January 2011

raw-milk-body-cream.jpgYou have to give Michael Schmidt (a.k.a., Canadian Raw Milk Messiah) credit for a superior marketing move, and possible legal move. According to press reports, the Canadian raw-milk dairy he now manages, which was ordered to stop selling unpasteurized milk for human consumption, is rebranding the product as a “body lotion.”

The Our Cows dairy in Chilliwack, British Columbia, was ordered to stop distributing raw milk for human consumption due to its status as a health hazard under the province’s Public Health Act, leading company officials to rebrand the raw milk as Cleopatra’s enzymatic body lotion. The 22-cow dairy is also selling raw cream as a massage aid.

I have been glued to the media reports on the political upheaval in the Middle East over the last several weeks. The unrest was sparked in an interesting place:

Mohamed_Bouazizi_candle.jpgOn December 17, 2011, twenty-six year-old Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi lit the fuse that ended his life and ignited the current unrest sweeping the Middle East. Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire in despair and in protest of his treatment at the hands of local authorities. Earlier, officials had seized his wheelbarrow full of produce and beaten him in public. The tragic circumstances surrounding Bouazizi’s self-immolation sparked protests in his rural hometown. The protests, which sometimes turned into violent riots, quickly spread to other areas and the capital, Tunis.

Like many in the “food safety establishment” – FDA, USDA, FSIS, CDC and State and Local Health Authorities, I get pummeled by charges of being a “Food Fascist,” “Tool of Big Ag,” “In the pocket of Monsanto,” or, “You are part of the Soros’s Conspiracy,” etc., by those in Small Ag – especially, those in the Raw Milk Movement.

Sometimes the accusations and violent-filled rhetoric by some in the movement, is simply too much and I find myself not listening to anything the non-monolithic movement says at all. Perhaps, the death of Mohamed Bouazizi should be a cautionary tale to us all on both sides?

20110130_hartmann_39.jpgAccording to press reports, a Minnesota dairy farmer accused of selling contaminated raw milk that made 15 people sick is due in court on a contempt charge. State agriculture officials say Michael Hartmann has ignored a court-approved embargo on his food. He has a court hearing set for Monday.

The state has cited Hartmann with a long list of violations. He has said his products haven’t sickened anyone, and he denied “knowingly or intentionally” violating a court order. The state Health Department says it has linked at least 15 illnesses to his unpasteurized milk and other products.

It will be interesting what, if any, impact farmer Hartmann’s legal troubles has on the state legislature picking up the raw milk issue. My strong suspicion is that that legislators who introduced the bills are simply playing to their base and “milking” this issue for political gain.

I had a nice chat Friday with Gergana Koleva for her article “Taco Bell Has a Beef with Lawyers, Runs Nationwide Ads to Fight Back,” for AOL. Here were my thoughts:

taco-bell.gifBill Marler, a foodborne illness and product liability attorney who has represented clients in at least three previous food-related lawsuits against Taco Bell, said the company has made a clever move by counterattacking its accusers.

“Taco Bell has done an effective job of taking on the lawyers, [regardless] of whether or not they were selling the definition of the meat,” Marler told Consumer Ally. “Lawyers are such an easy target to take on.”

However, Marler noted, the legal roots of the controversy lie just as much with Taco Bell. “It’s inconceivable to me that a company as sophisticated as Yum! Brands didn’t vet with their lawyers the words that they use to advertise their food,” he said of the claims that landed the company in trouble, namely that it uses “ground beef” or “seasoned ground beef” in its products.

The class action suit alleges the company only uses about 35% real beef, with the remaining 65% made up of various fillers, binders, and extenders. Such percentages do not meet USDA’s minimum requirements for the food mixture to be labeled and advertised as “beef,” according to the suit.

“Just because the food is cheap doesn’t mean they should be able to tell you that it’s something it is not,” Marler said. “But my strong suspicion is that their aggressive behavior in the ads is likely justified.”

