It was a media-crazed week for the Food and Drug Administration. Gardiner Harris of the New York Times exposed the tensions between the FDA and the Obama administration over the White House’s meddling in FDA regulation. The FDA’s ruling on the chemical BPA upset health activists and its essential dismissal of the Just Label It campaign’s one million signatures sparked controversy.
On top of it all, news of another health outbreak only furthered fears that White House involvement in the FDA was inhibiting the administration from conducting exhaustive food safety inspections. The USDA, on the other hand, came out on top this week avoiding scandal and instead received positive media coverage for its new logo for quality olive oil.
FDA in the New York Times
Harris’ investigative report on the White House’s increasing oversight of the FDA provided a possible explanation for the FDA’s lack of action on issues like banning antibiotics in animal feed and including calorie labels on foods served in movie theaters. The Obama administration had promised to empower the FDA (and scientific opinion), but has yet to follow through. Harris writes, “some analysts worry that the administration’s increased engagement could erode the FDA’s reputation for regulatory thoroughness and integrity.” In other words, expect more food-related health outbreaks.
FDA on BPA
Last Friday, the FDA actually did make a decision — not to ban the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). Sound familiar? When reports came out about BPA’s effect on hormones many plastic water bottle manufacturers, like Nalgene, began to produce “BPA Free” bottles. In 2010 Canada declared BPA toxic and it (and the EU) banned BPA from baby bottles. Studies have demonstrated that BPA, which can be found in clear, hard plastics and food can liners, can alter the endocrine levels in animals.
In the United States, BPA is still approved as a chemical additive in food containers, but it is under ongoing review. Public health lawyer, Michele Simon expressed her dismay in an article for Food Safety News, writing, “But with the scientific studies piling up to show how BPA increases the risk of everything from cancer to heart disease to fertility problems, and more recently, even obesity, this latest industry-friendly move by FDA is especially troubling.”
FDA’s Response to Just Label It
The Just Label It campaign, which advocates for the labeling of genetically modified foods, raised a record-breaking one million signatures for the petition they submitted to the FDA. But to their disappointment, the FDA is counting it as a single comment. One out of 394 that is. Because Just Label It did not submit every comment individually their one million signatures are now just — one. The FDA responded to the comment by anticlimactically announcing that it had yet to make a decision one way or the other.
Suspected Sushi/Sashimi Health Outbreak
If it’s true that the White House is impeding the inspection work of the FDA, it is not surprising that there is yet another health outbreak in the news. The CDC reported that Salmonella Bareilly has sickened ninety-three people across 19 states as well as the District of Columbia. Although the CDC has not conclusively linked the outbreak to food, it did report that 69% of those ill had consumed sushi or sashimi in the past seven days. According to Food Safety News an internal FDA email pointed to the infamous spicy tuna roll as being “highly suspect.” For now, we’ll stick to avocado cucumber rolls.
USDA-Approved Olive Oil
In perhaps the only uplifting news of the week, the USDA is now offering a new quality standard for U.S. olive oils. The “USDA Quality Monitored” logo is available for olive oils that meet rigorous standards for chemical testing, flavor analysis, and productions processes. As part of the evaluation, USDA testers make unannounced visits to olive oil production sites to assure the upkeep of quality standards. This week Baltimore-based Pompeian Inc.’s Extra Virgin and Extra Virgin Organic olive oils were the first to receive the seal, which Pompeian will start putting on its bottles later this month.