Archive - December 2012

New Deadly Superbug Found in UK Milk Supply

Pasteurized-Milk

The antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA kills more Americans than AIDS, and is widespread in the U.S. pig herd.

The bacterium that has become a serious health threat in the United States and Germany is referred to as community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or ca-MRSA.

“Ca-MRSA is resistance to almost all common antibiotics, which complicates treatment. And, in contrast to the highly drug-resistant hospital-acquired MRSA (ha-MRSA) strains, which primarily affect the elderly and people in hospitals and nursing homes, ca-MRSA affects healthy young people.”

According to a report last week in Medical Daily, a new, deadly strain of MRSA superbug has been found in British milk for the first time, and indicates the bacteria are spreading through the UK livestock population.

The new strain of MRSA known as ST398, is resistant to antibiotics and can cause serious and even deadly infections in humans.

MRSA ST398 was first detected in pigs in the Netherlands in 2003, and has become widespread in European and North American pig populations, poultry and cattle.

Large corporate farms feed antibiotics to pigs, chickens, and cows to stimulate growth and save on feed costs, so that healthy cattle and poultry are routinely injected with antibiotics whether they need them or not.

MRSA ST398 is one of a number of superbugs that have emerged in recent years because of the overuse of antibiotics.

Experts say the more antibiotics are used, the greater the risk the bacteria will develop resistance, and superbugs such as MRSA will evolve.

Medical Daily’s Christine Hsu claims MRSA has become an increasingly frequent cause of udder infections in dairy cows, and was discovered from tests on 1,500 samples. Researchers found seven cases of RSA ST398 from five farms in England, Scotland and Wales.

“Cambridge University scientists who first identified MRSA in milk in 2011, say that the latest discovery of a different strain is troubling, adding that it shows that the superbug is gaining an increasing hold in the dairy industry.”

Some experts insist there is no risk of MRSA infection to consumers from dairy products as long as the milk is pasteurized.

But as Hsu points out, the problem comes from farmers, vets and slaughterhouse workers who may become infected through contact with cows and could transmit the bug to others.

“This has happened in the Netherlands where the same strain of MRSA has caused an outbreak among residents in a nursing home.”

Moreover, healthy individuals can keep the pathogens under control. But the real danger from these pathogens manifest when an individual becomes seriously ill.

Mark Holmes, of the department of veterinary medicine, who led the new study, published in Eurosurveillance, said that the latest findings show “definitely a worsening situation,” according to The Independent.

“In 2011 when we first found MRSA in farm animals, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] initially didn’t believe it. They said we don’t have MRSA in the dairy industry in this country,” Holmes told the UK newspaper.

“Now we definitely have MRSA in livestock. What is curious is that it has turned up in dairy cows when in other countries on the Continent it is principally in pigs. Could it be in pigs or poultry in this country? We don’t know.”

According to the UL Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, human cases of the infection with the new strain have already been detected in Scotland and northern England.

“Common sense tells us that anything we can do to reduce use of antibiotics will reduce the growth of resistant bugs,” said Holmes. “We want to wean our farmers off antibiotics and the only way we can do that is with better regulation.”

Top 5 Food Crimes of 2012

crime dog bubble

After careful review, we assembled five of the most bizarre food related crimes of 2012.

The nature of the crimes range from amusing embarrassment to macabre tales we thought only Stephen King could summons from his wickedly lively imagination.

5) Sushi Bar Busted with One-Way Mirror In Ladies Room

Although not officially a crime, complaints were filed with The Chamber of Commerce in Vienna by women who were appalled when they discovered a one-way mirror, or semi-transparent Venetian mirror placed above the urinals in the men’s room, allowing men to peer into the ladies room while they urinated.

“We were shocked when we heard that,” said a female customer at the restaurant, eating with her friends.

“I immediately responded to a waiter and was told to be quiet,” said the 45-year-old female, identified only as Mrs. B.

