Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eleven Plaintiffs File Complaint to Stop USDA’s Dangerous "Over 30 month Rule," Address Mad Cow Risks

(October 30, 2007) Billings, Mont. - R-CALF USA, along with 10 other plaintiffs, has filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the District Court - District of South Dakota, Northern Division (District Court) in an effort to prevent the agency decision from opening the Canadian border to imports of live cattle born after March 1, 1999, and beef products from cattle over 30 months of age. USDA's decision, often referred to as the OTM (over 30 month) Rule, is scheduled to take effect Nov. 19. Eleven cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have been detected in Canadian-born cattle, seven since the beginning of last year. Individual plaintiffs include South Dakota cattle producers Herman Schumacher, Robert Mack, Ernie Mertz, and Wayne Nelson. Plaintiff organizations include: the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association; the Center for Food Safety; the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation; Food & Water Watch; Public Citizen, which has 90,000 members; and, the Consumer Federation of America, with 50 million members.

"The OTM rule creates an unjustified and unnecessary increased risk of infection of the U.S. cattle herd with BSE, and of importing beef contaminated with BSE into the U.S., which will expose U.S. consumers to increased risk of a fatal disease," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "By USDA's own analysis, it is a virtual certainty that the OTM Rule will result in the importation of Canadian cattle infected with BSE, the meat from which will enter the U.S. food supply, and that the OTM Rule also will result in the importation of billions of pounds of meat from OTM cattle slaughtered in Canada, which almost certainly include products from cattle infected with BSE. There also lies the possibility of contamination of U.S. cattle feed caused from the use of Canadian cattle products, like blood, in the manufacturing of cattle feed."

"The OTM Rule will expose U.S. cattle producers to severe economic hardship because of the reduced marketability of U.S. beef as a result of commingling domestic product with potentially contaminated beef of Canadian origin," he continued. "We have export customers who refuse to accept beef from the United States unless it is segregated from Canadian product. R-CALF does not believe opening the Canadian border to older cattle and all beef products will increase our export markets. These all are risks that R-CALF finds unacceptable. Unfortunately, USDA seems all too willing to put the interests of a few big multinational companies ahead of the much larger concerns of the country's beef consumers and the 800,000 independent cattle producers in the United States."

"It's hard to fathom why the USDA would move to eliminate a critical protection against BSE at a time when the public is increasingly concerned about the safety of imported foods," said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America.
"The decision to allow risky older cattle from Canada to enter the U.S. shows once again that the USDA is more concerned about facilitating trade than protecting consumers' health," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "Until the U.S. strengthens the rules for preventing the spread of BSE when cattle are slaughtered, we have no business importing older cattle from a country where the disease is prevalent."

"Consumers expect the government to protect the food supply from the risk of BSE, but instead USDA has taken an illegal step that creates a new food import health risk," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety.

--BSE is an unusual disease that requires an unusually vigilant response. If cattle in the U.S. become infected, there is no drug that can keep them from dying, and there is no vaccine that can keep them from getting infected. The same is true for the human version, which is believed to come from consuming infected meat.

--The stakes are enormous: The 2003 discovery of a single case of BSE in a cow imported into the U.S. from Canada virtually shut down the U.S. beef export market, which is still trying to recover, costing the industry (and the U.S. balance of trade) billions of dollars.

--Since even a single incident of BSE infection would do serious damage to U.S. beef exports and has the potential as well to introduce an incurable disease into the U.S. cattle herd, no one should take comfort in USDAs predictions that there will be only a "negligible" amount of infected cattle and beef coming from Canada.

--Canada imported BSE-infected cattle from the UK in the 1990s. There is no indication that the U.S. ever did. Canada continues to find BSE even in cattle born as little as four years ago. Both of the only cases found in U.S.-born cattle were in animals born in the early 1990s. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cautioned that Canadian cattle are 26 times more likely to test positive for BSE than U.S. cattle.

--Worldwide experience shows that banning cattle parts from cattle feed is not enough. BSE contamination of other types of feed can infect cattle through cross-contamination at the feed mill, mis-feeding at the farm, and other unavoidable routes. Canada attributes its recent cases of BSE to just such a source, and the Canadian government this summer started keeping cattle parts out of all animal feed. But Canadian cattle parts will now be entering the U.S., where they can still be used in animal feed and can still contaminate U.S. cattle. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recently told the U.S. that it has insufficient safeguards to prevent the spread of BSE for that reason.

--No one knows how many BSE-infected cattle there are or were in Canada. We know there were considerably more than the 11 cases discovered in Canadian-born cattle, because other infected cattle had to have been butchered or rendered to result in contamination of the feed of the 11 cattle discovered in three different provinces. We also know that many cattle that ate the same feed as the cattle found to have BSE were slaughtered and likely used in part to make animal feed. R-CALF USA agrees that Canada does not appear to have a BSE epidemic as severe as that of the United Kingdom, but relatively few cases in imported Canadian cattle can still cause BSE in the U.S. cattle herd that would take many years to eradicate.

