Breakthrough Offers Promise of Improved GMO Testing
Does this food contain genetically modified organisms?
That’s what many consumers, including overseas trading partners, want to know about the food they’re buying.
A prime example of that is the recent initiative
in California, dubbed the “Right to Know” campaign, which calls for food manufacturers in the Golden State to identify genetically engineered ingredients on the labels of food products sold in that state.
With almost as many as 1 million signatures gathered on the petition in time for the April 22 deadline, organizers predict that the measure will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. (The state requires just over a half million valid signatures for an initiative to qualify to be on the ballot.)
On a global level, 40 countries, including all of Europe, Japan and China, require labeling of foods, or of certain foods, containing GMOs. The U.S. has resisted labeling, and in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration established a policy declaring there is no substantial or material difference between genetically engineered foods and foods that haven’t been genetically engineered.
Sleuthing for GMOs
The question arises: How in the world do scientists determine if foods contain GMOs?
There are technologies that can do that, of course. But the conventional method, referred to as a PCR system (polymerase chain reaction), has some distinct disadvantages. It requires complex DNA extraction procedures, relatively expensive equipment, and assays that need to be carried out in a laboratory. It has also proven difficult to design cost-effective portable devices for PCR.
In what has been called “a major breakthrough” in GMO detection and monitoring, scientists at Lumora Ltd.
in the United Kingdom have developed a method they say is far more practical because it’s simpler, quicker, more precise and less expensive than PCR.
Lumora’s bioluminescence technology, known as BART, uses luciferase, the same enzyme that lights up fireflies As part of the detection procedure, the luciferase is coupled to DNA detection so as to light up when it detects specific DNA and RNA sequences. By using DNA signals that are specific to genetically modified crops, the system can detect even low levels of contamination.
Lumora CEO Laurence Tisi told Food Safety News that compared to a lab-based PCR system, “Lumora’s hardware is probably a lot less than 1/10 the cost.”
He also said that Lumora’s new system can detect even very low levels of GMO ingredients.
Another advantage of this technology is that GMO detection can be done out in the field as well as in a food processing center.
As such, it may offer the advantage of being a “field-ready” solution for monitoring genetically modified crops and their interaction with wild plants or non-GM crops, as well as in food processing facilities.
Tisi said that the technology detects DNA and because all plants have DNA, it can detect GMO from any plants.
This comes as good news for those who want, or require, labeling for genetically engineered crops or for processed foods that contain genetically engineered crops. While genetically modified foods may be relatively safe by science-based approaches to risk assessment, the issue of labeling GMO foods is about public confidence and also about market protection.
Tisi said that people want to know what they are eating, for all sorts of reasons. Being able to assess where their food comes from from has value to consumers, buyers and others, he said, since it means “they can be confident they are getting what they pay for.”
He pointed out that where there are regulations on food labeling, the producers need to be sure that their products comply with regulations. This varies from country to country, but in order to be able to state that a crop is non-GMO it is necessary to show that less than a certain percentage of the product contains any GMOs. In the European Union, for example, that percentage is 0.9 percent.
Lumora’s new technology can recognize GM presence as low as 0.1 percent in corn.
“In fact,” Tisi said, “there are DNA signatures in plants that can even tell you what variety the crop is and sometimes even where it came from.”
The work that Lumora has done on GMO detection was part of a much bigger EU-wide consortium known as Co-Extra
, a project that looks at the co-existence and traceability of genetically modified crops.
“This project came to be as a direct consequence of the desire to better regulate GMO material in the EU,” Tisi said.
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How to Minimize Risk When it Comes to Imports
As a result of major recalls in recent years, the FDA has stepped up its inspection of imports at the time of entry. There are many things that the supplier and importer can do to minimize the risk of a detention – or even worse – a refusal of a shipment.
It is important that both the supplier and importer have an FDA Registration Number if they manufacture, pack, process or hold foods or beverages for consumption.
The newly enacted Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will expand on these requirements. First and foremost, the registration will have to be updated every two years in the last quarter of every “round” year. The first update or renewal is scheduled for the fall of this year.
