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Census undercounts minorities


Living without water


SNAP increase


Pork inspection


Ibuprofen risks


An aspirin a day?


FDA proposes e-cig regulation


Nutritional Label Change


Trans fat ban


FDA Budget



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2020 Census undercounted minorities

2022-Mar-10  (Updated: 2022-Apr-21)By: Barry Shatzman

The 2020 Census provided an accurate enough population count to determine Congressional representation, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. But it was off in how various ethnicities are represented.

White and Asian Americans were overcounted while minorities - such as African Americans, Latinos, and native Americans - were undercounted according to the report.

The 2020 Census also had a larger undercount of young children than every other census for the past 50 years.

The Census is used for more than just determining Congressional representation. It also is used by localities to determine what services are needed. Discrepancies in counts can affect funding for those services, or even where businesses choose to locate.

Discrepancies caused by counting method

The discrepancies are the result of how the population is counted. Not everyone responds to the Census questionnaire, so a statistical process called imputation is used to estimate the missing data. The method can accurately estimate a total count, but does not make guesses about the ethnicity of the added people. This tends to undercount populations that the Census has a more difficult time reaching.

The 2020 Census already was more difficult to conduct than previous ones due to the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters, but was made even more difficult by the Donald Trump administration's efforts to sway the results.

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Millions of Americans lack running water

2021-Oct-10By: Barry Shatzman

Millions of Americans are living without access running water for a variety of reasons, independent studies report.

Almost half a million American households have no piped water connection to their homes, according to a study published in November 2020 by the National Acadamy of Sciences.

The report was based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Many live in the wealthiest cities

It is not a rural problem. Three out of four are in some of the country's wealthiest cities. In fact, one in three live in just 15 cities, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon.

They are cities with the largest wealth gaps - characterized both by billionaires and people living in substandard housing.

More than mere inconvenience

Those living without plumbing rely on public restrooms. Some use the type of plastic toilets designed for training toddlers. They might shower at facilities such as gyms.

But inconvenience is only part of the problem. Not having running water at home affects health - from dehydration to hygiene. This can affect public health as well - especially in times of a pandemic.

It can affect nutrition because most cooking requires water.

Problem likely is worse than reported

The count likely is an underestimate of plumbing poverty. The survey asks about running water and a shower or tub. The Census stopped asking about indoor toilets in 2016.

The survey does not ask why someone has no access to plumbing - whether because there is no piped connection to their home or are living on the street but have a mailing address.

In addition to those living in homes with incomplete plumbing, more than 15 million people lose access to water each year because they can't afford to pay for it, a study by Food & Water Watch reported.

The study predicted that a third of Americans won't be able to afford water in the coming years.

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Food stamp benefits to increase

2021-Aug-16  (Updated: 2021-Sep-16)By: Barry Shatzman

Everyone who receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be able to buy more food starting in October.

The SNAP program, also referred to as food stamps, provides nutrition assistance to 42 million Americans - about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

The benefit increase was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It does not require Congressional approval. Congress had authorized it in the 2018 Farm Bill - which gave the USDA four years to determine a new level.

The amount is determined by the agency's Thrifty Food Plan - which estimates the cost of a low-cost healthy diet.

The increase will reduce hunger for many

SNAP money typically is provided by a debit card - allowing transactions to be monitored and analyzed. In 2017, the average household used up more than 75 percent of their benefits by mid-month.

As a result, hunger-related hospital admissions for low-income populations increased by more than 25 percent the last week of a month compared to the first week.

The cost of food to SNAP recipients is one of the major barriers to healthy diet, according to a 2021 government study.

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Pork inspection being turned over to slaughterhouses

2019-Apr-14By: Barry Shatzman

Starting in May, the federal agency that inspects pork is planning to start turning over inspections to pork manufacturers and allow for less stringent inspections.

Under the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), about 40 percent of inspectors from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would be replaced by slaughterhouse employees.