--Because there may be a lag of up to seven years or more between when a calf becomes infected and when that infection has taken over its brain enough to be detected, there can be many cases of BSE-infected cattle in Canada that are not detected before they are imported into the U.S. or before they are slaughtered in Canada for export to the United States. For the same reason, U.S. feedlots, slaughterhouses, and border inspectors do not have the ability to keep BSE-infected Canadian cattle out of the U.S. or out of the human food chain. Likewise, there is no test for BSE contamination in meat or in blood products.

"USDA is downplaying the risk of BSE, and this is one of those situations where a low probability of a very bad consequence is not acceptable," Bullard concluded. "If BSE is introduced into the U.S. herd, there is no test that can find all the infected animals and no medication that can stop its spread. Hoping that the problem will go away without demonstrable evidence that it will is folly, and knowingly importing infected cattle and meat when scientists agree we do not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the spread of the disease is unjustifiable."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Genetically Engineered Corn Study Shows Potential Harm To Stream Wildlife Near Farms

Center for Food Safety Calls for Further Investigation and Rigorous Testing Standards for Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops

Washington D.C., October 10, 2007 - Today, the Center for Food Safety voiced concern regarding a study issued by a team of researchers on the potential harm posed by the genetically engineered (GE) Bt variety of corn. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, establishes that pollen and other material from Bt corn is washing into streams and river headwaters. The study further found through laboratory trials that Bt corn material is toxic to insects that play an important role in aquatic ecosystems. As a result, Bt corn may pose a serious threat to our nation's waterways and the plants, fish and animals that inhabit them.

"This is yet another example of a government agency granting clearance for a GE organism without requiring meaningful or stringent testing," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "Bt corn is planted widely throughout the U.S. Had a study like this been done prior to the government's approval, we would not be looking at a popular crop that has the potential to broadly disrupt the environment."

Bt corn is engineered to include a pesticide-producing gene that targets the European corn borer and other pasts that can inhabit corn fields. It was licensed for use in 1996. By 2006, 40 percent of corn acreage planted in the U.S. was genetically modified with the Bt trait, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The new study further reports that in lab trails, caddisflies - insects closely related to the corn pests - are killed when exposed to the Bt toxin, and concluded that stream flies "that consume Bt corn litter may experience reduced growth, which can negatively influence fitness, because adult size of aquatic insects is directly related to fecundity."

Caddisflies are imperative to healthy, normally functioning stream ecosystems; they serve as food for fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

This report is only the latest identification of a problem posed by poor federal oversight of genetically altered crops. Contamination of many of the nation's rice farms by a GE variety has rendered much of American rice unsuitable for sale overseas. Earlier this year, a court ruled that Round-up Ready alfalfa was never fully tested by regulatory agencies to determine environmental impacts and may pose a threat to organic and conventional varieties of the crop.

"From rice to Bt corn, we are only finding out about the threats posed by GE crops after they have been cleared by government regulatory agencies," continued Mendelson. "The federal government's slipshod approach to testing threatens the environment, organic food production, and our farmer's livelihoods. It's time we all demand more accountability from biotech firms and more stringent regulations from USDA and FDA."

The report, Toxins In Transgenic Crop Byproducts May Affect Headwater Stream Ecosystems, was written by Todd V. Royer of Indiana University, Emma Rosi-Marshall of Loyola University Chicago, Jennifer Tank of the University of Notre Dame and Matt Whiles of Southern Illinois University. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Center for Food Safety Voices Support of Legal Action Protecting the Integrity of Organic Milk Labels

Center Says Private Legal Action Will Help Enforce Organic Labeling Requirements and Uphold Organic Standards to Maintain Public Trust

Washington D.C., October 17, 2007 - Today, the Center for Food Safety voiced support for a private class action lawsuit filed by consumers against Aurora Organic Dairy that alleges the company misled organic milk purchasers by producing milk from several of its dairy farms in violation of existing organic requirements. The class action lawsuit resulted after a two-year USDA investigation found that Aurora violated 14 provisions of the Organic Food Production Act.

"We applaud the USDA for diligently investigating consumer concerns over Aurora's practices and for initially determining that Aurora Organic Dairy willfully violated the law," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director, Center for Food Safety. As result of the investigation, USDA later entered in a consent agreement directing Aurora to stop organic production at one facility and make numerous changes in its operations.

"While the USDA has exposed Aurora, the agency action could not make whole all of the organic milk consumers who purchased Aurora milk. In situations like this where the USDA cannot act to fully protect consumers and the integrity of the organic standards, the lawsuit filed today shows that consumer watchdogs will take action."

The complaint filed today alleges that the illegal activities identified by USDA at Aurora's facilities should not have allowed the company to label its milk as "organic" and that such labeling resulted in extensive consumer deception The suit seeks to recoup damages for consumers who purchased the organic milk, and other sanctions seeking limits on Aurora's ability to market organic products.

"The action filed today will ensure that there are the teeth in the organic law. It is needed in order to ensure that American consumers can trust the USDA Organic label. It will send a powerful message that organic standards must be maintained, ensuring that those consumers who choose to buy organic are not deceived," added Mendelson.

