September 2008

On August 21, 2008 I urged Governor Schwarzenegger to Veto SB 201. I learned a few moments ago that the Governor did just that.  Makes a life long Democrat think about switching to the other team.  Hopefully, the Senators will reconsider the bill and review some of the ideas I had outlined in a letter to them that I posted here on August 27, 2008.

Sometimes politicians do the right thing.  Here is the "Governator’s" veto letter:

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 201 without my signature.

This bill weakens food safety standards in California, something I cannot support.

Last year I signed AB 1735, which passed the Legislature unanimously and put into law food safety standards for raw milk. Those standards are now in question by the proponents of this bill. Looking past the lobbying techniques, public relations campaign, and legal maneuvering in the courts, one conclusion is inescapably clear: the standard in place has kept harmful products off the shelves and California’s raw milk dairies have been operating successfully under it for the entirety of 2008.

Based on fears with no basis in fact, the proponents of SB 201 seek to replace California’s unambiguous food safety standards for raw milk. Instead they have created a convoluted and undefined regulatory process with no enforcement authority or clear standards to protect public health.

For these reasons, I cannot support this measure.

Sincerely,

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

See Senator Florez’s response:

Continue Reading Governor Schwarzenegger Veto’s SB 201 – The Raw Milk Bill is Dead

The Wall Street Journal reported a few moments ago that the parents of a 1-year-old boy sickened by tainted milk powder filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Sanlu, in what appears to be the first challenge to official efforts to keep the scandal out of China’s courts. The suit was filed last week against dairy company Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co., but has yet to be accepted by the court. As is common in China, the filing isn’t publicly available.

The family’s attorneys, Zhang Xingkuan and Ji Cheng of Beijing’s Deheng Law Office, declined to disclose the names of their clients. Mr. Zhang said they are seeking compensation of 150,000 yuan ($21,900) to cover hospital fees, travel expenses, time off from work and other costs. The attorney said that the parents claim the boy developed kidney stones from drinking Sanlu, and that they had more than 90 empty bags of Sanlu milk powder their son had consumed as proof.

The Sanlu lawsuit comes as some lawyers who offered to assist families of sickened children report being pressured to stay away from the issue. Beijing lawyer Li Fangping (who I met with last Saturday), who organized a group of over 120 volunteer lawyers around China to provide free legal advice to families affected by tainted milk, said he has received numerous calls from lawyers in the volunteer network who said they are facing pressure from local officials to refrain from getting involved.  For more interviews with Mr. Li Fangping see:

Advice to Chinese Parents — ‘Gather Evidence’

China milk victim lawyers say pressed to quit

The number of confirmed E. coli sickness cases continues to climb in Michigan. The Michigan State Department of Community Health says 30 cases with the same DNA fingerprinting have been identified. Some of the cases are from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and the Lenawee County Jail. Other cases are in St. Clair County, Wayne County, Macomb County, Oakland County and Kent County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday informed the state health department that other states have E. coli cases with the same genetic link as the 30 in Michigan, six Illinois, two in Ohio and one each in Oregon and New York.  Health officials say some of the recent cases might be associated with industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce sold to restaurants and institutions from Detroit-based Aunt Mid’s Produce Company.

Dominic Riggio told The Packer that “Aunt Mid’s traceback program is capable of tracking products back to the grower, but he declined to say where the company sourced its iceberg lettuce. Until contamination is verified we don’t want to damage our growers the way we’ve been damaged, without proof, by the Michigan Department of Community Health,” he said.  Also, to date non of the Aunt Mid’s products that is still availalbe to test has tested postive for E. coli according to Aunt Mid.

In 2006 Cadbury withdrew a million chocolate bars, which were found to be contaminated with a rare strain of salmonella.  Now faced with another recall of its product, Cadbury says it will consider taking action against a manufacturer in China if some of its products are found to be contaminated with the chemical melamine.  The chocolate producer has withdrawn its Chinese-made chocolate over fears the sweets contain traces of the industrial substance.

