The U.S. Congress and Legislatures in most of the 50 states will all be back in session as 2010 begins. In Washington D.C., work should resume on food safety reform. To get through to the President’s desk, the Senate must adopt S. 510, conference with the House, and then see the compromise bill passed by both houses.
If all that takes until spring, look for the President to sign the bill in the First Lady’s new White House Kitchen Garden.
State laws are always all over the map, and 2010 will be no different. Look for some agricultural states to follow Georgia in making it a felony to knowingly ship contaminated food.
Look for several states to close loopholes that are used to peddle overpriced raw milk to an unsuspecting public while advocates push for more liberal laws so raw milk can be sold with fewer restrictions.
Regulations & Enforcement
The major regulatory decision that could come down in 2010 is the one that would make all enterohemorrhagic shiga toxin-producing serotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli), including non-O157 serotypes, adulterants within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. § 601[m]).
Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler and some of the victims of non-O157 E. coli infections, who he represents, petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the regulatory change. Not since President Bill Clinton’s FSIS declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant after the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak has there been such a dramatic action out of the agency that regulates big beef.
About 2,700 state and local health agencies are the foundation of the food safety regulations and enforcement system. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been tracking those agencies, and recently reported the number of outbreak investigations is falling and the number of investigations where the source is identified is dropping.
The investigative capacity of these important agencies is unlikely to increase during 2010, a year that will see state budgets more hard-pressed than at any time since the Great Depression. Most state and regional agencies count on their Legislatures for their budget support.
As 2009 ended, Brazil-based JBS rescued Pilgrim’s Pride from bankruptcy court, making its creditors whole. In doing so, it joined Tyson and Cargill in the top three of the U.S. meat industry. (See "JBS Takeover of Pilgrim’s Pride Approved," Oct. 17, 2009).
Together the three behemoths control more than 80 percent of the U.S. meat market, and unlike times in the past, it is a nameless, faceless industry sector. Whether anyone in the Cargill, Tyson, and JBS line-up steps up in 2010 will be interesting to watch.
Since 2007, there’s been an explosion in the number of pounds of beef recalled for E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The industry’s only answer has been its petition for whole carcass irradiation without labeling. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella showing up in ground beef brings more silence and kicking the dirt by big meat. And how about your odds of getting out of any grocery store in America with a chicken that is NOT contaminated by either Salmonella or Campylobacter or both?
With such a line-up of major issues negatively impacting the industry, some think 2010 will be the year big meat re-tools and steps forward with some new leadership.
Superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to normally prescribed antibiotics, are increasingly in the news. For example, late in 2009, came the report that a new E. coli strain has "emerged with rapid global speed."
Superbugs are the flip side of the coin to the low dose use of antibiotics in animal feed to promote the growth of pigs, sheep, chickens, and cattle. As long ago as 1963, British researchers linked drug resistant strains of Salmonella to antibiotics fed to cattle.
Out West last summer, people who ate ground beef produced by Denver-based King Soopers and Fresno-based Beef Packers Inc. were infected with strains of Salmonella that did not respond to normally prescribed antibiotics.
This means treatment, if possible, starts to get very costly. Longer hospital stays were required for those Colorado victims last summer, and it will cost $150 per day, per person to treat victims of ST131 if it ends up running wild throughout the third world.
Also in 2009, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, and Sen. Olympia Snow, R-ME, introduced the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act," which in two years would end animal use of antibiotics deemed "important to human health."
FDA, which 50 years ago approved the use of antibiotics in low doses to help animals grow faster, could conceivably impose a ban on its own. That could be on the table in 2010.
In 2009 the local food movement in the United States picked up a major benefactor, First Lady Michelle Obama. It was not long after her interest was known, that the entire U.S. Department of Agriculture joined in with its "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program.
In fact, USDA did do much more than some re-branding and re-organizing itself for a new constituency–all those small, local, and organic farmers who want to sell their goods to nearby folks.
By measures available, growth in farmers markets and in so-called Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), the local food movement is real.‚Ä® In cities and suburbs, people love going to the nation’s nearly 5,000 farmers markets, many held on Saturday mornings during the growing seasons.
And buying some "shares" from a CSA farmer in the winter can get you deliveries of a basket of fruits and vegetables all summer. Keeping your dollars flowing in your local community is almost always a good idea.