The foreign supplier must also be sure to submit a Prior Notice before shipping the product to the US. The FDA has established timeframes that must be followed in order to avoid a problem for a missing notification. NOTE: This is in addition to Customs requirements already in place.
These are the only FDA requirements that also include alcoholic beverages although these products still fall under the jurisdiction of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau.
No FDA Label Approval Process and Preventing Detentions
Oysters At New Orleans Restaurant Cause Norovirus
Fourteen people became ill with norovirus after eating Gulf oysters at a New Orleans area restaurant on April 28 and 29, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced Tuesday.
As a result, DHH has closed a key harvesting area on the Gulf coast west of the Mississippi River and recalled oysters harvested from those areas since April 26. The recall includes all shucked, frozen, breaded, post-harvest processed oysters and oysters for the half shell market.
None of the 14 illnesses was life threatening and none required hospitalization.
Epidemiologists and sanitarians from DHH traced the outbreak to Louisiana oysters from harvest area 23 consumed at the same restaurant.
The illnesses came on during the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, annually one of the largest musical events in the U.S., which brings thousands of visitors to the Crescent City.
Norovirus causes what many call “stomach flu,” or vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus usually begins 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the fecal organisms. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Sometimes people also have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness is usually brief, with symptoms lasting a day or two. People can get norovirus several ways, including eating foods or drinking liquids that are contaminated by infected food handlers.
Exploring the Link Between Animal Health and Food Safety
There’s growing pressure for animal agriculture to change its practices, whether it be utilizing gestation crates or feeding antibiotics, but a new paper cautions that these changes may negatively impact food safety.
The discussion paper released by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology — a research group that includes the Farm Bureau and the American Veterinary Medical Association – this week identified some of the factors now being discussed that impact animal health, including: antibiotic use, economies of scale, housing, local production and sustainability.
Scientists have long known there is a link between animal health, stress levels and pathogen shedding, but as CAST and others have noted, more research is needed.
“In addition to overtly ill animals, there is a growing body of evidence showing that chronically, previously, and not visibly ill animals are more likely to be contaminated with foodborne pathogens after processing in the abattoir (slaughterhouse),” the researchers write. “These animals, however, may go unnoticed during antemortem (live animal) inspection, and thus questions arise concerning the potential impacts of these animals entering the food supply on public health risk from foodborne pathogens.”
The paper discusses past research that has found animals under stress or sick for a long period of time are more likely to carry key foodborne pathogens, especially Salmonella. Studies have also shown that animals with abscesses or “other significant lesions” that need extra trimming have a greater chance of being cross-contaminated because of the extra handling required.
Many of the buzzwords being discussed in the food movement, and by an increasing number of consumers: “organic,” “all natural,” “antibiotic-free,” or “pastured” have direct animal health implications — many sustainable food advocates argue that these changes lead to healthier animals. But CAST gives some examples of how these methods could have the opposite effect.
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Diamond Pet Foods Salmonella Outbreak and Recall – Food Safety News Consumer Alert
Published on May 9, 2012 by FoodSafetyNewsVideo
Complete list of recalled pet food products:
Latest outbreak information:
Diamond Pet Foods recall notice:
How to report a pet food complaint:
For continued recall coverage:
At least 14 people in 9 states have fallen ill in a Salmonella outbreak linked to several brands of dry pet food made by Diamond Pet Foods at a facility in Gaston, South Carolina.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation the cause of the contamination, Diamond Pet Foods has issued a recall of 14 brands of pet food formulas manufactured between December 9, 2011 and April 7, 2012.
Those brands include:
- Natural Balance
- Kirkland Signature
- Diamond Naturals
- Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul
- Premium Edge
- Taste of the Wild
- Country Value
- Solid Gold
- Wellness Complete (puppy chow)
Humans can contract Salmonella from contaminated dog food by handling tainted kibble or having contact with a pet that has eaten it. Health officials recommend always washing your hands after handling pet food or pets, especially if you plan to handle food or feed children.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said there have been no confirmed pet illnesses because it is very rare for pets’ stool samples to be tested for gastrointestinal bacteria such as Salmonella. The FDA, however, has received an unspecified number of complaints from pet owners about sickened dogs and cats.