At the same time Cadbury considers its options, what options do Chinese parents have against Sanlu and Fonterra for injuries caused by the products containing melamine?   So far, according to Chinese reports, those products have caused the deaths of four infants in China and have made 55,000 Chinese babies ill, some 14,000 still hospitalized.  This is assuming that we actually believe these number are really not a gross under-count.

Here is a thought, why do not all suppliers and manufacturers (like Cadbury) of melamine-tainted products put the legal and moral interests of the children before their own?  Why not see that all of the children sickened are cared for before you protect yourself?  All of this reminds me of the Op-ed I wrote last year – "What China Needs is a Few Good Lawyers."

Besides milk being recalled, now it is cookies too.  Also, Lipton Milk Tea is being recalled.  I think I need to do a blog post, "Poisoned Coffee, Tea or Me?"

The number of confirmed E. coli cases continues to climb in Michigan and Illinois.  Numbers from New York, Ohio and Oregon have yet to be counted.  At least 39 cases with the same DNA fingerprinting have been identified in five states.   In Michigan, some of the cases are at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and the Lenawee County Jail.   Other cases are in St. Clair County, Wayne County, Macomb County, Oakland County and Kent County.  The Illinois Department of Public Health says at least five Illinois residents have been hospitalized after contracting E. coli between late August and mid-September.  Aunt Mid’s Produce Company supplied the lettuce.  Where the lettuce was grown is still a mystery.  Seems a bit odd that at this point Aunt Mid’s has not announced who they bought the lettuce from and where it was grown.  Where is the FDA?  However, look at the number of outbreaks and the locations of where lettuce is grown.  My bet is the Salinas Valley.  However, as I said to the Salinas Californian:

Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney specializing in product litigation, said his office has been retained by some of the people sickened during the outbreak.

Marler said he doesn’t know the source of the lettuce and likely won’t until health officials complete their trace-back.

"At this point it’s all speculation about where it’s coming from," Marler said.

Health officials say at least five Illinois residents were hospitalized after contracting the bacteria between late August and mid-September. A sixth also was infected by E. coli.  All reportedly ate iceberg lettuce supplied by Detroit-based Aunt Mid’s Produce Company. Officials say there’s no evidence suggesting grocery store lettuce is affected.  Aunt Mid’s says initial results of its processing facility show no contamination.  Michigan health officials issued a public health alert Friday after E. coli sickened 26 people. Some of those who got sick ate lettuce from Aunt Mid’s.

See "History of E. coli and Leafy Greens."  The hunt is on in California’s Salinas Valley for the grower and processor of Aunt Mid’s iceberg lettuce.  Is it also possible that it was "locally" grown in Michigan?  Grown in the Central Valley of California?  I would expect an announcement this week.

I am catching up on both sleep and US News reports. This morning I read the New York Times summary of the events so far in the Sanlu Fonterra Melamine Baby Formula Disaster – “Despite Warnings, China’s Regulators Failed to Stop Milk,” and the Washington Posts summary – “China’s Tainted-Milk Crisis Grows Despite Official Claims.”

Since I left China, the recalls have mounted.  Now, not only is powdered milk being recalled, but various other products, including White Rabbit candy, are being pulled from store shelves throughout the world.  More than 50,000 children, most aged under three, have fallen ill after drinking China’s top-selling infant formula, made by the Sanlu Group, a joint venture with New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra.  At least four children have died and almost 13,000 are still in the hospital, at least 100 of them in critical condition from kidney failure.  After spending a week in China, my guess is that those numbers are grossly under reported.   Here are some more startling facts:

December 2007 – Sanlu Fonterra had first received complaints about its powdered baby formula.

March 2008 – Sanlu Fonterra had hired private companies to test its milk powder for contaminants.  Sanlu Fonterra never issued any public warnings and never stopped promoting its products.

May 18 – After the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, the Sanlu Fonterra made a much-publicized donation of $1.25 million worth of baby formula for infants orphaned or displaced by the catastrophe.

June 30 – A mother in Hunan Province had written a detailed letter pleading for help from the food quality agency, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (organization that sponsored the Food Safety Conference I attended).  The letter, posted on the agency’s Web site, described rising numbers of infants at a local children’s hospital who were suffering from kidney stones after drinking powdered formula made by Sanlu Fonterra.  The watchdog agency’s director, Li Changjiang, and several Communist Party officials in Hebei province, where Sanlu Fonterra is based, lost their jobs.

