By STEPHANIE STROM New York Times
In a ruling that appeared to side with consumers, the Agriculture Department announced that it would expand testing for E. coli in raw beef trimmings beginning next week.
The announcement came on the heels of a decision on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration to deny a petition by the Corn Refiners Association to change the name of the sweetener high-fructose corn syrup to corn sugar on nutrition labels.
“We think they both got it correct, although to varying degrees,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union.
Dr. Hansen said the F.D.A.’s ruling on corn syrup was particularly important, since some consumers have adverse reactions to high-fructose corn syrup and might have been misled by a change in the name. “The only sweetener they really can eat is dextrose, and there is dextrose called corn sugar, so this could really have had an impact on them,” he said.
He was less impressed with the Agriculture Department’s decision to begin testing some raw beef products for six additional strains of E. coli that produce the so-called Shiga toxin — O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145 — which, like their better-known cousin, E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe illness and death. “They need to be looking at all raw beef products, not just some of them,” Dr. Hansen said.
The department first proposed testing for the additional strains late last year, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of confirmed cases of illness caused by these strains had exceeded the number caused by E. coli O157:H7.
The testing was to start in March but was delayed after members of the industry protested. The new tests will be done on raw beef trimmings, which are used in ground beef.
“These strains of E. coli are an emerging threat to human health and the steps we are taking today are entirely focused on preventing Americans from suffering food-borne illnesses,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply.”
In a statement, Todd Allen, the vice chairman for the beef industry’s beef safety committee and past president of the Kansas Livestock Association, said the industry welcomed the additional testing because it would help ensure that the safeguards the industry has put in place are working.
“As an industry, we will continue doing all we can to raise healthy cattle and provide consumers with safe, wholesome beef,” Mr. Allen said.
The Corn Refiners Association, which represents companies like Archer Daniels Midland, National Starch L.L.C. and Cargill, said the F.D.A. had denied its request on “narrow, technical grounds.”
The F.D.A. ruled that under its definition, sugars were crystalline in form and thus high-fructose corn syrup as a syrup could not be called a sugar. “They would have had to change two regulatory definitions — that of a sugar and that of a syrup — in order to accommodate what is essentially a marketing ploy by the Corn Refiners, who are upset that high-fructose corn syrup has a bit of a bad reputation,” said Marion Nestle, the author of “Food Politics” and a blog of the same name and a professor at New York University.
In a statement released late Wednesday, Audrae Erickson, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, said consumers are confused about what high-fructose corn syrup is. “Consumers have the right to know what is in their foods and beverages in simple, clear language that enables them to make well-informed dietary decisions,” she said.