Monday, May 07, 2007

Calling all Science Journalists.Notes for the FDA 5/8 press conference

At the Vulcan Science Academy they don't teach human spin.

I know that there are some good journalists out there that know both science and human spin who can understand what is going on in this press release below. Based on my years of observing humans I'll take a crack at it. Anyone want to jump in, go ahead. Or better yet, ask the FDA one of these questions. But be smart about it because the FDA and the USDA are better at dancing than Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.

The FDA knows how to control the press in their press conference. How?

1) Press conferences are short, only one question is allowed, there are no follow ups allowed. They control the phone lines so you CAN'T ask more than one question. Why? Because a focused group of people would bust them for their vague answers to questions.

2) Only "credentialed press" even get to ask questions. This doesn't include the bloggers who have been following this crisis for weeks. And even the credentialed press get blocked if they aren't high status enough. For example, Christie Keith of PetConnection is blocked from having her questions asked because the high status press had to have their questions asked first.

Christie has better questions and has been tracking this story from day one. She was graced with access but didn't get to ask her great questions because she has busted the FDA twice for not having the right info. She is being treated like Helen Thomas and relegated to the back row because she asks the tough questions. Frankly this is bullsh*t. The FDA/USDA should keep the press conference going until all the questions are asked and everyone is satisfied with the answers.

This whole process is backwards. Instead of simply saying, "We are asking for a voluntary recall the pigs and chicken." they are saying:
"We are going to try and convince people that the chicken and pigs are safe to eat."

Why are they going this route? Because the 3.5 million chickens are already in your belly folks. But they won't tell you who ate those 3.5 million chickens. So they are working very hard to try to prove what you ate was safe. This also has the added benefit of pleasing the swine and poultry industry. They don't want to lose the money from the 20 million chickens.

They are rolling the dice with your health. Thanks FDA and USDA for looking out for our health first (sarcasm smilie here)

Horse gone. Barn door closed.


Here is the press release I've made my comments in quotes.

Scientists Conclude Very Low Risk to Humans from Food Containing Melamine
USDA Releases Some Swine and Poultry for Processing

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2007 – There is very low risk to human health from consuming meat from hogs and chickens known to have been fed animal feed supplemented with pet food scraps that contained melamine and melamine-related compounds, according to an assessment conducted by scientists from five federal agencies.

In the most extreme risk assessment scenario, when scientists assumed that all the solid food a person consumes in an entire day was contaminated with melamine at the levels observed in animals fed contaminated feed, the potential exposure was about 2,500 times lower than the dose considered safe. In other words, it was well below any level of public health concern.

The extreme risk assessment scenario questions:
1) How safe is safe enough? Show the public the scenario, now. We need to be able to interpret the statistics and identify the assumptions. If we don't, then they can hide behind statistics and assumptions. Some questions to ask:
a) Was this assessment based only on consuming melamine? Remember, there are three other chemicals, NOT just melamine. And they reacted with urine.

b) Was any of the pig or poultry food contaminated with wheat, rice or corn gluten DIRECTLY?
They talk about a proportion of pet food given to the poultry. But we know that China created feed just for poultry too. Did any suppliers to the 38 farms give poultry feed that was formulated from contaminated gluten alone? Since we don't know the farms, we can't call them up and ask. "What did you feed them? Where did you get it? Who sold it to you?"
Remember, the 3.5 million birds went out in February. That was long before the recall. Give me names of companies who created the food for the birds and pigs so we can ask THEM what they put into their food.

2) When will they release their risk assessment document? Before or after they release the birds to the chicken eating public?

3) What dose is considered safe? Were these safe dosage tests done on humans or rats? They are probably using an old study based on rats eating melamine only. Melamine alone is NOT the problem.

The risk assessment is an important new science-based component of the continuing federal joint investigation into imported wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate from China that contained melamine and melamine-related compounds.

Risk assessment covers a lot of ground, calling it science-based sounds more scientific I guess. But it really includes a lot of statistics in it and numbers ("too many numbers"?) maybe Kelley B or one of my other real science-talking readers could comment on this.

The risk assessment was conducted by scientists from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This team is now compiling a scientific assessment of the risk to animal health associated with ingestion of animal feed containing melamine and its compounds.

Who are the independent scientists who will be reviewing this assessment?

FDA and USDA are in the process of identifying a group of experts to convene a scientific advisory board that would be charged with reviewing the risk assessment. This group would also be asked to contribute to future scientific analysis related to the risk of melamine and its compounds to humans and animals.

And this "group of experts" comes from which industries? Who pays their bills? Agribusiness, the pet food industry? The chemical industry?

