James Giese

Agencies issue advisory on methylmercury in fish
On March 19, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency announced a joint consumer advisory on methylmercury in fish and shellfish for reducing the exposure to high levels of mercury in women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. The agencies emphasized the benefits of eating fish, but said that, as a matter of prudence, these groups may wish to modify the amount and type of fish they consume. By following these recommendations, women will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury. The recommendations are: Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Eat up to 12 oz (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. And, finally, check local advisories on mercury levels in locally caught fish. Additional information can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov or www.epa.gov/ost/fish.

USDA to greatly expand BSE testing
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture on March 15 announced it would vastly increase the number of cattle tested for mad cow disease (BSE) to determine its prevalence in the U.S. cattle herd. The one-time effort will give a snapshot of the cattle population in the U.S. and help define whether BSE is actually present in the population and, if so, at what level. The goal is to test as many cattle in the targeted high-risk population as possible in a 12-to 18-month period. Under the new testing regimen, USDA would attempt to test every cow considered at high-risk for BSE. More information is available at www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/BSE_Surveil_Plan03-15-04.pdf.

FDA releases plan to confront obesity
To help tackle what FDA is calling the “nation’s obesity epidemic,” the agency on March 12 released the final report of its Obesity Working Group. The group’s long- and short-term proposals are based on the scientific fact that weight control is mainly a function of caloric balance. So FDA is focusing on “Calories Count” as the basis of its actions and the message of its obesity campaign. The recommended actions of the group include enhancing the food label to display calorie count more prominently and to use meaningful serving sizes; initiating a consumer education campaign focusing on the “Calories Count” message; encouraging restaurants to provide nutrition information to consumers; stepping up enforcement actions concerning accuracy of food labels; revising FDA guidance for developing drugs to treat obesity; and working cooperatively with other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, industry, and academia on obesity research. For more information on the report, see www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/obesity/.

House bans obesity lawsuits
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 276 to 139 on March 10 to ban class-action lawsuits that contend that food companies and their offerings are responsible for Americans’ increasing obesity. The so-called “Cheeseburger Bill” is designed to prevent legislative and regulatory functions from being usurped by civil liability actions brought or continued against food manufacturers, marketers, distributors, advertisers, sellers, and trade associations for claims of injury relating to a person’s weight gain, obesity, or any health condition associated with weight gain or obesity.

NIST to establish meat quality standards
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has joined meat industry counterparts, producers, device manufacturers, USDA and ASTM International to standardize a quality-measuring process for pork, beef, and, eventually, poultry. In February, ASTM committees, representing all concerned parties, approved the first two of four draft standards to cover key aspects of the electronic methods used to determine the value of live animals, carcasses, and individual cuts. The approved standards outline requirements for installation, operator training, operation, verification, inspection, maintenance, design, and construction of devices or systems. The remaining two standards, expected to be approved this spring, cover calibration, accuracy, and standardized equations for pricing meat. The final standards are expected to be incorporated into new USDA regulations.

FDA issues juice processing safety guidelines
On March 3, FDA issued the first edition of its Juice HACCP Hazards and Controls Guidance. For more information, see www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/juicgu10.html.

BY JAMES GIESE
Internet Editor
[email protected]