News Desk at FoodSafetyNews.com recently published an article titled “Mandatory Country-of-Origin Meat Labeling Now In Effect”, that explains that some meat being sold in grocery stores must be accurately labled from where it is from.  The law will require retailers to clearly state on packaging where the animal was born, how it was raised, and where it was slaughtered.  Such a standard of labeling has not as yet been seen and some fear it will discourage Americans from buying meat that was raised and slaughtered in foreign countries.

Many people have a problem with not knowing where the meat they consume comes from, myself included.  Before the new labeling law, it was only necessary for meat companies to state what counties the meat had passed through, but now, as stated above, it is required for the consumer to know where the animal was born, where the animal was raised, and where the animal was slaughtered, thus outlawing the previous inherent ambiguity in the old labeling system.

These new laws are not happily welcomed by some meat companies, anticipating a dip in sales when the origins of their products are made clear.  Competing ideas here are the freedom of corporations to package their products as they wish, and the freedom of consumers to know the origin of their food.

The governments of Mexico and Canada are also not in favor of the new labeling laws, bringing grievances before the World Trade Organization, and soon, a US federal court will hold hearings to contemplate the legality of the law for foreign companies.  Other companies who have a stake in the US meat industry are very worried that law may bring about international sanctions that hinder trading of meat with the US.

Malaria is an infectious disease that affects millions of people throughout the world every year.  Most reported cases come from the Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.  Thousands of people die each year from this disease, and people living in poor countries are at the highest risk.  Parasites from the genus Plasmodium use the biting of mosquitoes to spread from host to host.  Once these unicellular microorganisms enter the circulatory system of their host, they travel through the blood and eventually reach the liver.  In the liver, the Plasmodium parasites are able to reproduce and make their way to the rest of the body.  Typical signs and symptoms of Malaria include headaches and fevers.

Recently, researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found that a certain anti-malarial compound called imidazopyrazines can negate the functions of the protein “PI4K” that stimulates the development and growth of the Plasmodium parasites.  (Imidazopyrazine does not allow the parasite to mature and develop when it reaches the liver of its host.)

Dr. Winzeler, from the University of California, San Diego and Novartis Research Foundation, conducted a study that used imidazopyrazines for the treatment of infected mice with Plasmodium parasites.  They found that imidazopryazine was effective in preventing the malaria-causing parasites to develop and spread their disease.  However, the Winzeler study also found that some of the Plasmodium parasites formed an altered or deformed version of the PI4K protein that made them immune to the imidazopryazine compound.  Hopefully more research will be funded in this area.

As it currently stands, Primaquine is the only drug approved for the treatment of malaria.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition characterized by systemic inflammation.  People suffering from RA experience pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in their fingers, wrists, and/or other joints in the body.  RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it is a result of the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacking its own tissues.  In this case, the tissues being attacked include membranes that line the joints.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not currently known.  It could be genetic, or it could be a result of environmental or behavioral factors such as smoking, diet, and stress.  All of these factors influence the activity of the immune system.  Additionally, the immune system is heavily influenced by the microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria that live inside the human body.  The microbiome includes both helpful and harmful bacteria, many of which live within the digestive tract.

Many studies have been conducted to discover the cause of rheumatoid arthritis.  Some believe that the microbiome is a factor that can lead to the development of RA. One such study was conducted to see if the presence of a specific gut bacteria is linked to RA.  The study was conducted by Dr. Dan Littman of NYU School of Medicine and a team of researchers.  The results of the study were reported by Carol Torgan in her article “Gut Microbes Linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis” in the National Institutes of Health.  The results of the study were published in eLife on November 5, 2013.

The researchers examined DNA in 114 stool samples from people suffering from rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis and healthy individuals.  The data showed that 75% of the people with new-onset, untreated rheumatoid arthritis had traces of Prevotella copri in the intestinal microbiome.  The same bacteria was only found in 12% of people with treated RA, 38% of people with psoriatic arthritis, and 21% of healthy individuals.  The report states “The researchers performed more complete DNA sequencing on a subset of samples and identified unique Prevotella genes that correlated with rheumatoid arthritis.”

Furthermore, Dr. Littman stated “At this stage, however, we cannot conclude that there is a causal link between the abundance of P. copri and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. We are developing new tools that will hopefully allow us to ask if this is indeed the case.”

Recently, a report published on the Director’s Blog at the National Institutes of Health website discussed new microRNA research on cholesterol.  Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common medical issues today, and cardiovascular health is heavily influenced by cholesterol levels.  There are two types of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) also known as “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) known as “bad” cholesterol.  One of the strongest markers of cardiovascular health is the ratio of HDL to LDL.  Oftentimes statins are prescribed to adjust unhealthy HDL to LDL ratios.  These statins work by lowering LDL levels.