August 2 – Sanlu Fonterra officials informed the board about the melamine problem.

September – The New Zealand government, after discussions with Fonterra executives, contacted authorities in Beijing.  Beijing officials say they knew nothing about the scandal until September, though a Fonterra company spokesman said the company believed the central government knew in August.

September 9 – Recall announced.

Chinese Premier Wen Jerboa (did not meet him while I was there, but I did tour the “Hall of the People.”) yesterday reassured the world that China was serious about bettering its food safety record:

"We plan not only to revitalize the food industry and the milk powder industry, we will try to ensure that all China-made products are safe for consumers and consumers can buy with assurance."

Empty words? Likely. Here are the real problem and until there are changes, “Made in China,” still will mean, “Buyer Beware."

  • The Chinese Central Propaganda Department had been issuing broad reporting guidelines that were distributed in Internal Digest, a classified bimonthly Communist Party bulletin.  The emphasis was on promoting good news about the Olympics.  Propaganda officials responded by issuing rules that required domestic publications to obtain permission before publishing any articles about food safety and other politically delicate subjects.
  • On Friday, 20 lawyers in 15 provinces received threatening visits or calls from their local legal affairs bureaus warning them not to join a group to help the victims of tainted milk. They were told they could lose their licenses if they did not withdraw from the effort. As one lawyer said:  "Our goal is not to help the victims sue the dairy companies. We just want to help them with advice," the lawyer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "We believe the government will eventually have a solution, so it’s important to preserve the evidence. We don’t understand why we are being stopped."

A free press and the right to legal advice is a must to keep corporations like Sanlu Fonterra and the Chinese Government honest.  Frankly, that is true whatever country you are in.  The world’s media and legal associations, especially in the US, need to speak out in support of our chinese collegues.  Until there is a free press and a functioning legal system in China, expect to see more outbreaks, illnesses and cover-ups.

For a bit more information on the Chinese legal system (or lack thereof) see "What China’s Tainted Milk May Not Bring – Lawsuits" and a very good early analysis in "China Says 432 Infants Have Kidney Stones From Sanlu Formula" of why the outbreak happened in the first place.

Well, I left at 4:00 PM on Saturday from Beijing after a week, landing in Seattle at 12:00 PM on Saturday – don’t ask.  While in the air, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began alerting consumers that seven Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products are being recalled by the Taiwanese company, King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd., due to possible contamination with melamine. King Car Food Industrial Co. used a non-dairy creamer manufactured by Shandong Duqing Inc., China, which was found to be contaminated with melamine. The recalled products are:

Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1)
Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also alerted consumers that QFCO, Inc. recalled White Rabbit Candy Because of Possible Health Risk.  QFCO, Inc. of Burlingame, California is recalling White Rabbit Candy because it may be contaminated with Melamine.  Product was distributed to the states of CA, GA, HI, IL, MN, NY, OR, TX, WA through wholesale distributors to retail stores.

The White Rabbit Creamy Candy is sold in 8 or 16 oz packages. All other flavors of White Rabbit Candy, including Assorted (Chocolate, Coconut, and Coffee), Red Bean, Coffee, Corn, Lychee, Mango and Strawberry are sold in 7 oz. packages. All packaging has a logo of a white rabbit on the front with the words "White Rabbit".

Bigger news is what was Fonterra, the New Zealand Milk Company thinking when they took at 43% stake in Sanlu, Chinese milk giant owned by the Chinese gernment?  Most disturbing is the cover-up, perhaps as many as 10 months, that children were becoming sick from drinking melamine-tainted powered milk.  A leaked memo said: "anything to pacify victims and accept all they want to keep them silent for at least two years."  Or, at least through the Olympics.  Perhaps, what is needed is a good lawsuit against both Sanlu and Fonterra.  The victims should be compensated, but as important is getting to the bottom of why it happened, why the cover-up and what can been done to prevent such an outbreak in the future?

