Washington Insider -- Monday

Large, Midwestern Food Borne Illness Outbreak

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

US, China deploy tariffs on $34 billion in goods from each other

The "Trump trade war" is underway. The U.S. put tariffs in place on $34 billion in Chinese goods, with China responding and implementing the tariffs on a previously released list of US products, including soybeans and several other ag products.

Beijing accused the U.S. of launching "the largest trade war in economic history," forcing China to "strike back as necessary." Further, China labeled the moves “typical trade bullying," saying it had been forced to act. Tariffs on another $16 billion in goods from each side could come into play in August.

President Donald Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One there could be $500 billion in Chinese goods hit by the U.S. “Then you have another $16 [billion] in two weeks and then as you know we have 200 billion in abeyance and then after the $200 billion we have $300 billion in abeyance. OK? So we have $50 plus $200 plus almost $300,” he said, according to reports by Reuters and CNBC, adding “It’s only on China.”

The key is how long the trade war will last, a question without an answer at this stage. But, each passing day will bring economic and political pressure on both sides.

Some observers think the trade clash will stretch into next year, at least, because a strong US economy will make it less likely that the U.S. will feel any immediate overall economic pressure from the trade fight.

Ag, Food Industries Divided Over GMO Ingredient Disclosure

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other ag interests say the federal GMO disclosure rule should not apply to foods that contain refined ingredients made from genetically engineered crops, putting them at odds with the food industry over how USDA should address the concern.

The divide between two powerful industries who are generally aligned on the topic of GMO labeling could prove a tricky one for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to bridge, and the final answer by the agency will have a major impact on the universe of products covered by the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Rule.

The issue for AMS is that while many processed foods are made with oils or sugars derived from GE crops, the end products contain undetectable levels of bioengineered genetic material and are indistinguishable from their non-engineered counterparts.

The food industry says the question is one of transparency, suggesting consumers will expect foods that are made with GE ingredients to be disclosed and urging AMS to include such products.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates excluding products made with refined ingredients would result in 78% fewer products being subject to the disclosure requirements.

More than 90% of U.S. corn, canola, soybeans and sugar beet are bioengineered and an estimated 70% of processed foods contain highly refined oils or sugars made from GE crops.

The Farm Bureau – along with the American Soybean Association, the American Sugarbeet Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council and the U.S. Canola Association – worry that disclosure of refined ingredients from GE crops could stigmatize biotechnology without benefit to consumers.


Washington Insider: Large, Midwestern Food Borne Illness Outbreak

Well, the media are covering a large number of analyses regarding the expected impacts of the expanding trade fight, but another threat has crept into numerous front pages this weekend. Food Safety News and others are reporting that lab tests have “confirmed more than two dozen additional people who ate items from Del Monte pre-cut vegetable trays are infected with Cyclospora parasites,” and that seven have been hospitalized.

The total as of July 5 stood at 212 infected people across four states, FSN said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from the week-earlier count of 185 cases.

The first person known to be infected was reported in mid-May and the most recent victim became sick on June 13. However, there may be more, CDC says, because there is a time lag between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

In a somewhat surprising finding, CDC says it is sure the contamination came from the Del Monte pre-cut trays but doesn’t know for sure which vegetable was the carrier. FSN said that the CDC’s update was unable to pinpoint a specific item but does appear to have strengthened its language regarding the outbreak.” This week it said it said 212 laboratory-confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection were reported in “people who consumed” food from the pre-packaged Del Monte trays.

The sick people are spread across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. They range in age from 13 to 79 years old, FSN said.

On June 8, Del Monte recalled 6-ounce and 12-ounce vegetable trays from retail locations and then followed on June 15 with the recall of 28-ounce trays. All sizes had best-by dates of June 17 or earlier, so officials believe “there is little chance anyone still has any of the products.” However, anyone who purchased these trays before the recall should immediately throw them away and clean and disinfect anything they came into contact with, CDC said.

Del Monte reported to the FDA that the recalled products were distributed to: Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, FoodMax Supermarket and Peapod in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The New York Times also reported the outbreak and noted that outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to imported fresh produce. This type of contamination first gained prominence in the United States during an outbreak in the mid-1990s, and has shown up nearly every year since, the CDC told the Times.

It also noted that the delay in the appearance of symptoms is one of the main reasons that cyclosporiasis is so difficult to understand, according to Michael Osterholm, a professor at the University of Minnesota and an international food-borne disease expert.

“By the time cases are detected, the product is long gone,” he said. “It’s very hard to trace back.” He pointed to the mid-1990s outbreak that sickened more than 1,000 people and caught health officials off guard. However, it did push them to ramp up food testing to try to trace the source of the outbreak.

Dr. Osterholm, director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, also noted that the infection had been tied to the increase in imported produce from South and Central America and Mexico but emphasized that the source of the current infection remained unclear.

Last month, Del Monte recalled three of its products in stores in six states in the Midwest: six-, 12- and 28-ounce vegetable trays that had broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots and dill dip. All those products had a “best if enjoyed by” date of June 17.

The recalls affected Illinois and Indiana, in addition to the four states where the infections have been recently reported. The CDC encouraged people to throw away any of the recalled vegetable trays.

The federal agencies investigating the outbreak – the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration – are investigating on multiple fronts, analyzing when and where people got sick and which grocery stores or restaurants people might have patronized.

The process can be challenging. For example, Texas said last week that it was separately investigating 56 cases of cyclosporiasis that health officials there had found since the beginning of May. It was unclear if those cases were connected to the ones reported in the Midwest.

The time between exposure and becoming sick is usually about 1 week. Cyclospora infects the bowel and usually causes watery diarrhea. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. Some people who are infected with Cyclospora do not have any symptoms, the Times notes.

So, this outbreak is serious and the federal agencies involved seem to have no real idea how it started or how it might be controlled. The threat seems to be exacerbated by recent trends toward consumption of less processed foods. Clearly, an outbreak of this type and magnitude raises questions about the credibility of certain segments of the food supply and likely will be costly to fix. It is one producers should watch closely as remedial efforts are mounted, Washington Insider believes.

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