Results rather than rules: Ontario backs down on meat inspection

Jim Romahn, the dean of Ontario agriculture reporting, writes that, after years of blistering criticism from small-business meat packers, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food is introducing new regulations that take effect Jan. 1.

meat_inspectorThere are more than 40 changes to technical regulations, most of them to offer flexibility in how meat packers can meet the standards. Laurie Nichols who runs the Ontario Independent Meat Processors Association said the existing regulations are “prescriptive” and the new ones are based on “outcomes” without specifying precisely what needs to achieve those outcomes.

She said her members welcome the increased flexibility.

For example, the existing regulations have construction requirements for dry storage facilities for items such as sanitizing liquids, brushes, brooms, etc. The new regulations require that the items be off the floor and in a secure location which could now be met by putting the items in containers and on shelving. There is also a major policy change to move inspection of foodservice establishments out of OMAF and over to local health units. The expectations for food safety will remain the same.

There is also a provision for these foodservice establishments to conduct a small volume of meat processing. Nichols said that a policy the independent meat packers want clarified because it’s a competitive issue. OMAF is mentioning only a minor change in pre-inspection and post-inspection that adds another half hour of free service before it begins charging fees for service.

Dumb rules: EU sets out post-horsemeat food standards

EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg said May 6, 2013, the European political environment needs to loosen its ties on the agri-food sector, if is to be competitive in the future, while simultaneously creating a farm-to-fork food safety revolution to curb future horse-heads-in-bed-burgers incidents.

Speaking in Brussels, Borg announced the terms of the commission’s proposals on what is termed “smarter rules for safer food.”  The package of legislative borat.bathing.suitproposals covers a series of topics, such as labeling and food chain safety. The message is the same as that touted out during the recent horsemeat scandal; that European food sources are impeccable – it is labelling fraud that undermines consumer confidence.

EU types may want to check out those suppliers.

Also, health head Borg earned himself a spot in the we-have-the-safest-food-in-the-world hall of shame by stating, Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world.”

There’s little evidence anyone is following those standards, as shown by horsehead Europa.

The European Commission itself proclaimed in writing the package it has adopted “provides a modernized and simplified, more risked-based approach to the protection of health and more efficient control tools to ensure the effective application of the rules guiding the operation of the food chain.

“The package responds to the call for better simplification of legislation and smarter regulation thus reducing administrative burden for operators and simplifying the regulatory environment. Special consideration is given to the impact of this legislation on SMEs and micro enterprises which are exempted from the most costly and burdensome elements in the legislation.”

These people can’t write a clear press release, how can they be expected to write clear legislation?

 “In a nutshell, the package aims to provide smarter rules for safer food.”

No one actually writes, in a nutshell” and it sounds creepy when someone says it. No one thinks these rules are smarter just because Borg says they are. And when talking about a package, I’m thinking Borat’s bathing suit.

The package will introduce a single piece of legislation to regulate animal health in the EU based on the principle that “prevention is better than cure.”

Don’t write with dick fingers; it’s unbefitting such a moral and scientific authority as the EU.

If passed by EU member governments and the European Parliament, the proposed revamp, boiling down existing legislation and sharpening testing regimes, will introduce:

— financial penalties directly related to profits from “fraud”;

— and mandatory spot-check testing, as opposed to the power only to recommend inspections, as now.

But the changes will not affect, in the main, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or micro-businesses, a large part of the post-industrial food chain.

Neither will stipulations governing the important seed sector be applied to godfather_horse“private gardeners,” who will still be able to buy seeds “in small quantities” on open markets.

That should doom any efforts to control raw sprout safety. After 53 deaths and 4,400 illnesses from E. coli contaminated sprouts in 2011, maybe the Eurocrats sould focus on the entire food system, not just the political expediency of big ag.

Giving thanks to local public health types

The daily grind for health department professionals is underappreciated.

Armchair quarterbacks are quick to point out the failings of health types without recognizing the pressures of a standard epidemiological investigation, along with requirements to test pools, investigate dog bites, and soothe political egos.

As reported by The Daily Courier, Brian Supalla went before the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Monday (that’s in Arizona) with new food safety regulations expecting a rubber stamp.

Instead, he found himself under fire.

Supalla, county health program manager, was holding a "courtesy public hearing" intended to introduce the board to the 2009 FDA Food Code – safety regulations which the Yavapai County Community Health Services Board of Health wants the supervisors to adopt.

Supalla wasn’t far into his PowerPoint presentation when he mentioned one of the provisions of the new code – that restaurants would not be allowed to offer hamburgers cooked less than well-done on their children’s menus.

He said that’s because kids don’t have well-developed immune systems and are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses.

