ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 October 2002


Below is an item that may cast some considerable light on the background of the USDA official who used the World Food Prize symposium yesterday, an event attended by hundreds of researchers and government officials from around the world, to warn consumers about the dangers of organic food.

for more on the organic attackers:

1. Letter to Tom Harkin concerning the nomination of Elsa Murano
2. USDA: Organic foods may be more contamination-prone


1. Letter to Tom Harkin concerning the nomination of Elsa Murano

July 16, 2001
Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman
Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
328-A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin:

We are writing concerning the nomination of Elsa Murano to the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety for the United States Department of Agriculture.

As you know, the role of the Under Secretary for Food Safety is a very important one. The Under Secretary is responsible for enforcing many key laws and administering many key programs intended to maintain the safety and wholesomeness of our food supply. Among these are Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act, the Talmadge-Aiken Act, the Humane Slaughter Act and the Food Safety Research Program.

A microbiologist by training, Murano is the director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M University. On its face, Murano would seem a good fit for the position. However, we have become concerned with the nature of her work at Texas A&M, her ties to industry, and the distorted image of food irradiation that she has presented to the public.

Murano has used her position at Texas A&M to advocate for food irradiation in a manner that we believe has been less than fully responsible. During her presentations at conferences and other events, and in her public statements, she has not presented a complete or balanced view of irradiation. We are concerned that this may be due to the financial ties between her university and the food irradiation industry.

In a Texas A&M press release last June, for example, Murano erroneously compared food irradiation with microwaving. Nothing could be further from the truth. An individual with her level of training and experience should be fully aware that microwaves are non-ionizing, while irradiation uses ionizing radiation, which has far more disrupting effects on food.

One month after Murano made these comments, Texas A&M signed a 10-year research and development deal with the Titan Corporation, a leading food irradiation company that, it should be noted, frequently makes the same erroneous comparison to microwaving. Titan provided the school with millions of dollars worth of irradiation equipment which Texas A&M employees operate at discounted wages or for free and Titan enjoys the economic benefits. The company has stated that this arrangement is worth more than $10 million.

This past April, during a presentation that was subsequently posted on the USDA s website, Murano stated that more than 1,000 research studies have revealed "no significant difference between irradiated and non-irradiated foods in terms of: toxigenicity, pathogencity, or mutagenicity." Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Many studies some of which were funded by the U.S. government have revealed serious health problems in lab animals that ate irradiated food, including premature death, stillbirths, a rare form of cancer, genetic damage, fatal internal bleeding, organ malfunctions and vitamin deficiencies.

And, at a recent meeting of the USDA National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection, Murano suggested that the labels on irradiated eggs could tell consumers that they do not have to cook them as long as non-irradiated eggs. This suggestion deserves serious scrutiny, given the well-documented chemical and nutritional changes that occur in irradiated food. At the same meeting, Murano attempted to gauge the opinion of other panel members about allowing irradiated food in the school lunch program. Given the public outcry over a recent proposal to serve irradiated food to school children, it would appear that Murano s viewpoint on this issue is out of step with the prevailing opinion of Americans.

Murano is also a well-known proponent of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program for meat inspection, serving as a HACCP trainer throughout the world. HACCP was originally promoted as a way to enhance traditional inspection by bringing more pathogen testing into the system. In reality, HACCP shifts the responsibility for ensuring a safe meat supply from government inspectors to the meat industry, and is being used by USDA as a step towards complete industry self-inspection. HACCP s testing program is seriously flawed and the program has curtailed inspectors authority to the point that government meat inspection has been replaced with an industry honor system. Last year, the USDA s own Inspector General concluded that under HACCP, the agency has "reduced oversight beyond what was prudent and necessary for the protection of the consumer."

Murano s narrow point of view that irradiation is a panacea to food safety problems and her promotion of HACCP cause us to question her ability to make sound decisions on food policy. Irradiation and HACCP are not silver-bullets. The answer to many food safety challenges lies in slowing line-speeds in our slaughter and processing facilities, and hiring more government inspectors and training them adequately.

We realize, Senator Harkin, that you are a supporter of food irradiation. While we may disagree with your view, I trust that you would agree with our position that the person who becomes Under Secretary for Food Safety should be someone who has the experience and the credibility to fill that job.

At a time when food safety problems cry out for creative, thoughtful solutions, it is extremely important that the American people have every confidence in the person who holds this position. Unfortunately, Murano s track record leaves us greatly concerned that her appointment would not engender this confidence.


Public Citizen

Community Nutrition Institute

United Poultry Concerns

Society for Animal Protective Legislation

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus, Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago and Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition

Organic Consumers Association

Government Accountability Project


2. USDA: Organic foods may be more contamination-prone

USDA: Organic foods may be more contamination-prone
Last Updated: 2002-10-24 16:11:49 -0400 (Reuters Health)

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - The head of food security of the U. S. Department of Agriculture Thursday said consumers should be wary of organically grown foods.

"We must remember that bacteria and parasites are also all-natural," Elsa Murano, under secretary for food safety, said at the World Food Prize symposium that draws hundreds of researchers and government officials from around the globe.

"Foods that have fewer or no preservatives can pose a challenge to consumers if they don't know what all-natural implies and how these foods should be handled and prepared."

Her remarks come on the heels of the introduction of new organic food labels regulated by the USDA telling consumers which products are free of pesticides and transgenic crops.

The USDA said the labels were a marketing tool and not a statement about food safety, nutrition or quality.

Before the labels debuted on Monday, the term organic was defined under a hodgepodge of state, regional and private certifier standards, creating confusion about its meaning.

"As a microbiologist, I know that preservatives are used in foods for a reason ... to preserve food against the growth of microorganisms," Murano said during a question-answer session.

"Perhaps there's not the evidence to show that one (method of growing food) is safer than the other .... When you don't have those preservatives, you have to be aware of the fact that that's going to cost you something," she added.

"That's what I think is the challenge for the food industry, especially those folks who produce organic foods and all-natural foods and so forth, to make sure they produce them and process them in such a way that it will not reduce the safety of those products," she said.

The organic industry is the fastest growing U.S. agricultural sector, expanding by 20 percent annually.

Sales of organic foods are expected to reach $11 billion in 2003, more than double the amount 5 years ago, according to the Organic Trade Organization.

Copyright 2002, Reuters News Service

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