Aurora Organic Dairy is the leading private-label organic milk processor. They supply store brands nationwide, including Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Wild Oats, Safeway, and many other grocery chains.

The Center for Food Safety is at the forefront in protecting the integrity of U.S. organic standards and food labels. In early July, the Center filed a complaint and legal petition with the USDA, urging the agency to enforce the reliability of the U.S. organic food label by preventing the misleading practice of labeling seafood imports which have not met US organic standards as "organic."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Wassup With Budweiser Using GE Rice?

Greenpeace today released the results of analysis showing the presence of an untested experimental genetically-engineered strain of rice at a mill in Arkansas which is operated by Anheuser-Busch to brew Budweiser. Greenpeace also put out a funny spoof of the "Wassup" Bud ad on You Tube.

According to the groups' press release, an independent laboratory, commissioned by Greenpeace, detected the presence of GE rice (Bayer LL601) in three out of four samples taken at the mill. The experimental GE rice is one of three rice varieties that were first found in 2006 to have contaminated rice stocks in the US. Since then, GE contamination has been found in approximately 30 per cent of US rice stocks.

"US beer drinkers need Anheuser-Busch to explain why it is not preventing use of this genetically-engineered rice in the US. If, as the company has informed Greenpeace, all of the
Budweiser exported from the US or manufactured outside of the US is guaranteed GE free then Anheuser-Busch needs to state this publicly, and explain the double standard," said Stabinsky.

Greenpeace says they informed Anheuser-Busch of the test results prior to their release and sought clear information from the company on the extent of contamination and its global policy on the use of GE ingredients. Anheuser-Busch responded that the rice is approved in the US and is not used in brewing Budweiser destined for export. The full extent of the contamination remains unclear, however.

LL601 GE rice was retroactively granted approval by the US Dept of Agriculture in an effort to reduce public concern and company liability despite 15,000 public objections. This GE rice is not approved outside the US so the Budweiser brewed with it could not be sold abroad.

Anheuser-Busch is the largest single rice buyer in the US, buying 6-10 per cent of the annual US rice crop. Budweiser is one of only a few beers having rice as an ingredient. The brand is found in around 60 countries through a mix of exports and local brewing arrangements.

"We are asking Anheuser-Busch to make a global commitment to produce all of its beer GE free. Anything less will leave a bad taste in the mouth of Budweiser drinkers." said Doreen Stabinsky of Greenpeace.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

USDA Report on Biotech Rice Reaffirms Agency's Do-Nothing Approach to GE Crop Contamination

In a long-awaited report released Friday afternoon on widespread contamination of the U.S. rice supply by an unapproved genetically engineered (GE) variety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would take no enforcement action against Bayer, the producer of the untested GE rice. Remarkably, the USDA report also reveals that the agency has no formal rules requiring biotech companies to retain records of their experimental field trials
or to require companies to keep seed samples for genetic tests, which are essential in detecting and tracking potential sources of contamination.

“Once again we find out too late that the government is uninterested in protecting farmers, consumers or the environment from genetic crop experiments,” said Joseph Mendelson III, Legal Director for the Center for Food Safety. “Bayer’s failure to keep these untested rice genes out of our natural food supply has crippled our rice industry and left hundreds of farmers with rice they can’t sell, and without the safe seed they need. It’s shameful that USDA refuses to hold Bayer responsible.”

The genetic contamination incidents, first disclosed in August 2006, have disrupted sales and planting for rice farmers throughout the US southern rice-growing region and caused a crash in U.S. rice exports, after Europe, Japan and other buyers closed their markets to U.S. rice. The EU was a major importer of long-grain rice from the US, purchasing 198,000 tons worth $67 million in 2005.

The USDA press release is available here

Topps to close in the wake of e. coli recall

the NY Times has a long article on the Topps recall today; the last two paragraphs say:

"According to industry experts, the size of the Topps recall was probably related to the company’s practice of “carrying over” meat from one day’s production to the next, without giving the older meat a separate batch number. The practice is not in itself illegal or unsafe, the experts said, but in the event of a problem, like an identified case of E. coli, the mixing of several days’ production makes it harder for officials to know the extent of the contamination.

Michele Williams, a spokeswoman for Topps, declined to comment on whether Topps carries over meat without giving it a separate batch number. But Ms. Eamich, the Agriculture Department spokeswoman, said the company did carry over beef. "

More simply, carryover means if you have e. coli in a batch of ground beef on Monday, and you take some of Monday's batch and mix it into Tuesday's, you have now contaminated ALL of Tuesday's meat. And if you take Tuesday's and mix it into Wednesday's, that batch is now contaminated, and on and on for as long as you keep doing this. If this is standard practice, as it appears it was for Topps, a recall can stretch back indefinitely.

The phrase, "The practice is not in itself illegal or unsafe...," is a scary one. It is a sobering reminder that it is LEGAL unsafe practices like this that encourage outbreaks and mass recalls.