US food safety delay, China’s liquor scandal: Global News Bites

A new weekly segment, Global News Bites keeps you up-to-date on what's happening around the world in food and beverage manufacturing.

Food Safety Modernization Act Could Finally Be Implemented With Election Over
Usually, when President Barack Obama has been criticized for moving too cautiously on a given issue, he’s been able to blame a divided, obstinate Congress for slowing him down. But when it comes to food safety reform, he may not be able to pass the buck quite so easily — because Congress already gave him the go-ahead to act. Obama signed the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in January 2011. The act, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio and passed with modest Republican support, promised the biggest overhaul of the country’s food safety regulations in decades. It was supposed to shift the country’s legal regime on food safety away from criminal punishment and toward prevention, largely by instituting four sets of rules about how the food industry, both here and abroad, would have to ensure its products are safe.

The four regulations would impose stronger controls on imported foods, mandate comprehensive systems for preventing produce contamination, and require more frequent inspections and rigorous controls of facilities that produce packaged foods and animal feed. "This law was the first modernization of food safety laws in about 70 years,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, a food safety expert with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It impacts 80 percent of the foods that consumers purchase — essentially all foods except those containing meat or poultry are covered under this act.” Yet, nearly two years after its passage, none of these four major regulations have even been released in provisional form — despite the fact that FSMA set Jan. 4, 2012 as the deadline for that release. According to some, the delay is the product of politically motivated intransigence in the White House.

Liquor scandal prompts food safety efforts
China's national quality watchdog has urged a massive overhaul on producers of spirits nationwide after confirming that some liquor products contained excessive levels of a plasticizer. The latest scandal was first exposed in a research report from a website on Monday, renewing public concern about food safety. A probe into the distilled spirits market has found trace amounts of DEHP, mainly DBP, in liquor products. Most experts believe liquor producers do not deliberately add plasticizers to their products, which may well be tainted via plastic containers or tubes in their storage or transport … The liquor scandal will deal a blow to the competitive industry. Sales of some liquor products have dropped in the wake of the scandal, which has not yet fully shown its scope. In fact, the China Alcoholic Drinks Association knew that liquor products contained plasticizers in June last year and urged liquor companies to trace the sources of plasticizers. Later, it asked liquor companies to ban the use of plastic products in production, storage and transport. Shortly after plasticizers were detected in hundreds of local products in Taiwan in May 2011, the Chinese mainland authorities were alerted to the contamination.

In June 2011, the national food safety committee issued a notice on strengthening the quality safety of liquor products. This was the latest in a string of food contamination scandals, which has included melamine-tainted milk, pork containing the illegal additive clenbuterol and pharmaceutical capsules with excessive levels of chromium, over the past five years … Official data show that the law enforcement dealt with more than 180,000 food and medicine safety cases and penalized nearly 40,000 people in such cases between November 2007 and February 2012.

Canada’s organic food certification system ‘little more than an extortion racket,’ report says
Annual organic agricultural sales in Canada exceed $2.6-billion, by recent estimates, with supermarket chains joining alternative stores in stocking an ever-widening array of organic-labelled products. As the popularity of organic food explodes in Canada, it has drawn new scrutiny that raises questions over its authenticity, meaning and value. It is the authenticity of organic food labelling that forms the core of an excoriating report this month from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Canada’s legislated organic certification process is an invitation for fraud and abuse, the report argues, with consumers paying an often hefty premium for a designation that requires no proof. In response to the organic industry’s growth, Canada enacted a labelling requirement: Since 2009, products making an organic claim must be certified by an agency accredited by the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Not included in that process, however, is mandatory laboratory testing of products that could ensure organic-labelled food is actually farmed without pesticides, leaving the organics industry in the hands of the honour system. “It amounts to little more than an extortion racket, one that the greediest of mafiosi would envy,” write Mischa Popoff and Patrick Moore in their report released this month by the Winnipeg-based, free-market-friendly think-tank.

Around 47% of US on food stamps
An analysis by Breitbart News has found that the number of individuals on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of 24 states and the District of Columbia. In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a record 47,102,780 individuals receive food stamps. According to US. Census Bureau data, that figure exceeds the combined populations of: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Since January 2009, the number of individuals on food stamps has skyrocketed from 31.9 million to the current record high 47.1 million. By comparison, in 1969 just 2.8 million Americans received food stamps.

Canada meat plant operations halted on food safety concerns
Canadian food inspectors on Friday said they have suspended operations at a meat-processing plant in Edmonton, Alberta, for failing to properly track its deliveries after detecting the Listeria bacteria on an employee. The incident comes just a month after a major health scare in Canada over tainted beef at another meat plant in the province. Capital Packers Inc detected the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes – which can cause fever, nausea and even meningitis in infected people – on a worker's sleeve and on Monday notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). While such a finding is routine and there is no evidence that any food was contaminated, the CFIA suspended the company's license as a precautionary measure after finding it was unable to properly track the whereabouts of its products. "The company's ability to understand the distribution of their products is in question and is an element of concern for us, hence the license suspension," Paul Mayers, associate vice-president of programs at the CFIA, told reporters on a teleconference. Initially, the company told the CFIA that the potentially affected products were under its control. The CFIA's own investigation determined that they may in fact have been delivered to several provinces, Mayars said. In September, the XL Foods meat plant in Alberta was shut down for about a month after it produced millions of pounds of beef tainted with the E. coli bacteria that sickened at least 16 people in Canada. Capital Packers makes bacon, sausages, fresh meats and other products and sells them in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories, according to its Web site. The company has voluntary recalled ham sausages under the brand names Capital and Compliments.

