Food News Round-up: Tuna, GMOs, and BPA

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Strike Three for Atlantic Bluefin

Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna can't seem to catch a break. Strike one came late last year when the International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas voted to allow fishermen to take 13,500 metric tons of tuna this year, a number that the commission's own scientists said left the majestic fish with only a 50-50 chance of avoiding extinction. Strike two was thrown in March by the Committee on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) buckled under Japanese lobbying and voted not to give the species protection.

Last week, it was British Petroleum's turn to deal a devastating blow to Atlantic bluefins with oil leaking from its sunken drilling platform off Louisiana. The Gulf of Mexico is one of only two spawning grounds for the fish, and it happens that now is peak time for mating, said Chris Mann of the Pew Environmental Trust in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Fortunately, the heart of the breeding grounds lies southwest of the oil slick, but Mann worried that prevailing winds might blow bluefin eggs into the contaminated area.

Genetically Modified Justice à la Clarence Thomas

The Supreme Court began hearings last week on a case that could be pivotal to both sides of the GMO argument. In 2007, a lower court issued an injunction against planting genetically modified alfalfa produced by Monsanto after determining that the United States Department of Agriculture had approved its use without sufficient scrutiny. Monsanto is appealing the injunction.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself because his brother was a judge in the lower court case. Fair enough. But conservative judge Clarence Thomas, who did legal work for Monsanto back in the 1970s, declined to recuse himself. Oral arguments last week indicated that Clarence's conservative colleagues on the bench were not buying the argument that the GM alfalfa could contaminate nearby non-GMO alfalfa. A decision is expected this summer.

Coke to Shareholder Group: Things Go Better with BPA

Twenty-two percent of Coca-Cola's shareholders recently supported a resolution asking the soft drink company to disclose how it is dealing with concerns about the safety of bisphenol A, a plastic coating used to line the inside of cans. The company refused to provide the asked-for information, saying that it would not be "useful to our shareholders," according to Food Quality News. The company said it would continue to take its guidance about the chemical's safety from regulatory agencies.

Maybe the Coke execs should take a look at the latest information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which recently ordered new studies into the chemical's safety. In a January update on BPA, the FDA said that it shared "the perspective of the National Toxicology Program that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children."

It also said, "In addition, FDA is supporting reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA, including actions by industry."

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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