STRIDES IN SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY AT FDA HINDERED BY SPECIAL INTERESTS
Although scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) feel their leaders are working hard to boost scientific integrity at the agency, persistent interference by special interests continues to hinder their work, according to survey results released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today.
A total of 997 FDA scientists responded to the survey, conducted last summer. Of those surveyed, hundreds of scientists reported that political and corporate interests frequently and excessively influence science-based regulatory decisions. For example, 265 scientists (30 percent of respondents) felt that political interests had “a lot of weight in the FDA’s final decisions” and 485 scientists (55 percent) thought such influence was “too high.”
“It used to be that administrations would come and go and we could go about the business of protecting the public using scientific and legal principles,” wrote one scientist, a 40-year veteran of the agency. “Now the lawyers and politicians seem to run the show and think they know better.”
This is one in a series of surveys of government scientists designed to measure influence on and interference in their work. For more on the survey results, go to www.ucsusa.org.
PRIVATIZED MEAT INSPECTION EXPERIMENT JEOPARDIZES FOOD SAFETY
In the name of budget-cutting, more defective and unsanitary poultry contaminated with feathers, bile and feces could make its way to consumers if the USDA’s controversial pilot project for privatized inspection in poultry slaughter plants is expanded. Food & Water Watch released an analysis of the USDA’s HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) that reveals large numbers of defects are routinely being missed when inspection tasks are performed by company employees instead of USDA inspectors.
The USDA has been running the pilot project with privatized inspection in two-dozen slaughter facilities since 1998. USDA is proposing an expansion of the pilot to all poultry slaughter plants, and forecasts that over three years this change will save $90 million through the elimination over 800 inspector positions. And, since most poultry plants will be able to increase their production line speeds to 175 birds per minute, the industry expects to save an estimated $256.6 million in production costs.
Company employees miss many defects in poultry carcasses. The inspection category that had the highest error rate was ‘Other Consumer Protection 4’ for dressing defects such as feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass. The average error rate for this category in the chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect.
For more information, see www.foodandwaterwatch.org.
WHY WALMART CAN’T FIX THE FOOD SYSTEM
As Walmart released its fourth quarter earnings, Food & Water Watch released a report analyzing the rift between Walmart’s marketing claims and the true impact the company has on the food system. “Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System” finds that Walmart’s recent high-profile initiatives to bring healthier fare to food deserts, expand healthy food offerings including local and organic food, and be environmentally sustainable are merely window dressing to divert attention away from the company’s business model, which squeezes farmers, workers and processors, and drives food production to become more consolidated and industrialized.
To conclude, the report advises local governments to seek better solutions to increase communities’ access to healthy food and encourages the federal government to investigate Walmart’s anticompetitive practices and its impact on the food chain—and adapt food and farm policy that strengthens regional food systems and food assistance programs that will provide healthy, affordable food to all communities.
For more on the story, see www.foodandwaterwatch.org.
FDA TO DECIDE ON MOVE TOWARD BPA FOOD PACKAGING BAN
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), faced with a series of legal actions from environmental groups, is poised to decide whether to move toward barring the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from food packaging.
Five years have passed since Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2007 study showed that BPA leached from epoxy linings of cans into surrounding food and drink. EWG’s tests showed the highest concentrations of the chemical, a synthetic estrogen, in canned soup, pasta, and infant formula.
“FDA is the only agency with the power to protect consumers from being exposed to BPA from the food they eat,” said Sonya Lunder, Senior Research Analyst for EWG. “Let’s hope the agency’s upcoming decision will keep the public’s health at the forefront.”
Because BPA has been shown to disrupt the hormone system, EWG has repeatedly called on the FDA to order it removed from food and beverage packaging, starting with infant formula.
For more on the story, see www.ewg.org.
FARM BILL OFFERS OPPORTUNITY TO CORRECT THE CURRENT UNSUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM
When Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill this year, it should replace existing policies that subsidize junk food and encourage harmful farming practices with policies that prioritize healthy foods and farms, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
U.S. agricultural policies are aimed, in large part, at providing assistance for corn and soybean crops, offering large subsidies for the key ingredients in processed foods. In addition to giving an unfair advantage to unhealthy foods—making them cheaper—it incentivizes farming methods that release millions of tons of toxic chemicals into our air, water and soil.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shelled out $5 billion to subsidize corn and soybean crops that are primarily used for processed foods and animal feed. The USDA offered only a fraction of this amount—about 7 percent—for fruits and vegetable crops. These figures are not in keeping with the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines, which emphasize fruits and vegetables as the foundation of healthy diets.
According to UCS, farm policies should encourage farmers to grow a diverse array of nutritious foods while incorporating farming practices that do not harm public health or the environment. The best way to do this is through policies that incentivize growing fruits and vegetables and increase investments in local food systems, including farmers’ markets, food hubs and community supported agriculture programs.
For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org