Researchers have explored different types of medications that work by increasing HDL rather than lowering LDL.  One new approach to increase HDL levels involves targeting microRNA (miRNA) which regulate protein production by disabling specific RNA templates called mRNA.  This theory was tested in mice; researchers blocked a specific miRNA and the animals’ HDL rose.  In humans however, HDL production is also regulated by another miRNA, so a team of researchers designed an anti-miRNA molecule that could inhibit both.  This treatment was tested in monkeys, and showed a 40% increase in HDL levels, without any major side effects.  Researchers are now evaluating its safety in preparation for possible human clinical trials.

This research is not only significant as a cholesterol therapy, additionally it is the first time that a single anit-miRNA molecule has been used to induce a therapeutic effect in primates.  This lays the groundwork for future development of therapies targeting other families of miRNA.  The author of this report, Dr. Francis Collins, stated that “one thing is clear: miRNAs are powerful regulartory molecules and may open the door to new treatments for cardiovascular disease, as well as many other conditions.”

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects more than 34 million people worldwide.  HIV is a virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition, which does not allow the immune system to fight off other lethal infections.  HIV. The immune system functions by recognizing proteins on the surface of viruses and bacteria.  HIV is unique in that the human immune system cannot identify the protein on its surface.  This is due to the protein’s ability to rapidly mutate.  This also makes it difficult to create a vaccine.  Vaccines function by introducing the immune system to the protein of a harmful bacteria or virus, which allows the immune system to identify the protein in the future.

Recently, however, a team of scientists at the Scripps Research Institute and Weill Cornell Medical College engineered a more sturdy form of the protein.  This is significant because high resolution imaging of the protein had been elusive due to its complex and delicate structure. The results were published online in 2013, in the journal Science.

The team of scientists was able to determine the structure of the protein using cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography.  This finding may be critical in finally creating an HIV vaccine. One of the researchers, Dr. Ian Wilson stated “Most of the prior structural studies of this envelope complex focused on individual subunits, but the structure of the intact trimeric complex was required to fully define the sites of vulnerability that could be targeted, for example with a vaccine”.

Seizures are potentially dangerous episodes resulting from abnormal neuronal activity in the brain.  Several medications have been created to prevent these episodes from occurring.  One such Anti-seizure medication is called Onfi, which is a schedule IV (CIV) oral antiepileptic.  Onfi has also been linked to some very harmful side effects, which has prompted the FDA to warn the public of these reactions.

According to a recent article by Medscape.com, the primary side effects that have caused these warnings are rare but serious skin reactions, which can result in permanent damage and even death.  The two documented skin reactions, Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), are most likely to occur during the first 8 weeks or when treatment is discontinued and restarted, although they may occur at any time while taking the medication.

Both skin conditions are very dangerous – all cases of SJS and TEN have resulted in hospitalization, one case resulted in blindness and another resulted in death.  While there may have been additional factors increasing the risk of these side effects, the available evidence suggests that Onfi was the likely cause of the reactions.

Patients taking Onfi to treat epilepsy should be closely monitored for signs or symptoms of SJS and TEN, especially during the first 8 weeks or when re-introducing the medication.  Onfi should be discontinued when signs of a rash are observed, unless the rash may be due to another cause.

The United States is currently working to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade agreement that by eliminating “tariffs and other barriers to goods and services trade and investment”, may result in risks for food safety in the US, says Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT).

According an interview with Julian Hattem of RegWatch, “The Hill’s Regulation Blog,” “DeLauro is concerned that poor food safety regulations in some countries taking part in the talks could put Americans at risk and said that a process being supported by the U.S. Trade Representative would ‘further jeopardize food safety.’

‘This is an area where I believe that trade is trumping public health in a very significant way,’ DeLauro said Thursday. [ ] She added that the Obama administration is not taking a long-term strategy to protect food safety in the trade deal by beefing up domestic inspection efforts.

‘This deal will lead to an influx of seafood imports from Asia, and we should therefore enhance funding for food safety at the FDA,’ she said. ‘We’re at a government shutdown here at the moment. They’ve been trying to starve FDA of resources at the best of times.’”  [Full article: House Dem: Asia trade deal would threaten food safety]

Watchdog organization Food and Water Watch makes the following statement on the TPP: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would lead to increased gas exports and imported foods, while weakening our nation’s domestic laws and increasing the financialization of nature. Ten Pacific Rim countries and the United States are currently negotiating the TPP, while TAFTA is between the United States and the European Union. Both are advertised as bold new ways to eliminate tariffs, import quotas and preferences on goods and services. And if put into action, they’ll serve as the models for future global trade deals.

In reality, the TPP and TAFTA are power grabs by corporations and their financers. They would challenge laws that protect the environment, rein in corporate interests, protect food safety, promote renewable energy, and curb risky practices such as fracking.”

