Category: Food

Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees

This is a potentially important find, but as usual, I feel the need to stress that at this point in time, as the scientists did too, that they correlated the presence of this virus with the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder. It is likely that this virus, while being a contributing factor, is not the only cause. Other contributors may include stress, the fact that these bee hives are transported thousands of miles, etc.

But, great detective work by this collaborative team of academics, American government scientists and one for-profit company.

ScienceDaily: Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees

A team led by scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Pennsylvania State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Arizona, and 454 Life Sciences has found a significant connection between the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees.

The findings, an important step in addressing the disorder that is decimating bee colonies across the country, are published in the journal Science.

In colony collapse disorder, honey bee colonies inexplicably lose all of their worker bees. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S.

I was just thinking I should check on the progress of scientists towards finding a cause for this issue, seems like I did not have to!

Diacetyl hits the big time

It’s well known that occupational exposure to various pollutants including pesticides, manufacturing raw materials, and in this case, flavoring agents, is a serious problem affecting millions of factory and farm workers all over the world.

Which is why it is interesting when one case of a man contracting an illness possibly linked to at-home diacetyl exposure makes much more splashy news than the well documented cases of many workers dying of such exposure at work. It is unfortunate, but people working at factories and in farms are somehow expected to handle higher levels of exposure and risk. The assumption is that they are protected by agencies such as OSHA, and that they will provided with protective wear, etc. But, when the agencies drop the ball on protecting workers, it takes an “escape” of the incident into the ambient realm for the news agencies to pick it up as a headline.

I guess the good thing now is that this diacetyl issue is blown open, and should result in reform, because alternatives are available.

Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit – New York Times

A fondness for microwave buttered popcorn may have led a 53-year-old Colorado man to develop a serious lung condition that until now has been found only in people working in popcorn plants.

Lung specialists and even a top industry official say the case, the first of its kind, raises serious concerns about the safety of microwave butter-flavored popcorn.

“We’ve all been working on the workplace safety side of this, but the potential for consumer exposure is very concerning,” said John B. Hallagan, general counsel for the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States, a trade association of companies that make butter flavorings for popcorn producers. “Are there other cases out there? There could be.”

A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency was considering the case as part of a review of the safety of diacetyl, which adds the buttery taste to many microwave popcorns, including Orville Redenbacher and Act II.

Meanwhile, ConAgra, the biggest manufacturer of popcorn, announces plans to drop diacetyl at some undetermined “later date”. Weird, their website’s currently down!

Good news on Diacetyl

It turns out that turning up the heat on popcorn manufacturers to replace diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring ingredient that kills people exposed to it during manufacturing, has effects. Apparently, there are substitutes that work just as well and can be used without too much trouble.

Popcorn Maker Drops Chemical Linked To Lung Ailment – Local News Story – WRTV Indianapolis

Weaver Popcorn Co., one of the nation’s top microwave popcorn makers, has switched to a new butter flavoring, replacing a chemical linked to a lung ailment in popcorn plant workers.

The Indianapolis-based company began shipping new butter-flavored microwave popcorn a few weeks ago that contain no diacetyl, a chemical undergoing national scrutiny because of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare life-threatening disease often called popcorn lung.

Company president Mike Weaver said that although his workers have experienced no such cases, the family-owned business wanted to lead the popcorn industry and allay consumer fears by eliminating the chemical from its product line

David Michaels of George Washington University’s Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy Project and writer on one of my favorite blogs, the Pump Handle has been at the forefront of documenting this issue, raising awareness and bringing pressure to bear. I am glad to see that we’re seeing positive change for diacetyl.

Hopefully, you’re going to start seeing “Diacetyl Free!!!!” signs on your microwave popcorn (and other artificially buttered products) real soon.

Hog Factories are Evil Part 1232

This rather interesting study tracks the movement and evolution of antibiotic resistance from hog cesspools (lagoons) caused by factory production (hog farming) of pig meat. You see, in order to pack that many hogs together and not cause them to keel over and die from disease, they have to be pumped full of antibiotics. Guess where the antibiotics end up? In their “refuse”.

As always, I leave you with The Meatrix if you want to know more about factory farming.

Antibiotic Resistance Tracked From Hog Farms to Groundwater

The routine use of antibiotics in swine production can have unintended consequences, with antibiotic resistance genes sometimes leaking from waste lagoons into groundwater, according to new research from the University of Illinois.

Researchers report that some genes found in hog waste lagoons are transferred, “like batons,” from one bacterial species to another. This migration across species and into new environments sometimes dilutes, and sometimes amplifies, genes conferring antibiotic resistance, they say.

The new report, in the August issue of “Applied and Environmental Microbiology,” tracks the passage of tetracycline resistance genes from hog waste lagoons into groundwater wells at two Illinois swine facilities.

