“Obama Proposes Single Overseer for Food Safety” – New York Times, 20 February 2015

Currently, as many as 15 governmental agencies have their hand in food safety — primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, but also others like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the FDA and Agriculture Department are the main overseers, they too have different protocols and inspection methods.

The Obama administration has proposed a streamlined approach to food safety that would bring all the agencies under one roof in the Department of Health and Human Services. Centralizing food safety might run into some problems, as food safety experts, food safety inspectors, and consumer groups are already resistant to the idea.

The FDA and Agriculture Department often find themselves in opposition with each other: not only do they have different protocols — their guidelines are entirely different, from mandates to inspections programs to training and education — they are also territorial.

While the FDA oversees a majority of the food we eat, such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and shelled eggs, the Agriculture Department inspects our meat, poultry, and processed eggs. However, both departments’ inspections methods vary widely.

Everyday, the Agriculture Department, for instance, will assign inspectors to livestock processing plants so that every piece of meat and poultry is thoroughly examined. Every meat and poultry plant in the US is lawfully obligated to have an inspector there daily. Because the FDA is in charge of inspecting more food products, inspectors aren’t present at every plant.

Foods imported into the US also seem to have to pass few inspections. In order for meat to comply with US standards, the export countries must have inspection protocols that are the same as the Agriculture Departments. At the most, the FDA inspects two percent of our plant imports.

Some of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspectors think that the FDA’s standards would weaken their own. Other doubters assert that there is no research that advocates that a streamlined system would be better than the US’s current system.

But it seems like US food safety might already need change. Every year, around 87 million Americans fall sick from food, 371,000 go to the hospital for that sickness, and 5,700 die.

February 23, 2015

Fluid Management Systems

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www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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NOAA: 2012 Hottest Year On Record For Lower 48 States

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states. Not only did the continental US experience an extremely severe drought, but it was also plagued by wildfires, hurricanes and storms. Tornado activity, however, was below average.

(source)

According to the NOAA and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), 2012′s average temperature was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.2 degrees above the 20th century’s average and 1.5 degrees above the average in 2011. This year’s average temperature was only one degree above the average temperature of 1998. Though a one degree increase seems marginal, it is actually the opposite: annual temperature records are usually only broken by tenths of a degree. Average temperatures in earlier years had remained within a range of 4 degrees; thus, making 2012′s jump fairly grim.

The year 2012 contained the fourth-warmest winter, warmest spring, second-warmest summer and above-average temperatures in fall. This past July, 61% of the country experienced drought conditions, and was the hottest month for the contiguous 48 US with an average temperature of 3.6°F, exceeding typical July temperatures.

The drought spanning 2011-12 has had a relentless impact on farms, and caused $35 million loss in crops alone. The drought was provoked by low snow cover and warm temperatures during winter 2011, and continuing exacerbation by record warmth during spring 2011. Though a warmer spring allowed for the growing season to begin early, soil moisture was exhausted sooner than expected. A March heatwave kicked the drought up a notch, expediting the growth en masse, particularly across the Plains and Midwest.

Perhaps the NOAA’s findings will push Congress and the White House to target greenhouse gas emissions, which surely have had a hand in the world’s ever-growing climate change. The White House is gearing towards putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions for power plants, a major source of emissions. US emissions are still high — and though they have been reduced this year through the use of natural gases, renewable energy for electricity, and fuel-efficient cars — there’s still more to be done.

Dr. Das recently tweeted a letter to President Obama by the MIT Technology Review called, “Dear Mr. President: Time to Deal with Climate Change.” In this letter, the editors argue that addressing climate change must take top priority in the next four years.

However, the political reality in Obama’s second term is that lawmakers are divided and polarized in both Washington and state capitals, and other pressing issues will direct the nation’s attention, such as the economy — jobs, fiscal cliff, revenue, taxes, deficit and debt — immigration, and gun violence. Once again, the energy and environmental policies, and climate change debate will unfortunately take a backseat until the mid-term election in 2014. It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen in 2015.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 10, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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Time is Running Out to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

In the US, we have something called a Farm Bill, which is the main agricultural and food policy for the federal government. The bill is renewed every 5 years by Congress, and manages agricultural activities under the periphery of the Department of Agriculture.

The farm bill can actually be a contentious issue, and can affect international trade, environmental conservation, food safety and rural communities. The most current farm bill, which was passed in 2007, expired this September; however, no new legislation has been passed by Congress since then. Many decisions involved in a new farm bill are directly related, and affected by, our recession and the fiscal package.

The White House and Congress are at a political standoff, which is further worrying farmers. It is farmers’ hope that a new bill will be included in the fiscal package before year’s end — if legislation isn’t renewed, then milk and cheese prices will soar, affecting farmers and consumers alike. Extension of current law would be a relief for now, but would only be a band-aid for the existing problem. However, if neither current law is renewed nor new legislation passed, milk pricing would regress to the old system — the Agricultural Act of 1949 — where milk was set at $6 a gallon. The old system of milk pricing is out-of-date and unaligned with our current economy and market conditions.

The Agricultural Act of 1949 delineates how to set milk prices; the act is overridden when a new farm bill is passed, but will be effective if no new bill or extension is passed. The act includes a component that assures that minimum milk prices will cover producers’ costs. The government also assures producers that it will buy milk products at that price point; however, producers typically profit more through the consumer market. Given the existing market conditions, the government-set price could double, which could persuade farmers to sell their products to the government rather than through the private market. Because of this, store prices for consumers could skyrocket. If the government keeps accumulating milk, then it will subsequently have an excess of dairy products in storage. Eventually, prices could decline as the government sells its dairy stockpiles.

Increased milk prices could put American dairy farmers and cheese-makers out of line with the international market; instead of buying American-made dairy products, consumers could be looking at alternatives, such as foreign-made cheeses, and soy and almond milk.

What stands between the White House and Congress passing new legislation in 2012 are disputes over the food stamps program — three quarters of the farm bill goes into funding food stamps. The Senate bill, spearheaded by conservative lawmakers, would cut food stamps by $4 billion.
At this point, farm lobbyists are pushing to have any legislation passed before the new year so that dairy farmers will not have to revert to old legislation. This is an obscure issue that isn’t given much limelight, and many Americans don’t even know of this bill’s existence; yet, deep cuts into the farm bill could greatly affect everyone.
Like most issues facing our country today, the public expects lawmakers and lobbyists to work together and let the country move froward to a market-based system. We think that this is very reasonable expectation; however, it isn’t as reasonable as we think.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 19, 2012

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2012   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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