Though allegations of a corporate power grab may be questionable, Food Safety News references a letter by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.),  submitted to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, that in a push to secure tighter food safety laws for imports from Malaysia and Vietnam, cites in FY2012, “imported seafood products from Vietnam, the fifth largest exporter of shrimp to the United States, were refused entry 206 times because of concerns including filth, decomposition, drug residues, unapproved food additives and Salmonella.”  Clearly, we have reason to maintain strict safety standards for food imports.

So, while expansions in free trade can be beneficial to a single nation’s economy or the international economy, it is important that we do not overlook the costs at which such expansions may come.  For more information on the Trans Pacific Partnership and its impact on food safety, follow the links below.

Office of the United States Trade Representative – “Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)”

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations”

Public Citizen – “Trans Pacific Partnership”

Economic Times – “US pushes for trans-Pacific Partnership trade agenda despite shutdown”

Published Thursday, scientists at the National Cancer Institute wrote an article called “NIH Mouse Study Finds Gut Microorganisms May Determine Cancer Treatment Outcomes”.  The National Cancer Institute believes they may have found a connection between the presence of certain organisms living in the human gut and the success of cancer therapy.  Mice that had cancerous tumors were studied and the mice that did not have these microorganisms had an impaired ability to fight cancer growth and live longer.  These microorgansisms that live within the gut are called “commensal microbiota” and do not negatively affect their host.  Chemotherapy drugs such as oxaliplatin and cisplatin also had a diminished effect for the mice that lack commensal microbiota.

Some reports suggest that chemotherapy drugs harm the intestinal microbiota and affect the anti-tumor immune response intended by the drugs.  The bacterial composition in the gut does not return to normal after being treated with antibiotics and may permanently inhibit the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapy and people who have frequently used antibiotics throughout their life may be included for this decreased effectiveness of cancer drugs.  Researchers are now trying to determine how these microorganisms send messages to different parts of the body and increase levels of inflammation to infected parts; it is thought that this signal to change the type and level of inflammation in the infected body organ is related to the successful outcomes with cancer therapies.

The mice used for this study were raised in sterile environments so they did not acquire any bacteria and were given strong antibiotics to ensure they did not harbor any of the commensal microbiota.  Once the necessary precautions were taken to sterilize the mice, they were injected with cancer cells that would form tumors in the mice.  This study showed that the germ free mice did not respond well to the drugs meant to target their tumors.

Ellen Beck recently wrote an article for the “Smart Blog on Food and Beverage” website titled “FBI Makes Threats to U.S. Food Supply a Bigger Priority”, that discusses the food industry’s vulnerability to intentional food contamination.  In light of all the terrorist attacks taking place throughout the world, the FBI is becoming increasingly concerned that food might be used to carry out a large scale attack on the American people, for intentional contamination can lead to widespread food borne illnesses that have the potential of infecting millions of people.

The FBI has been tracking incidents of intentional food contaminations and taking a closer look for ways to reduce these incidents from people or organizations that infect food supplies.  Motives for these intentional food contaminations may include terrorism or economic gains.  In recent years, a defense mission has been created through the FBI with the ability to activate thousands of agents to defend the food supply.  This mission uses the Joint Terrorism Task Forces and Hazardous Evidence Response Teams to cover all possibilities and situations that may arise from an intentional food contamination attack.

Beefing up on the ability of the FBI to investigate and predict possible threats related to intentional food contamination started after the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In Ellen Beck’s article she quotes FBI agent Thomas Rosato who states “We get the fact that because of its systemic nature, our food supply would be a very effective dispersal device for weapons of mass destruction”.  While the FBI has a lot of experience with the investigatory process, the Bureau needs help and input from the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies that have intimate knowledge of how the American food systems work to be effective in preventing these kinds of attacks.

In an article published from the Oncology Report Digital Network by Elizabeth Mechcatie, titled “FDA Grants Full Approval to Crizotinib for NSCLC Indication”, the Food and Drug Administration announced that a new drug was approved for the treatment of small cell lung cancer.  Crizotinib is a kinase inhibitor that works by blocking the actions of cancer cells, and studies that have been done on this new medication showed the drug was able to delay progression of the cancer better than the traditional chemotherapy used to treat lung cancer.

Author Elizabeth Mechcatie states “The drug approval was based on objective response rates of 50% and 61% in two single-arm open-label trials; full approval was contingent on providing evidence that confirmed the clinical benefits.”  In all, 347 patients were studied in order to determine which form of treatment (crizotinib or chemotherapy) was more effective.  Some negative effects associated with crizotinib that were seen in 25 percent of the patients were fatigue, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.

Further safety evaluations of the new drug found that the most common adverse events were pulmonary embolisms (blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the lungs) and other respiratory distress complications.  Blockage of blood to the lungs can lead to cardiac arrest which can be fatal if the appropriate steps are not quickly taken.  The heart receives blood with oxygen from the lungs, and cells of the heart that do not receive oxygen will die and will not grow back.  Crizotinib was able to delay progression of the cancer by 7.7 months compared to chemotherapy which was able to delay progression by only 3 months.