Safe Food News Bulletin
Volume 1, Number 7
October 14, 1993
- DAIRY PROCESSORS TO PAY MORE FOR NON-BGH MILK
- MEAT LABELING GOES INTO EFFECT TOMORROW DESPITE LAST
- BRITISH AG COMMITTEE SAYS NO NEED FOR LABELING SOME GENE-
- DNA PLANT DEVELOPING MARKETING STRATEGY FOR VINE SWEET
- ANTHRAX REPORTED IN NORTH DAKOTA
- EATING IS POTENTIALLY HARMFUL TO THE POOR
DAIRY PROCESSORS TO PAY MORE FOR NON-BGH MILK
Two New England dairy processors said they will pay premium
prices to farmers who do not supplement herd production with
synthetic bovine growth hormone (BGH), or bovine somatotropin
(BST) as it is also known. Nancy Hirshberg of Stonybrook Farms, a
New Hampshire-based yogurt maker, said, "We want to put our
money where our mouth is and say our consumers are asking us not
to use it and we'll pass that along to farmers and say we're asking
you not to. And we'll reward you for it." Alan Parker, spokesperson
for the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's ice cream company, concurred
with Hirshberg, saying, "I can say we are prepared to pay some sort
of premium to do our best to ensure that our supply is free of milk
from [BGH] treated cows. It's appropriate for us to make some sort of
payment to producers for their willingness not to use it."
Processors are also considering using a label that states their milk or
dairy products are BGH-free. As a result, the St. Louis-based
Monsanto company, one of the inventors of BST, issued a draft letter
threatening processors that use such a label with lawsuits. The letter
states that the company recognizes that labeled milk would give
consumers the wrong impression about the safety of synthetic
hormones. "Monsanto's reputation and the viability of its BST
product are damaged by the misrepresentations communicated by
your BST label. By law, continued use of the label entitles Monsanto
to injunctive relief and damages. We therefore request that you
immediately cease the use of the BST label on you [sic] products," the
letter said. Tim Atwater, a spokesperson for the advocacy group
Rural Vermont, responded, "Basically, Monsanto's own surveys are
confirming what we've been saying all along. There's definitely
going to be mass consumer resistance to synthetic growth hormone
in people's milk." Hirshberg said, "That would (generate) incredible
press for us and the issue. It didn't at all scare us or threaten us."
In other BGH news, a Cornell University scientist recently said that
while use of the synthetic hormone will increase milk production, it
will ultimately decrease the profits of most dairy farmers who
choose to use it. The only dairy farmers who will benefit from BGH
are those that are poised to take advantage of new technologies,
which is very few, said Lauren Tauer, an agricultural economist at
Cornell. "Only those farmers who are positioned to benefit from
continuous technological change stand to gain from increased milk
production," he said. Once BGH is approved, the result will be that
fewer cows will produce the nation's milk supply while smaller
farms fold. Tauer's views appear in a chapter in a new book entitled
BOVINE SOMATOTROPIN AND EMERGING ISSUES: AN ASSESSMENT.
Source: John Dillon, "Farmers May Earn More for BST-Free Milk,"
SUNDAY RUTLAND HERALD AND SUNDAY TIMES ARGUS, October 10,
1993; William Holder, CORNELL CHRONICLE, July 8, 1993.
MEAT LABELING GOES INTO EFFECT TOMORROW DESPITE
LAST MINUTE CHANGES
A new USDA requirement that all raw and partially cooked meat
products must be accompanied by a label containing safe cooking and
handling instructions goes into effect tomorrow. Late last week, the
department decided to require only ground meat products to bear
the label after complaints by the meat industry. A new deadline for
full industry compliance has been set for April 15, 1994. However,
brochures containing safe cooking and handling instructions will
have to be made available by supermarkets tomorrow. "The
important factor is to get the information out to the public, which is
what the rule does," said USDA spokesperson Steve Kinsella.
What the label will look like has caused a great deal of friction
between the department, the meat industry and consumer groups.
The model settled on will say the meat has passed government
inspection. The label will also display icons and instructions for
handling meat. For instance, next to a picture of a refrigerator
appears the words: "Keep refrigerated or frozen. Thaw in
refrigerator or microwave." Next to a picture of hands under a faucet
are the words: "Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other
foods. Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils
and hands after touching raw meat or poultry."