4) Shocked Diners Watch As Couple Have Sex on Restaurant Table

A couple was caught having sex at a popular restaurant in Orlando, Florida, on a patio table situated on an outdoor terrace in plain view of restaurant patrons, including children, and sidewalk pedestrian traffic.

Tiffani Lynn Barganier was apparently sitting atop Jeremie Calo when restaurant manager Tom Murphy told the couple: “Compose yourself, pay your tab or I’ll call the police.”

Calo replied, “She can’t get up at this time” while his date was still on top of him. When Murphy was dialing 911, Calo allegedly attempted to walk out with two of the restaurant’s glasses, but another employee stopped him.

A scuffle between Murphy and Calo ensued, and Murphy and two employees held Calo down until authorities arrived.

3) Restaurateur Creates Fake Sex Profile For Diner Who Complained of Bad Service

Marisol Simoes, co-owner of two eateries in Ottawa, Ontario, was incensed when diner Elayna Katz criticized her restaurant in Ottawa for bad service.

Katz complained that the service at Mambo Nuevo Latino was rude and slow, and that her server brought her a pasta dish with olives when she’d asked for it without olives.

When Katz’s bad review hit a restaurant industry site, she says a deluge of posts followed using her full name and address.

To get revenge, Simoes used Katz’s name and wedding photos to create a fake profile for her on a sex site, which touted Katz as a tiger in the bedroom, who liked transgender mates and group sex.

The profile was set up using a log-in with Simoes’ information. Simoes was implicated because the phony profile closely resembled emails that she’d also sent to Elayna Katz’s employers.

“I am open to anything — couples, threesomes and group sex. Am especially into transsexuals and transgenders (being one myself)” read the e-mail that was circulated in Katz’s name.

Simoes was found guilty of criminal libel.

2) Restaurateur Accused of Poisoning Girlfriend to Force Abortion

Joshua Woodward, a popular Los Angeles restaurateur, was accused of poisoning his girlfriend to cause her to suffer a miscarriage. Woodward turned himself in to police and pleaded not guilty to four counts of attempted murder.

Prosecutors said Woodward rubbed the drug misoprostol, which can terminate early-stage pregnancies, at least four times on his girlfriend over a two month period.

“He secretly gave the girlfriend the early-term abortion drug misoprostol three times without her knowledge, once orally and twice vaginally,” alleged prosecutors.

Woodward had searched online for ways to terminate a pregnancy, and for tips on using chloroform around the time of her miscarriage.

The former girlfriend miscarried at 13 weeks.

1) California Chef Slow-Cooks Wife For 4 Days

David Veins, a 49-year-old chef and owner of Thyme Contemporary Café in Lomita, California, confessed to police that he slow-cooked his wife, Dawn Viens, for four days in boiling water.

He told detectives that at the restaurant, he stuffed his wife’s 105-pound body in a 55-gallon drum of boiling water, slow-cooked her remains for four days, and then disposed of what was left in the restaurant’s grease pit or garbage bags.

“I manipulated her so the face was, the face is down, and I took some, some things, like weights that we use, and I put them on the top of her body, and I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days,” he told detectives.

He told detectives he hid his wife’s skull and jawbone for safekeeping in his mother’s attic in nearby Torrance.

David’s wife, Dawn, had apparently grown tired of their lifestyle and pleaded with her husband to move to the mountains. When this failed, Dawn began stealing money from the restaurant and when David found out he “snapped.”

“For some reason, I just got violent,” David Viens told the detectives. “Seemed like it had to deal with her stealing money.”

Dawn Viens’ disappearance remained a missing persons case until August 2010, when detectives turned over the case to the homicide unit of the sheriff’s department.

Foodie Freebies 2013

Emergenc_sample

Everyone loves freebies. If you want some freebies this January, check out these great offers from foodie companies:

Art of TeaThis one is pretty cool. They are giving away a PDF of their Tea Ritual Guide. Great info if you are a newbie into the cult of tea.

Atkins: Atkins is giving away a quick start kit and three Atkins bars to get your New Year resolution started. This one is only available to people in the U.S. and Canada.