The new system provides no funding - or requirement - for training slaughterhouse employees on inspection techniques.

Health risks

In addition to allowing inspections to be performed by those with a financial interest in the outcome, the new rule will allow slaughterhouses to increase the "line speed" of inspections. Current regulations allow a plant with seven FSIS inspectors to process 1,106 swine per hour (providing at most 5 seconds per pig). The new rule removes any limit.

In a comment on the regulation regarding the health risks, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) quoted the USDA's own Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report - which noted that 3 of the 5 slaughterhouses used to test the program had some of worst compliance nationwide.

Along with the health risks come financial risks. A breakout of a contagious disease such as foot-and-mouth disease could cost consumers, producers, and the government more than $100 billion, according to a Kansas State University study.

Workplace dangers

Increased processing speeds also increase the risk of injury. Workers in the meat and poultry processing industries suffer more serious injuries and amputations than in any other industry.

Conditions in slaughterhouses are cold, wet, noisy, and slippery. They involve many forceful repetitive motions using knives, hooks, and saws. Toxic chemicals used to disinfect carcasses lead to worker illnesses.

In 1993, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended decreasing production rates in order to prevent injuries.

Cruel to animals

The need to slaughter so many animals makes it impossible to do so humanely, according to a comment on the regulation from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

The comment describes conditions where employees struggle to keep up with high processing speeds by leaving half-alive animals on the plant floor, kicking them and shocking them with electric prods.

One worker was captured on a video of one such incident shouting, "If USDA is around, they could shut us down."

But in that instance, USDA inspectors were not present. Similarly, their role under the new regulation is expected to shift toward one of oversight and administration.

First chicken, now pork, and soon beef

The Trump administration is not the first to relax livestock processing regulations. The Obama administration relaxed regulations on poultry inspection - though it did not allow production speed to increase.

In September 2018, the Trump administration allowed for increases in production speeds.

The Trump administration is considering similar changes for the meat industry.

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FDA calls for ibprofen warning about heart attacks

2015-Jul-09By: Barry Shatzman

If you take pain relievers such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex, and Motrin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to warn you that you're increasing your risk of a heart attack.

The active ingredients in these products - ibuprofen, naproxin, and celecoxib - are collectively known as NSAIDs (non-aspirin non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). The drugs are available both with a prescription and over-the-counter. The agency is strengthening warnings on prescription NSAIDs to say...

o The risk of heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID.

o The risk appears greater with longer use and higher doses.

o The risk is increased even for those who don't have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.

o Patients treated with NSAIDs after a first heart attack were more likely to die in the following year compared to patients who did not take them.

The agency also is requesting similar warnings on over-the-counter versions of the drugs.

The FDA did not say people should stop taking the drugs. They still are considered to be safe in low doses for short durations. But the lowest dose that's effective should be used, and only when they are needed.

Aspirin is not included in this warning, and is considered to be a safe alternative.

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Will aspirin save you from heart attacks? Maybe.

2015-Jan-16By: Barry Shatzman

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that a daily low dose of aspirin might prevent a reoccurrence of heart attack for those who already have had one.

There is no data supporting aspirin's effectiveness in preventing a first heart attack or stroke, the agency said.

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FDA plans to regulate e-cigarettes

2014-Apr-24By: Barry Shatzman

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it plans to regulate e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes (the "e" is for electronic), are smoked like cigarettes, but do not burn nicotine-laced tobacco to produce the smoke that's inhaled like cigarettes do. Rather, they use a tiny heating element to vaporize a liquid solution (with choosable concentrations of nicotine). Also, unlike the smoke that is exhaled from cigarettes, users of e-cigarettes exhale mostly water vapor (although it is not yet known what else is in the vapor).

The FDA is looking to regulate e-cigarettes as "tobacco product". Although they do not contain tobacco, nicotine is derived from tobacco. The FDA also plans to include other non-tobacco-containing products such as hookahs.