Farmers locked in food production vs. pollution trade-off
Agriculture remains a major threat to water quality in Europe, according to the latest report by the European Union’s environmental agency. But farmers and EU policymakers are also quick to highlight the trade-off between conservation objectives and pressure to increase food production. At a time when other sources of pollution have cleaned up their act, the European Union’s environmental watchdog reports that intensive farming practices are contributing to “significant loads of pollutants” in surface water. The European Environment Agency, in a new assessment, reports that 48% of streams and lakes in the EU will fail to meet good ecological status by 2015 as required by the 2000 Water Framework Directive. Excessive nutrients from fertilisers are a leading problem, the EEA report says, with one consequence being the growth algae that chokes off oxygen to fish and plant life in lakes, streams and bays. “Agricultural production is becoming increasingly intensive, with high input of fertilisers and pesticides, in turn resulting in significant loads of pollutants to the water environment through diffuse pollution,” the EEA says in a new report on Europe’s water status. The European Commission’s Water Blueprint, released a day later on 15 November, calls for better enforcement at the national level of EU laws designed to reduce pollution “from nutrients and/or other chemicals from agriculture, households and industry.” But the fight against pollution is destined to run head-on with concern about food security. There is growing pressure, in Europe and internationally, for farmers to be more productive to address tighter food supplies, rising prices and a population forecast of 9 billion – from 7 billion today – by mid-century.

Sky Greens vertical green produce takes off
Singapore’s food producers may soon be locally growing a lot more fresh produce due to an innovative new vertical farm system created by Singaporean company, Sky Greens. Until now, food producers on the city-state island hub of South East Asia, have struggled for room to produce fresh fruit and vegetables in the densely populated city, opting for imports. In fact, only 7 per cent of Singapore’s fresh food is grown locally, but the new vertical farming techniques expected to bring this number to ten per cent. The Sky Greens vertical farm is a 3.2 acre urban farm that uses minimal land and resources, offering a sustainable approach to growing produce in heavily populated cities.  The A-Go-Grow vertical farm systems are protected by outdoor green houses, with the advantage of producing tropical leafy vegetables year-round. Currently the vertical farming systems can grow Chinese cabbage, spinach, lettuce and bayam. As the farm expands, Sky Greens have said that they plan to grow a diverse range of vegetables. Sky Greens have said that they would like to turn their 120 A-Go-Grow vertical farms into 300, with the support of investors. If Sky Greens are successful in creating 300 vertical farms, daily vegetable supply is expected to go from 0.5 tonnes to 2 tonnes over the next year. As well as the economic benefits of continuous production and higher yields, Sky Greens say that the vertical farming system also offers many environmental benefits. The A-Go-Gro systems use low carbon, hydraulic green technology and thus have reported very low energy costs. Similarly, Sky Greens say the vertical farming systems also offer low water costs as the vertical crops are irrigated through an “innovative flood method” that utilises recycled water.

Forget the vodka, make mine a malt, Vladimir
It's as Russian as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and the Siberian steppe but vodka has a new challenger as the world's fourth-heaviest drinking nation's spirit of choice. This month, Beam, which owns Jim Beam and Maker's Mark, has become the latest distiller to announce that it hopes to double its whisky sales there. Beam has been a little slow off the mark though; single malts Glenfiddich and Glenivet, and blends such as Johnny Walker Black Label are already among the country's most popular drinks. Last year whisky imports grew by a staggering 48 per cent. The Western drinks cabinet favourite's new-found popularity partly stems from its novelty to Russian drinkers. A state monoply had restricted its availability since the days of the Tsar (that didn't stop KGB henchman sipping imported Ballantine's in the Soviet era) and it was only when Boris Yeltsin lifted the monopoly in 1992 that the drink took off. The average Russian drinks 15 litres of spirits a year, with vodka obviously being the most popular choice, but that hasn't stopped President Putin slapping a 30 per cent tax hike on strong liquor as part of tough crackdown on booze.

World’s first caviar vending machine opens in US
Need a caviar fix at 2 am? Billed as a world first, a caviar vending machine has opened in California for the deep-pocketed who prefer to indulge their snack cravings with caviar and blinis rather than candy bars and chips. Beverly Hills Caviar has set up the luxury snack food vending machine at the Burbank Town Centre Mall, which also dispenses all the accoutrements one needs for a gold-gilded, midnight snack. Think caviar, truffles, escargot, blinis, bottarga (fish egg sacks), oils, Mother of Pearl plates and spoons, gift boxes and gourmet salts. Beverly Hills is also home to another innovative, automated food delivery system. Earlier this year, a 24-hour ATM machine that dispenses cupcakes sent foodies on a sugar high.


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