Boosting shell egg supply during the pandemic

By Daniel Pessar* (Guest Blogger)

 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countless government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are working to relax certain rules to help industry operate and respond to the needs of the public. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a host of temporary policies to facilitate increased production of hand sanitizer, sterilization of respirators, and increased availability of shell eggs for retail sale. This last effort impacts countless Americans and will be the focus of this post.

Just as the FDA has an interest in helping medical supplies manufacturers and users to have enough inventory on hand, it seeks to respond to the changes in supply and demand in food markets, such as the current trends in the market for shell eggs. Shell eggs are the eggs many of us purchase in supermarkets, as distinguished from the processed egg products—available in liquid, frozen, or dried form—sold to restaurants and prepared foods manufacturers. Because of the pandemic, there are more people buying more shell eggs and fewer people eating in restaurants. As a result, the egg industry asked the FDA to help make it easier for them to direct more eggs to meet shell egg demand, rather than being sent for further processing.

The Egg Safety Rule, codified in 21 CFR 118, requires egg producers to follow certain rules meant to reduce the risk of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), a leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. While the safety rules for shell egg producers are much stricter than the safety rules for processed egg product producers, the relaxed rules for processed eggs are only available if all of a producer’s eggs receive the relevant treatments. Under the regulations,

If all of your eggs that are produced at the particular farm receive a treatment as defined in 118.3, you must comply only with the refrigeration requirements in 118.4(e) for production of eggs on that farm and with the registration requirements in 118.11.

21 CFR 118.1(a)(2)

As a result, processed eggs producers shifting even ten percent of their supply to the shell egg market would result in significant compliance effort and cost for all eggs being produced.

The FDA recognized this and provided conditions under which SE risk could be mitigated in a satisfactory manner without triggering most of the Egg Safety Rule requirements that would normally be triggered, including certain time-sensitive testing and inspection requirements.

eggs

Photo credit: Michael Bußmann from Pixabay

While the FDA has demonstrated flexibility, its guidance is narrowly tailored. The temporary policy regarding the Egg Safety Rule is meant to remain in effect only for the duration of the public health emergency and to apply only to producers of processed egg products—not to existing shell egg producers. As well, the FDA’s guidance does not apply to poultry houses with laying hens over 45 weeks of age at the time the guidance was issued. This is because SE is most likely to be detected in poultry houses with laying hens between 40 and 45 weeks old. Mandatory testing done under the new guidance, to hens already 45 weeks old, have a higher chance of missing the SE threat.

But the relief is real. As supply chain managers across the economy scramble to adapt to the coronavirus upheaval, some have to reimagine their operations. Equipment, staff, and logistics issues can come together to present a daunting challenge, especially to small businesses. With its emergency guidance concerning the Egg Safety Rule, the FDA plays a small but important role in helping industry adapt. Egg product suppliers will now have an easier time meeting the current demand for shell eggs.

 

*Daniel Pessar is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Before law school, he worked in the real estate investment industry for six years. He is the author of three books and numerous articles. He can be contacted at dpessar@jd20.law.harvard.edu.

Meat Production and Covid-19 – Shortages Coming?

by Diana R. H. Winters

One of the country’s largest pork processing facilities announced that it is closing indefinitely.  The Smithfields Foods, Inc. plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will close after almost 300 of its workers tested positive for coronavirus.  The plant employs 3700 workers and produces about four percent of the pork production in the United States.

Other major meat producers, including JBS USA and Tyson, have closed facilities after workers tested positive, and in some instances, died.

These closures illuminate significant worker safety problems at meat production plants.  Manufacturers have been slow to provide protective equipment to low-wage workers standing close together to process meat and have pressured employees to remain working even if sick.

Moreover, these closures are one of many Covid-19 food supply chain issues resulting from the shutdown, which also include the inability of food producers to repackage food meant for institutional or restaurant use for retail use.  The New York Times reported on the resulting massive food waste this past weekend.

All of the articles linked in this post can be found in the Resnick Center’s and the UCLA Law Library’s resource guide to Covid-19 and food law.  Here in the blog we will occasionally highlight important trends and stories we see emerging.  Please explore our guide, and forward relevant material for inclusion in the guide.