Big Ted’s Spice RubBrand new company, not in stores yet, but they are working on building the buzz. They are giving away samples of their Zesty BBQ Rub.

CepacolThey are giving away samples of their Cepacol Sensations lozenges. Could come in handy if you get hit with a cold in 2013.

Emergen-C: Ned Stark was right. Winter is here. And Emergen-C is giving away samples until they run out.  So hurry up and order your samples today.

NectresseIf you’ve never heard of it, it is made by the same people who make splenda. This sweetener is made from Monk Fruit and boasts no calories.

Pizza Hut Launches Its Own Perfume: “Eau de Pizza Hut”

Pizza-Hut

As part of a Facebook marketing ploy by Pizza Hut, the company decided to launch its own perfume.

“The limited edition perfume was designed to commemorate Pizza Hut Canada reaching 100,000 Facebook fans. Only 110 bottles were produced and shared with lucky Facebook fans who won a bottle by being among the first to share their desire for Pizza Hut perfume.”

The new fragrance from Pizza Hut Canada — a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc. — vaunts an aroma of freshly baked, hand-tossed dough.

“When our ad team at GRIP brought the idea to us, we absolutely loved it,” says Beverley D’Cruz, Marketing and Product Development Director, Pizza Hut Canada.

“What better way to celebrate our Facebook fans than by providing them with a way to enjoy the fresh smell of Pizza Hut pizza whenever they want!”

According to Beverley D’Cruz, Pizza Hut perfume may or may not hit the department stores, only time will tell.

“For now, we’ve only produced 110 bottles of Eau de Pizza Hut, but who knows what the future has in store,” says D’Cruz.

“The good news is people can enjoy the great smell of fresh Pizza Hut pizza any day of the week by ordering one of our signature crust pizzas.”

Pizza Hut Canada

Pizza Hut is one of Canada’s largest pizza restaurant chains with over 320 franchised restaurants across Canada offering dine-in, delivery and online ordering experiences.

In addition to Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza, Pizza Hut boasts a number of other offerings including WingStreet Wings, Signature Singles, PANormous Pizza and a line of pizzas made with multigrain crust that are part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check™ program.

With more than 12,800 locations in 100 countries, Pizza Hut claims they are the world’s largest pizza restaurant company.

More Amusing Food Inspired Novelties

French designer Philippe Starck and a Franco-American scientist, David Edwards, invented a spray called “Wahh Quantum Sensations”.

The spray device is housed in an aluminum tube designed by Philippe Starck.

Edwards claims each spray dose consists of 0.075 milliliters of alcohol, but when aerosolized by the spray’s unique mechanism, the dose makes you feel fully intoxicated, though only briefly.

The state of intoxication only last for a few seconds, and once the effects wear off, you’ll be able to pass a breathalyser.

Edwards also invented “Whif”, which sold 400,000 units, and is another spray that allows the user to experience the taste of chocolate, coffee, and tea.

“Whif” was followed by “Whaf”, a generator of flavor clouds from liquid mixtures made by the user (the martini lemon pie) and generated by an ultrasound system integrated in a carafe, developed with the culinary designer Marc Bretillot.

Research Reveals Surprising Busiest Day For Restaurants

Sands-Restaurant-at-Discovery-Shores

Eli Chait, founder and CEO of Copilot Labs, a San Francisco-based company that analyzes restaurant POS data to provide operators advice on effective marketing promotions, points out that every restaurant goes through weekly and seasonal cycles.

Chait says most operators know whether Friday will be busier than Monday, or if they should expect a busy December, but it’s much more difficult to follow other holidays and events and successfully gauge customer traffic patterns.

Chait reviewed sales data from five San Francisco restaurants to discover the best and worst days in 2012. After tallying and comparing the stats, Chait was surprised to learn that for all five restaurants, only one day was consistently busy.

Although Copilot Labs’ analysis is far from scientific, Chait published the following results on Inside Scoop:

Busy For All: Valentine’s Day

February 14th fell on a Tuesday this year. For four of the five restaurants it was one of the top two busiest Tuesdays of the year and almost double the normal Tuesday sales.

