May 2009

South View – Eagle Harbor with tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, strawberries, peppers and corn.

North View

This is our second year with this garden.  I grew up with a big garden and cows, horses, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and a few too many cats and dogs.  Now, a small garden and a lazy dog and a crabbie cat.

There has been much in the way of worry by farmers, especially the small, sustainable, organic, locavores about the new food safety legislation.  I have read the latest version of the draft H.R. 759 and here are some thoughts on its impact on small farmer/producer/manufacturers, as well as some other thoughts.

$1000 fee for all “food facilities.”

This specifically exempts farms, but we get back to the problems of who a food “manufacturer” is that we deal with in our cases.  For example, is a seller at a farmer’s market who washes and bags of cherries that they grew a “manufacturer”?


The industry standard traceability software section could be troublesome, however, Section 107(c)(4) provides and exemption from the requirements for food that is sold directly from farmers to consumers


Will the fact that the bill allows the FDA to require food to be certified as meeting safety standards by foreign governments make food safer?  What about China, for example?  Should we rely on their governmental inspection abilities after the powdered milk crisis?

Also, guidelines for imported foods – importers meeting the guidelines will receive expedited processing if they meet the guidelines.  Section 805 is a bit vague about the impact of this.  Provisions like this typically favor those producers with more resources that are easily able to get certified – favoring big agriculture?  Why is the foreign inspectorate corps funded and staffed at the Secretary’s whim, but the local food safety FDA program is funded by the $1000 mandatory fees?

What about past problems?

As an aside, Section 105(4)(B) states that a company such as PCA would have been a Category 2 “low risk” facility, requiring random inspections as little as every three years.  Would that have prevented the outbreak and deaths?

I’m going to read this again.  Bottom line, it is time for us all to engage on this and the various other bills percolating in the Halls of Congress.

“As evidenced by the recent widespread contamination’s in our food supply, including E. coli in spinach, Salmonella in peppers, and the most recent outbreak of Salmonella in peanut butter, it is clear that we must act now.”

These were the words used by Representative Frank Pallone, Jr., Chair of the Health Subcommittee, in a press release regarding the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The proposed bill (still in draft form) is the latest in a string of food safety proposals currently in Congress. The Food Safety Enhancement Act is largely based on H.R. 759, the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. As stated, the aim of the bill is, “To amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the safety of food in the global market, and for other purposes.” (Hmm… I wonder what these mysterious ‘other purposes’ are…)

The Food Safety Enhancement Act is divided into two titles: Food Safety and Miscellaneous. The ‘Food Safety’ title includes four subsections: Prevention, Intervention, Response, and Miscellaneous. The highlights of the bill are as follows:

• Requires all facilities operating within the U.S. or importing food to the U.S. to register with the FDA annually.

• Requires registered facilities to pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 in order to generate revenue for food safety activities at the FDA; requires registered facilities to pay for FDA’s costs associated with re-inspections and food recalls; allows FDA to charge a fee to domestic firms requesting export certificates for exported food.

• Sets a minimum inspection frequency for all registered facilities. High-risk facilities would be inspected at least once every 6 to 18 months; low risk facilities would be inspected at least once every 18 months to three years; and warehouses that store food would be inspected at least once every three to four years. Refusing, impeding, or delaying an inspection is prohibited.

• The FDA would be required to issue regulations that require food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporters, or holders to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food and to link that history with the subsequent distribution history of the food; and to establish an interoperable record to ensure fast and efficient trace-back (current law permits facilities to hold a record in any format—paper or electronic—making efficient tracing of foods difficult for FDA).

• Regarding imported food, the bill allows the FDA to require food to be certified as meeting all U.S. food safety requirements by the government of the country from which the article originated or by certain qualified third parties. Third party certifying entities must meet strict requirements to protect against conflicts of interest with the firm seeking certification.

• Strengthens criminal penalties and establishes civil monetary penalties that FDA may impose on food facilities that fail to comply with safety requirements.

• Grants FDA “quarantine” authority under which the agency may restrict or prohibit the movement of unsafe food products from a particular geographic area.

• Requires FDA to establish and maintain a corps of inspectors to monitor foreign facilities producing food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics for American consumers.