But Supervisor Chip Davis stopped him. "Do we have a lot of kids getting sick in Yavapai County from eating rare hamburgers?" Davis asked.

"That’s a difficult question to answer," Supalla said, because most people who become ill from contaminated food will never go to a doctor. "In the 15 years I have been with the county, we have never had a death reported to us determined to be associated with food (contamination)," he said.

Supalla went back to his presentation, outlining the changes to be adopted.
When he was finished, Supervisor Carol Springer spoke up.

"I have a real problem with this," she said. "How did all of us manage to survive without health departments?"

With that door open, she began to talk about events like farmers’ markets and chili cook-offs, which are not specifically addressed by the food code changes.

"I think that’s kind of a trend these days, and we’ve had a number of complaints about the health department stepping in," Springer said. "I’m having a real problem with our county health department saying, ‘No, you can’t have this kind of event’ because you’re serving some food product."

Supalla, unprepared for the topic, did his best to answer Springer, but she pressed on.

"I think this is too much government control when you say, ‘You can’t have a salsa contest," she said, referring to Cottonwood’s Old Town Sizzlin’ Salsa competition, which was planned for spring.

"We have not disapproved any requests for a chili cook-off or a salsa competition," Supalla replied. "Every facet of that salsa-tasting complaint, our investigation found, was based on a complete misunderstanding by the event organizers," who were new to the event this year.

Davis called the new regulations "burdensome" and said he didn’t "see the necessity to increase to an additional level of scrutiny on the restaurant business."

‘Jesus didn’t have to go to an approved kitchen.’ Philly health board passes new rules on feeding the homeless

Although things are supossedly getting better, tough economic times since 2008 have led to an increase of folks relying on food banks and soup kitchens. Stories of concerned people distributing donated or leftover food have been common over the past couple of years as communities come together to support those hit hardest.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to be homeless or not have enough money to feed my family. Focusing on safe, nutritious food is moot if the money isn’t available to buy groceries. Or if there’s no home to take them too. Having a good heart and good intentions doesn’t automatically lead to safe meals.

According to the Philadelphia Board of Health has approved new food safety regulations related to groups that feed the homeless outdoors.

Groups will be required to obtain a permit from the city and to have at least one member receive free food-safety training from the Health Department. The regulations come as the city proceeds with a ban in city parks on feeding the homeless and others who want free meals.

Further coverage in Bloomberg Businessweek says these new rules are politically-based and food safety is being used to clean up parks.

Homeless advocates say it’s not the cost that’s bothering them, since many municipalities are offering food-training classes for free. Instead, they’re concerned the bureaucratic intrusions will cause some small operations, such as those that don’t have access to approved kitchens, to shut down.

[Philadelphia Mayor Michael] Nutter said another policy change that bans outdoor feeding at city parks will increase “the health, safety, dignity and support” for the homeless.

The city has banned feedings in city parks, except for family picnics and public events, and is considering rules to protect the homeless from foodborne illness. Brian Jenkins [who works for Chosen 300 Ministries Inc] says the requirements, such as preparing items in approved facilities and attending food-safety classes, are a ploy to rid tourist areas of people deemed an eyesore.

“Jesus didn’t have to go to an approved kitchen,” Jenkins said. “If I have to pay a fine, then I will. I’m still going to feed outside, the way I always have. I’ll just put up a sign that says ‘God’s Family Picnic.’”

Responsible community members and organizations who are passionate about feeding those less fortunate still need to know about food-related risks and do their best to address them – dealing with a foodborne illness could contribute to an individual’s hardship.

USA Today says egg recalls fit pattern of negligence, lax oversight; industry says, no

He said, she said in today’s USA Today, with the editorial board saying the salmonella outbreak that has sickened thousands means “someone obviously fouled up,” and Indiana egg farmer and United Egg Producers chairman, Bob Krouse, saying “completely cooked eggs are completely safe eggs.”

Krouse: “Family farms like ours produce 80 billion eggs every year in this country, and we go to great lengths to help ensure the quality and safety of every one of them.”

USA Today: “The egg recall is part of a pattern. When problems emerge with America’s food supply or in other areas where safety is crucial, it often starts with a rogue company or CEO who sees safety violations as a cost of doing business and outmaneuvers federal regulators while Congress dithers.”

Krouse: “Our efforts must be having an effect because the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service estimates the risk of illness to be less than ‘1 in 1 million’ egg servings for the average consumer.”

USA Today: “There’s no excuse for contamination so widespread that it sickens nearly 1,500 people and requires the recall of more than half a billion eggs.”

Krouse: “Egg farmers invest millions of dollars each year in biosecurity and food safety efforts. The vast majority of us already incorporate vaccination programs into our food safety plans.”