Reaction to the label and the new April 15 deadline for some cuts of
meat has been mixed thus far. Ann Brody of the Sutton Place
Gourmet Stores in Washington D.C., said, "What I'm concerned about
is that a partly informed consumer will not understand ... until they
really read carefully. They must realize that these were put on as
safe-handling labels; it's not to say that something is wrong with the
product." "The statement loses some of its effectiveness by
beginning with a very reassuring statement" that the product has
passed government inspection, said Michael Jacobson of the Center
for Science in the Public Interest. Jeremy Rifkin, whose Beyond Beef
Campaign efforts forced the labeling issue in a lawsuit against the
USDA, was angered by the delay for other cuts of meat. "That's not
our agreement," he said, maintaining that the labels are not worded
In addition, the USDA announced a new public service ad campaign
to inform consumers about the new labels. Secretary of Agriculture
Mike Espy is featured in one of the spots while the parents of two-
year-old Riley Detwiler, who died during an outbreak of E coli
poisoning linked to improperly cooked hamburger at the Jack-in-the-
Box fast food chain, are featured in another. "We want to reach as
many consumers as possible through our public service awareness
campaign to emphasize the importance of paying attention to the
new labels," said Espy.
Source: Robert Greene, "Meat Safety," October 9, 1993; Robert
Greene, "Meat Labels," AP, October 14, 1993; "USDA Launches Radio
Campaign on New Meat Labels," REUTER, October 6, 1993; "New
Ground Meat Labels Deadline Tomorrow," Farming Today, UPI,
October 14, 1993.
HOUSE AG COMMITTEE CHAIR PRAISES PESTICIDE REFORM
Representative Kika de la Garza, chair of the House Agriculture
committee, praised the Clinton administration's pesticide reform
plan. "The administration set out to achieve a single voice on these
contentious issues and offer Congress a reasonable and workable set
of proposals to improve our pesticide laws. I believe their proposals
pave the way for a concerted effort in Congress to bring about broad-
based pesticide reform," said de la Garza. However, de la Garza said,
there are many details that need to be worked out in the plan, such
as the new "phase-out" system. But, "with the administration's
leadership, Congress has the opportunity to restore credibility and
effectiveness to our federal pesticide laws," he said.
Source: "Statement by Rep. Kika de la Garza," HOUSE COMMITTEE ON
AGRICULTURE NEWS RELEASE, September 21, 1993.
BRITISH AG COMMITTEE SAYS NO NEED FOR LABELING SOME
Late last month, a committee established by the British agriculture
ministry to explore the question of genetically engineered food
concluded there is no overriding objection to food that might contain
copies of human genes. The report of the Ethical Committee on
Genetic Modification of Food said that it did not believe there was a
need to ban the use of human or animal genes in food but that
"ethically sensitive genes" should be labeled to enable consumer
choice. "We recognize that many groups or individuals within the
population object on ethical grounds to the consumption of organisms
containing copy genes of human origin. Similar ethical objections
would be held by certain vegetarians in relation to any copy gene of
animal origin incorporated into a plant. We recommend that
appropriate food products containing such organisms should be
labeled accordingly," the report said. The report went so far as to
say that human genes inserted into another species should not be
considered human material because genes lose their character
outside of the species of origin.
Source: "People Should Know About Genes in Food," REUTER,
September 20, 1993; "Genetic Food for Thought," FINANCIAL TIMES,
September 21, 1993.
DNA PLANT DEVELOPING MARKETING STRATEGY FOR VINE
The DNA Plant Technology company is working on a marketing
strategy for its VineSweet tomato, according to a recent article in
FORBES magazine. In addition to releasing its VineSweet product
across the country, the company is also releasing its VegiSweet
peppers and carrots and VegiSnax carrot sticks, miniature peppers
and cherry tomatoes in the hopes that they will build name
recognition for the company. Robert Serenbetz, the president of DNA
Plant, emphasized that the company's products "are the fruits of
biotechnology, not genetic engineering." However, the company does
have plans to begin the development of a tomato with a three to four
month shelf life next year, similar to Calgene's Flavr Savr. The
process involves "switching off the gene that affects the tomato's
production of ethylene, which sets off the cascade of biological events
that lead to rotting," said DNA Plant scientist David Evans. The
company believes the technology will not require approval by the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it involves inserting an
exact copy of genetic material, not an altered copy.
Meanwhile, Calgene is still awaiting FDA approval for its Flavr Savr
tomato. In the meantime, the company is building name recognition
for the tomato which will be sold under the brand name MacGregor.
An FDA decision is expected this fall and the company said it is
optimistically moving ahead with plans to begin selling the tomato in
about 1,000 Midwestern stores next year.
