Friday, June 26, 2009

Food Safety on Washington's Plate

The Proposed Food Safety Enhancement Act has passed through the US House Energy and Commerce Committee and now moves to the floor of the US House of Representatives for consideration.

As can be expected, not everyone is happy with the proposed Bill. [see LA Times link]

There were more than a few areas of the Bill that were weakened prior to leaving the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including:
The American Meat Institute (AMI) worked closely with members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to ensure that the language addressing the modified atmosphere (low oxygen/CO) packaging was eliminated from the bill. [link]
Regulation is one thing. Overlap, redundancy and lack of enforcement is another... as you can see from a story I wrote on my political/personal blog over 2 years ago and mentioned here at BLV Health Watch.

Although we will watch this new Bill with interest, considering the advancements in Food Safety over the past 2 years we don't hold out much hope of things actually improving. The most we can expect is higher food costs at the grocery store, in my humble opinion... unless regulators finally become accountable and the overlap and redundancies are eliminated -- to streamline the entire system.

Stay tuned for more updates on this.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nano-technology Not So Safe?

Nanotechnologies are now commonly found in sunscreen, cosmetics, food, clothing, sporting goods and packaging but a recent report put out by Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN) claims:
"...some of these technologies are showing signs of posing serious hazards to human health and the environment, including the same kind of grave threats resulting from exposure to asbestos." [link]

Dr George Burdock of the Burdock Group claims that
"...manufacturers lack understanding about how particles can change when they are shrunk to nano-size, and the current economic situation has exacerbated potential dangers, as some cost-cutting companies could look to cheaper, less reliable safety assessments." [link]
The new IEHN report concludes:
"As a result of weak regulations, companies do not assess, quantify or disclose potential and pending liabilities on a timely basis... Today, as potentially ultrahazardous nanotechnologies enter the market, the same regulatory weaknesses that allowed asbestos manufacturers to conceal information from investors are being abused once again to conceal information regarding the newer technologies. Regulators must act now to prevent a repeat of past financial disasters, and to ensure that investors' expectations of forthright accounting are met. Although our report focuses on product-related liabilities, many of our findings are equally applicable to the broader array of contingent liabilities that appear in disclosure reports and financial statements."
With current worldwide annual investment in nano-technology research and development at $9.6 Billion and set to grow to $1 Trillion by 2015, the eight regulatory loopholes are of great concern -- for the financial industry as well as to the health and safety of consumers around the globe.

The complete report (52 pages) can be read on the IEHN website through this link.

I'd like to quote a few excerpts here:
Nanomaterials can represent a special threat to health and safety because the unprecedented manipulation of particles at the molecular scale brings with it unprecedented toxicity expectations - as the particle size decreases so dramatically, materials are able to penetrate the body much more aggressively. In addition, the molecular scale causes reactivity to increase so that harmful effects can be intensified. Previously harmless substances may even take on hazardous characteristics.

Laboratory studies indicate that some nanoparticles ingested from food or water, or breathed in, can pass through the intestinal walls or lungs and reach the bloodstream, allowing them almost unrestricted access to the human body. Some inhaled nanomaterials can access the brain, as they can pass the blood-brain barrier via the olfactory nerve.

Despite the growing number of nanotech food products on the market, consumers have no way of knowing which products contain nanotechnology. Other proposed uses of nano in food include: "interactive" drinks that contain nanocapsules that change color and flavor, spreads and ice creams with nanoparticle emulsions that improve texture, and nanocapsules that carry nutrients and flavors into the body, increasing their bioavailability.

The "nutritional products" segment of RBC Life Sciences markets nutritional supplements and personal care products, and accounted for 79%, 83% and 83% of consolidated net sales in 2008, 2007, and 2006, respectively.51 According to the company’s most recent annual report, they market a line of over 75 nutritional supplements and personal care products, including herbs, vitamins and minerals, as well as natural skin, hair and body care products. Some of these are advertised as food products, while others are "nanoceuticals," or nutritional supplements. One such product is RBC Life Sciences’ Slim Shake, containing Cocoa-Clusters. CocoaClusters are described as follows:

“The natural benefits of cocoa have now been combined with modern technology to create CocoaClusters. RBC’s NanoClusters are tiny particles, 100,000th the size of a single grain of sand, and they are designed to carry nutrition into your cells. During the process of creating Nano-Clusters, pure Cocoa is added to the "Cluster" formation to enhance the taste and the benefits of this treasured food.” This food is touted as a "technologically advanced form of cocoa that offers enhanced flavor without the need for excess sugar." However, nano-sized particles may not behave in the body the same way normal-sized particles of cocoa would behave. This product may therefore cause unintended health effects. RBC Life Science’s disclosure on the potential risks of its many nano-enabled products is nonexistent in its annual reports.