USA Today: “Regulations requiring egg farm operators to test for salmonella stayed on the shelf through the notoriously anti-regulatory Bush administration until the Obama administration finally got them into place last month. The FDA says those rules could have prevented the outbreak, which presumes that farms would have complied — and that the FDA would have dogged them.”

Krouse: “It is disappointing to see some groups try to take advantage of this crisis for their own political or social agendas. We urge everyone to wait until the FDA finishes its investigation of the two companies involved before jumping to any conclusions. “

USA Today: “… instead of just writing up violations, it (FDA) needs to crack down on rogue companies, treating them the same way the criminal justice system treats repeat offenders.”

Who should be in charge of food inspections?

The New York Times reported this morning on the California leafy greens industry’s hiring of government inspectors in lieu of government-imposed visits by inspectors.

The almond industry and the Florida tomato industry have also instituted their own safety measures that invited oversight by federal agencies when the government did not independently provide it.

“It’s an understandable response when the federal government has left a vacuum,” said Michael R. Taylor, a former officer in two federal food-safety agencies and now a professor at George Washington University. But, he added, “it’s not a substitute” for serious federal regulation.

Is it the government’s responsibility to ensure that food is safe to eat, or is it the responsibility of those producing, processing, and selling it? Both, of course, in addition to those choosing to consume it and feed it to their loved ones.

Then, what’s so great about government-imposed inspections as opposed to inspections the food industry asks for? After devastating outbreaks in each industry awakened them to their invested interest in food safety, these three have been vigilant about minimizing the microbial risks to their commodities. Would the feds do a better job?

According to the Washington Post, a report by Taylor and his colleagues at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services determined that federal regulation of the inspection system and others is necessary to provide cohesion (and presumably increase efficacy) among safety-assuring efforts. In the report the authors urged Congress to “create a single cohesive food safety network composed of local, state and federal agencies and accountable to the secretary of health and human services.”

Some coordination certainly might move the country toward reducing the number of people who get sick from the food they eat. But each link in the food supply chain must remain proactive in their role in assuring food is safe to consume—regardless of who’s the boss.


Looking out for the farmers of the “safest food in the world”

This summer at the Kansas State Fair, I felt like I was getting a lot of strange looks. I tried to brush it off, telling myself that it was no crime to have never slopped a pig or stolen eggs from under a roosting a hen—I should still be welcome at the fair.

I was positive there were other non-farm girls there. Probably even some that grew up in the city; I, at least, shared a property line with a cow pasture. But people just kept staring.

I really got embarrassed when a representative from the Farm Bureau Federation started to laugh out loud and point at me.

When it finally donned on me that I was wearing my Don’t Eat Poop t-shirt that day, I turned to let him read the back: Wash Your Hands.

I explained that I worked for an organization that wants to turn the public’s attention to food safety.

He seemed to think that particular method was effective. “But do you make farmers look bad?” he asked while raising one eyebrow.

I told him we felt it was important that everyone does their part, from the farm to the fork.

He smiled, but I think he remained skeptical.

I raised my eyebrow today at a press release in which the director of congressional relations in the California Farm Bureau National Affairs and Research Division, Josh Rolph, was quoted as saying,

"Congress and the new administration will be sure to consider changes to the way the government oversees the safety of food production. We want to make sure that any changes don’t prove to be burdensome to farmers, who are growing the safest food supply in the world."

I wish I could meet this guy and stare strangely at him. If anyone’s going to claim to grow the safest food in the world, they’re going to have to take some pains to prove it.

“The nation’s farming community understands the need to improve food safety, Rolph said, but the farm-level impact to producers must be considered in any new food safety proposals.”

Salinas vegetable farmer Dirk Giannini referred to the surge in food safety action plans following the outbreak of E. coli from spinach in 2006, and explained that a frenzy of “non-scientific ideas” were putting farmers out.

"And don’t get me wrong,” said Giannini, “The farmers do not want to jeopardize anyone’s health or life—we have the safest food supply in the world. But the scientific-based decisions are the ones that we need to move forward."

Of course any actions to increase the safety of the food supply should be backed by scientific evidence, but public claims of safety should have the same foundation.

To the farmers who grow the food I appreciate every day: In your products and in your claims, Don’t Sell Poop.

Peanut butter, spinach, tomato and Chinese toy sandwich

Jon Stewart was poking fun at critics of President Obama’s stimulus package on The Daily Show last night, and came up with this quip:

Funding for regulatory agencies? Please. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a peanut butter, spinach, tomato and Chinese toy sandwich to finish.

The line comes about 3:23 into this video.