Slow For All

    Black Friday

– No surprises here. Almost every restaurant expects to get a big hit to sales during Thanksgiving weekend. Some restaurants should not even open their doors on Black Friday. This was the worst Friday of the year for 2 of 5 restaurants, and among the worst five days overall for the other restaurants. Only one restaurant did more than 50% of their normal Friday sales.

    Superbowl Sunday

– None of these restaurants were sports bars, but we still did not expect them to take such a big hit on Superbowl Sunday. This was one of the worst three Sundays for all five restaurants we studied. Two of them did not even reach 25% of their normal Sunday sales.

    World Series

– On Saturday, October 27th, the San Francisco Giants played Game 3 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers; first pitch was at 5:15pm. Restaurants had one of the slowest Saturdays of the year. What makes this a surprise is that the first, second, and fourth games of the World Series also started at the same time, and didn’t have nearly the same negative affect as the third game.

Hit-or-Miss

Holiday promotions are a critical part of any restaurant marketing strategy, and this became evident when studying the most hit-or-miss days of the year.

    Mother’s Day

– This was one of the top three Sundays at three of the five restaurants, but among the worst at one restaurant. All of them were open for brunch and dinner. The busiest restaurant more than doubled their average on that Sunday, but on the other hand, the worst halved it.

    Fourth of July Week

– This is a strange week for most restaurants, especially when it falls mid-week, like it did this year (Fourth of July was a Wednesday). All five restaurants were closed on Independence Day, and all of them struggled horribly on July 5.

In fact, it was the slowest Thursday of the year for two of five restaurants and well below average for the others. Oddly, July 3 was was one of the best Tuesdays of the year for two of the restaurants.

Single-Day Promotions

Based on their research findings, Chait claims single-day promotions and events should be a larger part of every restaurant’s marketing plan. A good event can turn a bad day for most restaurants (Halloween, for example) into the best of the year.

Chait suggests that becoming a customer favorite for a specific event such as Mother’s Day could have a much more powerful impact on sales than including Happy Hour for an entire month. “Don’t underestimate single-day events and promotions.”

Tactful (and Effective) Strategies For Getting a Reservation

soup nazi Tom Cruise

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were refused a table by Fernand Point at La Pyramide, then the most highly regarded restaurant in postwar France.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were recently turned away at the two-Michelin star Ledbury in London’s Notting Hill.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Bruce Palling points out, both couples mistakenly assumed that although they hadn’t made a reservation, their social clout and celebrity status would be enough to secure a table.

Palling reminds readers there’s a commonly held view that a table will be found even at the most famous overbooked restaurant on the planet if the person requesting it is illustrious or notorious enough.

“It is refreshing to see that isn’t always the case.”

Tom Cruise suffered a similar rebuff — although on a much grander scale, where his assumed self-importance bordered on delusional — when he attempted to spontaneously evict everyone from a hotel restaurant so he could dine alone.

Denying his request, the outraged manager said, “Who does Mr Cruise think he is?”

Reservation Strategies

Palling provides plenty of strategies to improve your chances of getting a reservation.

1. Be a Regular:

Once you have eaten somewhere more than two or three times, you are looked after far more by the maître d’ and staff.

2. Be Flexible

Your chances are seriously limited if you insist on a table for four at 8:30 p.m. that day. Instead, consider a late lunch or early dinner. You would be surprised at how many restaurants that are invariably full can accommodate you with this approach.

I am told by friends that while Dabbous in London’s Fitzrovia neighborhood is technically booked up months in advance, if you walk in at 2.15 p.m., you can almost always get a table for lunch. The same can apply if you show your face in the evening the minute the restaurant opens or instead opt for a 10 p.m. sitting.

3. Physically Showing Up

Physically showing up can increase your chances considerably, even to the extent of matching a name with a face the next time you attempt to book.

