Thursday Briefing

World Trade Organization rules against U.S. ban on clove-flavored cigarettes. The WTO, acting on a trade complaint filed by Indonesia, found that a U.S. law that prohibits the flavored cigarettes to discourage children from smoking was discriminatory because menthol cigarettes can still be sold in this country. U.S. officials still are determining how to comply with the ruling. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended more than a year ago a ban on menthol cigarettes, but the tobacco industry has contested the idea, and the Obama administration is considered unlikely to adopt it unless new information comes to light. Reuters

Climate change contributing to spread of disease. Lyme disease and other emerging infectious illnesses are soaring in North America. Experts say that increasing temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are already playing at least a partial role in the spread and intensity of zoonoses — infectious agents that begin in animals and account for an estimated 75 percent of all newly emerging diseases. Most zoonoses require a tick, mosquito or other insect to transfer a pathogen from an animal to a human. And because insects are highly sensitive to outside conditions, a few degrees or inches of rain can significantly enhance or hamper their ability to survive and pass on a parasite. The Huffington Post

Inspectors say new program to oversee poultry plants could allow contaminated food to reach consumers. Several federal inspectors who work at plants where a pilot program is under way that overhauls poultry plant oversight have provided affidavits pointing to weaknesses in the initiative. They say the main problem in the program, which the Agriculture Department plans to expand, is that inspectors are removed from positions on the assembly line where they are able to spot diseased birds. The program gives those duties to plant employees, but inspectors say those workers often allow, or are pressured to allow, contaminated birds to pass. The New York Times

Ammonia used in many foods, not just “pink slime.” The ground beef filler that critics call “pink slime” is made from fatty trimmings that are more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of beef, and thus are sprayed with ammonium hydroxide — ammonia mixed with water — to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli. But ammonia, known for its noxious odor, and related compounds also are used in cheese, baked goods and chocolates. Food industry critics point out that while “pink slime” and ammonia may not be harmful, the consumer reaction demonstrates that, as one watchdog put it, “The food supply is full of all sorts of chemical additives that people don’t know about.” Reuters

Rising food and drug imports intensify demands on safety regulators. A report from the Institute of Medicine noted that 85 percent of the seafood Americans buy, along with much of the produce and about 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients, come from abroad. The report urged that food and drug regulators in the U.S., Europe and other developed countries offer technology and expertise to developing nations in Asia, Latin American and elsewhere to better assure the safety of imports. “The integrated global economy demands cooperation across borders — to thwart terrorists, reduce environmental hazards, and ensure that our food and medical products are safe and effective,” it said. Bloomberg, The Associated Press

Authorities search for source of salmonella outbreak that has sickened 93 people. The outbreak of salmonella bareilly, an unusual type of the disease, has been reported in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illnesses began between Jan. 28 and March 23, the agency said. Ten people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported. Many of the people sickened reported eating sushi, sashimi or similar foods in the week before symptoms began, the CDC said, but authorities still aren’t sure about the source. Chicago Tribune

St. Jude Medical reports another problem with wiring for its heart devices. The St. Paul, Minn., company said it will stop selling two types of wires used in cardiac resynchronization therapy devices, which treat heart failure, because in some cases conductive wires were wearing through their insulation. St. Jude said there were no reports of patients being hurt or devices malfunctioning. The announcement follows a medical journal report last week that a short-circuiting problem in wiring for St. Jude implantable defibrillators caused the deaths of at least 20 patients. The defibrillators, which deliver shocks to restore heart functioning, no longer are being sold but still are implanted in 128,000 patients. The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal

Recalls: Todson bicycle child carrier seats, West Elm folding chairs, Star Light coconut candy

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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