 

An Ongoing Regulatory Failure – Antibiotics in Animal Feed

by Diana R. H. Winters

A few weeks back, the New York Times published an article about continuing publicity campaigns by drugmakers to sell antibiotics to farmers for use in healthy animals.  In “Warning of ‘Pig Zero’: One Drugmaker’s Push to Sell More Antibiotics,” Danny Hakim and Matt Richtel discuss the recent (and not-so-recent) regulatory attempts to curtail antibiotic use in animal feed and show how one drugmaker has worked to maneuver around these obstacles to continue selling massive amounts of antibiotics to farmers.

Particularly striking in this article is the explanation of how antibiotic overuse affects human health:

“The connection of overuse of antibiotics in livestock to human health takes two         paths: As bacteria develop defenses against drugs widely used in animals, those defense mechanisms can spread to other bacteria that infect humans; and, resistant germs are transmitted from livestock to humans — through undercooked meat, farm-animal feces seeping into waterways, waste lagoons that overflow after natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, or when farm workers and others come into contact with animals.”

And how this connection is misconstrued by pharmaceutical companies:

“Mr. Simmons of Elanco has long played down livestock’s role in spreading resistant microbes to humans.

‘The most serious pathogens are not related to antibiotics used in food animals,’ he said. ‘Of the 18 major antibiotic-resistant threats that the C.D.C. tracks, only two, campylobacter and nontyphoidal salmonella, are associated with animals.’

But such oft-repeated statements, made even in Elanco’s securities filings, refer only to food-borne strains like antibiotic-resistant salmonella that can be found in raw chicken, for example, while ignoring the myriad ways pathogens can be transferred.”

Also striking is the discussion of research linking the rise in C.Diff. infections, as well as in E. coli and MRSA infections, and the use of antibiotics in livestock:

“There is a growing body of research establishing links between Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, in livestock and humans, viewed by the C.D.C. as an urgent threat. Broad-spectrum antibiotics in livestock provide “a survival advantage to antibiotic-resistant C. difficile strains,” according to a 2018 study by Australian researchers. Similar studies exist for E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA — the C.D.C. even lists different animals like cows, goats, sheep and deer that can pass E. coli to humans.”

Disturbing on many levels, the article highlights how federal attempts to regulate antibiotics, while laudable, have fallen short.

 

See our prior post on a previous N.Y. Times article on this issue here.

Food Law CLE at UCLA – June 6-7

The Resnick Center is collaborating with CLE International to present the fourth annual Food Law Conference at the UCLA Faculty Center on June 6 and 7, 2019.  This conference brings together an amazing group of practitioners, regulators, academics, and stakeholders to present on numerous important food law topics, including standards and food fraud, preemption, and class actions.  You can find the full brochure with a schedule of events here, and you can register here.

Please join us!

New Scholarship: The New Food Safety

by Diana Winters

Emily M. Broad Leib and Margot Pollans recently posted The New Food Safety, forthcoming in the California Law Review, on SSRN.  The article argues for a comprehensive definition of “food safety” that encompasses “acute ingestion-related illness” (narrow food safety), “whole-diet, cumulative ingestion-related risks that accrue over time” (intermediate food safety), and “risks that arise from food production or disposal” (broad food safety).  The articles discusses why our current divided regulatory approach is problematic, and may actually exacerbate food-related harms.  In addition to calling for an expanded definition of “food safety,” the article proposes better interagency coordination and the creation of a single Food System Safety agency.

This compelling work  is applicable outside of the context of food, and will appeal broadly to scholars of the regulatory space.

Food Law CLE at UCLA – June 6-7

The Resnick Center is collaborating with CLE International to present the fourth annual Food Law Conference at the UCLA Faculty Center on June 6 and 7, 2019.  This conference brings together an amazing group of practitioners, regulators, academics, and stakeholders to present on numerous important food law topics, including standards and food fraud, preemption, and class actions.  You can find the full brochure with a schedule of events here, and you can register here.

Please join us!

Is Pizza Still a Vegetable?

by Stephanie Teuber – 2L, UCLA Law

 

Many K-12 students in Los Angeles, as well as throughout the U.S., rely on public schools for at least one meal each day. Although school lunch programs serve an important purpose, they are often left out of legal conversations. On February 27, with the support of a grant from the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative, the Food Law Society and Education Law Society at UCLA Law teamed up to host Is Pizza Still a Vegetable? What’s Next for School Lunch.

Through a panel conversation, moderated by Dr. Wendy Slusser, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Health Policy, Pediatrics, and Health Equity at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, students learned about the history of school lunch programs, their current state, and (of course) whether pizza qualifies as a vegetable.

