I thought today I’d make a note of recent food news and opinion from around the nation.
From today’s Detroit Free Press editorial page:
If those carrots you bought at the local supermarket the other day are looking a little tired, it isn't their fault. Their journey to your refrigerator was likely an arduous one - typically in excess of 1,800 miles.
That broccoli hiding under the carrots likely traveled as far - even if, like most Americans, you live within a few dozen miles of a broccoli farmer. No wonder it's looking a little brown.
It wasn't always this way. As recently as the 1950s, most of what Michiganders ate was produced or raised close to their homes. The state's 151,000 farms sold most of what they grew or raised to local food outlets, selling only the excess to other states and countries.
Today, Michigan has only a third as many farms - and most of what they produce ends up in freezers or pantries far from the Great Lakes State.
Michiganders still consume huge quantities of fresh produce themselves. But the great majority of those fruits and vegetables are imported from other states and countries.
Like most arrangements that seem absurd on their face, this one follows a certain economic logic.
The big supermarket chains that distribute most of the nation's fresh produce are partial to drier climate varieties that travel well.
Michigan growers typically do better selling the state's succulent fruits and vegetables to food processing companies that freeze, dehydrate or can them for distribution worldwide.
But Michiganders concerned about food safety and the diminished nutritional value of processed foods, plus the high monetary and environmental costs of shipping food across vast distances, are hungry for fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy goods produced closer to where they live -- and farmers, distributors and retailers are all responding.
Now it's up to policymakers to promote a trend that promises enormous benefits to Michigan's health, environment and economic vitality.
From Reuters news service: Many U.S. food handlers do not maintain proper records to track products such as milk and oatmeal, making it hard to identify the source of a food-borne outbreak, a government investigator said on Thursday.
A review by the inspector general's office in the Health and Human Services Department found 59 percent of foodmakers, transporters, warehouses, retailers and other facilities in the study failed to meet requirements to keep records about sources, recipients and transporters of food.
A quarter of the firms were unaware they were required to do so by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the review, which was based on a traceback test of 40 products, including milk, oatmeal and leafy vegetables.
The traceback test found in most cases the facility that "likely" handled the product was identified. Five items were traced throughout the entire supply chain, while investigators had trouble identifying who handled four of the products.
The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires produce processors and distributors to keep track of where food goes and has arrived from, enabling the FDA to use the records to track a product when there is a serious health threat.
Restaurants and farms are not covered by this requirement.
The pitfalls of the system were exposed last year when health officials took months to find the source of a salmonella outbreak. After first pointing to tomatoes as the source, the strain was later identified as coming from Mexican peppers.
The FDA defended that investigation, saying the process was delayed by poor record-keeping and delays checking paperwork. But critics called for a national tracking system.
"Traceability today is simply not good enough," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA.
"It's inconsistent, unreliable and these findings confirm, what many in Congress already believe: That we need to do better," said DeLauro, who has introduced a bill that would improve food supply tracking.
Requiring a firm that handles a food product to maintain records of every facility or farm that handled the product and allowing the FDA to request a firm's record any time are among recommendations to strengthen the system.
From the Los Angeles Times: Adding to the chorus seeking an overhaul of the nation's food safety system, a report issued Wednesday called on the Obama administration to put someone in charge of safeguarding the food supply and to create a Food Safety Administration.
The food safety system is "plagued with problems," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, which released the report in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"We are way overdue for a makeover," said Michelle Larkin, director of the foundation's Public Health Team. "It costs us around $44 billion annually in medical care and lost productivity, so the stakes are really high."
Michael Taylor, a former FDA deputy and a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said obsolete laws focus on reacting to problems rather than preventing them, and the agency is underfunded. Also, he said, there is no unified system for inspection, enforcement and notifying the public of dangers.
From the Associated Press: Drug industry advocates are quietly allying with some of their longtime critics pushing to split the Food and Drug Administration into two agencies, one for food safety and one for medical products.
President Barack Obama bolstered hopes for a breakup last Saturday when he named two public health specialists to the agency's top positions and appointed an advisory group to reassess the nation's decades-old food safety laws.
Drug executives see a chance to speed up drug approvals that have lagged amid a drought of new products, provided their regulator is no longer distracted by high-profile food-safety breakdowns.
"Every CEO that I know in health care is in favor of this, but none that value their share prices will go on the record for fear of retribution from the FDA," said Steve Brozak, president of WBB Securities, an investment brokerage focused on drug and biotech companies.
While FDA's food and drug staffs are separate, Brozak and others believe the public lashings over food outbreaks have made senior officials even more risk-averse on drug approvals.