Under the Farm Bill, USDA is even going to allow some state-inspected slaughter houses to sell across state lines in 2010.
For sure, 2010 will be another year of growth for local food. Will it embrace its responsibility for food safety and come to understand that standards and regulations are in its best interest? This is a time of change and reform, and local food needs to be at the table, not sneaking out the back door.
Large unemployment throughout the country is also giving the local food movement an opportunity to be responsible in another way–getting leftovers to food banks. Just do it safely!
Since some states–like Texas–have made Hepatitis A vaccines mandatory for school children, there has been a dramatic disease reduction. Similar reductions might be in the offing if vaccine trials conducted in 2010 are successful.
First on the non-human front, vaccines for E. coli in cattle are going to be tested in a big way by the two companies that are out front in the research. They are Willmar, MN-based Epitopix and Canada’s Bioniche Life Sciences.
The two companies should know by year-end if they have an economically viable vaccine, one that might reduce E. coli O157:H7 in cattle by 65 to 75 percent.
In human drug trials should be a vaccine against the pathogen Campylobacter jejuni, at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring and Canadian scientist Mario Monteiro. It has successfully protected against infection in monkeys and is now slated for human clinical trials.
Then there’s Dr. Mahdi Saeed’s vaccine for Enterotoxigenic E. coli, the bug responsible for traveler’s diarrhea that has killed millions of children in the third world. The Michigan State University researcher’s vaccine has such promise it was picked by Discovery Magazine as one of the top 100 stories of 2009.
In late 2009, the "Import Safety Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center" (CTAC) was opened by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make sure food imported to the U.S. is safe.
Imported food and its safety are going to get a lot of attention in 2010. The Import Safety CTAC came out of the President’s Food Safety Working Group, which is charged with advising on how to "modernize the beleaguered U.S. food safety system."
Food imports, especially fresh produce from outside U.S. borders, are coming in for attention after the past few years of spectacular growth.
In 2008, Chinese imports reached $5.2 billion, making China the third-largest source of U.S. food imports. About 41 percent of this import value was from fish and seafood, most of it farm-raised. Juices and pickled, dried, and canned vegetables, and fruit accounted for the other 25 percent.
According to the USDA, about 60 percent of all American apple juice, 50 percent of garlic, 10 percent of shrimp and 2 percent of catfish are imported from China.
A July 2009 report by the Economic Research Service of the USDA said it is often difficult to ensure that suppliers in far-flung locations operate according to the high U.S. safety standards and tight quality controls.
The Produce Traceability Initiative is the grower-vendor answer to events like the outbreaks involving spinach and (FDA thought) tomatoes. With bar codes and radio frequency tags and ways to link all the information in the supply chain, those behind traceability want to be able to drive to the specific field, walk down the right row, and reach over and pick up whatever the problem is.
They want a system with no fuss, no muss that will prevent financially devastating recall costs and outbreaks that make more people sick. They’ve been at it for a couple of years now and the next important deadline is approaching in Oct. 2010 when it is supposed to be possible to read the labeling involved.
The industry wants FDA to enforce the so-called "one up and one down" requirements of the PTI, but not impose anything that’s not already in the plan. FDA opted to end 2009 without putting out its own traceability regulations on the table.
On occasion, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has been critical of volunteer food safety efforts. So the tension of birthing fresh produce traceability is sure to carry into the 2010.
It will be the subject on a Jan. 21-22 summit conference in Denver being organized by the Colorado Springs-based Traceability Institute LLC.
"The reason we set up this summit is we see a huge need by vendors of the traceability system for some kind of communication within the whole supply chain," Cristian Barcan, managing partner and founder of the Traceability Institute told the industry publication, The Packer.
There was a lot of talk during all the health care debating about "bending the cost curve." With too many Americans unable to even bend over, it’s doubtful we are going to bend that cost curve at anytime soon and what they call the "Standard American Diet (SAD)" is a major contributor to this sad reality.
In 2010, we are predicting more attention to the American diet than ever before. It will come from the food industry, consumer groups, and government. The problem is clear.
The SAD is high in animal fats, high in unhealthy fast food, high in saturated and hydrogenated fats, low in fiber, high in processed foods, low in complex carbohydrates, and low in plant-based foods.
The medical community often points out that people in countries that eat the reverse of the SAD–high in plants, high in complex carbohydrates, and high in fiber–are experiencing lower cancer and heart disease rates by far.