Political Animal


January 05, 2013 11:34 AM Could proposed FDA rules lead to a food fight?

By Samuel Knight

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration revealed proposals to reform the country’s food safety regulations, floating rule changes that would affect food manufacturers and fruit and vegetable producers.

The initiatives would cost $1.4 billion to implement, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would take years to be finalized. This could give Congress time to undermine the initiative — an imaginable scenario, considering that most Republicans and conservative Democrats tend to view regulation and any sort of non-military spending as Satanic.

But corporate food manufacturers and agribusiness might not encourage Congress to oppose the proposed rule changes, perhaps knowing that food borne illnesses spread by cost-cutting firms and farms could end up being rather expensive to an industry in which consumer confidence is of paramount importance.

According to The Washington Post:

Food industry groups welcomed the proposals, saying they provided some clarity but stopped short of endorsing them outright. They said many growers and processors already adhere to high standards. Groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Produce Marketing Association said they would continue to work with the FDA to shape the rules in the months ahead.

But political drama enthusiasts need not despair: there is another campaign that could lead to a more divisive regulatory issue at the FDA.

A petition on Change.org with over 200,000 signatures has called on soda manufacturers to stop using brominated vegetable oil (BVO), “an emulsifier used to spread the fruit and coloring elements evenly,” according to Richard Schiffman, writing for The Guardian.

“The vegetable oil part might make it seem harmless, but the bromination turns the oil into a potentially toxic chemical that is banned in foods in the European Union and Japan,” he pointed out.

Schiffman also noted that:

…in high doses BVO is neurotoxic and can lead [sic] reproductive and behavioral problems, at least in rats. Since no long-term human trials have been conducted, we don’t know the effects of ingesting BVO in soda, especially in high amounts.

This insight doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in BVO, either:

“BVO accumulates in the heart, liver and fat tissue,” according to Dr John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical. “New studies are warranted to update the old studies, especially given that the patterns of soft drink consumption have changed so dramatically over the past three decades.”

The soda industry contends that the oil isn’t harmful in small doses. And the FDA agrees.

But activists might be able to force the agency to reconsider the issue. Schiffman wrote that the FDA - which currently allows 15 parts per million of BVO - “appears to have had some doubts of its own when it issued an ‘interim’ ruling in 1977 to allow the substance, pending further studies to establish its safety. Those in-depth studies were never conducted.”

The agency told The New York Times in December that it lacked the resources, considering it did not consider the matter to be a priority.

If the agency’s priorities do change, it will be interesting to see how now oft-maligned soft drink manufacturers react — and whether or not their friends on Capitol Hill can carry their sugary BVO tainted carbonated water for them.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • c u n d gulag on January 05, 2013 12:12 PM:

    "The vegetable oil part might make it seem harmless, but the bromination turns the oil into a potentially toxic chemical that is banned in foods in the European Union and Japan,” he pointed out."

    GOP POV:
    Just because the p*ssies in Urop and Nippon aren't tough like real Murkin's are, they cut out brominating their oil, now we have to?


  • c u n d gulag on January 05, 2013 12:29 PM:

    And we don't want America to turn into a land of p*ssies, now do we?

    We don't need to get into why, now do we?

    I think we've made it pretty damn clear in the past few years, how we feel about p*ssies!

  • Fess on January 05, 2013 12:29 PM:

    BVO, another reason to pass on the soda pop.

    What sort of rule changes do you think they're considering? I'm all for ones that make it harder to give thousands of people food-borne illnesses. Do you suppose there will be money attached to the rules to actually implement them?

  • schtick on January 05, 2013 12:54 PM:

    I'd be more impressed if they attempted to change the garbage that's pumped into meat, poultry and pork. The steroids, poisons, antibiotics, etc.

  • martin on January 05, 2013 12:57 PM:

    This could give Congress time to undermine the initiative — an imaginable scenario, considering that most Republicans and conservative Democrats tend to view regulation and any sort of non-military spending as Satanic.

