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The FDA has approved a genetically modified pig that does not cause allergic reactions. The new swine is free of an allergen called "alpha-gal," making its products safe for those with the allergy, also known as mammalian meat allergy (MMA). The new pig can be safely used to manufacture an allergy-free version of the widely used blood-thinning drug heparin, which is made from pig intestines. The pigs' tissues and organs can also be safely used for transplants, and the pork can serve as allergy-free meat for human consumption. Before the "GalSafe" pig, the FDA had given the green light to only one other genetically engineered animal for food: A genetically engineered salmon approved in 2015.
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In 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finalized a rule allowing up to 20 permits for fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico's federal waters. This September, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute applied for a NOAA permit to farm sushi-grade tuna in federal waters off the San Diego coast. But so far no permits have been issued. Advocates says U.S. ocean aquaculture is vital to establishing a resilient food supply and relying less on farmed fish imports from Asia. Critics say it's fraught with negative impacts like fish escapes, disease, antibiotic use, and waste accumulation. Here's a deep dive into the murky world of farming our oceans.
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The US Food and Drug Administration announced additional traceability record keeping requirements for companies that manufacture, process, pack, and hold foods on its Food Traceability List. Under the rule, manufacturers must keep supply chain records for growing, shipping, receiving, creating, and manufacturing various food products. The new rules aim to help the Agency prevent food borne illness outbreaks and identify foods with potential adverse health consequences due to misbranding or food adulteration. The proposed rule is open for public comment until January 21, 2021.
After pressure from Congress, the Agriculture Department reported last week that it would permit schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to any child or teenager until the end of the year. The move was commended by hunger advocates for keeping children at need fed during the pandemic. The USDA decision was a slight reversal, as the department previously said that when the school year began, districts would only be required to serve meals to students enrolled in the school and would charge students who failed to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. In the spring, when schools were first shut down, the Agriculture Department approved districts to give out subsidized to-go meals to any child or teenager under 19. The change was meant to ease accessibility of meals to low-income children during lockdown. Some districts offered meals at curbside pickup, while others had them delivered at bus stops or directly to students’ homes. Roughly 20 million children in the US typically get free school lunches, and two million more collect meals at reduced prices. Just behind food stamps, the school lunch program is the second-largest nutrition assistance program in the country. Children in households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level have access to free meals through the program. Children with household incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level can access meals at reduced prices with a maximum of 30 cents for breakfast or 40 cents for lunch.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has eased regulations that had prevented imports of American pork carrying trace amounts of the animal-feed additive ractopamine as well as blocked beef products made from US cattle aged 30 months or more. US officials viewed the former regulations as the main barrier to creating closer trade relations with Taiwan. “This move opens the door for even deeper economic and trade cooperation,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. Ms. Tsai hopes her decision will address both food safety issues and the Taiwan pig farming industry’s opposition to the decision. Taiwanese officials “believe that opening up further to US pork and beef imports at the present time is a decision in line with overall national interests and strategic-development goals for the future,” according to Ms. Tsai. The US is Taiwan’s second largest trading partner, as the two countries traded $94.5 billion in goods and services in 2018, according to US economic data.
After decades of controversy about whether or not genetically engineered foods should require labels, the United States will require them starting in 2022. In 2015, market research firm the Mellman Group found that 80% of Americans strongly supported mandatory labels for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, passing a labeling law has been rather unsuccessful. Now, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopted the national bioengineered food disclosure standard in 2018, USDA officials have put together a list of bioengineered foods for consumers to get a better idea of what will be labeled. Food manufacturers will have three options to choose from for their labeling. The first calls for food products to be labeled “bioengineered”, and if there is only one bioengineered ingredient, it will be labeled “contains a bioengineered food ingredient.” The second option allows manufacturers to use a symbol, which consists of a stem growing from a field with the sun shining in the background and the word “bioengineered” surrounding it. The third and final option for manufacturers is a QR code that can be scanned on a smartphone to obtain more information. While the new label regulations take effect in 2022, food served at restaurants, food trucks, salad bars and other similar establishments will be exempt from labeling requirements.
Last week, the United States and the European Union announced a $200 million deal aimed at cutting import tariffs on some products, including U.S. lobsters. Under the agreement, the EU will be removing tariffs of 8% to 12% on imported lobster, and the U.S. will do the same on some glassware, ceramics, disposable lighters and prepared meal imports. The move shows a sign of easing transatlantic trade tensions, which have been quite prevalent in recent months over aircraft subsidies and the imposition of punitive tariffs on EU steel and aluminum. “The importance of the deal is that it has unleashed positive results elsewhere,” an EU official said. The deal will also level the playing field, considering the EU and Canada made a deal that caused for a removal of tariffs on Canadian lobster, which damaged the US’s European sales dramatically, US Senator Angus King said.
In the 1950s and 60s, canned tuna emerged as an iconic American convenience food. It was a primary source of healthful protein in everything from tuna sandwiches to casseroles. By the 1970s, the tuna business had consolidated into three big brands, StarKist, Chicken of the Sea, and Bumble Bee. Tuna consumption peaked in the 1980s, and over the next two decades, concerns over harmful fishing practices and mercury levels in tuna caused sales to plummet by 40%. To increase profits, the big three shifted operations off shore and changed ownership. By 2015, StarKist was owned by a South Korean conglomerate, Chicken of the Sea was owned by a Thai company, and Bumble Bee belonged to a British private equity firm. These days, the big “American” tuna companies are not even American.
When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an inquiry into the industry several years ago, investigators discovered that the three brands had actually been colluding for years, fixing prices to ensure that cans of tuna would always cost a few pennies more than they should have. From 2011 to 2013, the size of tuna cans among all the brands also dropped from 6 ounces to 5 ounces, so there was less tuna per can, another profit-boosting move. Chicken of the Sea ended up cooperating with investigators to avoid federal prosecution, but StarKist and Bumble Bee were found guilty. The DOJ slapped the companies with $125 million worth of fines, and Chris Lischewski, the longtime CEO of Bumble Bee, was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison this past June. Now, the three tuna companies also face civil suits from restaurants and grocers.