Pet owners are advised to check their pet food for recalled products and to not feed recalled food to pets or handle it themselves.
According to the FDA, pets with Salmonella infection may appear lethargic and have diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Some pets will only have decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain.
If your pet shows signs of Salmonella infection, contact your veterinarian.
Q&A on the Diamond Pet Foods Recall and Salmonella Outbreak
Routine tests on dry dog food revealed the outbreak of human illnesses that so far has sickened at least 15 people in nine states and in Canada, and led to a huge recall of dry dog food sold under various brand names but all manufactured at Diamond Pets Food production plant in Gaston, SC.
Here are some questions and answers about the recall and outbreak.
How many people are sick?
As of May 3, at least 14 people in the U.S. were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Infantis that was found in samples of dry dog food produced by Diamond Pet Foods’ manufacturing plant in Gaston, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five of the U.S. outbreak victims required hospitalization. Canada reports
one outbreak-related case in Quebec.
However, most foodborne illnesses occur in individuals who are not part of recognized outbreaks because they have not sought medical care or submitted a specimen for laboratory testing, so likely there are more people sick in this outbreak. For every confirmed case of Salmonella poisoning in an outbreak, the CDC estimates 29 others go unreported.
Solid Gold Health Products for Pets, Inc of California is recalling two batches of dry dog food for possible Salmonella contamination. The products were made at the facility linked to the recent recalls of Diamond Pet Foods.
- Solid Gold WolfCub Large Breed Puppy Food
- 4 pound with UPC number 093766750005
- 15 pound with UPC number 093766750012
- 33 pound with UPC number 093766750029
- Best Before date of December 30, 2012
- Batch code starting with SGB1201A31X
- Solid Gold WolfKing Large Breed Adult Dog Food
- 4 pound with UPC number 093766750050
- 15 pound with UPC number 093766750067
- 28.5 pound with UPC number 093766750081
- Best Before date of December 30, 2012
- Batch code starting with SGL1201A32X
The Best Before dates can be found on the back of the bag in the bottom right-hand corner of the 33 pound, 28.5 pound, and 15 pound bags, and the bottom of the 4 pound bags. If you have questions, call 1-800-364-4863 Monday through Friday from 8:00 am through 5:00 pm PST.
More Frozen Tuna from India Recalled Due to Salmonella Risk
The company in India that supplied the yellowfin tuna implicated in the multistate outbreak of Salmonella
infections linked to sushi is recalling 22-lb. cases of frozen tuna strips because they, too, may be contaminated with Salmonella.
In a news release
Wednesday, Moon Fishery (India) Pvt. Ltd. said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isolated Salmonella in a sample of tuna strips that had not yet been distributed.
As a cautionary measure, according to the company, it agreed to recall frozen tuna strips that had already been shipped, although it said none of those shipments “is from the suspect lot sampled by the FDA.”
The recalled tuna strips were shipped to four wholesalers in Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, Moon India said. Originally packaged in white boxes with black writing naming the importer as Moon Marine USA Corporation, a separate and independent company, the recalled frozen raw yellow tuna fin was identified as Tuna Strips AA or AAA, Product of India. The boxes contained several vacuum-wrapped packages with no further labeling.
Articles of Interest
Atypical BSE Has Never Led To Human vCJD – But Could It?
There is good news and bad news about the “L-type” atypical mad cow phenotype, found in the nearly 11-year-old, dead dairy cow discovered two weeks ago in California.
The good news is no human has ever contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (vCJD) disease from cattle infected with atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). vCJD is the human version of mad cow disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder.
The bad news is peer-reviewed findings by French neuroscientist Thierry Baron published in the January edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases
indicate it is too soon to say incidents like the California cow are just a spontaneous cases. Baron found mouse lemurs may contract L-type BSE more easily than the classic version.
But with prion researchers around the world working on the topic, that likely will not be the last word. Spontaneous vCJD occurs in humans in about one in one million cases.
Dr. Michael Hansen, a Consumers Union scientist who has long tracked mad cow disease, thinks there is a possibility L-type BSE is “not necessarily a spontaneous case.”