The use of nanosilver as an antimicrobial agent is now widespread, with a wide variety of products now on market shelves. The petitioners discovered no fewer than 260 selfidentified nano-silver consumer products. A recent study reported that nano-silver could harm the immune system, and other researchers have suggested that if nanoparticles from disinfectants get loose and into the body, they might wreak havoc with the human immune system.

"Recent research found that washing nanosilver impregnated clothing caused substantial amounts of nanosilver to leech into the discharge wastewater and eventually into the environment."

A particular group of nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes, raises special concerns because they are similar in shape and rigidity to asbestos fibers. Carbon nanotubes are "seamless cylinders of hexagonal carbon networks and are 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. They are a hundred times stronger and six times lighter than steel and are used in adhesives, coatings and polymers and as electrically conductive fillers in plastics to make polymers more resistant against temperatures, harsh chemicals, corrosive environments, extreme pressures and abrasion."

Multiple laboratories have already independently found that certain carbon nanotubes can cause progressive, irreversible lung damage in test rodents. Two 2003 studies conclusively showed lung damage from exposure to certain carbon nanotubes. Further studies on this topic have increasingly strengthened the link between certain carbon nanotubes and pulmonary damage.

Regulators currently allow companies to conceal emerging science that forewarns of potential liabilities in the future.

If you truly want to learn more, I highly recommend you read the full report.

Friday, June 12, 2009

First Pandemic in 41 Years

H1N1 swine flu was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday, Thursday, June 11, 2009, describing it as a "moderate" pandemic. The reasons for the declaration, per the WHO website:

On the basis of available evidence and expert assessments of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met. The Director-General of WHO has therefore decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6. [link]
As of 07:00 GMT, 12 June 2009, total global laboratory-confirmed cases of new influenza A(H1N1) as officially reported to WHO by States Parties to the International Health Regulations (2005) were at 29,669 cases. [link]

What Makes H1N1 Potentially More Dangerous Than Ordinary Flu?

Considering ordinary flu during peak flu seasons account for up to 500,000 deaths per year [link], what makes the new influenza A (H1N1) -- with only 145 confirmed deaths to date -- such a major concern?

There are a few reasons, actually, including...

First, the age and health of some victims. Where most flu viruses tend to be particularly dangerous for the weak, young and the elderly, this particular strain appears to be striking in even healthy individuals and in age ranges generally considered low risk for death from flu viruses.

For example, even though the virus appears to be slowing in the USA, on Thursday three additional deaths from H1N1 were reported in New York -- including a child under 2, a teenager and a person in their 30s.

Second, the virus is spreading from person to person during non-flu season. Had it spread during regular flu season, it could have been far worse, as we find in the third point...

Third, perhaps the most important, there is the very real fear that H1N1 could mutate into something far more dangerous now that it is passing so quickly and easily from person to person.

How Could Swine Flu Mutate?

Back in 2006, when bird flu first arrived on the scene, we ran a lengthy, detailed article here at BLV Health Watch regarding how avian (bird) flu viruses can mutate. Quote:

There are 2 ways the [H5N1] virus could easily mutate...

In humans - if a person who already has flu is comes into close contact with birds who have highly pathogenic avian flu, there is a tiny chance that the person could become infected with the avian flu virus. If this happens, the person would now be carrying both the human flu virus and the avian flu virus. The two viruses could meet in the person's body and swap genes with each other. If the new virus had the avian flu's genes that made it rapidly fatal and the human flu's genes to allow it to be passed from person to person, a flu pandemic could result.

In pigs - pigs are susceptible to both human and bird flu viruses. If a pig became infected with both viruses at the same time, it could act as a "mixing vessel", allowing the two viruses to swap genes and produce a new virus.
With H1N1, the mutation process is the same. With H1N1, however, we already have widespread, fast human to human transmission... The very real danger now becomes a mutation as a result of someone infected with another virus becoming infected with this particular strain.

Keeping in mind that the World Health Organization states "the pandemic is only 'moderate in severity' and cautions against overreaction by the public" ...there is another take from experts:

Experts fear, however, that as it passes through populations, it could mutate to become more lethal and return with increased force in the winter influenza season. That is what happened with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. [link]

What are the 6 phases of a pandemic?

PHASE 1 - 3: Predominantly animal infections - few human infections.

PHASE 4: Sustained human to human infection.

PHASE 5 - 6: Widespread human infection.

There are two additional non-numbered phases to a pandemic by WHO definition, and they are, in order:

POST PEAK: Possibility of recurrent events.

POST PANDEMIC: Disease activity at seasonal levels.

Link to WHO pdf.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl emphasized Thursday that "Phase 6 doesn't mean anything concerning severity, it is concerning global spread. . . . Pandemic means global, but it doesn't have any connotation of severity or mildness."

