Last week several leading organizations in the food industry gathered to discuss trends and key issues facing the industry at The Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum. From the GMO debate to small farming and humane practices to sugar preferences, it’s clear that consumer demand for more control over what they’re consuming will continue to drive industry practices and future policies.
Industry leaders will gather at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, December 5–9 in Schaumburg, IL | LEARN MOREAgriculture in the Global Landscape
The agricultural sector is often one of the most protected markets, according to Darci Vetter, ambassador and chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Vetter strongly advocated for moving forward with free trade agreements in the United States for fear of falling behind in such a competitive global market.
When the audience was asked which country would see the biggest increase in agricultural exports in coming years, 40% selected China. To this observation, Vetter commented that while China has invested a great deal into basic research in the field of agriculture, the country has not been able to turn discoveries into viable technologies for farmers.
“China’s vision of national security is very much tied to food security.” – Darci Vetter, ambassador and chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Antibiotics: Not in My Chicken
As industry faces unprecedented scrutiny from consumers, the use of antibiotics in livestock remains a hot button issue. Nearly 15 years ago, Perdue Farms saw evidence that consumers were concerned about antibiotics, and the company has made significant strides to reach today’s slogan, “No Antibiotics Ever”. This means that 100% of the chickens are not receiving antibiotics unless they’re sick, which is about 5%, according to company Chairman Jim Perdue. Measures the company has taken to reduce the incidence of illness in birds includes wiping every egg that comes into a hatchery with a baby wipe (Perdue says that the company is the biggest user of baby wipes); using herbs such as oregano in feed, because it has been shown to help condition the gut; and engaging in “chicken playtime” (a controlled atmosphere for chickens to play), which is said to reduce stress in chickens.
Debating GMOs and Technology
In order to address the growing population, industry must look at the entire suite of tools available, said Vetter. According to Mike Frank, senior vice president and chief commercial officer of Monsanto Co., 60–70% more food needs to be produced to feed the future population. Global warming, affordability and consumer education are just a few challenges that farmers face while trying to improve productivity and efficiency. This is where technology plays a key role, said Frank. Industry needs innovation to address the challenge of producing more food and managing the environmental footprint.
“We need every farmer, whether organic or not, to be successful.” – Mike Frank, senior vice president and chief commercial officer, Monsanto Company
Frank predicts that big data will dramatically change agriculture within the next five to six years by allowing farmers to farm by the square meter, thereby improving productivity in areas such as seeding and pest management. Farmers will also be able to leverage data to gain a better understanding of soil conditions and weather, and how it will ultimately impact their harvest.
Closing the Food Safety Loop
“Food safety doesn’t magically happen,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. He emphasized how companies must work hard to reduce risk early in the process, citing Walmart’s guiding principles: Is it safe? Is it affordable? Is it sustainable? He also touched on the company’s program to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in chicken parts and how companies should approach risk not just from the scientific point of view but also consider the regulatory requirements and perceived risk in making risk management decisions.
“We as leaders need to shift the conversation and let food unite us.” – Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart
The discussion between FDA commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. and Susan Mayne, director at CFSAN, focused more on chronic disease and healthy eating, however Califf expressed a need for more interrelated data sources within FDA. He also encouraged that industry conduct more research to ensure that decisions are based on good evidence.
Monitoring for veterinary drug residues is conducted to ensure food safety and compliance with approved veterinary medicine practices. Veterinary drugs are used in animal husbandry for a variety of reasons, including as a curative/preventive of disease in herd and flock, to improve meat quality, and to promote growth. The chemical classes of drugs that may be used are broad, but major classes include antibiotics, anti-parasitics, and hormones. While risk-modifiers are used to minimize risk for consumption, residues from these drugs, their breakdown metabolites, or associated impurities of the drug may persist in animal tissue, necessitating the requirement that contaminant testing be undertaken.
In the United States, trace analysis of contaminants in food products began in the early 1970s following amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) in 1968. Worldwide, the regulatory requirements for contaminants in food have seen significant tightening due to a number of high-profile contamination crises and increased trade of food across country borders. From the technology standpoint, lower detection limits have been made possible by improvement of the detection capabilities of the analytical methods and instruments. Some of the most stringent requirements for contaminants in food are found in the European Union, where the levels of contamination should be below Minimum Residue Limits (MRLs), whereas in the United States, such limits are called U.S. tolerances.
