Friday, January 18, 2008

Victory on rBGH Labeling in Pennsylvania!

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has backed down from a controversial ban on the use of labels on milk products. The agency had issued new rules in October, set to go into effect February 1st that would have barred dairy companies or milk producers from labeling their products as from cows not treated with rBGH. PDA argued that a misleading impression might be conveyed by identifying milk as coming from cows not treated with synthetic hormones. Pennsylvania would have been the first state to implement such a labeling ban.

The ban was rescinded yesterday after a review by Pennsylvania Governor Rendell due to consumer outcry.

Though labels are once again permitted to mention that hormones were not used, the standards require a disclaimer stating that the FDA has found no difference in milk from cows injected with the synthetic hormone and milk from cows that are not injected. Such disclaimers already are printed on many dairy products. The new regulations also require dairies to maintain procedures to verify any production methods claimed on their labels, including keeping a paper audit trail. (Read "State Revises Hormone Label for Milk", The New York Times for more information)

Pennsylvania was the first state to consider putting such a labeling ban in place, but other states including Washington, Missouri, and Ohio, seem to be following suit by considering regulations similar to those which Pennsylvania abandoned today. New Jersey had until recently taken the matter under consideration but has since determined not to take action.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that rbGH use is safe, serious human and animal health questions remain, and it has been prohibited in Canada and the European Union. U.S. consumers have shown they prefer rBGH-free products, and that they want them labeled as such. In fact, an April 2007 Lake Research Partners national survey shows that eight in ten adults (80%) feel dairy products originating from cows that have not been treated with rBGH should be allowed to be labeled as such.

A broad coalition of groups including consumers, dairies, farming groups, and environmental organizations requested the changes announced today. (You can read the letter here)
Stay tuned for updates and actions on similar labeling bans in other states. If you have not already, please consider sending an email and making a call to Ohio Governor Strickland on this issue as well!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Against the will of Congress and the American public, FDA approves food from cloned animals

FDA Opens "Pandora's Box" by Approving Food from Clones for Sale

(January 15, 2008) Today, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) condemned the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) irresponsible determination that milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for sale to the public. In addition, the FDA is requiring no tracking system for clones or labeling of products produced from clones or their offspring. This action comes at a time when the U.S. Senate has voted twice to delay FDA's decision on cloned animals until additional safety and economic studies can be completed by the National Academy of Sciences and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"The FDA's bullheaded action today disregards the will of the public and the Senate - and opens a literal Pandora's Box," said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS Executive Director. "FDA based their decision on an incomplete and flawed review that relies on studies supplied by cloning companies that want to force cloning technology on American consumers. FDA's action has placed the interests of a handful of biotech firms above those of the public they are charged with protecting."

With FDA's release of their controversial risk assessment today, CFS joins dozens of other food industry, consumer, and animal welfare groups, as well as federal lawmakers in calling for swift action on the part of Congress to pass the 2007 Farm Bill containing provisions delaying FDA's release of clones into the food supply. The Farm Bill currently contains an amendment, advanced by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD.) and co-sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), requiring a rigorous and careful review of the human health and economic impacts of allowing cloned food into America's food supply. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill by a vote of 79 to 14.

"The passage of this bill with the Mikulski-Specter amendment sends a strong message that the FDA has failed the public again by taking an inadequate and half-baked look at the safety of food products from cloned animals and their offspring," said Joseph Mendelson, CFS Legal Director. "The FDA's cavalier approach to cloned food and its potential impacts calls for the remedy of a truly rigorous scientific assessment, and Congress has now repeatedly called for such action."
The Farm Bill amendment addresses the gaps and inadequacies of the FDAs current risk assessment, and would go into effect before any food products from clones are marketed. The Farm Bill also directs the USDA to examine consumer acceptance of cloned foods and the likely impacts they could have on domestic and international markets. (Click here for more information on this amendment). Senator Mikulski also released a statement today condemning the FDA's approval of food from clones.

Additionally, the FDA is today issuing a guidance document for food producers; It fails to require any special procedures for tracking or handling food products from clones. It also fails to require labeling of any kind on food products from clones or their offspring, which deprives consumers of their right to know about the origins of their food.

Recently, two cloning companies - Viagen and Trans Ova, proposed the creation of a voluntary cloning registry program. While they advanced claims that the registry would provide consumer protection and transparency without regulation, clones and their progeny will still be dispersed through the food system without any tracking or labeling.

"The cloning industry's proposal is simply another attempt to force cloned milk and meat on consumers and the dairy industry by giving the public phony assurances," said Mendelson. "The proposal neither provides new studies on the safety of clones nor protects the consumers' right to know whether their food or dairy contains products from clones. Once clones are released into America's food supply without any traceability requirements, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recall them."

Recent opinion polls show the majority of Americans do not want milk or meat from cloned animals in their food. A December 2006 poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers were uncomfortable with animal cloning. A national survey conducted this year by Consumers Union found that 89 percent of Americans want to see cloned foods labeled, while 69 percent said that they have concerns about cloned meat and dairy products in the food supply. A recent Gallup Poll reported that more than 60 percent of Americans believe that it is immoral to clone animals, while the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that a similar percentage say that, despite FDA approval, they won't buy milk from cloned animals.

In its risk assessment of cloned food, the FDA claims to have evaluated extensive peer reviewed safety studies to support its conclusion, yet a recent report issued by CFS, Not Ready for Prime Time, shows the assessment only references three peer-reviewed food safety studies, all of which focus on the narrow issue of milk from cloned cows. What is even more disturbing is that these studies were partially funded by the same biotech firms that produce clones for profit.

Read the Washignton Post article on FDA's approval

View FDA's documents released January 15th

Read the executive summary of the Center for Food Safety's report Not Ready for Prime Time
Read the full CFS report.