E-cigarettes currently are regulated only if marketed for therapeutic purposes. Several states and cities, however, regulate their sales and where they can be used, just as with cigarettes.

It is likely to be at least a year before official regulations are issued, and longer before manufacturers are required to comply with them. The regulations are likely to address issues such as...

o Should makers be required to disclose ingredients, their manufacturing processes, and scientific data.

o What is in the vapor exhaled by e-cigarette users

o Whether they may be sold or marketed to minors.

o Whether they entice people (including young people) to develop a nicotine habit.

o What is the long-term effect of inhaling ingredients such as glycerine and propylene glycol - which the FDA labels "generally recognized as safe"

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FDA proposes more informative food nutritional labels

2014-Feb-28By: Barry Shatzman

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing changes to the nutrition labels on the food you buy. The new labels would provide information that is more relevant to your health than the current labels. Changes include...

o Serving sizes that more accurately reflect what someone typically would eat in a serving. Components such as calories, fats, sodium, and carbohydrates are listed in amounts per serving. Therefore, if the listed serving size is smaller than you're likely to consume, your intake of those would be greater that what is listed.

o Amounts of sugars will be broken down into those that naturally occur in the product and those that are added. Though the body doesn't differentiate between the types of sugars, added sugar has no nutritional value.

Members of the public have until June to comment on the new policy. After that, the FDA will make its final recommendation. Food manufacturers would then have two years to have the new labels on their products.

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FDA to ban trans fats in food

2013-Nov-07  (Updated: 2015-Jun-16)By: Barry Shatzman

The Food and Drug Administration has taken a major step toward eliminating artificial trans fats from American diets within the next few years.

The agency announced Nov. 7 it would classify partially hydrogenated oils - the main source of trans fats in processed foods - as not "generally recognized as safe" for use in food. The move could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year, the FDA stated in the announcement.

Partially hydrogenated oils - so named because of added hydrogen which preserves them and makes foods containing them less greasy - are found in all sorts of processed foods, including pancake mix, frozen foods, coffee creamers, margarine, crackers, and microwave popcorn.

Trans fats provide a double whammy to your body - increasing artery-clogging (bad) cholesterol while lowering artery-cleaning (good) cholesterol.

The FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list artificial trans fats on food labels in 2006. But just because a food's label claims no trans fats, does not mean there aren't any. Manufacturers are permitted to round down any amount less than a half gram per serving to zero. That small amount can add up quickly as several foods are eaten or the amount eaten is more than the listed serving size.

A good way to tell if a product contains trans fats is to check the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oil.

The FDA has begun a 60-day comment period - primarily intended for food manufacturers to say how much time they would need to reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils.

Update 2015-06-16: Final rule approved
The FDA has finalized the rule. Food manufacturers will have 3 years to remove trans fats from their products (or have a waiver approved).

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Budget stalemate is endangering the food you eat

2013-Nov-06By: Barry Shatzman

The 2-week government shutdown was a bad time for ensuring the safety of the food you eat. But the continuing resolution that ended the shutdown isn't much better.

The Food and Drug Administration (or state agencies with similar functions) continued to inspect meat, poultry, and eggs during the shutdown. But other inspection functions were stopped.

What was lost? So far this year the FDA has issued more than 500 warnings to companies for problems such as unsanitary food production conditions to misleading labeling of foods, drugs, and medical equipment.

These functions - stopped during the shutdown - have since returned. However, the shutdown did not end with a new budget. It ended with a continuing resolution - to simply keep money flowing until January.

Even before the shutdown, the FDA was inspecting U.S. food manufacturers just once every 10 years, and inspecting just 1 percent of imported food, according to

The agency says it needs a 50 percent budget increase to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act signed by President Obama in 2011. Though it was unlikely to get even close to that in the new budget, under a Continuing Resolution it only is getting the same amount as in the previous budget.

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