When analyzing for drug residues, the choice of tissue has historically been the liver and kidney tissues, as these organs serve to remove the contaminants from the body and, as a result, the concentration of contaminants there is higher and easier to detect. Muscle tissue now often is added to the target list, as its contamination would have a direct impact on consumers.
With regards to veterinary drugs testing, one can distinguish between screening methods and confirmatory methods. The former should be fast and high-throughput and used to detect the presence of an analyte. The confirmatory methods should be able to provide confirmation of an analyte’s identity and quantitation at the levels of interest. Microbiological methods were popular for screening of antimicrobial drugs since these drugs inhibit growth of microorganisms, but suffer from a lack of specificity since not all microorganisms are equally sensitive to all antibiotics. Rapid screening methods include immunoassay-based testing kits, which are specific, fast, and can include multiple antibiotic classes in one test. Confirmatory methods typically include chemical analysis techniques with LC-MS detection, which provides the best ionization for most classes of veterinary drugs, along with better selectivity for focused analysis and lower detection limits. LC-MS can provide specific analysis of compounds from multiple classes in the same run through either targeted MS/MS or non-targeted analysis of unknowns through high mass resolution methods. The speed of LC-MS analysis has improved with the introduction of ultra-high pressure liquid chromatography-MS (UHPLC-MS) instruments. In the last few years, UHPLC-MS methods simultaneously serve as screening and confirmation methods for multiple classes, so called “multi-residue methods”. Some of these methods use MS/MS detectors and some use high-resolution mass spectrometers utilizing time-of-flight and ion trap detectors. These methods now can provide fast turn-around time and better accuracy in comparison to microbiological methods. They may be preferentially used by testing laboratories that are equipped and capable of utilizing the latest MS instrument technologies.
The 4th Annual Food Labs conference provides practical solutions and best practices on running, managing and equipping a food lab. | March 7–8, 2016, Atlanta, GA | LEARN MOREAll mass spectrometry methods that strive to perform simultaneous analysis of multiple veterinary drug classes are prone to the same drawbacks. Due to the differences in the analytes’ polarity, acidity and hydrophobicity, the quantitative extraction of analytes from tissue samples could be difficult. Ideally, the sample preparation methods should be compatible for compounds with varying physico-chemical properties but still provide selective separation from the matrix components to avoid occurrence of matrix effects during quantitation. The co-extracted matrix impurities are undesirable since they can affect the ionization of targeted analytes and result in under- or over-estimation of their concentration (ion suppression or enhancement). Due to the difficulty in designing a method that works for a wide variety of analytes, cleanup is often omitted for multi-class multi-analytes methods, and the stable isotope internal standards are used to correct for ionization effects during quantitation. However, omitting the sample cleanup could lead to other methodology problems.
As noted in the veterinary drug analysis session during the 2015 AOAC Annual meeting, sample cleanliness can result not only in matrix effects and impact quantitation, but it can also have an effect on the mass accuracy when high-resolution mass spectrometry is used and, therefore, can affect the identification of the analytes and lead to false negatives.
The most often used methodologies for sample cleanup during analysis of veterinary drugs in tissues is solid-phase extraction (SPE), both in cartridge and dispersive formats. C18 SPE proved to be a very versatile sorbent that often resulted in the best cleanup and best precision of analysis, closely followed by polymeric sorbents when applied to multi-class LC-MS analysis.
Aminoglycosides is one class of veterinary antibiotics that is hard to include into multi-class methods. The aminoglycoside structures include connected modified sugars with different number of substituents including hydroxy- and amino-groups. The higher degree of polarity for aminoglycosides contributes to their solubility properties: these compounds are freely soluble in water and to some extent are soluble in lower alcohols, but are not soluble in common organic solvents and have solubility issues in solvent-water mixtures with high organic contents. Therefore, the normal extraction conditions that include organic solvents and are frequently applied to most other classes of veterinary drugs do not work well for aminoglycosides. A separate method is often used to extract and analyze these antibiotics.