Whether the Food Safety Enhancement Act, if enacted, will actually reduce food-borne illness outbreaks remains to be seen. Even if it does, one has to wonder what toll will it take on the small farm movement whose resources may be limited. At least on the surface, the sponsors of the bill appear to have good intentions. As Representative Betty Sutton stated, “Americans need to know that the food on their family’s table and in their children’s lunchboxes will be safe.” Let’s hope this isn’t just political lip service.

All things turn out OK sometimes:

New York Times – For Personal-Injury Lawyer, Michael Pollan’s Book Is Worth Fighting For

The Chronicle of Higher Education – Washington State U. Reinstates ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ as Common-Reading Choice

The Daily Evergreen – The Donation revives Common Reading

Seattle Business Journal – E. coli lawyer solves WSU ‘Dilemma’

Tri-City Herald – WSU reinstates book critical of agribusiness

Andrew Schneider over at allowed me to co-post this great story.

Scientists worry that the “new,” “completely safe” butter flavoring used on popcorn and in other foods may be as dangerous as the lung-destroying chemical, called diacetyl, that it replaced.

Diacetyl-linked jury verdicts of tens of millions of dollars for injured flavoring workers and the diagnoses of lung damage in at least three popcorn-loving consumers forced popcorn packers and other food processors to stop using the chemical butter-flavoring two years ago.

Orville Redenbacher rose from the grave to proudly announce in a TV ad that the company’s popcorn was now diacetyl-free. And other manufacturers plastered that message in large type on the side of their packages.

When asked in the last two years how they were getting the buttery flavor consumers want without diacetyl, the largest popcorn makers answered with a “no comment,” saying the secret flavoring was safe, but proprietary.

Fortunately, a group of government health investigators at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have begun lifting the veil of corporate secrecy.

“Two possible substitutes are starter distillate and diacetyl trimmer,” NIOSH Drs. Kathleen Kreiss and Nancy Sahakian just wrote in a newly released book, “Advances in Food and Nutrition Research.

“The distillate is a diacetyl-containing product of a fermentation process. The trimmer is a molecule containing three diacetyl molecules,” they wrote. “The inclusion of these alternative substances neither eliminate diacetyl nor assure safety for workers.’’

Kreiss, chief of NIOSH’s Field Studies Branch, also talked about the popcorn advertisements in informal remarks prepared for the American Thoracic Society conference earlier this month in San Diego.

“The wording here (no added diacetyl) is telling,” said Kreiss, whose team of worker health and safety investigators were the first to respond to the reports of disease at Midwest popcorn plants.

In the presentation to the specialists in respiratory disease, Kreiss discussed the flavoring to which many food producers had switched.

“The easiest substitute for the chemical diacetyl is starter distillate, a fermentation product of milk which contains up to 4 percent diacetyl. The chemical may not be added, but diacetyl is still in butter-flavored popcorn,” she explained.

She said some of the substitutes are better able to penetrate to the deepest parts of the lung and are unlikely to be safer to inhale than the original diacetyl.

Physicians, scientists and industrial hygienists at NIOSH’s Division of Respiratory Disease Studies are working hard on multiple efforts to investigate the possible toxicity of butter flavoring chemicals being used as a substitute for the diacetyl.

“We’re trying to identify the mechanism of diacetyl-induced injury. And if that happens, it will help us identify other potentially hazardous compounds workers may be exposed to in the flavoring industry,” said Dr. Ann Hubbs, a veterinary pathologist in NIOSH’s Health Effects Laboratory Division.

Hubbs told me last week, “We are trying hard to answer the question of why diacetyl — and potentially the related substances — are so very toxic,”

Kreiss and her team have responded to plants using flavorings throughout the country. They have watched patiently as OSHA first ignored and then moved haltingly to comply with congressional orders and union pleas to develop diacetyl exposure standards that would protect workers.

But even though President Obama’s new team at the Labor Department promised speedy action on diacetyl standards, many public health and occupational medicine experts worry that it may be too little, coming too late.

“As regulatory action develops, the flavor industry has introduced diacetyl substitutes, which might not be regulated by a diacetyl standard now on the drawing board,” Kreiss said in notes accompanying her slide presentation to the chest doctors.

Dr. Celeste Monforton and her colleagues at George Washington University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health have been following the diacetyl issue for years.

