September 23, 2021

Japan and South Korea Bar U.S. Wheat Imports

Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of American wheat, and the European Union urged its 27 nations to increase testing, after the United States government disclosed this week that a strain of genetically engineered wheat that was never approved for sale was found growing in an Oregon field.

Although none of the wheat, developed by Monsanto Company, was found in any grain shipments — and the Department of Agriculture said there would be no health risk if any was shipped — governments in Asia and Europe acted quickly to limit their risk.

South Korea, which last year purchased roughly half of its total wheat imports of five million tons from the United States, said Friday it would suspend purchases until tests were performed on arriving shipments. Results of the tests, by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, were expected in the first week of June, according to local media.

Seoul also raised quarantine measures on wheat for livestock feed, while Thailand put ports on alert.

The European Union, which has a “zero tolerance” approach to genetically modified crops, said through its consumer protection office Friday that if any shipments tested positive, they would not be sold.

It also said it was seeking “further information and reassurance” from Washington and had asked Monsanto for help in developing a reliable test for the genetically modified strain.

The United States is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat. While genetically engineered corn and soybeans are routinely grown, they are largely consumed by animals, while wheat is consumed directly by people and has faced more consumer resistance.

The strain of wheat was developed by Monsanto to resist its Roundup herbicide, but the company ended its field trials in 2004. How it came to be growing in Oregon was not clear.

Japan and Mexico are among the biggest importers of American wheat. The European Union imports more than one million tons each year, mostly to Spain.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Traces of Horse Drug Found in British Beef Product

The Asda chain, which is owned by Wal-Mart, said late Monday that its Smart Price Corned Beef had been withdrawn from shelves in March after it was found to contain traces of horse meat, and that further tests showed that the banned drug, also known as bute, had been detected in very small doses.

“Asda is recalling this product and anyone who has Asda Smart Price Corned Beef should not eat it,” said a statement on the company Web site, which added that the risk to health was extremely low. Consumers were asked to return the product to stores.

The announcement is a new development in the scandal over horse meat in beef products. Until Monday, there had been no suggestion that any item sold in Britain posed a health risk. Eight horses slaughtered in Britain for human consumption tested positive for bute and although some of that meat was exported to France, none of it was used in British food, according to the authorities.

Tests to detect bute take longer than those for horse DNA, which is why the Asda product was withdrawn from shelves last month well before the discovery of traces of bute that prompted the recall.

A second Asda corned beef product that also contained horse meat traces and had been taken off supermarket shelves was also being recalled as a precaution, although no bute had been discovered, the company said.

Britain’s Food Standards Agency said Asda’s corned beef contained “very low levels of bute (four parts per billion — 4ppb) and is the only meat product where bute has been found. However, bute has previously been found in horse carcasses. The level of bute found in this product is considerably lower than the highest levels found in carcasses (the highest level found was 1900ppb).”

It cited previous comments from the chief medical officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, in which she said that horse meat containing phenylbutazone presents a very low risk to human health.

“Phenylbutazone, known as bute, is a commonly used medicine in horses. It is also prescribed to some patients who are suffering from a severe form of arthritis. The levels of bute that have previously been found in horse carcasses mean that a person would have to eat 500-600 one hundred percent horse meat burgers a day to get close to consuming a human’s daily dose. And it passes through the system fairly quickly, so it is unlikely to build up in our bodies,” she said.

“In patients who have been taking phenylbutazone as a medicine, there can be serious side effects but these are rare. It is extremely unlikely that anyone who has eaten horse meat containing bute will experience one of these side effects.”

But Mary Creagh, the environment spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said it was “deeply worrying that bute, a drug banned from the human food chain, has been discovered in one brand of corned beef. This product was withdrawn from sale on 8th March yet has only been formally recalled now, after testing positive for bute, meaning people could have unwittingly been eating meat containing this drug for the last month.

“This exposes the weaknesses in the government’s handling of the horse meat scandal where products were withdrawn but in some cases not tested either for horse meat or bute. The interests of the consumer should have been put first.”

The British food industry has tested around 5,400 beef products and about 1 percent showed traces of horse meat.

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Chemical Suspected in Cancer Is in Baby Products

More than 30 years after chemical flame retardants were removed from children’s pajamas because they were suspected of being carcinogens, new research into flame retardants shows that one of the chemicals is prevalent in baby’s products made with polyurethane foam, including nursing pillows, car seats and highchairs.

The research does not determine if children absorbed the chemical, chlorinated Tris, from the products. But in an article to be published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science Technology, the researchers suggest that infants who use the products have higher exposure to the chemical than the government recommends.

Earlier research by one of the article’s authors, Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist, contributed to the elimination of Tris flame retardants, including chlorinated Tris, in children’s pajamas in the 1970s. Although the chemical was not banned at that time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission now says that it “may pose a significant health risk to consumers.”

The new research found that foam samples from more than a third of the 101 baby products that were tested contained chlorinated Tris. Over all, 80 of the products contained chemical flame retardants of some kind, some of which are considered toxic, though legal to use. In one instance, flame retardants represented 12 percent of the weight of the foam in a changing pad; most products were closer to 3 to 5 percent.

Among the products examined were changing table pads, sleep positioners, portable mattresses, baby carriers, rocking chairs and highchairs.

Fourteen of the products contained the flame retardant TCEP, which the State of California describes as a cancer-causing agent. Four of them contained Penta-BDE, a flame retardant that builds up in human tissue and that manufacturers voluntarily phased out in 2004; it is banned in many countries, but not the United States, and in some states, including New York.

“Why do you need fire retardant in a nursing pillow?” said Dr. Blum, who is the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that brings scientific data about toxic chemicals to policy makers.

“The whole issue is, they are toxic chemicals that are in our homes at high levels; and right now, people don’t know much about it,” she said.

Asked about the new research, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, said all nursery products sold in the United States conform to “tough federal safety standards.”

“Not only do these safety standards contain flammability requirements, they also restrict the use of substances that are harmful or toxic and to which children might be exposed,” the association said in a statement.

The association also noted that chlorinated Tris was not banned by the government, but rather a related compound, brominated Tris, also found in the pajamas decades ago. “This study does not support allegations that the banned retardant Tris is in use,” the association said.

Gordon L. Nelson, a chemistry professor at Florida Institute of Technology, said the new research was interesting but hardly proof that the flame retardants were doing harm. He noted that some children’s products that use foams have plastic covers around them, which would prevent flame retardants from leaching out.

“The question is, in actual use, does the flame retardant come out?” Dr. Nelson said. He says he has done research on fire safety for decades and occasionally accepts research money or consulting fees from the industry.

In addition, Dr. Nelson maintained that fire retardants have vastly reduced the number of fire deaths caused by upholstered furniture, a point that critics of the chemicals dispute.

The new research is being released amid a broader, and often bitter, debate about flame retardants and a California flammability rule that has become the de facto national standard.

The California standard, passed in 1975, requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. Because there is no other state or federal standard, many manufacturers comply with the California rule, usually by adding flame retardants with the foam, Dr. Blum said.

Last year, California exempted strollers, nursing pillows and baby carriers from the flammability standard. Dr. Blum characterized the exemption as a positive step, though she noted that many other baby products were not exempted and it was not yet clear if manufacturers had stopped using flame retardants in those products.

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