Although the source of bagged, chopped iceberg lettuce delivered to Aunt Mid’s had yet to be identified. A good guess would be California this time of the year, specifically the Salinas Valley (See growing season data).  Aunt Mid’s is ready to point the finger – from its website:

The health alert has identified Aunt Mid’s as one of the wholesale processors who sold institutional-sized iceberg lettuce product to the establishments which served the affected persons. It is expected that other wholesale suppliers will also be identified as and when product traceback measures are finalized.

As I have said before, E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically the "pre-washed" and "ready-to-eat" varieties sold under various brand and trade names, are by no means a new phenomenon. By way of illustration:

— in October 2003, thirteen residents of a California retirement home were sickened, and two people died, after eating E. coli-contaminated, pre-washed spinach;

— in September 2003, nearly forty patrons of a California restaurant chain fell ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, pre-washed lettuce; and

— in July 2002, over fifty young women fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 at a dance camp after eating "pre-washed" lettuce, leaving several hospitalized and one with life-long kidney damage.

And this is just a small sampling of the twenty or more E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks since 1995 in which spinach or lettuce was the source.  Several more outbreaks linked to contaminated leafy-produce, including most recently the September 2005 Dole packaged lettuce outbreak, are identified in the chart below:

Aug. 1993 Salad Bar E. coli O157:H7 53 WA

July 1995 Lettuce (leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7 70 MT

Sept. 1995 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 20 ID

Sept. 1995 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7 30 ME

Oct. 1995 Lettuce (iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7 11 OH

May-June 1996 Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7 61 CT, IL, NY

May 1998 Salad E. coli O157:H7 2 CA

Feb.-Mar. 1999 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7 72 NE

July-Aug. 2002 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 29 WA, ID

Oct. 2003-May 2004 Lettuce (mixed salad) E. coli O157:H7 57 CA

Apr. 2004 Spinach E. coli O157:H7 16 CA

Sep. 2005 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 32 MN, WI, OR

The most recent major E. coli outbreak tied to leafy greens was the Dole Spinach outbreak of 2006. This nationwide outbreak included 205 illnesses due to E. coli O157:H7 reported the CDC. This  included 31 cases of HUS, 102 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths. The FDA concluded that all the implicated spinach was traced back to Salinas Valley in California.  Another outbreak that sickened 10 occurred in May 2008 in the State of Washington. The illnesses were linked to bagged, Romaine lettuce (See complete list of leafy green outbreaks).

The Michigan Department of Community Health is issuing a public health alert after dozens of cases of E. coli surfaced. It now appears the E. coli outbreak is linked to iceberg lettuce that came from a wholesale distributor.

As a precautionary measure, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is issuing a public health alert due to illnesses from the 26 cases of E. coli strain O157:H7 that are thought to be associated with bagged, industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce sold through wholesale venues to restaurants and institutions.

There is no evidence that the bagged lettuce at grocery stores is affected.

Some of the 26 Michigan cases consumed shredded or chopped iceberg lettuce in restaurants or institutions purchased from Aunt Mid’s Produce Company, a Detroit-based wholesale distributor; and other distributing outlets could be identified. Product trace back and additional tests results are still in progress.

Our top priority at the Michigan Department of Community Health is to protect the public, said Dr. Gregory Holzman, chief medical executive for MDCH.  We appreciate all of the assistance from Aunt Mid’s. They have been very helpful in this investigation. We want to ensure that the public’s health and well-being is protected. Even though the investigation is ongoing, available evidence is strongly pointing to iceberg lettuce.

The 26 genetically linked cases are present in eight Michigan counties including seven at Michigan State University (Ingham County), five inmates at the Lenawee County Jail, three students at the University of Michigan (Washtenaw County), four in Macomb County, three each in Wayne, two in Kent counties, and one each in St. Clair and Oakland counties. Of the E. coli O157:H7 cases that are genetically linked, 10 have been hospitalized. These linked cases range in age from 11 to 81 years old. Symptoms of these confirmed genetically linked E. coli patients began on Sept. 8. More confirmed cases could surface as the investigation continues