As they write in their media release upgrading H1N1 to Phase 6 (pandemic status), "We know, too, that this early, patchy picture can change very quickly. The virus writes the rules and this one, like all influenza viruses, can change the rules, without rhyme or reason, at any time." [link]

For now, at least, H1N1 is only "moderate in severity" ...let's all hope it stays that way.

Additional Sources/Resources:

World Health Organization - Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR)
World Health Organization - Situation updates - Influenza A(H1N1)
World Health Organization - Swine Flu Frequently Asked Questions
World Health Organization - Swine Flu Guidance for Individuals
USA Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
USA Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): General Information

News Articles Relating to Pandemic Announcement:

MSNBC - WHO raises flu pandemic to highest level
LA TIMES - Swine flu pandemic declared by World Health Organization
SCIENCEDAILY - Swine Flu Update: WHO Declares Pandemic In Response To Ongoing Global Spread Of Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus
ASSOCIATED PRESS - WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun, 1st in 41 years

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Secret Journey of Food

Food, Inc. ...a new movie to be released in theaters June 12, 2009... pulls back the curtain to look behind the scenes and show you how food really goes from farm to fork.

The movie promises "You'll never look at dinner the same way again."

  • Did you ever wonder why Oprah was sued for once making a tiny disparaging remark about eating burgers?

  • What are the hidden costs that others pay for the cheap food we eat today?

  • Are food processors taking advantage of a major loophole in the law that could actually result in harm, even death, for some of us?

  • What are the two main crops that have wound their way into almost every facet of our food system -- even many of the products (like diapers, batteries, etc.) we use everyday?

  • How has genetic modification impacted the food industry... and potentially the health of millions?

In a brief interview, David Brancaccio from PBS spoke with filmmaker Robert Kenner, the director of "Food, Inc." In it, you will learn a bit more about the secretive and surprising journey food takes on the way from processing plants to our dinner tables.

Watch: "Behind the food we love -- Secrets that giant food companies don't want you to know." [link]

If you've already read the long article we've put together -- You Are What You Eat? Well, Maybe... -- then you just might have a stronger desire to watch the movie.

You know what happens after you ingest it. Watch the movie to discover more about what you are ingesting. [link to movie website]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Skin Sanitizers Recalled

Monday, June 8, 2009 the FDA issued this alert:

FDA Warns Consumers Not to Use Skin Products Made by Clarcon Due to Bacterial Contamination Risk
Products marketed under various names

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that Clarcon Biological Chemistry Laboratory Inc. of Roy, Utah, is voluntarily recalling some skin sanitizers and skin protectants marketed under several different brand names because of high levels of disease-causing bacteria found in the product during a recent inspection. The FDA is warning consumers to not use any Clarcon products.

Consumers should not use any Clarcon products and should throw these products away in household refuse. Analyses of several samples of over-the-counter topical antimicrobial skin sanitizer and skin protectant products revealed high levels of various bacteria, including some associated with unsanitary conditions. Some of these bacteria can cause opportunistic infections of the skin and underlying tissues. Such infections may need medical or surgical attention, and may result in permanent damage. [link to complete release and list of brands involved]

Keep in mind, these products are promoted as antimicrobial agents that claim to treat open wounds, damaged skin, and protect against various infectious diseases.

Please check your home for the brands listed through the above link.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Superfruits Update

We've added "Exotic Superfruits of the World" to the BLV website and begin with one superfruit that will most likely be receiving a great deal of attention in the next few years: the Amla fruit.

Please note -- there are certain criteria we use before classing any fruit into the superfruit category at BLV:
Although many fruits have certain properties that may be good for certain ailments or conditions, in our definition... superfruits have exceptional properties, extremely high health promoting compounds which could help to fight certain diseases and ailments.*

However, we further believe to be called a SUPERFRUIT rigorous scientific evidence must be available on the health benefits to be gained from including the fruit in one's diet before we consider it for inclusion on this website.

Equally important, because much of the science for superfruits included here will be relatively new, the relative health benefits for each superfruit may change as further research becomes available.
Follow this link to find out "Why We Give Amla the Superfruit Status."

More on Superfruits coming soon!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Swine Flu H1N1 Update

If you have been following the H1N1 flu (swine flu) outbreak, the numbers in the USA appear to still be rising with the total number of confirmed cases now at 11,054 ...that's up from just 2 days ago (June 1, 2009) where the number of confirmed cases was at 10,053.

Current tracking indicates the flu is now present in 52 states/territories.

To date, there have been 17 deaths here in the USA attributed to this outbreak.

If you would like to track it, you can monitor regular updates on this CDC H1N1 Flu website.

At this time, Wisconsin leads the way with 1,905 cases reported (zero deaths).

Texas is next, with 1,403 cases and 3 deaths. Next is Illinois with 1,151 cases and 3 deaths. Surprisingly, New York and Arizona have far fewer confirmed cases reported and yet both lead the way in deaths from this virus at 4 in each State.