Each panelist contributed a unique perspective to the conversation. Following Dr. Slusser’s historical overview of these programs and a short video, Diana Winters, Assistant Director of Scholarship at the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, provided background on the trajectory of school lunch programs under the Trump administration, and the role of the federal government in administering these programs. Ivy Marx, a Senior Nutrition Specialist with LAUSD, explained how school lunch programs are administered in Los Angeles, and voiced the challenges presented by both budget constraints and picky children. Paula Sirola, the Executive Director of Seeds to Plate, stressed the impact of nutrition education on a child’s overall well-being, and how Seeds to Plate’s interactive gardening program helps foster a more holistic learning experience. Cheryl Leahy, General Counsel at Compassion Over Killing (COK), explained COK’s animal-welfare focused approach to school lunch reform, articulating concerns regarding the role of industrial agriculture interests in school lunch policy, and highlighting the organization’s efforts to reduce meat consumption in schools through legal and policy advocacy.

Over 100 students RSVP’d for the panel, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Law students appreciated that they were exposed to the diverse perspectives of the panelists, and found the conversation both lively and productive. As finals season approaches and meal-prep takes the backseat, the most reassuring news of the day was perhaps at the close of the event, when Ivy Marx answered the most obvious outstanding question: yes, pizza is still a vegetable.*

*LAUSD pizza has whole wheat crust and no added sugar.

Panel

The Resnick Center and The Promise Institute at UCLA Law Host UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva

by Diana R. H. Winters

On February 15, 2019, the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy and The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law hosted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who gave a talk titled, “A Global Perspective on Regulating and Promoting Nutrition.”  We were honored to host the Director-General for this important presentation.

In his talk, Graziano da Silva emphasized the critical need for regulation regarding healthy food.  He explained that while there are regulations regarding food safety, global entities have entirely failed to regulate for the nutritional value of food.  The world is grappling with a crisis of malnutrition—a broad concept that includes obesity as well as hunger—and this crisis is exacerbated by the failure of regulation.  Malnutrition costs the world economy between three and five billion dollars a year, which is approximately 3% of the global economy.  This problem must be seen as a public issue, Graziano da Silva said, not an individual one, and it is critical that countries find a way to work together.  This is the foremost challenge the FAO faces.

Graziano da Silva was introduced by Hilal Elver, the Global Distinguished Fellow at the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  The video recording of the entire event can be found here.

Food Law News

Today was just chock full of food law & policy news.

1. The Supreme Court turned down challenges to two of California’s animal welfare laws: A) Proposition 2, California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which mandates that the state’s farm animals need be able to “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs,” and B) CA’s foie gras ban.

The New Food Economy has a good summary of these laws and the challenges here: https://newfoodeconomy.org/supreme-court-animal-welfare-law-cage-free-egg-foie-gras-ban/

2. A federal judge in Iowa found the state’s “ag gag” law unconstitutional, saying that it violates the First Amendment.  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2019/01/09/ag-gag-law-iowa-struck-down-federal-judge-ia-agriculture-first-amendment-free-speech-puppy-mills/2527077002/

3. The government shutdown’s effect on food safety inspections has been widely noted: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/424562-fda-says-most-food-inspections-have-been-halted-amid-shutdown.  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb weighed in on Twitter, however, to explain that the FDA has NOT stopped inspections, but has postponed a small amount of routine inspections.  He wrote, “Food Safety During Shutdown: We’re taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we’re doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities. 31% of our inventory of domestic inspections are considered high risk…”

See thread: https://twitter.com/SGottliebFDA/status/1083055700593516545

He also explained, “We wouldn’t have conducted inspections during the 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years, so this is really the first week where there might have been *some* inspections postponed while we put in place mechanisms to continue high risk food surveillance inspections during shutdown”

For more discussion on the background of food safety inspections, and for fantastic food policy tweeting in general see Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich’s tweets: https://twitter.com/hbottemiller

 

 

Only the Brave Dare Eat the Fare!

October 25, 2018

Last week, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, reviewed The Poison Squad: 
One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Deborah Blum.  The Poison Squad is about Harvey Wiley, the chief chemist at the USDA at the turn of the Twentieth Century, who worked to improve food safety and improve regulation and labeling in the United States.  Wiley formed a “poison squad” of young volunteers, to test the effects of various food additives.  The sign in their dining room read, “Only the Brave Dare Eat the Fare.”

As Schlosser points out, we are faced today, as we were last century, with adulterated food, rampant food fraud, and untested food additives.  The poison squad is us.

 

 

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