Most often aminoglycosides are detected by mass spectrometry through the formation of positive ions during electrospray ionization. The LC separation of aminoglycosides could be done by either a reversed-phase (RP) method with ion-pair mobile phase additive to insure the retention of compounds or by HILIC chromatography. We have investigated both methods and looked at the sensitivity for detection of these compounds. The use of ion-pair is most often presented as a disadvantage, as it can reduce the analyte signal through the decrease of ionization efficiency and fouling the LC-MS instrument. While the use of ion-pair in our study decreased the ionization for some of the lighter compounds in this class (streptomycin, puromycin), ionization efficiency increased for the heavier mass compounds (gentamycin, neomycin). RP chromatography resulted in improved separation of the analytes compared to HILIC. LC-MS fouling from the use of HFBA was not observed in our investigation that spanned the course of a couple of years. In the HILIC mode with use of formic acid as a mobile phase additive, the detection of neomycin was problematic due to very low sensitivity. It was as low as one seventh of the sensitivity obtained by RP method.
The instrument response for aminoglycosides also depends on sample extraction and cleanup and the accompanying matrix ionization effects. The extraction from animal tissues has been traditionally done using the McIlvaine buffer that includes 2% Tricloroacetic acid (TCA) to precipitate proteins and release any bound analytes and 0.4 mM EDTA to prevent the binding of the analytes to cations and/or glass. Then the extract undergoes cleanup steps using SPE. The SPE sorbent most often used is a cation exchange phase, as the aminoglycosides have ionizable amino-groups and can be retained from the extract through ion-exchange interactions. Another option for the SPE cleanup became recently available—molecularly imprinted polymeric (MIP) SPE. MIPs, which are sometimes called “chemical antibodies”, mimic the performance of immunoaffinity sorbents. MIPs have binding sites that conform to the shape and functionality of a specific compound or a compound class. Strong binding of the analyte to the MIP makes it possible to perform intensive SPE washes that lead to very clean samples. Unlike immunoaffinity sorbents, MIPs are compatible with organic solvents and strong acids and bases.
We have tested the MIP SPE versus the traditional weak cation exchange (WCX) SPE cleanup for aminoglycosides spiked into pork tissue. The resulting ionization effects were compared as an indication of samples cleanliness. The quantitation in both cases was done using matrix-matched calibration curves and in both cases the recoveries for most of the ten tested aminoglycosides were above 70% (with exception of spectinomycin at 33% in case of WCX cleanup and tobramycin at 55% in case of MIP cleanup). For the two cleanup methods, there was a significant difference in matrix effects. In Figure 1, matrix factors close to 1.0 indicate little to no matrix influence for analyte detection: the ionization of the analyte in mass spectrometer is not influenced by co-extracted matrix impurities and quantitation values are not skewed. Values for matrix factors that are significantly greater than 1.0 suggest matrix enhancement for the analyte and values less than 1.0 are considered to be the result of matrix suppression. Significant matrix suppression was observed for all analytes when WCX SPE was used for cleanup. The ion suppression effect was significantly less for samples cleaned using MIP SPE. In addition, we observed significant time savings when using the MIP SPE cleanup method, as it did not require sample evaporation after using water-containing elution solvent.
While improvement in the laboratory instrumentation allows the simultaneous and fast analysis of multiple contaminants, sample preparation remains important for reliable identification of contaminants in screening methods and error-free quantitation in confirmatory methods. Both the extraction and sample cleanup methods can contribute to accurate multi-class methods analyzing wide variety of veterinary drugs. New and upcoming technologies such as molecularly-imprinted polymers could be used for more targeted analysis of specific classes of analytes via instrumental methods.
When it comes to educating consumers, the process of building trust goes beyond providing research and scientific information. Consumers respond to having connections and shared values related to food safety, the treatment of animals, and nutrition. However, today’s crowd-sourcing environment has served to both enlighten and distribute information that isn’t always fully understood by consumers.
As food companies are facing increasing pressure for transparency, they’re grappling with more effective ways to communicate what’s in their products. “That’s a healthy part of the marketplace, and there’s nothing wrong with food companies responding to consumer demands,” says Jayson Lusk, Regents Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University. In many cases, when companies provide more information about certain ingredients, it puts them in a difficult position. “Often, many consumers are not in a position to evaluate or understand why an ingredient is used or evaluate the safety risks, so there are all kinds of biases that consumers have; [for example,] if it sounds like a chemical name, it must be deadly. There are all kinds of misinformation on the Internet about various food ingredients that consumers have easy access to.”