In the course of the investigation, it was discovered that pet food was contaminated by wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that contained melamine and its compounds. Subsequently, scraps of contaminated pet food that contained only low levels of melamine were distributed to farms in a limited number of states and added to the feed consumed by swine and poultry. These scraps constituted only a small percentage of the farm animal rations. In addition, melamine is known to be excreted in animal urine. When exposure levels are much higher, as was the case with cats and dogs, the melamine and its compounds appear to cause the formation of crystals in the kidney systems, resulting in kidney damage. There was no indication of kidney damage in hogs. Both hogs and chickens known to have been fed contaminated feed appear to be healthy.

"Melamine is known to be excreted in animal urine."
1) Which animals? Rats? Cats? Dogs? Pigs? Humans? (Lions? Tigers? Bears? Oh my!)
Is ALL of it excreted? No. With pets the melamine and other chemicals caused vomiting and crystals to form in kidneys. Some was still excreted. That's not the point. When I take Vitamin C it's know to be excreted in my urine. (Ever take too much and pee bright yellow?) that doesn't mean that I don't absorb enough of it to make an impact on my body, just that the excess is excreted. And different animals react different to chemicals. Rats have a more robust digestive track than other animals.

This dilution factor was an important piece of data considered in the multi-agency science-based human risk analysis and helps to support the conclusion that there is very low risk to human health from eating meat from animals that were fed the contaminated product. This conclusion supports the decision announced on April 28 not to recall meat from animals that were fed contaminated product.

Where have I seen a conclusion made to support a decision that has already been made? That's right, The Downing Street Memo, where the "facts are being fixed around the policy."

And what about the accumulation factor? This dilution factor is based on assumptions in which they have no physical evidence. That's hope, not science. See their FAQ where they admit they don't have data.
A safety/risk assessment is a scientific approach to estimating the risk to human health from exposure to specified compounds. It is based on available data and certain scientific assumptions in the absence of data.
Currently, swine and poultry on farms suspected of receiving contaminated feed are being held under state quarantine or voluntarily by the owners. In several cases, feed samples have tested negative for melamine and related compounds. These tests were conducted by federal laboratories or state laboratories using approved methods. It is assumed that because only small amounts of the contaminated feed were mixed with other rations, the melamine and related compounds were no longer detectable. USDA has concluded that, based on the human risk assessment and the inability to detect melamine in the feed samples, these animals no longer need to be quarantined or withheld from processing.

Again with the assumptions! Is all this hoop jumping really necessary for 20 million chickens?
Or are they preping us for 200 million chickens who ate bad feed and trying to excuse the 3.5 million melamine and c-acid contaminated chickens we already ate?

In other cases, feed samples have tested positive for melamine and related compounds; feed samples were not available; or feed samples have not yet been submitted for testing. These animals continue to be withheld from processing, but are not yet being culled, pending the results of the animal risk assessment. This assessment is expected to be completed within one week. At that time, USDA will determine whether these animals can be released for inspection and further processing.

USDA and FDA continue to conduct a full and comprehensive investigation. As additional information is confirmed, updates will be provided and decisions will be made using the best available science to protect the public's health.

Is this really about protecting public health or is it about protecting the poultry and swine industry? The US demanded that China kill millions of birds to stop Avian flu because they were afraid it would jump to humans even thought the "risk assessment" was very low that eating the dead birds would cause bird flu. Why the different standard on this?

To ensure no further contaminated products enter the U.S., the federal government will continue to monitor imported wheat and corn gluten as well as rice protein concentrate and isolates arriving from all countries destined for human and animal consumption. The FDA import alert for these products sourced from China remains in effect and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue laboratory testing of the products as they enter the U.S. The inspections are a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of products entering at U.S. ports of entry. There is no evidence to suggest products bound for the human food supply are contaminated.

"No evidence to suggest." Okay, could you please tell us the story about how the FDA caught products that WERE bound for the human food supply? Bet a lot of you in the press don't know that story. Maybe someone should ask it, might prove useful to remind people that we KNOW of cases where tainted gluten DID get into the human food supply, but just didn't get delivered to the stores.
That kind of throws a hole in the FDA's line.

For additional information about the pet food and contaminated feed investigation, go to or The human safety/risk assessment will be available online upon completion of an executive summary.

Great. Again I ask this be before or after you release the birds on the chicken eating public?

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mooncat said...

The decision not to name either the suppliers of the tainted chickens and pork or the suppliers of the tainted feed is characteristic of the poisonous mindset that permeates the Bush administration. Don't do anything that might inconvenience businesses. To hell with the public -- our interest in knowing what's in our food counts for nothing with these people. The risk that those suppliers might have to field a few phone calls completely trumps the public's interest in food safety.

Lot's of great information here, but that's the bit that really steams me. That "just trust us" attitude.

1:04 PM  

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