Tetracycline is widely used in swine production. It is injected into the animals to treat or prevent disease, and is often used as an additive in hog feed to boost the animals’ growth.

Its near-continuous use in some hog farms promotes the evolution of tetracycline-resistant strains in the animals’ digestive tracts and manure.

This is the first study to take a broad sample of tetracycline resistance genes in a landscape dominated by hog farming, said principal investigator R.I. Mackie, a professor in the University of Illinois-Champaign department of animal sciences and an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Factory Farm Maps

Want to know where the factory farms are? Want to see a nice graphical representation of the number of hogs, or cows, or chickens that live next to you in factory conditions? Well, look no further than Factory Farm Map.

You will find, for instance, that Iowa is the hog king at 13 million hogs, followed closely by North Carolina at 9.8 million. However, Iowa has them spread out through the state while North Carolina has them in one part of the state (Down east), exacerbating the concentration of the pollution, and the differential impacts of the pollution with geographical location. There are 2.19 million hogs in Duplin County alone, that is 40+ hogs to every human that lives there, or 25000+ hogs per square mile, nice…

Anyway, words don’t do the site justice, just go and play with it.

Organic agriculture can feed the world

That’s the conclusion reached by the authors of this study based on 293 examples in the developing and developed world.The authors also conclude that yields in the developing world are higher for organic agriculture than for conventional agriculture. Why? Well, since the paper is not open access, I can’t read it, or critique it, I’ll have to wait to get to the library before I can download it. But, maybe it’s because organic agriculture tends to be more labor intensive than conventional agriculture as practised by the developed world, and in the developing world, labor is cheap!

Anyway, this is a good news study and should be examined a little more thoroughly.

CJO – Abstract – Organic agriculture and the global food supply

The principal objections to the proposition that organic agriculture can contribute significantly to the global food supply are low yields and insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers. We evaluated the universality of both claims. For the first claim, we compared yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production for a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic:non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world. For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly 1.0 for studies in the developing world. With the average yield ratios, we modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base. We also evaluated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture. Evaluation and review of this paper have raised important issues about crop rotations under organic versus conventional agriculture and the reliability of grey-literature sources. An ongoing dialogue on these subjects can be found in the Forum editorial of this issue.

FDA and European regulators in information sharing agreement on food

Good, I guess. The Europeans demand a lot of testing on their food, and if they can share information with the FDA on general trends, and even specific batches of food ingredients, the FDa gets a lot of information without having to setup any kind of infrastructure, or have manufacturers scream at them for insisting they perform tests they’re already performing for the European market!

In regulation, the strictest one eventually wins as long as it has enough of a market that it cannot be boycotted/ignored.

FDA inks deal with Europeans over food safety | Health | Reuters

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Monday it signed a pact with European regulators to share more information about the safety of the food supply.

The FDA said the agreement with the European Food Safety Authority would pave the way for formally sharing confidential scientific information and that it would help protect confidential information under both regions’ laws.

Organic Schmorganic update

I blogged about this recently, and it looks like we’re one step closer to “primarily organic” food. The USDA moves forward in its plan to sneak in 5% non-organic content into organic food. Note that with fat-heavy ingredients such as fish oil, even 5% can carry a significant punch of bioaccumulative nasties including pesticides, PCBs, mercury, etc. But that should be an isolated case. Fish oil made for EU consumption is already tested extensively for these compounds. So, most manufacturers should already be producing the clean stuff. In the end, the health effects of this change are likely to be very minor.

Couldn’t they just call it 95% organic? Can’t we be trusted to do basic math? it could be a competition. “My bar is 97% organic, is yours only 95??” – Truth in labeling!

Nonorganic ingredients get tentative OK – Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave interim approval Friday to a controversial proposal to allow 38 nonorganic ingredients to be used in foods carrying the “USDA Organic” seal. But the agency also allowed an extra 60 days for public comment.

Manufacturers of organic foods had pushed for the change, arguing that the 38 items are minor ingredients in their products and are difficult to find in organic form. But consumers opposed to the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones in food production bombarded the USDA with more than 1,000 complaints last month.

“If the label says organic, everything in that food should be organic,” wrote Kimberly Wilson of Austin, Texas, in one typical comment. “If they put something in the food that isn’t organic, they shouldn’t be able to call it organic. No exception.”

The list approved Friday includes 19 food colorings, two starches, hops, sausage casings, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemongrass, Wakame seaweed, Turkish bay leaves and whey protein concentrate.

Manufacturers will be allowed to use conventionally grown versions of these ingredients in foods carrying the USDA seal, provided that they can’t find organic equivalents and that nonorganics comprise no more than 5% of the product.