Today: Vitamins, Peanuts, Diet-Pills & Yogurt
The first in a series of occasional musings about what we eat, where we eat it and what it does for us.
During the last eight years, the Food and Drug Administration, charged with safeguarding the health of the nation’s diet, has seen its budget decline and its staffing levels increasingly fall behind its workload. From 2003 to 2006, the number of food safety inspections conducted by the group dropped by 47 percent. The mentality of “letting the market place regulate itself” has reigned supreme, and we’re now just beginning to see the results. Foodies around the net have, in my view, correctly dubbed the agency “FDA=Failure to Do Anything”. Here’s one view of the FDA’s food pyramid graphic that was developed after last year’s melamine scandals.
PEANUTS— the scandal concerning the Peanut Corporation of America continues to spread. Over 1800 food items have now made the FDA’s recall list (see it here). The FBI has joined the investigation into the nationwide salmonella outbreak. Over 600 illnesses have been reported in 44 states (including 74 incidents in California). Eight people have died from eating tainted peanut products sourced from the PCA’s Blakely, Georgia plant.
How bad was it? From the Chicago Tribune:
This plant was running tests for their own information but ignoring all the positive test results,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group. “They ignored anything they did not like.”
The stories of former workers at the Blakely plant illustrate what can happen when the state and federal regulatory system breaks down. The workers said problems at the plant were obvious and long-running, raising questions about why it took so long for inspectors to fully uncover them.
According to the workers, not a day went by that they didn’t see roaches or rats scurrying about. And after a heavy rain, workers said, they had to step over puddles of water inside the building.
“It was pretty filthy around there,” said Jones, 50, who said he worked in the sanitation department for eight months before he was laid off. “Whenever it rained back in the [peanut] butter part, it was like it was raining inside. It was coming in through the roof and the vents, but that didn’t stop them from making the paste,” he said.
Jones said he earned $6.55 an hour and was happy to have the job, which included mopping up water and setting rat traps that sometimes caught three or four rodents a day.
A recent FDA inspection report did not note specific signs of rodents. But it did cite large openings along the sides and tops of the trailers that contained totes of raw or roasted peanuts. It also noted roaches; mold on the walls and ceiling and in the storage cooler; dirty utensils and equipment used in food preparation; and open gaps in the roof, allowing for wet conditions that could cause salmonella contamination.
Another former employee, James, 36, said he worked in the shipping area for eight months before leaving last year. During that time, James said he “saw them put new stickers on buckets of peanut paste that were out-of-date. There were roaches, rats and everything out there.
“Some of the bags of nuts had holes in them, and you could tell rats had eaten through them. And they would put tape on them or sew them up and send them out,” James said. “Sometimes there would be mold on them, and they told us to pick out the good nuts and put them in another bag.”
THERE OUGHTTA BE A LAW— Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced a bill called the Food Safety Modernization Act. This bill would establish a Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services (where the FDA currently resides). This would transfer all food safety duties from the FDA to the new agency and then rename the FDA the “Federal Drug and Device Administration.
The bill requires inspection of food processors AT LEAST once a year, and it gives the government the authority to mandate recalls AND tell consumers where the recalled food was located (not just which city or state, but which retail stores). It also provides for penalties up to $1,000,000 fines per person and/or jail time if you “commit a violation with the intent to defraud or mislead.”
DIET PILLS NOT SO GOOD (duh!)—StarCaps, Sliminate, Superslim and Slim Up, are among the 69 tainted weight-loss supplements being taken off the market this month, after the FDA discovered that they contained a potent pharmaceutical drug called bumetanide, which can have serious side effects. The feds have determined that dozens of weight-loss supplements, most of them imported from China, contain hidden and potentially harmful drugs. In the coming weeks, the agency plans to issue a longer list of brands to avoid that are spiked with drugs.
VITAMINS NOT SO GOOD, EITHER—The Archives of Internal Medicine has published the results of the largest study ever of multivitamin use in older women. They found that the pills did zilch to prevent cancers or heart disease. The eight-year study in 161,808 postmenopausal women echoed similar vitamin studies in men. The research focused on cancer and heart disease because of suggestions that diets full of vitamin-rich foods may defend against those illnesses. Researcher Marian Neuhouser of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, offered this advice: “Get nutrients from food. Whole foods are better than dietary supplements,”
THE DEMINTIA-DIABETES CONNECTION—A study cited in the New York Times from the Diabetes tracked rates of dementia and diabetes in Swedish twins discovered that developing type 2 diabetes before the age of 65 was associated with a 125 percent increased risk of subsequently developing Alzheimer’s disease.
YOGURT MAKER PLAYS IT SAFE—The maker Yoplait Yogurts have committed to going rbGH-free by August of this year. rbGH increases a hormone called IGF-1 (a hormone linked to breast cancer in humans) in cows and in their milk. The dairy industry has been running ads claiming that the use of this hormone is safe for humans. Many food activists are wary of this claim. As Yoplait runs a major publicity campaign asking consumers to send in their pink Yoplait lids to increase Yoplait’s donation to fight breast cancer, it’s great to see that this company is now walking your talk – or at least by this August.
LINKS OF THE WEEK:
Find non-rgBH dairies in California: http://www.sustainabletable.org/getinvolved/statepdfs/CA.pdf
Helps you find organic/ sustainable foods markets near your home: http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?pd=Home