She echoes NIOSH and says that OSHA and the Food and Drug Administration must pay attention to the substitutes in its rulemaking if workers and consumers are to be protected.

“We know far too little about the the substitutes to diacetyl or reformulated diacetyl-compounds that food manufacturers are now using, or planning to use,” she told me this week.

As a part of its rule making, OSHA must insist that the manufacturers provide information on the chemical composition and toxicity testing of their substitutes, she said.

“We are dealing with the safety of workers and consumers and secrecy cannot be justified,” Monforton said.

“This potential danger goes well beyond just popcorn.”

E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties, 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.

Here are a few more examples:

August 1993 – E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to a salad bar; 53 reported cases in Washington State

July 1995 – Lettuce (leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 70 reported cases in Montana

September 1995 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 20 reported cases in Idaho

September 1995 – Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 30 reported cases in Maine

October 1995 – Lettuce (iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7; 11 reported cases in Ohio

May-June 1996 – Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7; 61 reported cases in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York

May 1998 – Salad E. coli O157:H7; two reported cases in California

February.-March 1999 – Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 72 reported cases in Nebraska

July-August 2002 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 29 reported cases in Washington and Idaho

October 2003-May 2004 – Lettuce (mixed salad) E. coli O157:H7; 57 reported cases in California

April 2004 – Spinach E. coli O157:H7; 16 reported cases in California

September 2005 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 32 reported cases in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon

But we all know that the list does not end there. E. coli O21:H19 nearly killed two women at a Wendy’s in Utah. Who can forget the September 2006 outbreak associated with Dole Baby Spinach?  Also, Taco Bell and Taco John’s in late 2006. 2008 saw E. coli outbreaks linked to lettuce in Michigan and the State of Washington – Spinach too in Oregon. And, there have been may others sickened in produce-related outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and other dangerous bugs.

So, what’s going on?

So, what are adequate consumer warnings on bottles of Raw Milk?  What if you contrast it to blog posts and videos by the manufacturer touting the miraculous benefits of Raw Milk?  What about the endorsements by Weston Price (goodness – exposure to liability there)?  Raw Milk, like any food product – If a manufacturer wants to hide from liability with a defense of adequate warning or the consumer should have known better, the manufacturer (and organizations like Weston Price) better watch what they write or say.  Thoughts?

I knew it was the economic pressures that public education is facing and not any political pressure that caused the change in the reading of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Michael Pollan’s visit to Pullman.  The WSU I graduated from and served, would not bend to that kind of small mindlessness.  As I said to a reporter:

“I certainly understand the financial problems that WSU and other colleges and universities are facing,” said Marler, an attorney from Bainbridge Island. “However, I also thought it would be important for the public to understand that Washington State University views freedom of speech and academic expression as something that is truly fundamental to its mission. I am pleased I could help in this regard.”

It was just posted on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog a few moments ago that WSU is having Michael Pollan to campus and 4,000 of his books, Omnivore’s Dilemma, will be distributed.

Food-Safety Advocate Offers to Pay Michael Pollan’s Speaking Fee at Washington State University

In the recent case of Washington State University’s dropping Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma as its “common reading” selection for the year, two rationales emerged: University officials said the reasons had to do with the institution’s dire budget outlook — there was just no money to bring in a big-name author like Mr. Pollan, they said. Meanwhile, some faculty members and others said the book was dropped because it attacks one of the university’s bases, Big Agriculture.Well, Bill Marler, a Seattle-based personal-injury lawyer who specializes in food-poisoning cases and who has become something of a food-safety advocate, is throwing down the gauntlet. “Hey, Michael Pollan, I’ll pay your way to Pullman,” Mr. Marler, a Washington State alumnus, writes on his blog. “I have my checkbook ready.”“So, was it political or was it financial?” he writes of the controversy. “I have an idea! To show that it was not political, I will pay to get Mr. Pollan to Pullman and find a place for him to speak — I’ll even introduce him. My hope is that it was not political.”Debra Townsend, a spokeswoman for the university, says that Elson S. Floyd, the university’s president, talked to Mr. Marler over the phone this afternoon and has decided to accept his offer.


Abigail Fenstermaker’s family is asking for help, after their 7-year-old died from E. coli complications last week. 

