NEWS SCAN: Poultry inspection debate, more HFMD cases, open access to studies, Muslim-backed polio efforts

May 30, 2012

Debate continues on USDA's proposed poultry-inspection overhaul
Controversy over a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to change its poultry inspection method continued as the public comment period for it closed yesterday, according to a Food Safety News (FSN) report today. The proposal would reduce the number of USDA inspectors, transfer most of the work of inspecting poultry carcasses to company employees, and allow companies to increase their production line speeds. The USDA says the plan will allow its inspectors to focus more on sanitary conditions and interventions. The poultry industry strongly supports the approach, called the HACCP Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), which has been used in 20 pilot plants since 1998. In a comment filed with the USDA, the National Chicken Council said the HIMP approach will improve food safety and said the industry can safely handle faster line speeds. But a union representing federal food safety inspectors, Food and Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project (GAP, a whistleblower-protection group) have strongly criticized the plan. In affidavits released yesterday by GAP, federal inspectors working in plants using the HIMP system alleged that they were discouraged from holding the facilities accountable for contaminated poultry and that contaminated and diseased birds were more likely to reach the "chiller" in those plants, according to the story. The USDA, however, says that HIMP plants outperform non-HIMP plants on food safety.
May 30 FSN story
Comments on the proposal
Apr 26 USDA Federal Register notice with responses to comments
GAP page citing federal food inspectors' affidavits

Hand, foot, and mouth cases top 46,000 in Vietnam
Cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) in Vietnam this year have now topped 46,000, including 27 deaths, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today in an epidemiologic update. As of May 18, the ECDC said, the nation reported 46,277 cases across all 63 provinces. This represents an increase of more than 3,000 cases and 5 deaths in just 12 days: In a May 15 update that included data through May 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Vietnam had 43,196 cases and 22 deaths. The ECDC said case numbers continue to rise in Hong Kong, Macao (both part of China), and Singapore, as well. It also noted that South Korea and Japan, which had high HFMD levels in 2011, are both seeing low levels so far this year.
May 30 ECDC update
May 15 WHO update
May 29 CIDRAP News Scan on HFMD in Vietnam

Petition nears goal for raising open-access issue with Obama
Momentum is building to bring to President Barack Obama's attention the demand for free and open access to federally funded research findings, according to blog posts today. Michael Morris, a publications assistant with Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine, wrote on PLoS Blogs of a movement to expand the National Institute of Health's (NIH's) Public Access Policy so that reports on research funded by other federal agencies would be freely available to researchers and the public "instead of locked behind pay walls" at subscription-only journals. The effort has garnered more than 21,000 of the 25,000 signatures (as of this writing) needed on a petition to raise the issue with Obama. Michael Coston, on his Avian Flu Diary (AFD) blog, said that tens of billions of US tax dollars are spent each year on scientific research, and currently only NIH-funded research is required to be open access. "And even NIH funded research isn't always immediately available to the public that paid for it," he said.
May 30 PLoS Blogs post
May 30 AFD blog post
White House petition landing page

Muslim leaders endorse polio eradication efforts
Muslim leaders in three countries in which polio is endemic—Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria—have recently signed on to efforts to help eradicate the disease, according to a May 24 Reuters report. Global health officials have said vaccination campaigns have had a difficult time reaching young children in conflict-ridden tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who leads Pakistan's polio eradication campaign, told reporters at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva last week that 22 top Islamic scholars from around the world have endorsed the polio eradication campaign, a development that is useful for persuading Pakistani parents, Reuters reported. Nigeria's health minister, C.O. Chukwu, said his country is recruiting religious leaders and traditional rulers to lend their support for polio vaccination efforts, including the country's Federation of Muslim Women's Associations, which he told reporters is a "formidable group." Last week WHA delegates redoubled their efforts to eradicate polio by declaring a programmatic emergency.
May 24 Reuters story

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