Hansen, speaking for CU last week, called upon USDA to adopt the following steps in the wake of the atypical BSE finding in a non-ambulatory cow:
- Increase the BSE surveillance program beyond the current 40,000 tests annually that Hansen calls “very small” but USDA says is 10 times more than required by world standards.
- Allow private companies to test for BSE at their own expense. Federal courts have said USDA has power over BSE tests and so far it has blocked private testing.
- Prohibit the use of poultry litter for feed, because birds may have consumed agents harboring the infectious mad cow agent, and prohibit cow blood as a milk replacer for weaning calves. USDA has not seen either practice as high risk.
USDA officials have said, over and over, during the past week that a system of interlocking defenses they’ve erected to combat BSE is working. Among these are:
- Removal of specified risk materials, meaning those parts of the animal that would contain BSE if the animal had the disease. These include brain, spinal cord and digestive tracts.
- The ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban that has been in effect since 1997.
- The BSE surveillance program, which includes those 40,000 tests a year, many conducted at targeted places like the rendering transfer station in Hanford, CA where the cow infected with atypical mad cow was found.
Until recently, many prion researchers believed the L-type BSE strain is probably not posing a danger to human because it is so rare people are typically not exposed to it.
But the University of Edinburgh’s Rona Barron, a molecular biologist, has recently found that the L-type prion has a harder time infecting normal human brain protein.
There are actually two atypical BSE phenotypes, L and K. They are classified according to high and low molecular mass. Classic BSE (C-type) is thought to stem from food chain contamination by a single prion strain.
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A Sow’s Life May Be Improving; But Pigs Still Abused
In two separate events, Safeway this week promised to phase out the use of sow gestation crates, while a new undercover video surfaced in Wyoming pointing to animal cruelty by a pork supplier.
Employees at Wyoming Premium Farms — a supplier to Tyson, albeit a small one — were seen on the videotape and in photos hitting, kicking, throwing and dragging pigs.
“I am sickened and outraged by what I’ve seen, and any right-thinking person will have the same reaction,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the U.S.
Denver-based Itoham America Inc., subsidiary of a Japanese company, was reported to be the owner of Wyoming Premium Farms, which is located about 150 miles north of Denver in Wheatland, WY. However, a Denver television station said that company filed dissolution papers with the Colorado Secretary of State on April 6.
The company is believed to be the target of an investigation into animal cruelty by the Platte County Sheriff. Tyson said Wyoming Premium does not provide pork used in its regular processing business.
Meanwhile this week, the retail giant Safeway announced it was going to “give preferences to pork suppliers who phase out individual sow housing,” or so-called gestation crates, that keep sows in a tight space for most of their lives.
“We hope that Safeway’s announcement will send a strong signal to the pork industry that confining pigs in crates so small they cannot even turn around or lie down comfortably is blatant animal abuse that will not be tolerated by socially responsible grocers,” said Mercy for Animals’ Nathan Runkle.
Last year, Iowa Select Farms, a Safeway pork supplier, was the target of an undercover video showing animal cruelty at that facility.
The Case of the Contaminated, Reusable Grocery Bag
How Oregon epidemiologists solved a norovirus mystery
Oregon state senior epidemiologist William Keene is a fan of Berton Roueché, whose books, like Eleven Blue Men, revealed the whodunnit work of epidemiology.
Now Keene, of the Oregon Public Health Division, and fellow sleuth Kimberly Repp, of Oregon Health and Sciences University, have cracked a case and told a real-life detective tale worthy of Roueché.
Writing in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, available here
online, Keene and Repp explain how in October, 2010, a group of Oregon soccer players, 13 and 14 years old, and some adult chaperones, came down with norovirus during a tournament in Washington state.
One of the girls apparently was infected prior to the trip, and began vomiting and suffering bouts of diarrhea late Saturday in the chaperone’s hotel bathroom. The girl, who had no contact with her teammates after she became ill, was driven home in the morning.
But a reusable grocery bag filled with snacks — packaged cookies, chips and grapes — had been in the bathroom. The rest of the group ate that food during a Sunday lunch, and other members of the team were ill by Tuesday after they had returned to Oregon.