In other tomato news, Dino Cortopassi, the founder of the Muir Glen
organic tomato distribution operation, said his company is now
distributing organically grown tomatoes in all 50 states. However, he
also said that he has only recently been successful in convincing
conventional grocers to place organically grown tomatoes next to
conventional tomatoes, paste and sauce. "That's where we need to be
in order to really take the next step and really increase the volume,"
said Muir Glen Director of Organic Production Craig Weakley.
Source: Damon Darlin, "I Sat Tomato, You Say VineSweet," FORBES,
October 11, 1993; Pat Soberanis, "Better Living Without Chemistry,"
AMERICAN VOICES, October/November 1993.
ANTHRAX REPORTED IN NORTH DAKOTA
Seven cases of the deadly disease anthrax have been reported in
North Dakota. Anthrax bacteria form spores that can remain
dormant in soil for months. Their resurgence is often triggered by
heavy rains. "The relatively narrow geographic range of the North
Dakota outbreaks indicate that recent floods may have contributed to
the spread of this bacterial disease in livestock," said Billy Johnson of
the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Cows can
contract the disease by grazing in contaminated pastures and can die
instantly. Humans can contract the disease by handling infected
carcasses or by eating contaminated or undercooked meat. Johnson
said state and local officials have been notified of the outbreak and
the affected herds have been vaccinated.
Source: "Anthrax," AP, October 5, 1993; "Good News, Bad News on
Livestock Disease," Farming Today, UPI, October 6, 1993.
EATING IS POTENTIALLY HARMFUL TO THE POOR
A recent study by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) warns
that eating many foods could be risky for the world's poor due to the
amount of human-made contaminants, such as lead and mercury,
that show up in the food supply. The report, authored by PSR
President Elizabeth Bowe and Howard Hu of Harvard University, says
that because poor people tend to have weaker immune systems due
to poor nutrition, they are more likely to become ill after ingesting
harmful chemicals that often manifest themselves in milk and fish,
for instance. "The integrity of food is threatened by a number of
[hu]man-made pollutants that can be introduced at any step in the
food chain and in the food processing industry," the report states.
Their findings include: 80% of sampled eggs and meat in Morocco
contained chlorinated pesticides; 37 epidemics in recent years were
linked to pesticide contamination; and 1 million children in the U.S.
are exposed to enough lead in their food to cause lead poisoning.
Lead is found in water, ceramics glazes and in many soldered cans
outside of the U.S. "Moreover, the processing or cooking of food is
generally not effective in neutralizing their impact," the report said.
Source: "Even Eating Could Be Risky for the Poor," SOUTH NORTH
DEVELOPMENT MONITOR, October 4, 1993.
NYCAP NEWS is a quarterly publication of the New York
Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. Articles focus on pesticide
and food safety issues. For subscription information, contact NYCAP,
33 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12210.
A recent publication by the Global Exchange entitled OUR
RIGHT TO EAT -- SAFELY takes on the issues of world hunger,
sustainable agricultural practices and the inequities in the global
distribution of foodstuffs. Cost of the publication starts at $4.00 for
10 copies. For more information, contact Global Exchange, 2017,
Mission Street, Room 303, San Francisco, CA 94110, Tel: (415) 255-
WORLD FOOD DAY, October 16, 1993. FFI, contact: World Food Day,
1001 22nd Street NW, Washington D.C. 20437, Tel: (202) 653-2404.
ALLIANCE CO-OP CONFERENCE, October 22-24, 1993, Spencer,
WV. FFI, contact: Co-Op News Network, Box 583, Spencer, WV
25276, Tel: (304) 927-5173.
COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE: A NEW MARKETING
OPPORTUNITY, December 6, 1993, Davis, CA. FFI, contact: Gail
Feenstra, UC SAREP, Tel: (916) 752-8408.
ORGANIC COFFEE PRODUCTION, April 11-16, 1994, Chiapas,
Mexico. FFI, contact: AMAE c/o Jose Dardon Hernandez, Calle Central
Pontiente No. 14-A, Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, CP 30700, Tel: (52)
962-51682, Fax: (52) 962-60455.
CUISINE, AGRICULTURE AND SOCIAL CHANGE, June 9-12, 1994,
Tucson, AZ. FFI, contact: Gerry Walter, 59 Mumford, 1301 West
Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801, Tel: (217) 333-9429, Fax: (217)
244-7503, email: email@example.com.
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