A fundraiser is being held on Abby’s behalf on Friday, May 29th from 7 – 11 p.m. It will take place at The Clevelander, 834 Huron Rd. Cleveland, by Jacobs Field.  For more information on the fundraiser, see this link.

My daughter, Sydney, turned 10 in April.

I wonder if the manufacturers of hamburger in this county take the time to look at this picture?

Let me put this in context. I am a “Coug” – through and through.  I went to Washington State University, getting degrees in Political Science, Economics and English in 1982.  I served four years on the Pullman City Council (first student, and at 19, the youngest ever).  I received an “outstanding alumni award” in 1996 and served eight years on the University Board of Regents, one as its President.   I was even profiled in Washington State University Magazine – “Food Fight.”  Although I married a University of Washington Husky, it was only after paying her way through school.

So when I read Kevin Graman’s article in the Spokesman Review – “Regent balks at WSU book choice – Selected book eyed impact of agribusiness,” shock and sadness where my first emotions.  Now, I just feel embarrassed – but hopeful – Washington State University – say it isn’t so.  Let’s figure out how to get Michael Pollan back on campus.

So, here is what happened according to Mr. Graman:

A book chosen by a Washington State University committee as appropriate food for thought for all incoming freshmen will not be distributed at summer orientation after a member of the board of regents raised concerns about the work’s focus on problems associated with agribusiness.

4,000 books had already been purchased by WSU. However, now according to the WSU Website:

Instead of distributing the current selection, [Michael Pollan’s book] ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ at the Alive! summer orientation sessions as was previously done, program staff will contact faculty to ascertain whether they wish to use the book in their classes, and then will arrange for distribution.

According to Mr. Graman, “[t]he decision not to distribute the book at orientation was made by WSU President Elson Floyd and Provost Warwick Bayly…. We just simply decided to streamline the distribution process,” Floyd said Wednesday. We encourage faculty to use it as part of curriculum.”

However, another reason for pulling the book and the invitation is to be found at A Livable Future Blog:

President Floyd and Provost Bayly also cited the cost of bringing Mr. Pollan to Pullman and the WSU campus:  This is just one of scores of hard decisions that have been made in recent weeks to address the $54 million cut in our biennial state appropriation. As you well know, this austerity has forced us to reduce or eliminate a number of programs and positions. Reducing the scope of this program — including not bringing the author to campus and avoiding speaker’s fees and travel, facilities, and event costs — will save an estimated $40,000.

In a slightly different spin on the reasons for not having Mr. Pollan come to campus, Scott Carlson of the Chronicle of Higher Education, cited “Mary F. Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education, [as saying]that the university has taken a $57-million budget cut from the state, which is a reason for a reduction of scope of the common-reading program. She also said that the changes were requested by students, who asked to have the common-reading books integrated with courses.”

However, was there another reason? According to Mr. Graman of the Spokesman Review, the real answer might be political more than financial:

That political pressure apparently was brought to bear by a member of the board of regents, Harold Cochran, who disapproved of the author’s characterization of agribusiness. Cochran owns and operates a 5,500-acre farm near Walla Walla, is a founding stockholder in the Bank of the West in Walla Walla and is a member of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. Cochran did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday. But fellow regent Francois X. Forgette said Cochran had read the book and raised concerns, though the topic was never formally discussed at board meetings.

Scott Carlson of the Chronicle seems to support that politics trumped lack of finances:

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle, Patricia Freitag Ericsson, an assistant professor of rhetoric and professional writing who also sits on the implementation committee, said that in a meeting on May 4, an administrator told panel members that the common-reading program would be canceled, in large part because of political pressure arising from this year’s book choice. Members of the committee were upset. She says the committee was also told that potential books for next year’s common-reading program would be sent to the provost, who would make the selection.

So, was it political or was it financial?

I have an idea!  To show that it was not political, I will pay to get Mr. Pollan to Pullman and find a place for him to speak – I’ll even introduce him.  My hope is that it was not political, because the following quote is what Washington State University – in being a “Coug” – is all about:

“It strikes me that the real value of the university is basically the way it serves the public, researches without fear and favor and being a place where issues can be aired, which are by nature controversial,” said Richard Law, the outgoing director of general education at WSU and a founding member of the common reading committee.

I have my checkbook ready.