Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Unusual Food Safety Warning

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

Latest Army Corps CWA Permits Omit Reference to WOTUS Rule

A final package of Clean Water Act (CWA) permits issued January 6 by the Army Corps of Engineers authorizing activities in wetlands and waterways omits references to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Waters of the U,S, rule (WOTUS), which is currently on hold by the courts, pending litigation.

Had the corps cited WOTUS, it could have expanded the types of areas subject to those permits. However, the decision not to do so was in response to concerns raised in June 2015 by the Waters Advocacy Coalition (WAC) that the final package of nationwide permits would incorporate the revised definitions contained in WOTUS, which remains under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

WAC includes farm, mining, public and private electricity generation and construction groups that will be affected by the new permits.

The corps did indicate that it would pursue rulemaking if it determines that the nationwide permits need to be modified to address changes in the geographic scope of CWA jurisdiction -- as WOTUS would do if upheld -- or other regulatory changes.

US Tells China: Curb Trade Barriers, Government Intervention

U.S. trade officials urged China to reduce market access barriers and the level of government intervention in the economy to more fully meet its World Trade Organization (WTO), according to a report released.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) also said in its annual report to Congress on China's WTO compliance that Beijing needs to more uniformly follow the fundamental principles of non-discrimination with regard to foreign companies to meet its WTO commitments.

USTR said the U.S. should work with Beijing to ensure that "the benefits of China's WTO commitments are fully realized by the United States and other WTO members, and that trade frictions that may arise in the U.S.-China trade relationship are effectively resolved."

Washington Insider: Unusual Food Safety Warning

It seems a fair bet that most ag observers were not aware of the existence of a raw milk network pushing camel milk, but it seems to be true. And, not only that, but it appears to be breaking the law, not so much by selling unpasteurized milk, but by making unfounded claims for its benefits. Food Safety News is reporting this week that a Saudi entrepreneur who runs a California-based raw milk network that stretches across the United States is on notice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop making illegal claims about the therapeutic benefits of unpasteurized milk, including raw camel milk.

There are only a handful of camel milk producers in the United States, but they are being cautioned against making illegal claims. In a warning letter dated last September and recently made public, the Food and Drug Administration threatened to seize products and/or seek an injunction against Walid Abdul-Wahab and his Santa Monica-based Desert Farms.

Statements on the Desert Farms website and Facebook observed in June 2016 page are specifically cited in the warning letter. Abdul-Wahab was given 15 days to respond to the letter. FDA has not yet issued a close out letter on the case, FNS says.

It seems that there was nothing bashful about the claims FDA found illegal. These included references to raw camel milk helping people with tuberculosis, diabetes and autism. The Desert Farms website and Facebook page also claimed unpasteurized camel milk could cure allergies and Crohn's disease.

"Your products are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses," the warning letter said.

"... Your Raw Camel Milk (Fresh); Raw Camel Milk (Frozen); Raw Camel Milk Kefir (Fresh); Raw Camel Milk Kefir (Frozen); Pasteurized Camel Milk (Fresh); Pasteurized Camel Milk (Frozen); and Raw Camel Milk 1st Colostrum (Frozen); Raw Camel Milk Regular Colostrum (Frozen); Camel Milk Powder; Camel Milk Soap (assorted scents) products are intended for treatment of one or more diseases that are not amenable to self-diagnosis or treatment without the supervision of a licensed practitioner."

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have standing public warnings against unpasteurized raw milk. Pasteurization kills bacteria and pathogens commonly found in raw milk, including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and Campylobacter. The sale of unpasteurized milk has been controversial for many years, and is banned in many areas. Still, many groups promote its use and have defined numerous schemes that are legal in some areas. This includes cow shares, an approach in which milk buyers purchase a share of value of cows and claim that milk distribution is not a sale, in some cases.

In another somewhat strange aspect of the current camel milk case, among the raw milk producers affiliated with Abdul-Wahab's Desert Farms network are several Amish dairies, including that of Sam Hosteler of Miller, Mo. The southwest Missouri dairy farmer got his own warning letter from the FDA recently — also related to raw camel milk. He was told he was in violation of the federal Public Health Service Act because he was selling unpasteurized milk across state lines.

A pint of Hosteler's raw camel milk goes for about $8, FNS says. Hostetler told the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader newspaper that a camel only produces about two to three gallons of milk per day, compared to the 10 gallons a dairy cows can produce.

The Amish dairyman also told the Springfield newspaper he will abide by the federal law and stop selling raw milk to people outside Missouri. Some states, Missouri included, allow farmers to sell raw milk direct to consumers at their farms.

Apparently aware of the federal law before the FDA warning, Hosteler was included in a November 2016 article by The New Food Economy that detailed the network of Amish and Mennonite farmers supplying Abdul-Wahab's Desert Farms network. Abdul-Wahab told CNBC in 2015 that he had more than 100,000 customers.

Still, the raw milk movement is regarded as a very strange development by food regulators because the claimed benefits are controversial and the risks highly significant. FNS regularly reports outbreaks of milk borne diseases across the country, in many cases linked directly to consumption of raw milk.

Nevertheless, many food advocates dispute the health benefits from pasteurization and insist on consuming raw milk and/or products—and, often suffer widely reported health problems as a result. While the issue and the health concerns are well known, the involvement of camel milk producers and the links between tightly knit groups like the Mennionite and Amish producers appears to imply even broader marketing efforts than were previously appreciated, Washington Insider believes.

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