Sunday, June 12, 2011

FDA vs. USDA: An Epic Game of [Organic] Chicken

In light of recent differences between the new regulations dictated by the National Organic Standards Board (a section of the US Department of Agriculture) and those of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defining exactly how chickens should be raised, and in what ways they must be raised in order to be certified “organic,” the fate of the entire organic chicken market may be in jeopardy.

The freshly proposed USDA regulations conflict directly with the policies already put in place by the FDA which apply to all animals, certified and non-certified organic, in reference to the safety of the meat for human consumption. A poultry farmer who would like to get his chicken certified and sold as organic, will be shocked to discover that in order to comply with the FDA regulations, which are required in order to sell the chicken at all, one must be in violation of the USDA regulations which then prevent the chicken from being labeled as “certified organic”.

And so the inter-Obama Administration standoff begin, and organic food lovers everywhere are wondering, who will back down first?

In 2009, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered with the FDA to implement a program that would reduce Salmonella among livestock, including those intending to be certified organic. This program, among its numerous edicts, required that the livestock be kept in cages or poultry houses, and subjected to a very strict cleaning regimen so as to minimize the risk of the spread of Salmonella.

According to the draft guidance for “Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs during Production, Storage, and Transportation”, the FDA requires that these measures be taken because they “limit the fecal-to-oral mode of transmission between chickens because they reduce the amount of fecal matter that accumulates where other chickens are exposed to it”.

The document goes on to point out all of the other ways that disease can be passed, such as through the waste of pests and rodents contaminating the food troughs or the living space, which is why they require “physical barriers” in which to house the chickens so that they are kept far away from any possible contaminants. Interestingly enough, even though salmonella is 100 percent naturally occurring, mainstream Americans aren’t clamoring for it to be included in their organic chicken.

In the years since those rules were promulgated, the USDA formulated a set of proposed rules defining exactly how organic chicken was to be raised, as differing from the raising of non-organic (but somehow also non-synthetic) chickens. In order for a food to be certified organic, it must comply with all of the USDA’s regulations on organic food, or else it will not receive the label and thus be unable to be sold as organic.

One of the main tenets of the USDA’s proposal, was that “organically managed poultry must have year-round access to outdoors. Organic livestock facilities shall give poultry the ability to choose to be in the housing or outside in the open air”. You know, just in case Foghorn Leghorn decides he wants to sunbathe for a bit before adjourning to his boudoir.

The regulations proposed by the USDA directly refute the FDA’s safety regulations and are a blatant attempt to exercise their power by threatening the refusal of the ‘certified organic’ seal if their rules are not followed. However if a farmer is found not in compliance with the FDA’s regulations, his chicken will not be allowed to be sold at all.

Given this, it would make more sense for the USDA to conform their regulations to fit those of the FDA so as to allow as many organic farmers as possible to meet the growing demand. Although the FDA wrote a letter outlining their concerns with the proposed rules, the USDA responded with a letter of their own, basically saying “it’s my chicken, and they’ll live outside if they want to.”

The Obama agency game of chicken leaves poultry farmers in a peck of trouble if they want their fowl certified organic. “In this case, the Obama Administration is literally regulating a farmer out of business,” Congressman Jack Kingston commented, “they are throwing down new rules and regulations so fast, the Administration itself can’t even keep things straight. How is the average American supposed to compete?” And so, it seems there are many pages of negotiations ahead before any of these chickens can cross the road.


Forever young: The pill that will keep you youthful by preventing the ills of old age

If you are a mouse. Human growth hormone was once seen as such a drug but its side effects tended to make you die younger

A ‘forever young’ drug that allows people to grow old gracefully could be available in just ten years, a leading scientist said last night. Professor Linda Partridge, an expert in the genetics of ageing, said that the science is moving so quickly that it will soon be possible to prevent many of the ills of old age.

By taking a pill a day from middle-age, we will grow old free from illnesses of the body and mind such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. People could work for longer – or simply make the most of their retirement. Some research even suggests skin and hair will retain its youthful lustre.

Professor Partridge, of University College London, said: ‘I would be surprised if there weren’t things within ten years. If told you could take a drug that has minimal side-effects and that’s going to keep you healthy for another five or ten years and then you’ll drop off your perch without disability, most people would want it.’

Extraordinary as the professor’s prediction may seem, it is based on a host of promising scientific studies from around the world. They have discovered key genes linked to longevity and health – and found ways of tinkering with them, at least in animals.

In one of the remarkable examples, a Harvard University doctor made old mice young again, in experiments that mirrored the plot of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, where the lead character played by Brad Pitt ages in reverse.

At the start of the experiment, the animals’ skin, brains, guts and other organs resembled those of an 80-year-old person.

Within just two months of being given a drug that switches on a key enzyme, the creatures had grown so many new cells that they had almost completely rejuvenated. Remarkably, the male mice went from being infertile to fathering large litters.

Other research has shown that chains of reactions in the body involving insulin and related hormones are key to health and ageing. This means that years of research into diabetes could have yielded medicines that can be reinvented as anti-ageing drugs.

Professor Partridge told the Cheltenham Science Festival that some medicines abandoned by drug companies may soon be dusted off and put to use. She said: ‘There are drugs there already, some of them are just sitting in cupboards. I’d be surprised if people don’t start taking them out. ‘The principle is for drugs that if taken from middle-age will ward off quite a broad array of diseases rather than doing things piece-meal or acting when the diseases appear.’

However, she said any drugs would have to be shown to be extremely safe before they were given to healthy people to combat ageing.


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