4. Tipping

An upfront tip can sometimes work wonders. One renowned maître d’ in London told me he would certainly accept a significant gesture “as I have a family to feed, too,” but only if he could deliver an actual table.

5. Book Into a Hotel

Another ploy is to book into a hotel should you wish to get a table at its restaurant as tables are sometimes held back for guests. Failing that, a good hotel concierge has more clout with a top restaurant than a request from a stranger.

6. Be Polite

Politeness still plays a significant role. Restaurants want to have contented guests who know how to behave, so never underestimate the power of good manners.

And Palling says that if you think your name is important enough to influence the reservations staff, say it slowly in the first sentence you speak to them, so if they Google you — a more common practice than you might think — it might be to your advantage.

FDA Authorizes Next Step in Approving GM Salmon

Genetically-Modified-Salmon

The Food and Drug Administration released its Environmental Assessment (EA) report for genetically modified (GM) salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies.

This is one of the last steps for the first transgenic animal to be considered for federal approval, with an approval process that’s been in limbo for 17 years.

The FDA concluded the salmon would have “no significant impact on the environment and was as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon.”

The EA report is expected to be officially published in the Federal Register today. Forbes contributor Jon Entine claims the next step is a public review period, which will last 60 days.

“The FDA will then evaluate the public comments and consider a second review period. Unless some dramatically new information emerges from the public responses, the FDA would issue it’s formal approval sometime in 2013.”

And the FDA has no intention of labeling AquaBounty’s GM salmon. The FDA claims that since they’ve concluded there’s no material difference between the flesh of the GE fish and the flesh of regular farm-raised Atlantic salmon, they aren’t required to be labeled separately.

That means unlabeled GM salmon could be on dinner tables by 2014, and consumers will have absolutely no clue as to whether the salmon they buy is genetically modified.

The EA stated that the Center for Veterinary Medicine, which has regulatory responsibility within the FDA, had reached a “no effect” determination under the Endangered Species Act.

But in 2010 hearings on transgenic fish, the FDA knowingly withheld a Federal Biological Opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibiting the use of transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“This adds further evidence that in fact GE salmon pose a serious threat to marine environments and is another compelling reason for the FDA not to approve the fish for commercial use,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.

“While the FDA applauded the company’s choice of land-based containment as responsible, it never revealed that it is illegal in the U.S. to grow genetically engineered salmon in open-water net pens.”

The Independent’s Steve Connor notes that GM opponents stress the introduction of GM salmon creates risks for both human health and the environment.

“They also argue that the salmon will be the start of concerted efforts to create other GM animals for human consumption, which could raise serious questions about animal welfare.”

Many in opposition to GM salmon have claimed the FDA’s approval is based exclusively on the limited and inadequate studies conducted by AquaBounty Technologies.

Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with Consumers Union said the FDA approval panel was mostly comprised of GE cheerleaders, with no fish ecologists or allergists despite the AquaBounty tests suggesting the new GM salmon could be much more allergenic than regular salmon.

Hanson explains that AquaBounty did incredibly small sample sizes in their studies, and that the largest sample size of the fish being examined for morphology was 12 animals.

“They found that the skeletons are worse than in normal farmed salmon, that their jaws are eroded more than in normal farmed salmon, that their gills are enlarged and that their flesh is inflamed.”

But they say that it’s OK to eat, said Hanson.

Hanson said they need more data on the allergy question, and adds that fish are one of the top five foods people are most allergic to and the sample size used in the testing was far too small — six fish in all — to determine whether consumers could be allergic.

In addition to the allergen problem, there’s evidence that AquaBounty’s GM salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, as well as more antibiotics.

Opponents also argue GM salmon could escape into the wild, interbreed with wild fish and undermine the genetics of the endangered Atlantic salmon.

But AquaBounty claims their genetically engineered fish will be only be grown as sterile females and kept in secure containers on land.

Lord Melchett, UK policy director at the Soil Association says once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these fish remain sterile.

“It poses far too great a risk to wild salmon. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits. There is no such thing as a free salmon lunch and we will pay the price,” he said.