Just giving stats and scientific information isn’t always the most effective route. “People don’t tend to respond to just scientific information. That’s unfortunate,” says Lusk. “The research shows people are more persuaded by stories, by a better understanding of why farmers or food processors might be interested in using a particular ingredient.”
Issues surrounding artificial additives, antibiotics and GMOs are particularly contentious, and marketing and advertising play a big role in shaping public perception. Take, for example, gluten-free orange juice. Most natural juices (not juice drinks) are free of gluten, but labeling them as such opens the door to new markets (or maybe it just confuses people more). “One of the big challenges for a lot of food companies, especially big companies that have multiple brands appealing to different segments, is that on the one hand, they defend the use of certain ingredients [for example, genetically modified organisms],” says Lusk. “At the same time, they offer brands that make claims that say they don’t have those ingredients and make all efforts to make sure we aren’t selling you these things.”
This dichotomy can be perceived as a lack of integrity, because it undermines the message of trust that food companies want to convey to the market. Companies need to explain why they’re using certain ingredients in a product and the impact it has on safety and nutrition. And consumers need to understand that either the addition of or absence of certain ingredients can lead to higher prices. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are labeled as organic or non-GMO, but many consumers still want food to be affordable.
This year companies are being particularly aggressive in announcing their moves to remove additives or antibiotics, or provide GMO-free menus, but the question remains as to whether this will have a positive impact on the bottom line, as well as whether consumers really understand the implications. In April, Chipotle publicized that it was the first U.S. restaurant chain to use only non-GMO ingredients. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll learn that its tortillas still use additives, and the soft drinks that the chain sells may contain sweeteners from GMO corn. Panera stated its plans for removing artificial additives from its menus by the end of 2016. Kraft’s famous Macaroni & Cheese will no longer have that eerie glow, as the company is nixing artificial flavors and dyes, including Yellow No. 5 and 6. Walmart just voiced its new position on responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals, and so did President Obama—at least in Federal cafeterias.
And in an effort to put the kibosh on the “big is bad” mentality, Hormel has put down $775 million to pick up Applegate Farms, a producer of organic meats. Rest assured, as Applegate tells its irate consumers on its Facebook page, its products will “continue to work toward transparency in labeling” and its “standards and products won’t be changed”. Applegate is doing the right thing. It is engaging with consumers, whether or not it likes what they have to say, and it’s doing so in a non-defensive way.
Beyond this, companies need to really study their consumers, understand their patterns, and learn how to educate them in a meaningful way—beyond a simple label.
I try to avoid food with a lot of extra…crap. But sometimes I’m just too tired (or hungry) to pay attention to every detail on the label. And sometimes I eat that red velvet cupcake at a party and, after examining my florescent tongue in the bathroom mirror, I think, shoot—how much dye was in that??? And maybe I like the idea of slicing an apple that doesn’t turn brown. Then again…maybe I don’t.
The largest fast food chain has committed to serve chicken raised without antibiotics within two years.
McDonald’s – the world’s largest fast food chain – today announced that it is committing to serving chicken raised without antibiotics used in human medicine in all of their U.S. restaurants within two years.
This comes on the heels of new leadership for the company. Steve Easterbrook began as CEO of McDonald’s on Monday, and brings to the role a legacy of healthier food and environmental initiatives within the company’s United Kingdom division.
“We’re listening to our customers,” Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald’s North American supply chain, told Reuters. She said the company is working with its domestic chicken suppliers, including Tyson Foods Inc, to make the transition.
Today’s announcement marks a big step forward in protecting the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics for people, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s Food and Agriculture program, says that “by the country’s largest fast food chain committing to working with their suppliers to keep these drugs out of the barns used to raise the chickens for their nuggets, salads and sandwiches, they are setting the bar for the entire fast food industry. (This) may be at a tipping point for better antibiotic stewardship in the poultry industry.”
Whenever an antibiotic is administered, scientists and public health experts worry that it can kill weaker bacteria and enable the strongest to survive and multiply. Frequent use of low-dose antibiotics, a practice used by some meat producers, can intensify that effect. This can support the development of so-called superbugs, who develop cross-resistance to critical, medically important antibiotics. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such superbugs are linked to an estimated 23,000 human deaths and 2 million illnesses every year in the United States, and up to $20 billion in direct healthcare costs.
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