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.

Forthcoming Scholarship: “A Palatable Option for Sugar-Coated Palates”

by Diana Winters

Some good news!  UCLA Law 2L Nicholas Miller’s article, “A Palatable Option for Sugar-Coated Palates: Labeling as the Libertarian Paternalism Intervention that American Consumers Need”, will be published in the University of Florida Journal of Law & Public Policy early in 2021.

Nicholas is a second year law student at UCLA, where he is involved in a range of activities including OUTLaw and the Dukeminier Awards Journal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law. As the son of a caterer and a lawyer, he was naturally drawn to food law, which combines his love of food and his desire to understand the legal frameworks that protect society and guide behavior. He chose to write about labeling – specifically of sugar content – because it raises the issue of how to balance progressive public health policy and the historically American fear of paternalistic overreach by the government. He sees this dynamic of public health initiatives that impede on individual liberty at play now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, and hopes his analysis will help advance the dialogue on how best to guide people to make good decisions about their health.

Here is the abstract for the article:

Addressing nutritional health for Americans has proven uniquely challenging in a marketplace flooded with non-nutritious food products.  Compounding the issue, consumers consistently misjudge the contents of these processed foods and undervalue their pernicious effect.  At the same time, consumers are wary of overly intrusive or paternalistic government interventions, such as bans and portion limits.  This paper reflects on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of previous attempts by the FDA to combat public health threats.  Finally, the paper proposes a path forward, with growing political momentum, that builds on the innovative food labeling models being tested in markets around the world.

We can’t wait to see this in print.

*If you would like to have forthcoming food law scholarship featured in the blog, please contact Diana Winters.*

Feeding Children During the Pandemic – HER teleconference

by Diana Winters

There has been a recent spate of articles about several studies showing that a very high number of patients who ended up hospitalized with Covid-19 had underlying health conditions, with obesity being one of the most common.[1]  These studies are largely observational and preliminary, but have still garnered attention.  At the same time, concerns about supply chain disruption and increased economic insecurity have also highlighted the need to prepare for a rise in global hunger and malnutrition.  With this backdrop, as well as the announcements that many schools across the country will be closed for the rest of the school year, Healthy Eating Research (HER) held a teleconference for media on feeding children during the pandemic, which discussed availability, distribution, and nutritional content.  HER is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which supports research on policy, systems, and environmental strategies that promote healthy eating among children.  The call addressed many issues around feeding children during this crisis, including the following.

During a normal school year, schools across the country provide approximately 30 million children with free and reduced-price school meals.  These meals provide up to two-thirds of these children’ daily nutritional needs.  As of right now, however, 48 states have closed their schools because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and 30 states have announced that schools are closed until the fall.  The impact of this on the availability and quality of food for children is immense.

There has been significant federal legislation to address feeding children during the pandemic.  This legislation includes Pandemic EBT, where states can request waivers to provide SNAP benefits for the families of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, emergency benefits, where all SNAP beneficiaries can receive emergency benefits, funds to bolster new SNAP enrollees, and legislation to adapt the emergency feeding of children during school closures to encompass summer feeding nutritional standards.

All of these actions are taking place while the Trump administration is simultaneously trying to weaken nutritional standards for school lunches.  In mid-April, a federal court struck down a 2018 Agriculture Department rule that reversed nutrition standards for sodium and whole grains in school meal programs.

Moreover, the Trump administration has taken action to cut down on SNAP benefits.  The four major reforms the administration has pushed–including making it harder for states to request time limit waivers, restricting states’ ability to make families categorically eligible based on their eligibility for another program, standardizing the method for determining state allowances, and denying noncitizens citizenship or green cards if they participate in federal aid programs—are currently stalled during the pandemic.

Dr. Sara Bleich, Professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, estimates that the SNAP rolls will go up to higher numbers than during the 2008 recession because of the unprecedented unemployment figures.

More legislation is needed to protect children from food insecurity and the resulting health detriments, said Dr. Bleich.  Dr. Bleich explained that we should look for the government to increase the size of SNAP benefits, which is a proven policy intervention to stimulate the economy and improve health, to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for food service staff, and to provide more funding for school districts impacted by the school year closures.

Elisabet Eppes, MPH, Program Innovation Director at the National WIC Association, spoke about how the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program is adapting to the pandemic.  WIC is a special supplemental nutrition program for pregnant and postpartum women, and their infants and small children.  It is a federal program, administered and run by states, that provides nutrition education, health care referrals, breast feeding support, and nutrition funding.  It is provided through paper vouchers and electronic benefit cards.

The WIC program is facing steep challenges during the pandemic.  Many WIC office are closed as the staff helps with other pandemic-related tasks.  WIC participants are having trouble acquiring WIC food because of food supply problems at grocery stores.  At the same time, more families need WIC right now because of increased unemployment.  WIC agencies are adapting to the pandemic, and legislation has been passed and is pending to provide the program with extra money and to ease administrative requirements.  Moreover, states are exploring possibilities for online orders and curbside pickups.

The impact of the pandemic on feeding children is immense, and its effects will be felt for years to come, on our nation’s public health and on its economy.  These issues are of critical importance.

 

[1] The articles here can be found linked on the Resnick Center’s guide to food law and Covid-19 resources, found here.

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.