10 Largest Disappearing U.S. Restaurant Chains

Closed large

According to a recent report in 24/7 Wall St., in the past 10 years, some of America’s biggest food chains have lost more than 50% of their sales and have closed hundreds of locations nationwide.

24/7 characterizes these restaurants, such as Big Boy, Ponderosa and Bennigan’s, as having failed to update their brand or menu options, and many of their locations have been closed to make way for new eateries.

Based on data provided by food industry consulting and research firm Technomic Inc., 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 large restaurant chains with the biggest decline in locations and sales between 2001 and 2011.

Of the 10 chains with the biggest declines, 24/7 Wall St claims eight have filed for bankruptcy in the past decade. In some cases, hundreds of locations were closed overnight.

“The chains were either then purchased or resumed operations only once the company emerged from bankruptcy. The remaining franchises continued to operate. But reinvigorating these brands will be an uphill battle.”

These chains have been forced to devote most of their resources just to remain open.

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic, told 24/7 Wall St. the economy’s been a big negative for these restaurants trying to gain traction or even grow, and so in many cases they’ve actually just continued to struggle and close units that were underperforming.

Based on sales data provided by Technomic, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 restaurant chains that had 60% or greater declines in the number of actual store locations operating from 2001 to 2011.

(Click “Next” to see 10 Largest Disappearing U.S. Restaurant Chains)

Pays d’Oc: A Bargain in a Bottle

snooth pays doc tasting

I was recently invited to a tasting of Pays d’Oc wines hosted by Snooth Media’s Editor in Chief Gregory Dal Piaz and Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer. For those of you who are not familiar with the Pays d’Oc region of wine, it is located in the southern region of France in the Languedoc-Roussillon region (Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault, Gard and 6 towns in Lozère). Just to give you an idea, 20,000 winemakers are producing Pays d’Oc IGP wines in 1 out of every 3 acres in the area.

It is quite an unusual wine region which is still in its development stage and where rules are meant to be broken. We were told there are more than 50 different authorized grape varieties. I will be a bit rough and say that the wines we tasted were not what my palate enjoys, but I expect that in a few years there will be some really good juice coming from the area. This area is also great if you are looking for good, inexpensive, drinkable wine. I preferred the reds to the whites, but you should taste them yourself and tell me what you think.

Geography

Pays d’Oc runs from the Spanish border to France to the Rhone delta. This means that there are quite a lot of different micro-climates and therefore a lot of different areas suited to all different kind of grapes. There are terraces facing the Mediterranean with mountains, foothills, and the coastal plain.

Weather

Its  Mediterranean climate is affected by the Atlantic to the west and the continent to the east. This means winds and climate variations which make the grapes suffer (which can only be good for the wine).

Soils

There are many kinds of soils including: clay-chalk, limestone, gneiss, schists, and small pieces of gravel on the lower hillsides.

The Tasting

Foncalieu, Les Fontanelles: Sauvignon Blanc 2011

This was a gentle approachable wine. Good for someone just starting to explore. It had notes of pineapple, and touches of candies oranges. There was quite a bit of grass and lime zest. It reminded me of New Zealand. The wine had a nice touch of salinity and high acid.

Vignerons d”alignan du Vent, Cinquante Cinq: Chardonnay 2011

There was tons of lime on the tip of the tongue with this wine. I could have sworn it had no oak, but was told it had a touch of oak. The wine felt a little hot to me (I could sense the alcohol on the nose), but if you are a fan of Chablis and feel like saving a little money, this may be a nice bottle to pick up.

Gerard Bertrand, Cigalus, Chardonnay 2010

It is so insane when a wine throws you for a loop. This wine was closer to California than to France as a Chardy. It still had a bit of alcohol on the nose, but with some pleasant notes of caramel and toast. It was more round and lush than the previous wine. I’m not normally a fan of oak in my whites, but I kinda liked this wine. It was a pleasant surprise.

