Washington Insider-- Friday

Food Safety and Raw Milk

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

Brazil's GMO Regulator Approves Monsanto's Corn Seed.

Brazil's National Technical Commission for Biosafety, known as CTNBio, approved planting and consumption of Monsanto's corn seed with insect resistance, glyphosate tolerance. CTNBio is still considering approval of two more GMO corn seeds from Syngenta and Monsanto for consumption.

The decision to be made on October 1.

Brazil's chicken industry is seeking approval of four GMO corn varieties planted in the U.S. as it aims to import grain from world largest grower to ease domestic shortage GMO corn imports from the US will only be viable if the four varieties for consumption are approved as it is hard to segregate seeds on shipments, industry group said.

The window of opportunity for the U.S. may be relatively limited, however, as the U.S. Ag Attache in Brazil indicated that any such import clearance would likely only be in place through November.

Vermont, Grocery Industry Agree to Dismiss GMO Lawsuit

The state of Vermont, the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and several other food industry groups have agreed to dismiss a federal lawsuit that challenged a state law requiring the labeling of some foods made with genetically modified organisms, according to the Associated Press.

In a Wednesday court filing in Vermont, the parties to the lawsuit agreed the suit was no longer needed because a new federal law preempted the state law that took effect July 1. The lawsuit had been on appeal to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

In July, Congress passed a law that requires most food packages to carry a text label, symbol or an electronic code to indicate whether the food contains GMOs. Some say the federal law is not as strict as the Vermont law.

USDA is now in the process of putting together the rules for the program, with guidance already issued to those wanting to make GMO-free claims on meat and poultry products. The process of developing the GMO labels, however, will take more time and most likely would be implemented by the next administration.

Washington Insider: Food Safety and Raw Milk

One of the most controversial food safety policies concerns sale of raw, that is, unpasteurized milk. This week, Food Safety News (FSN) has reports of health problems in two states, Utah and Michigan.

FSN says Utah Health Department officials are investigating nine cases of Salmonella infection in people who drank raw milk from a family run dairy in Midland, Utah. Two of the nine were hospitalized but have recovered. Illness onset dates were March 20 to Aug. 14, and those who became ill range in age from 15 to 78 years. Samples earlier from Heber Valley Milk tested positive for Salmonella but the most recent tests showed no signs of contamination and the dairy has been allowed to resume sales.

In a statement posted Tuesday on Facebook, the dairy noted that six tests conducted in the past two weeks "have all tested negative for any type of Salmonella."

Raw milk comes from cows, goats or sheep and has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. "This raw, unpasteurized milk can contain dangerous bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli, which can all cause foodborne illnesses," the Utah Health Department told FSN.

According to the Utah Health Department, since 2009 there have been 30 documented outbreaks associated with raw milk sold at dairies statewide, with more than 400 people becoming ill, FSN said. Utah allows on-farm sales of raw milk as long as the milk producer owns the store. Monthly testing for bacteria and pathogens is required, and animals must be tested before production and every six months thereafter. The bottles must be labeled as raw milk and must carry a warning label.

FSN reports that public health officials warn that drinking raw milk "may be dangerous, regardless where it is obtained, and it should not be consumed by young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with weakened or compromised immune systems, or anyone who does not want to become ill."

In the same week, the state of Michigan reported that two children were sick from E. coli and that both had consumed raw milk in the days before becoming sick. It is not legal to sell unpasteurized, raw milk in Michigan, but herd-share programs provide a way around that prohibition. Cows in share programs "are not inspected or regulated under Michigan dairy laws," FSN says.

Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the Michigan state health department told FSN that the list of potential pathogens often found in raw milk include E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter. In addition to primary infections, the pathogens in raw milk can also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, tuberculosis, brucellosis and Q fever.

FSN says that the current E. coli cases associated with raw milk mark at least the second time this year that Michigan has seen people infected from consuming raw dairy products. From March through July, at least seven people were confirmed with E. coli infections traced to raw organic cheeses from Grassfields Cheese LLC of Coopersville, Mich. The company recalled 10 tons of cheeses from at least 13 states last month after officials found the outbreak strain of E. coli in its samples. Retail chains that carried the Grassfields cheeses included Whole Foods Market and Kroger, FSN said.

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. However, states can make their own rules and 13 allow raw milk sales at retail. Some 17 more allow it, but only on farms; 8 of those allow acquisition of raw milk only through "cow-share" agreements; and in 20 other states all sales of raw milk are prohibited.

Policies concerning raw milk and products are among the most controversial of all food regulations. Advocates argue that pasteurization destroys taste and makes the milk less healthful, and that consumers should be free to choose. Public health officials disagree and say the product is unnecessarily dangerous, but state legislatures have been increasingly willing to require frequent bacterial and disease tests, but allow at least limited sales.

The result has been fairly frequent disease outbreaks but has led to little evidence of increased consumer concern since the outbreaks are frequently isolated. Thus, while the contaminated product often affects children and is extremely uncomfortable for all those affected -- and very dangerous for some -- levels of regulation about like those now in effect are likely to continue, Washington Insider believes.

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