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April 15, 2024 Big Food Toxic Exposures

Toxic Exposures

FDA Head Calls on Congress to Pass Mandatory Testing for Lead in Food + More

The Defender’s Big Food NewsWatch brings you the latest headlines related to industrial food companies and their products, including ultra-processed foods, food additives, contaminants, GMOs and lab-grown meat and their toxic effects on human health. The views expressed in the excerpts from other news sources do not necessarily reflect the views of The Defender.

FDA Head Calls on Congress to Pass Mandatory Testing for Lead in Food

NBC News reported:

The head of the Food and Drug Administration urged Congress on Thursday to pass legislation mandating that food manufacturers test for lead in products imported to the United States.

Dr. Robert Califf’s comment was in response to a question from Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, during a hearing that touched on the FDA’s response to issues including lead-contaminated cinnamon applesauce pouches, which have sickened hundreds of children.

The applesauce pouches, from Florida-based company WanaBana, were recalled in the fall after they were found to have high lead levels. The pouches were imported from Ecuador. Califf said the FDA oversees products from about 275,000 registered manufacturing facilities across the U.S. and abroad. Due to budget limitations, the agency often has to rely on the food manufacturers themselves to do their own testing.

“In the case of cinnamon applesauce, if there had been mandatory testing when it got imported into the U.S. from Ecuador, the stores that were selling it probably would have picked it up at that point,” Califf said, noting that there is no federal requirement for testing for lead in foods.

The FDA would need Congress to enact legislation to give the agency the authority to impose mandatory testing, Califf said.

Gerber, Beech-Nut to Face MDL Over Claims of Tainted Baby Food

Reuters reported:

More than 20 lawsuits brought by families who say their children were harmed by baby food products made by Gerber, Beech-Nut, Campbell Soup Co and several other companies that were tainted with heavy metals will be centralized in San Francisco federal court, a federal judicial panel said Thursday.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said the cases will be centralized before U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in the Northern District of California, where five of the cases are already pending and similar litigation is proceeding in state court. The panel said the multidistrict litigation (MDL) would help move the cases more efficiently, given their overlapping claims and defendants.

In the cases, which are currently in 11 different federal courts, the families claim their children suffered brain injuries and were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD after they ate tainted baby food.

The cases follow a 2021 report from a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that found toxic levels of heavy metals in baby food manufactured by Gerber, Beech-Nut and others.

That year, more than 80 lawsuits were filed over the products, with the majority of them accusing the companies of defrauding consumers by failing to disclose the heavy metals present in the foods. Plaintiffs in those original lawsuits moved to create an MDL, but the JPML rejected it, saying the cases were against individual companies and should continue on their separate tracks.

‘It’s Environmental Racism’: Monterey County Sued Over Farm Chemicals Near Mostly Latino Schools

Los Angeles Times reported:

For Nelly Vaquera-Boggs, the plastic tarps that cover strawberry fields in Monterey County when they are being fumigated with toxic chemicals offer little comfort — especially when those fields are close to schools. The tarps, she said, sometimes come loose in the wind. They can get holes.

And in the small farm towns of the Pajaro Valley, where schoolyards often abut agricultural land, Vaquera-Boggs worries that — tarps or no tarps — those pesticides are drifting beyond the fields and endangering children.

“Teachers have been concerned about the nearby application of pesticides and fumigants for decades,” said Vaquera-Boggs, president of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers. “We live in an area that provides strawberries and a lot of the food that we consume, but we also still believe this can happen and our communities can be safe.”

This month, the teachers union, which represents around 1,100 school employees, joined four environmental and social justice groups in suing Monterey County agriculture officials and state pesticide regulators, alleging they disregarded children’s health by allowing several farms to use restricted pesticides in close proximity to three elementary and middle schools whose students are mostly Latino.

One Rancher’s Story: Oregon’s Small Farmers Receiving Cease and Desist Letters

The Post-Journal reported:

A rancher, somewhat rugged looking, but more of a gentleman cowboy, stands along a fine white fence in a recent viral video, an expanse of green farmland rolling behind him. He gazes at viewers behind a pair of sunglasses, doesn’t give his name, and says this:

“The state of Oregon has effectively shut down small farms and market gardens on a large scale, and they’re actually sending out cease-and-desist letters to farms. They’re using satellite technology to find their victims and send them these letters that say you can’t operate.”

Articles on the internet attest that small farmers are under attack in Oregon, which has begun shutting down family farms throughout the state under the guise of water conservation and groundwater protection.

Given the massive effort to shut down farms across Europe, news that similar efforts are taking place in Oregon is giving rise to concern in farming communities across the United States. The rancher in the video warns us that “these kinds of things start in one state and often spread.”