Delatour, Cuvee Premier: Grenache Rose 2011

I may not be the best person to speak on an inexpensive rose. I LOVE ROSE! I drink rose wines all year long. This wine was closed on the nose. While it was nice on the initial taste, it fell flat in the mid palate. It had a nice mouth feel.  While this would not be my first choice in rose, something tells me that it would be perfect for sipping at a picnic.

O by Giles Louvet, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010

Things started looking up with the reds of the region. This red had quite a bit more backbone than any of the whites. There were hints of blueberry, soft tannins and a slightly candied finish. You could feel confident bringing this bottle to a friend’s house as a hostess gift.

Jeff Carrel, Puydeval: Cabernet Frac/Syrah/Merlot 2010

I really enjoyed this wine. It was marked by spice and candy. For some reason I started thinking of Twizzlers, but that was not quite it. The wine was juicy with lots of vanilla and blueberries. Delicious and friendly.

Domaine Gayda, Figure Libre “Freestyle”: Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Carignan/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Again, a win with these reds. The nose was perfumed, spicy. The mouth was soft and smooth. It was quite similar to the Jeff Carrel juice. I am not sure which I preferred, but both are welcome at my house at any time.

Bringing Down Monsanto: Reform Plant Patent Act

Bet the farm

In a recent Slate article, Frederick Kaufman, author of “Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food,” questions the efficacy of current strategies employed in opposing biotech companies like Monsanto.

Kaufman suggests initiatives such as California’s Proposition 37, which would have mandated labeling of GM foods, focuses on the wrong issue:

“If the goal of the American food movement is to offer an alternative to Big Food, if the goal is to foster small farmers worldwide, to develop better connections between rural and urban environments, and to support sustainable farming techniques — then labeling GM foods…will not come anywhere close to doing the job.”

Kaufman believes the food movement should focus all their energy on patent laws.

“Instead of tilting at the windmill of food labels, food nonprofits should hire a fleet of I.P. lawyers and send them to Washington to demand reform of the Plant Patent Act. When there’s less profit in genetic modification, things will get better for consumers, farmers, and scientists—pretty much everyone except corporate executives.”

Beyond potential health risks, Kaufman insists GM food has become dangerous to society because it’s patented, and claims the driving force behind the development of genetic crop modifications is profit potential.

The source of those potential profits is rooted in the following bit of legal code:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor.

Kaufman points out that originally, patent law applied only to nonedible inventions, but since the Plant Patent Act of 1930 was passed, genetically altered food has been subject to intellectual property protection, and the creation of new foods has become a reliable way to ensure profit streams for whoever patented them first.

Genetically modified food has progressed from apples grafted from one tree onto another to plants that grow from GM seeds.

Then came “Utility patent” protection in 1985, which expanded intellectual property rights to methods of engineering a plant, including genetic sequences inserted into a species’s genome.

In essence, says Kaufman, plant patent laws created the industrial food system that the modern food movement rightly decries.

It was utility patent protection that opened the door for Monsanto’s present-day global seed and insecticide portfolio, including rights to its infamous “terminator” or “suicide seed” technology.

Monsanto’s Terminator seeds sterilizes second-generation plants and makes it a legal violation for farmers to gather seeds for next year’s crop.

Monsanto has prosecuted farmers who discover GM corn or soy sprouts growing on their land after the wind carries seeds over from neighbors’ GM fields.

The basis for these ludicrous lawsuits are plant patent laws, forcing farmers to inadvertently violate Monsanto’s intellectual property rights.

[see Over 270,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto].

Patent laws have allowed Monsanto to establish a vertical monopoly.

“If you want Monsanto’s high-yielding Roundup Ready seeds, you’ll need Monsanto’s Roundup insecticide; and if you buy Roundup insecticide, you’ll need Roundup Ready seeds.”

Kaufman suggests that when food becomes a legal construct or an intellectual property right, it stops being food.

“More than eight decades’ worth of plant patent protection has formed one of the agricultural industry’s strongest bulwarks—and that’s why patent laws are exactly what the food movement should be targeting,” says Kaufman.

