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GAP Investigates Biotech Industry Influence on Hawaii Government Officials

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) submitted several information requests to Hawaii state and county officials about meetings and communications with large biotech companies during the debate over Kauai's pesticide and disclosure legislation, Bill 2491.

The bill, now law, requires biotech companies to disclose pesticide use information and establish buffer zones between their fields and schools, hospitals and residential areas. Despite strong public support and a majority vote in favor of the bill by the Kauai County Council, the mayor vetoed the legislation. On the eve of the council's scheduled vote to override the veto, the State issued announcements regarding a voluntary pesticide disclosure and buffer zone program, which many interpreted as an attempt to derail regulatory action. The bill passed, but these efforts by officials to block the legislation raise questions about their relationship with the industry.

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Is FDA's Voluntary Plan Enough to Tackle Excessive Antibiotic Use?

CAFO_beefThis week, FDA issued the final version of its proposal to phase out the non-therapeutic use of certain antibiotics on farm animals. The ongoing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has finally pushed the agency to take action, but will the government's plan be enough?

The pharmaceutical and animal agriculture industries are supportive, while many consumer advocates believe the plan is inadequate and lacks enforcement mechanisms.

The plan has two key steps:

  • It calls for drug companies to voluntarily stop marketing growth promotion uses on antibiotics used for humans, including popular drugs like penicillin and tetracycline. 
  • If the livestock and poultry producers wish to use these medically important antibiotics for disease prevention or treatment, they would be required to obtain a prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
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Salmonella in Pet Food? Proposed FDA Rule to Upgrade Animal Feed Safety Standards

puppyYou're likely familiar with food recalls tied to Salmonella  contamination, but did you know that Salmonella is also a common cause of pet food recalls? Non-medicated animal feed has limited regulation, yet frequent recalls (such as the recent six-state recall of teriyaki-chicken dog treats) have sparked concerns about the industry's oversight.

A newly proposed rule under FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seeks to hold all facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold animal feed and pet food to equal processing standards.

From Food Safety News:

One of the big gaps [Dr. Dan] McChesney said the rule will fill is the need for [Good Manufacturing Practices] GMPs. They cover various aspects of operations such as good hygiene practices, proper cleaning and maintenance of plants and grounds, pest control, proper use and storage of toxic cleaning compounds, following adequate sanitation principles, and proper labeling of ingredients and finished animal food.

Right now, there are no GMPs for any part of the animal feed manufacturing industry except medicated feed. This rule will expand it to the entire feed industry, but FDA still needs to work out just how that’s going to happen.

Kirsten Theisen, director of Pet Care Issues for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), also made reference to the 2007 pet food recall fiasco, where melamine-tainted pet food products from China led to kidney failure in many cats and dogs worldwide. In that case, Theisen said, "we learned that we can't trust many manufacturers to, completely out of good will, produce high quality food for our pets and other animals."

This is exactly why it's important to empower honest employees who wish to speak up when they see concerns in the pet food supply. Fortunately, FIC worked hard to include a strong whistleblower provision in FSMA (enacted in 2011) that secured protections for corporate workers exposing FDA violations (pet food workers included).

The new rule would apply to both domestic and imported pet food products. The FDA is accepting public comments through February 26, 2014.

 

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

 

Cost-Cutting of Deregulated Pig Inspection Comes at Food & Worker Safety Expense

pig_cratesA story in Businessweek yesterday illustrates, in unpalatable detail, the conditions at plants under USDA's hog inspection program that increases already dangerously fast processing speeds and reduces government oversight.

A Nebraska plant owned by Hormel Foods (which either owns or operates three of the five test plants under the hog inspection pilot program) slaughters more than 10,500 hogs per day, a 33 percent increase in the last decade stemming from the program's allowance of accelerated line speeds.

Not only do increased speeds make it harder for workers to do their job safely (with multiple reports of severed fingers), but they also jeopardize public health and risk the entrance of more diseased pigs into the food supply.

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Thank a Food Worker This Week!

FCWA-13FCWW-FBIn the last year, think of every time you've gone grocery shopping or went out to eat at a restaurant. These events are the result of countless workers who grow, harvest, process, label, inspect and ship the food before it ends up on your dinner plate.

FIC is joining the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) in celebrating this week's International Food Workers Week to reflect on those who provide the food we eat, including brave whistleblowers who risk their livelihoods to expose threats to the food supply.

Since many Americans are also celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this week, it seems doubly appropriate to take a moment to give thanks to the men and women along the food chain performing what is often thankless work. According to FCWA, food workers hold eight of the ten lowest paid jobs.

Many groups, including FCWA, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, are taking actions this week to improve standards for food workers, including campaigns for better living wages and paid sick days. After all, how can food workers protect your food against harm if they can't protect their own livelihoods? 

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Undercover Video of Pig Abuse Moves Tyson to Cancel Farm Contract, Proves Ag Gag Laws Unjust

aggag2013Tyson Foods, the nation's largest meat producer, announced yesterday that it has terminated a contract with one of its suppliers, an Oklahoma pig farm, after NBC News revealed undercover video of animal abuse at the facility.

The actions seen on the video – workers kicking, hitting and throwing pigs and slamming piglets into the ground – allegedly violate Oklahoma's animal cruelty law and are contrary to Tyson's policies on the treatment of livestock. According to a Tyson spokesman, "We're extremely disappointed by the mistreatment shown in the video and will not tolerate this kind of animal mishandling."

The fact that Tyson responded to the video and asserted how serious the company is about humane handling illustrates the importance of undercover video in bringing about food system accountability.

FIC hopes Tyson is just as responsive to whistleblowers' reports of inhumane handling at its slaughterhouses.

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Kauai Council Supports Transparency, Overrides Veto of Pesticide Disclosure Bill

kauai_landscapeGood news finally hit Kauai on Saturday when the Kauai County Council voted 5-2 to override Mayor Bernard Carvalho's veto of Bill 2491. The bill, now law, requires biotech companies to disclose pesticide use information and establish buffer zones between their fields and schools, hospitals and residential areas.

A press release from the bill's supporters states:

The final passage of Bill 2491 into law is being called a victory for people, health and the environment in the face of incredible pressure from the world’s largest chemical corporations.

The chemical companies have fought strongly against Bill 2491, threatening to sue Kauai and using divisive and misleading tactics. As bill supporter Fern Rosenstiel commented: “It’s remarkable how hard we’ve had to fight simply for our right to know what pesticides are being sprayed in massive amounts right next to homes and schools. We’ve met every possible obstacle, but we’ve been persistent and stayed grounded in our values of protecting our people and land.”

The mayor's stated reason for vetoing the bill was the threat of legal challenges by the pesticide companies, but council members dismissed the claim. One member stated, "I cannot imagine these large corporations suing a tiny county like Kauai for the right to spray poisons next to schools." Environmental attorneys have also offered to defend the county for free if there's litigation.

Another attempt to derail the bill, according to critics, was the announcement of the Kauai Agriculture Good Neighbor Program right before the council's scheduled vote to override the veto. The program provides guidelines for companies to voluntarily comply with new pesticide disclosure rules and buffer zones, but the guidelines are much weaker than the bill's rules and it lacks enforcement due to the voluntary nature. Biotech company representatives have testified previously that they would not disclose such details that are "confidential business information."

FIC is quite familiar with such an argument, as food companies routinely claim proprietary information as a reason for keeping information out of the public light. But people who consume their products should be able to know everything they wish in order to feel secure that their meal is safe and produced with integrity. That goes for growing crops in a way that doesn't harm the surrounding community.

Kudos to the Kauai County Council for standing up for transparency and passing Bill 2491.

 

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

 
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