29 dead, 133 sick linked to whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado; state pushes for stronger oversight

As the number of illnesses and deaths linked to Colorado cantaloupe continues to climb, the state said it will promote stronger oversight of its cantaloupe industry helping farmers create a certified label potentially backed by safety training, auditing and lab testing for pathogens.

State Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar told the Denver Post the measures — now under discussion with farmers and agriculture experts — could help right the melon business after 28 deaths and one miscarriage from Jensen Farms cantaloupes.

Salazar acknowledged, though, that the state does not have new resources to fund such a certification program. A new system would rely on budget shifts or payments from the farms themselves, as other industries currently do.

• A "Colorado Proud" label, or even one specific to the Rocky Ford area, could be used by farmers who meet certain criteria.

• Standards to earn the label would include undergoing safety training created by Colorado State University, and proof of outside audits of how those safety practices are carried out.

• CSU extension facilities in southeastern Colorado are capable of lab testing; depending on the response time on results, farms could seek a pathogen-free lab test before harvest and possibly additional lab tests during the short cantaloupe shipping season.

Mixed messages from China on food safety

China’s government vowed on Tuesday to make more information available to the public regarding food safety, while sentencing a consumer activist who tried to make more information public about the melamine scandal to 2.5 years in jail.

The whole mess sounds overtly Orwellian.

Deng Haihua, spokesman for the Ministry of Truth Health, the main government agency in charge of overseeing food safety, said the new regulations define exactly what information should be publicized and under which government departments.

Zhang Jian, a food safety researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said,

"Only in that way can consumers get credible and scientific guidance."

Michael Taylor, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, told reporters in Shanghai today that China’s implementation of food safety standards is the country’s biggest hindrance in exporting high quality, trusted food products overseas,

"An important development is the new food safety law that was passed here in 2009 with a very high-level food safety committee. It just shows a forthright approach to making food safety an important priority, to creating more transparency in the food safety system."

Incarcerating people who set up web sites to help consumers doesn’t help.

Canada lacks oversight of imported foods

An internal Canadian Food Inspection Agency audit, dated July and quietly posted on the agency’s website this week, found that the safety of imported foods in Canada is at risk because of multiple "deficiencies" with the agency’s oversight system.

Sarah Schmidt of Postmedia News reports the audit also found that the agency never full implemented its 2002 Import Control Policy and that it leaves it up to foreign countries to inspect exports bound for Canada, even though there are no foreign country equivalence controls in place for food commodity programs, other than meat, fish and eggs.

These foods include maple (it’s a staple of the Canadian diet), honey, fresh fruits and vegetables, processed products and non-federally registered products. Non-registered products include beverages, infant formula, confectionary, cereals, spices and seasonings and baked products.

Opposition parties jumped on the findings, accusing the Tory government during question period of failing to protect the health of Canadians while the volume of imported foods has risen to more than $21.8 billion annually.

"Today we learned that the government has no strategy to ensure that health hazards are not entering Canada,” said NDP health critic Megan Leslie.

Canada has no strategy to ensure health hazards are controlled in homegrown foods.

Agriculture Minister Gerry listeria-is-funny Ritz was not in the House of Commons to respond to the attacks.

Kuwait gets serious about food safety; punish those who distribute contaminated or expired food

Government officials have publicly expressed concern that public health has become a minor issue, consequences are meaningless, and the sale of dodgy food is on the rise.

How refreshing.

In what country would bureaucrats make such bold statements to potentially upset the ruling food safety oligarchy of industry, auditors and regulators? U.S.? Canada? U.K.? Australia? Anywhere?


Arba Times reports the Chairman of the Consumer Protection Society Attorney Faisal Al-Sebaie expressed his disappointed over the mediocre measures taken by the relevant authorities to protect public health from greedy traders, who sell spoilt or contaminated food products in the local market.

Al-Sebaie lamented the public health has become a minor issue for the concerned authorities, especially the ministries of Social Affairs, Labor and Commerce, leading to the spread of contaminated or expired food products in the local market.

He said no strict measure has so far been taken to prevent the distribution of contaminated or expired food items because the government has opted to remain silent over the unscrupulous activities of greedy traders.

He wondered why a country as rich as Kuwait cannot establish a modern laboratory to conduct tests on the imported food items.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the society Attorney Khalid Al-Dosri appealed to the government to immediately take strict measures against those proven to have violated the food safety regulations. He thinks the Ministry of Commerce is keen only on arresting the owners of small shops, which sell spoilt food products, while disregarding the violations committed by business tycoons.

Moreover, Chairman of the Social Committee at the society Khalid Al-Sebaei wondered why the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor dissolved the boards of directors of 13 cooperative societies allegedly for engaging in corruption and manipulating prices without putting them in jail. He urged the ministry to obligate the cooperative societies to submit financial and administrative reports quarterly to prevent, if not eliminate, the violations.

FDA lax in produce oversight

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported today that the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to combat foodborne illness are hampered by infrequent inspections, not enough staff and the failure to implement a program devoted to the safety of fresh produce.

The report said that inspections at produce-processing facilities are rare and that when problems are discovered, the FDA relies on the industry to correct them without oversight or follow-up. …

The report also cited previously unpublished FDA data showing that 14 people died and 10,253 were sickened in 96 outbreaks associated with fresh produce from 1996 through 2006. This summer, salmonella sickened at least 1,440 people in 43 states and Washington, D.C.

But the report found that only 3% of the FDA’s food safety budget goes toward efforts to protect fresh produce.


GAO: FDA should be clearer on food safety plan

Christopher Doering of Reuters reports that the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report today that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s failure to discuss clearly its strategy and the money needed to better protect the country’s food supply could make it harder for a plan to succeed.

The GAO report also noted that FDA must better leverage its existing resources "as staffing levels and funding have not kept pace with the agency’s growing responsibilities" to oversee the food supply.

GAO noted that even as food imports surge, FDA inspectors of foreign food firms has dropped from 211 in fiscal year 2001 to fewer than 100 in 2007. About 15 percent of the overall U.S. food supply is imported.

Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said,

"Our constituents are growing weary of these events. They are losing confidence in this agency’s ability to protect them from the products they use daily."