Screen shot 2011-01-30 at 10.00.02 PM.pngSeven people in Oregon and Washington became ill with Salmonella in January after eating the Sprouter’s Northwest clover sprouts. The company subsequently recalled all its sprouts. A few days ago the FDA released 483 Inspection Report of the Sprouter’s Northwest facility.

  • Failure to take necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces with microorganisms and foreign substances. Listeria monocytogenes was found on the surface of a stainless steel table in the packing room, according to the report. The raw sprouts were stored in unlined plastic crates so the sprouts at the bottom were in contact with pallets and other totes, which previously had been in contact with the floor.
  • Failure to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food. Food debris and residue was found in the hard-to-clean areas in and around the conveyor belt and sprouts that passed along and got briefly stuck in these areas could fall back into the rinse tank. Inspectors said it appeared that equipment and fixtures in the seed disinfection room were not cleaned between use.
  • Failure to clean non-food-contact surfaces of equipment as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination. Listeria seeligeri was detected on the surface of a brown mass of old, thick food grime on a cross-support place at the top of the rinse incline belt, the report stated.
  • Effective measures are not being taken to protect against contamination of food on the premises by pests. Inspectors said gaps at the bottom of a door and along the roof line could allow pests access to the facility. They said they found rodent excreta pellets in the warehouse and noted that the processing room was accessible from the warehouse.
  • Failure to properly store equipment, remove litter and waste, and cut weeds or grass that may constitute an attractant, breeding place or harborage area for pests, within the immediate vicinity of the plant, building, or structures.
  • Failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, or other physical structures in a sanitary condition
  • Failure to hold raw materials in bulk or suitable containers so as to protect against contamination.
  • Four to five bags partially filled with seed were stored open or not tightly wrapped inside the warehouse, the inspectors reported.

WVLT-news-jail+bars.jpgAccording to Chinese press reports, a total of 248 people were arrested in China last year for involvement in food safety cases, food safety authorities said Sunday. The country dealt with 130,000 cases involving food safety last year, including 115 criminal cases, according to a statement of the National Food Safety Regulating Work Office.

The cases touched upon such areas as production of edible agricultural produce, food production, food circulation, catering services and food exports and imports,

A total of 191 officials were punished for failing to do their duty in food safety enforcement, with 26 of them fired, it said.

A country that jails food safety violators and fires officials for failing to enforce food safety laws?  Perhaps we can learn a thing or two?  But then China also arrested Zhao Lianhai (赵连海) in 2010. Zhao was a Chinese dissident and former Food Safety worker who became an activist for parents of children harmed during the 2008 Chinese milk scandal after his child was sickened as well. In 2010 he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years imprisonment for ‘disturbing social order’ the day I left China’s annual Food Safety Conference.

On February 22, 2011, I will be headlining with Al Maxwell, Esq., Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial at the GMA Food Claims and Litigation Conference.

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According to the brochure – In this session, the top plaintiff and defense attorneys in the foodborne illness litigation arena will discuss recent trends and where related litigation is headed in the year ahead. They will provide insight into the types of actions they are focusing on and will help you prepare for and respond to new and innovative claims. Highlights of this session will include: an update on PCA peanut paste litigation; the pistachio recall; the impact of dietary supplement recalls on foodborne illness litigation; outlook for the proposed irradiation of leafy greens; legislative updates and much more.

You should come. At a minimum it is February in Arizona.

I have the honor of opening up the Government Accountability Project’s Conference in a few weeks. I will also be bringing to Washington D.C. about a dozen victims of the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella Outbreak to ask why justice has yet to be done to the over 700 sickened and nine dead. Hopefully, the Justice Department will read my post: “The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Overview of Food Adulteration and Criminal Sanctions.”

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This Conference addresses the changing legal landscape of employee rights resulting from the passage of the historic 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. Among other monumental reforms, the Act establishes whistleblower protections for employees of entities involved in the manufacturing, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding, or importation of food who provide information relating to any violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act – the act that gives the FDA most of its regulatory power. In addition to the Food Modernization Act, Conference panels and workshops will address food issues as varied as workers’ rights, humane handling, food importation, and the use of food additives.