Food and Beverage News and Trends - July 2016 #2

by DLA Piper

This regular publication by DLA Piper lawyers focuses on helping clients navigate the ever-changing business, legal and regulatory landscape.

Senate approves GMO labelling bill. After a years-long battle in Congress over GMO labeling, the US Senate on July 7 voted 63-30 to pass a GMO labeling measure. The federal compromise would require GMO labeling nationwide, giving food companies three compliance options: on-package language, a USDA-created symbol, or an electronic code. USDA will decide which ingredients are to be considered GMOs. Next, the bill goes to the House, and is expected to easily pass. Once it is law, the measure would preempt a Vermont statute which went into effect July 1 but will not be enforced until 2017. During a July 6 procedural vote on the bill, senators were showered with paper money – about $2,000 in actual cash – thrown from the visitors’ gallery by protesters, who chanted, “The Senate can be bought.” The New York Times commented, “The approval is a big win for food companies, farm groups and the biotech industry.”

Stanford study suggests possible health risks from BPA used in canning. An article published June 29 in the journal Environmental Research describes the results of a new study conducted at Stanford University indicating that eating canned food can expose consumers to elevated levels of BPA. The study indicated that different foods bring with them different levels of BPA contamination. This first-ever national sampling process looked at the urine of people who had recently consumed canned foods to check for the presence of BPA. California has listed BPA as toxic to the female reproductive system, and previous studies have shown that children are more susceptible to hormone disruption from BPA than are adults. BPA is widely used in food packaging – for instance, in the epoxy coatings of food cans, A spokeswoman for the FDA told CNN that the agency “has performed extensive research and reviewed hundreds of studies about BPA’s safety, and has determined that current authorized uses of BPA in food packaging are safe. The FDA continues to monitor literature and research on BPA.” See some of our earlier coverage of BPA issues here.

CSPI leader criticizes study that cast doubt on butter’s adverse health effects. Bonnie Liebman, the Nutrition Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, issued a statement July 1 affirming that butter, like other foods high in saturated fat, should be seen as contributing to heart disease. She criticized interpretations of a recent Tufts University study that had suggested butter does not lead to elevated rates of heart disease. She said that “one would not expect any single food to matter” for heart disease rates, “since people who eat butter don’t necessarily eat an overall diet that is high in saturated fat.” Liebman noted that health authorities still “recommending replacing food that are high in saturated fats (like red meat, cheese and butter) with foods that are high in polyunsaturated fats (like nuts, fish, and salad dressing)” and she said it is a myth to say that “butter is back.”

Inspection date set for raw milk producer. Miller’s Organic Farm must allow the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect its premises, and the US District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania has slated the inspection to begin on Monday, July 11. Although the owner of the farm, Amos Miller, is Amish and therefore a pacifist, the court said on June 30 that armed law enforcement officers will be allowed to accompany the FSIS inspector. The CDC has conclusively linked two listeriosis illnesses to raw milk products from Miller’s Organic Farm, which sells only to those who belong to its private membership club. Miller refused access to the FSIS several times in the spring. The court order says, “Because Miller’s Organic Farm is a slaughter and/or processing facility, defendants are obliged to provide USDA with a) access to the farm’s business operations; and b) an opportunity to examine defendants’ facilities, operations, and records.” USDA may also inspect the premises again 90 days afterward to ensure compliance. See our earlier coverage of this story here.

Sentences upheld. On July 6, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the three-month jail sentences of father and son Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster for misdemeanor food safety violations at Quality Egg, their Iowa-based egg production company. The DeCoster’s long-term criminal conduct, the US Department of Justice says, caused a massive nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2010 which sickened more than 1,900 people and led to the recall of 550 million eggs. In upholding the three-month sentences, Judge Diana Murphy opined, “We conclude that the record here shows that the DeCosters are liable for negligently failing to prevent the salmonella outbreak.” Quality Egg has already pled guilty to felony charges of bribing a USDA inspector and shipping eggs with false processing and expiration dates and paid a $6.8 million fine.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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