In investigating the outbreak, Keene and Repp found no connections to any other norovirus illnesses at the team’s hotel, the tournament, or the restaurants where they had eaten. It wasn’t until they learned about the bag in the bathroom that a “coherent story” emerged, Keene and Repp wrote.
Two weeks later, matching viruses were found on the sides of the bag.
Although the first sick girl said she did not touch the grocery bag, Keene and Repp theorize that the viruses had aerosolized in the bathroom and settled on the sack and the food items inside.
“What this report does is it helps raise awareness of the complex and indirect way that norovirus can spread,” said Aron Hall, DVM, MSPH, with the Division of Viral Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an accompanying editorial
. And in what could be a blurb for a Roueché-style book, Hall adds that the study authors provide “a fascinating example of how a unique exposure and transmission scenario can result in a norovirus outbreak.”
Why I Am Not Attending or Watching ‘Weight of the Nation’
The national hysteria over obesity has reached a crescendo this week, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hosts the conference, “Weight of the Nation”
in Washington, DC. If you couldn’t make it, no worries, more fear-mongering is on the way in a four-part mini-series on HBO
to air next week. The show of the same name is produced in coordination with several federal government agencies. The trailer alone almost brought me to tears, seeing all the awful stereotypes of fat people.
As I wrote in my book, focusing on obesity is problematic for many reasons. One, it ensures the focus stays on the individual, instead of the food industry. What do you think when you see a fat person? That it’s their fault, they just need to eat better and exercise more. Granted, my public health colleagues are trying to change this conversation to one of the “environment” (far too apolitical a word) but as long as we keep talking about obesity, the framing is all about individual behavior change.
Next, scientific evidence
shows that fat people have enough problems dealing with discrimination, bullying, etc, and the last thing they need is more hate brought to you by the federal government and cable television. All the images I have seen coming from news accounts of the conference are negative. Even while the headlines may attempt to reframe from blame and shame, the images do not. For example, this Reuters story
headline reads “Obesity fight must shift from personal blame-U.S. panel” but the image is of a fat person. Journalists take note: you are adding to the problem of bias and shame by using these images. (Recently, I wrote an article
for the UK Guardian about PepsiCo and they wanted to run it with an image of a fat person. I insisted they change it and thankfully they did.)
Finally, obsessing over obesity is a great gift to the food industry because this is a problem food companies can supposedly help fix. They can market healthier foods
! They can help fund playgrounds and exercise programs
! Indeed, the big announcement
coming out of the CDC event yesterday was how the first lady’s Let’s Move program has its newest corporate partner in the frozen vegetable company, Birds Eye, which is launching a marketing campaign to encourage kids to eat their veggies. Problem solved, thanks Birds Eye. Never mind all that junk food marketing to kids, which Let’s Move ignores. (If you missed it, this recent excellent Reuters investigation
explains the food industry politics at play.)
Tuna Salmonella Lawsuit Filed in Boston, MA by National Food Safety Law Firm
A resident of Malden, Massachusetts is fighting a severe Salmonella Bareilly infection as a result of eating a spicy tuna roll that was part of the nationwide outbreak linked to raw tuna scrape imported by Moon Marine USA Corporation. A lawsuit has been filed on that patient’s behalf by Pritzker Salmonella lawyers in United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, Boston Division (case number 1:12-cv-10819-RGS) against Moon Marine USA.
More than 258 people have been sickened in this outbreak by two bacteria, Salmonella Bareilly and Salmonella Nchanga. The outbreak strain of bacteria has been linked to the raw tuna imported from India called “Nakaochi Scrape” by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), the gold standard in epidemiology. Since these bacteria do not naturally occur in tuna, contamination most likely occurred during processing or shipment.
According to the complaint, the victim ate a spicy tuna roll at the Thelonious Monkfish restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 26, 2012. Two days later, she began to suffer severe gastroenteritis symptoms and sought medical treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.
A stool sample tested positive for Salmonella Bareilly. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health conducted PFGE tests and found it to be a match to the Salmonella Bareilly outbreak cluster. Since that first positive stool sample, all of her samples have tested positive for Salmonella Bareilly, so she has been unable to legally return to work.
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