    Whereas the US Military buys enormous amounts of food and soda, let's just have the Pentagon start enforcing its own food safety rules in the interest of national security and keeping the troops safe.I'd like to see the right-wingers vote against that.

  • RepubAnon on January 05, 2013 1:13 PM:

    Given the massive increase in soft drink consumption, additional study of this additive would seem warranted.

    On a broader note - the processed food manufacturers have a vested interest in government agencies acting as the enforcement arm of a de-facto cartel. Sort of a free-rider problem: if the other processed food manufacturers put safety procedures in place, you can undercut their prices by selling unsafe food. Unless, of course, there's an agency enforcing the rules - either a private cartel enforcer, or a government agency. As private cartels are illegal in the US, government streps in to help the manufacturers.

    I like the idea of having the military specify Mil Specs for food and soft drink safety... it'll offer manufacturers a carrot rather than a stick. There's a downside, though. I can see the ads now - "Our sports drinks meet the standards of the US Military!"

  • jjm on January 05, 2013 1:30 PM:

    I recall that there were some additives in certain sodas that were found to cause leukemia in young children. I don't know if this was one of them.

  • Hannah on January 05, 2013 1:43 PM:

    As someone whose father almost died from eating Listeria-tainted cantaloupe in 2011, this is welcome news. All the tainted cantaloupe came from one farm, a family farm (Jensen Farms), where the owners knew better but changed their procedures that summer. That, along with an incompetent independent testing company which gave the farm high marks (just a bit later the FDA came in and found multiple infractions of food safety practices), failed consumers and this became the largest case of food-borne deaths ever. Enforcing the Food Safety Modernization Act with funding in critical. Of course growers are in favor. Yes, growers want food safety enforced. As a result of the tainted Colorado fruit, growers in California were unable to sell their fruit (even though it was fine) and lost income, plus workers/pickers lost their jobs. In the Colorado Rocky Ford area (where the Jensen Farm was located), a large number of cantaloupe growers have now banded together and formed their own co-op, hired their own safety inspectors, and labeled their fruit so consumers can be sure it is safe to eat. There's a lot more information available online if you're interested in reading.

  • Renai on January 05, 2013 5:02 PM:

    What about the OTHER toxic chemicals also present in these SAME sodas and foods, like Aspartame...don't see the FDA banning Aspartame yet. Since Commissioner Hull Hayes' reign over the FDA, which got Aspartame approved for consumer consumption, not one of the seven commissioner's of the FDA since then has sought to get it removed.

    What's more, Aspartame has such a bad rep consumers know the name and can avoid the product, so now the name is being changed from Aspartame to Aminosweet.

    Sodas are just poison in a cup, so drink up, ye sad consumers and know while you are killing your body, you are feeding the beast:

    ...meanwhile "CEO of PepsiCo in 2011, Nooyi earned a total compensation of $17 million which included a base salary of $1.6 million, a cash bonus of $2.5 million, pension value, and $3.5 million in deferred compensation. According to BusinessWeek, since she started as CFO in 2000,[9] the company's annual revenues have risen 72%, while net profit more than doubled, to $5.6 billion in 2006." **


  • ArlingtonEd on January 05, 2013 8:02 PM:

    I know about the Jensen Farms case and am sorry your father was one of the victims. I agree with you that funding FSMA is essential, and it will allow us to trust that our foods and produce are safe to eat.

  • Hannah on January 05, 2013 11:17 PM:

    Thanks, Arlington Ed. Dad is doing OK but is definitely weaker as a result of doing battle with Listeriosis. He had some health issues before eating the tainted cantaloupe which made him more susceptible to the Listeria (people with compromised immune systems are more likely to be affected). It's been a struggle, not only for him, but my mom, who basically is his caregiver, along with my siblings who live near them and have had to take time out from their busy schedules to help as well. Anyone who mocks foodborne illness (I've read too many comments like that) has no idea what they're talking about. It's no laughing matter and ridiculous that anyone can die from eating food that is supposed to be good for you.