has genetically engineered rice for resistance to diseases and flooding, wonders why more consumers don't worry about unintended consequences arising from conventionally bred crops. One type of celery, for example, was conventionally bred to resist insects. But it caused allergic reactions in farmworkers during the harvest.

"Everything we eat has been genetically improved by some method," she said. When crops are altered by genetic engineering, she added, the process is regulated. Conventional breeding methods are not.

"The most important aspect isn't how the seed is developed — but can it be used to increase food security, reduce insecticide use, foster good soil and improve the lives of farmers and communities?" she said. "I would like to see barcode labeling where you see, 'This conventionally bred cotton shirt was grown using insecticides. This genetically engineered cotton shirt was not.' But I don't see us getting that information."

eryn.brown@latimes.com

Thursday, July 7, 2011

FDA issues anti-smuggling strategy and draft guidance on new dietary ingredients

For Immediate Release: July 5, 2011
Media Inquiries: Doug Karas, 301-796-2805, douglas.karas@fda.hhs.gov
Consumer Inquiries: 888-INFO-FDA

 Agency meets critical milestones in Food Safety Modernization Act
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has completed two tasks required by the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA has issued an anti-smuggling strategy, and issued draft guidance clarifying agency expectations on new dietary ingredients.

The FDA issued an anti-smuggling strategy developed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will help to identify and prevent smuggled foods from entering the United States and posing a threat to national security and consumer safety.

“The Food Safety Modernization Act requires the agency to build a new food safety system,” said Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor. “This new system, overall, will better leverage the resources of federal agencies and it will make industry an important partner in safeguarding the health of U.S. consumers.”

FDA will work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in DHS to review historical data and better identify products, firms, and countries of origin to establish food smuggling targeting criteria. The FDA and CBP also will share information on import shipments and conduct joint examinations, when appropriate, to identify shipments that may contain smuggled food. When possible, the agencies will work together to publicize food smuggling enforcement actions to deter others from attempting similar acts.

“Safeguarding the American public from unsafe or potentially harmful imported goods is a priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” said CBP Commissioner Alan D. Bersin. “CBP and FDA are working closer than ever to identify and prevent smuggled foods from entering the country, as well as streamline the flow of legitimate products.”

The FDA also issued draft guidance clarifying agency expectations on new dietary ingredients for industry which is an important preventive control to ensure that consumers are not exposed to unnecessary public health risks from new ingredients with unknown safety profiles.

Dietary supplement manufacturers are required to notify the FDA in advance when they intend to add a new dietary ingredient to their products, except in certain situations when the ingredient has been part of the food supply and has not been chemically altered for use in supplements. The notifications must identify the new dietary ingredient and be accompanied by evidence on its safety. The draft guidance is intended to inform and assist manufacturers, distributors, and others in deciding when a premarket safety notification for a dietary supplement containing a new dietary ingredient is necessary and in preparing premarket safety notifications.

FSMA requires FDA to undertake many actions in strict time frames, in order to build a new food safety system based on prevention. FSMA required the FDA to complete both tasks on or before July 3, 2011, or within 180 days of the signing of FSMA into law.

FDA has created a special website to inform the public about the various aspects of FSMA implementation.  Among other developments related to FSMA implementation, the FDA also announced that the agency’s authority to suspend the registration of food facilities to prevent the import and export into the United States, or other intrastate or interstate distribution of food became effective on July 3, 2011.

The FDA expects individuals responsible for registered food facilities to take steps to produce safe products. If those efforts fail, the facility should file a food report with FDA, voluntarily recall affected products, and take action to keep products from reaching consumers.

FDA may suspend the registration of a facility in certain circumstances involving food that has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.

Additionally, the rule, issued in May, has gone into effect that allows the FDA to administratively detain food products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded for up to 30 days, if needed, to ensure they are kept out of the marketplace. Under this rule, these products will not be sold or distributed while the agency determines whether an enforcement action such as seizure or federal injunction against distribution of the product, is warranted.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

For more information:
• Federal Register Notice for New Dietary Ingredient Notifications and Related Issues
• Federal Register Notice for Interim Final Rule on Criteria Used to Order Administrative Detention of Food for Human or Animal Consumption

• FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

China Ratifies 7 GM Crops

China has issued biological safety certificates to seven GM crops including cotton and papaya. Aside from GM cotton, other GM crops have been planted in small-scales in China such as delayed-ripening tomatoes, phytase corn, pest-resistant rice, and disease-resistant peppers.

China's national agricultural GM biosafety evaluation authority ratified imports of genetically modified cotton, soybean, corn, and rape. China only allows imported cotton to be used for planting, and the other three imports can only be used as materials for processing. Most GM imports of China come from the U. S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

Read the original article at http://english.cri.cn/6909/2011/06/28/189s645259.htm.

USDA Announces Decision to Deregulate Genetically Engineered Corn Seed

The USDA in its Federal Register recently issued a non-regulated status to Pioneer Hi-Bred International's GM corn event DP32138-2. The line has been genetically engineered to produce male-sterile/female inbred plants to generate non-transgenic hybrid corn. The decision is based on evaluation data and on the comments received from the public in response to public solicitations on the environmental assessment and plant pest risk assessment. Documents on the written determination and findings of no significant impact are now available to the public.

See http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2011/06/engineered_corn_seed.shtml for complete details