 

Resnick Center Launches Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide

Today, the Resnick Center in conjunction with the UCLA School of Law Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library launched a Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide.  The guide will provide resources on the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy for scholars, researchers, and officials, which comports with the Resnick Center’s mission to provide cutting-edge legal research and scholarship in food law and policy.

This library guide will consist mainly at its start of substantive popular press articles, links to various open-access repositories of media reports, and helpful government sites. Over time, this library guide will be populated by legal scholarship and reflective, analytical publications relevant to legal scholarship that will be organized by subject matter and in some cases annotated.

If you come across interesting material at the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy, please submit it to be considered for this guide to the Resnick Center.

Schools and Food

Every day I get email updates from the Los Angeles Unified School District, where my two younger children are students.  These emails discuss distance education and celebrate the amazing teachers working to keep their students learning, but the emails are focused on food.  The amount of children who depend on the school system for at least two of their meals per day is staggering.  To attempt to address this need, the district, the second biggest school district in the country, opened 60 grab and go food centers for its students and their families.  Yesterday it provided 90,000 meals.

In Los Angeles, 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and in some areas the percentage is close to 90%.  The New York School system includes close to 114,000 homeless children.

Right now, we have to feed these kids, but this crisis has made stunningly clear the role of schools in our food system, the magnitude of which is far broader than school lunch and shows that arguments about the nutritional profile of school food are of immense and critical importance.

 

By 2030 50% of American adults will be obese, and 25% will be severely obese

by Diana R. H. Winters

If the predictions from a recent New England Journal of Medicine article (pay-walled, but 3 free articles a month available with account creation) come true, the implications–for our nation’s health, for our health care system, and for our economy–are vast.  The study shows that by 2030, almost half of American adults will be obese and a quarter will be severely obese.  The study authors were meticulous in their methods to increase the reliability of their projections.

The study found that there is great variation among states, with over 29 states projected to have higher than 50% obesity, and a large variation in the prevalence of obesity according to income.  Severe obesity will be much more common among low-income adults than higher income adults.

The study also notes that the health consequences of this magnitude of obesity in the population are enormous, and will likely increase socioeconomic disparities.

Although the researchers are light on policy suggestions, the authors do write that, “a range of sustained approaches to maintain a healthy weight over the life course, including policy and environmental interventions at the community level that address upstream social and cultural determinants of obesity, will probably be needed to prevent further weight gain across the BMI distribution.”

In the New York Times, Jane E. Brody notes in covering this study that the United States has done very little to address the food environment that has led to such a marked increase in obesity (since 1990, obesity in the United States has doubled).  Policy interventions such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, portion control, and partnering with restaurants and food manufacturers to reformulate food to be more healthy would be a start.

In fact, another article published today in the New York Times shows that multifaceted policy intervention can have a huge effect on consumption.  It is four years since Chile passed a series of sweeping laws to combat obesity including raising taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and “advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods, bold front-of-package warning labels and a ban on junk food in schools,” and there has been a marked drop in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  That article cited a public health policy professor from Harvard University who said “the early results suggested that a raft of food policies, not just stand-alone measures like soda taxes, were needed to address a growing obesity crisis that is affecting nations rich and poor.”

As the study and these articles note, time is short.  The costs of obesity at this magnitude are enormous – on quality of life, on health care spending, on the economy, on socioeconomic disparities.  We need these policies, and we need them now.

 

 

Food Law Conference – March 2-3

by Diana R. H. Winters

I will be attending CLE International’s Annual Food Law Conference on March 2-3, 202, in San Francisco.  This is a terrific conference, which I highly recommend.

This is one of the few food law conferences where you can hear from both defense and plaintiff’s counsel, industry associations, and advocacy organizations.  I learned so much last year.   Michael T. Roberts, the Resnick Center‘s Executive Director, is a Co-Chair, and I am speaking on state law regulation on Tuesday, March 3.  The featured speaker is Laura Eichhorn Kurpad, Esq., Associate Chief Counsel US Food and Drug Administration, to give us views from the FDA.  You can find more info here: https://web.cvent.com/event/091ab345-25cd-4928-adf0-9212b7768bd5/summary?RefId=cle.com%20more%20info

Seriously, this conference is the cream of the crop!  Hope to see you there.

The FAO’s Food Fraud Conference

by Michael T. Roberts

I just returned from an exceptionally productive, four-day Food Fraud Workshop hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. Our participation in the workshop was the first project for the Resnick Center following its MOU with the FAO earlier this year.

In connection with the workshop, I have had the privilege of working with the FAO Legal Department in the drafting of a background paper on the regulation of food fraud. Given the Center’s publication of two white papers on food fraud, this experience is particularly rewarding.

The workshop had a number of interesting law and science presentations. I delivered a keynote presentation on the regulatory framework that governs food fraud both internationally and domestically. I was also happy to be joined by colleagues from various countries, including Dr. Sun Juanjuan from Renmin University School of Law in China, with whom the center collaborates with closely. Overall, the proceedings reinforced for me the important role of law and governance strategies in addressing food fraud. There is a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to being involved in this global effort.

Roberts.Rome2

The Honey Wars

If you’ve ever tried to buy a jar of manuka honey, you know the price is anything but sweet.  This is because of the honey’s purported health and aesthetic benefits, which have caused its price to skyrocket.  The New York Times recently published an article about a dispute between New Zealand and Australia regarding when honey can be branded “manuka,” and by whom.  Find this fascinating read here.

 

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