And he adds: “The most direct and efficient way to undermine the food industrialist monopoly of the molecular seed business is to reform these patent laws.”

FDA Supressing Data on Farm Antibiotic Use

Cow-at-Farm

Maryn McKenna, journalist and the author of SUPERBUG and BEATING BACK THE DEVIL, reports on the deliberate actions by the FDA to suppress critical information on farm antibiotic use.

The FDA refuses to compel companies to disclose data that would be in the public’s interest related to legislation known as the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) 0f 2003.

ADUFA legislation was passed in 2003 as a result of complaints by the veterinary-pharmaceutical industry that approvals of new drugs were taking too long.

The legislation created a “user fee,” charged to the companies, which the FDA used to increase the amount of staff it had available to scrutinize drug approvals and get them passed.

McKenna correctly equates the legislative arrangement as “regulated companies paying the salaries of their regulators.”

When ADUFA came up for re-authorization for an additional 5 years, via “ADUFA II,” public health and consumer advocacy groups pressed the FDA for manufacturers to annually report sales of veterinary drugs.

McKenna claims it’s because of this additional requirement in ADUFA II that we learned 2 years ago livestock raised in the United States received 28.8 million pounds of antibiotics per year in 2009, and 29.2 million pounds in 2010.

But McKenna says that’s all we know. The 2011 numbers have still not been released. (Here’s the FDA page where the ADUFA reports are posted.)

These single tables, which Mckenna snipped from the reports, contain all of the data released each year.

“As you can see, in each year, the FDA released only summed amounts, in kilograms, of all the drugs sold, by all the companies, for all livestock species, across all agricultural uses: growth promoters, prevention, and treatment.”

The veterinary pharma companies each report to the FDA individually, and report their data by month, not year, and report how the drugs are administered, in feed, in water, or by injection.

The FDA receives all this data but is not releasing it, presumably for reasons having to do with its initial ADUFA negotiations with agriculture, says McKenna.

“We know the agency gets this data because, in 2010, under pressure from Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the FDA surrendered a further analysis of the first round of ADUFA data from 2009.”

In its letter to Slaughter, the FDA itemized the 2009 total in feed, water, and injections to individual animals. But the FDA never performed that kind of analysis again.

The current ADUFA II expires in 2013, and a December 18th hearing addressed ADUFA III, which will govern FDA reporting on ag antibiotics for the next 5 years.

By statute, the FDA holds public meetings and accepts comment from public health and consumer advocacy groups regarding what they would like to see improved when ADUFA is reauthorized.

This year, the FDA met with industry representatives eight times. It held one public meeting for non-industry representatives in late 2011, and had another December 18th.

At that 2011 meeting, numerous health groups urged the agency to increase both what it asks from industry and what it discloses to the public. “And all of that was pretty much ignored,” says Steve Roach, the public health program director at the Food Animal Concerns Trust and a member of Keep Antibiotics Working.

In their comments, the public health and consumer advocacy groups asked first for the FDA to report out the entirety of the data that it has been receiving, but holding back, since at least 2008, and also to request additional information.

The FDA has agreed to zero requests from concerned activists.

McKenna point out that a year ago, the FDA withdrew its decades-on-the-books attempt to exert regulatory control over agricultural antibiotic use, saying that it would instead pursue “voluntary” approaches to getting agriculture to reduce its vast use of antibiotics.

Consumer advocacy groups and others familiar with FDA policy knew then and now, that America’s corporate controlled agriculture sector — industrial farming — would never reasonably comply with a voluntary approach.

Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Kill more Americans than AIDS

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans annually than AIDS.

In March, a federal judge ordered the FDA to withdraw approval for the use of common antibiotics in animal feed because of fears that overuse is endangering human health by creating antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.

The federal order by Judge Katz is the result of a lawsuit filed by environmental and public-health groups, including The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The lawsuit argues that using common antibiotics in livestock feed has contributed to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both animals and humans.

Experts now claim the growth of antibiotic resistance poses as great a threat to global health as Aids and pandemic flu.