Concerns beyond Oregon are making the rounds in alternative news: Bill Gates is now the largest owner of farmland in the United States, with nearly 269,000 acres in twenty states. He is touting a new approach to farming and has recently backed a startup company that plans to use artificial intelligence to grow crops indoors. Gates is also buying up farmland in Kenya, where white farmers are being displaced, some killed in cold blood.

‘Nobody Saw This Coming’; California Dairies Scramble to Guard Herds Against Bird Flu

Los Angeles Times reported:

Earlier this spring, California dairy farmers noted a puzzling drop in milk production in Texas, New Mexico, Idaho, Ohio, Kansas and Michigan. Weeks later, news broke that several herds in these states, as well as North Carolina, had been diagnosed with avian influenza — the same strain that has devastated bird populations across the globe and shown a troubling ability to jump to mammals.

In an effort to prevent local herds from infection, officials in California and elsewhere have imposed restrictions on cattle imports from the affected states, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has urged livestock managers to minimize the movement of cattle as much as possible.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the current risk for the general public is low, the development has left dairy farmers reeling. Never before have U.S. dairy cows been infected with H5N1 bird flu viruses.

“Nobody saw this coming,” said Michael Payne, a researcher and outreach coordinator at the Western Institute of Food Safety and Security at UC Davis.

Since 2021, it has killed hundreds of millions of farmed poultry and infected more than 48 species of mammals — including humans — as well as countless numbers of wild birds. It has also proved especially deadly among some communal mammals, such as elephant seals and sea lions in South America, as well as caged fur-farmed animals in Europe.

EPA Issues Warning to Farmworkers Instead of Regulating a Highly Hazardous Weed Killer as an Imminent Threat

Beyond Pesticides reported:

At first, some thought this was an April Fools’ announcement by pranksters like the YES men. Put out an announcement pretending to be the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) with a warning to farmworkers that they are being exposed to a highly hazardous weed killer, dacthal (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate or DCPA), offering no protection.

The announcement says, “EPA is warning people of the significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies exposed to DCPA” and notes that the agency will be “pursuing” further action at some unspecified time in the future. But, this was no joke, especially for farmworkers.

The agency somehow believed it was fulfilling its statutory duty to protect farmworkers and their families with a warning that a chemical they may be exposed to in their workplace and possibly their homes and schools is harming them and, for those pregnant, destroying the health of their fetuses.

“In light of the workplace reality for farmworkers, the lack of labor protections, and the documented deficiencies in the existing worker protection standards, it is difficult to conceive of how EPA officials think this warning is protective in any way. And in light of what agency officials know, or should know, about the reality for farmworkers in their agricultural workplace, why are they not exercising the imminent hazard authority to suspend the chemical that Congress gave them,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. Mr. Feldman continued, “It’s not even clear in EPA’s press release how this warning will reach farmworkers.”

Michael Pollan’s Deliciously Simple Meal Plan to Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods — and Where It Falls Short

Insider reported:

Michael Pollan is probably best known for the seven simple words of diet advice he first used to open a New York Times essay in 2007, which later became the backbone of a bestselling book: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

He knows it’s really not so simple.

The reality is that Pollan does participate in America’s industrialized food system. He’s spent the better part of two decades investigating the way food corporations combine chemicals, plants, and animals in some very toxic ways, and as a result, he feels “really uncomfortable participating in a system that was so brutal, not just to the animals, but to the workers in it,” he told BI. But he knows that, ultimately, if you want to participate in U.S. society, some amount of toxic and unethical food is unavoidable.

Pollan’s new documentary (in select theaters now, and streaming on Amazon Prime) is a follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated 2008 release “Food, Inc.” “Food, Inc. 2” focuses on the few mega-companies that dominate our grocery stores and often end up deciding what we put in our mouths.

EPA Has Limited Six ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water — but There Are 15,000

The Guardian reported:

Strong new limits for some PFAS compounds in drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week are being celebrated for how far they go in reducing exposure to the dangerous chemicals.

But public health advocates say the rules merely represent a first step that is limited in its impact on the broader PFAS crisis because they do not directly prevent more pollution or force the chemical industry to pay for cleanup.

The rules also address only six compounds, although about 15,000 PFAS exist, and the vast majority remain unregulated or unstudied. Meanwhile, drinking water represents only about 20% of human exposure, the EPA estimates, and diet is probably a larger problem.

The PFAS crisis is so vast and complex that the only way to address it is to regulate the chemicals as a class and strongly limit their use, public health advocates say.

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