A field of blue agave, the main ingredient in tequila, in Mexico.

A shortage of agave is caused by demand: In the heartland of the tequila industry, in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco, a worsening shortage of agave caused by mounting demand for the liquor from New York to Tokyo has many producers worried. The price of Agave tequilana, the blue-tinged, spikey-leaved succulent used to make the alcoholic drink, has risen six-fold in the past two years, squeezing smaller distillers’ margins and leading to concerns that shortages could hit even the larger players. Growers are harvesting immature plants, and the shortage is expected to last for years. READ MORE

FOOD SAFETY

Norovirus spreads at Winter Olympics: An outbreak of norovirus at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has forced organisers to draft in hundreds of soldiers to replace security staff hit by the bug. About 1,200 security guards have been confined to their rooms because of the severe stomach virus. The outbreak—which causes sudden and violent vomiting and diarrhea—started Sunday, when 41 security guards were taken to the hospital. The highly contagious virus is spread by food and water contamination.Read more HERE and HERE.

Listeria death toll climbs: The death toll in South Africa’s precedent-setting Listeria outbreak continues to climb. The number of lives lost has reached 107, nearly half of which were newborns younger than 1 month of age, according to The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Also, a total of 852 people have fallen ill. This outbreak–which began in January 2017–is the largest documented Listeria outbreak in world history. READ MORE

PUBLIC HEALTH

Stay away from kratom: U.S. health authorities say an herbal supplement promoted as an alternative pain remedy contains the same chemicals found in opioids, the addictive family of drugs at the center of a national addiction crisis. The Food and Drug Administration analysis makes it more likely that the supplement, kratom, could be banned by the federal government. Sold in various capsules and powders, kratom has gained popularity in the U.S. as a treatment for pain, anxiety and drug dependence. Proponents argue that the substance is safer than opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, but FDA scientists analyzed the 25 most common chemical compounds in kratom and concluded that they behave like those found in opioids including morphine, which also comes from a plant—the opium poppy.  READ MORE

ANIMAL HEALTH

Dogs sold for food in Korean market: These are the images South Korean Olympics organizers do not want you to see – dogs being slaughtered and sold for food just 70 miles from where the Winter Games in Korea. Dogs and even puppies are sold openly for food in Moran market, Seongnam, the country’s largest open-air dog market – contradicting claims made last year by local authorities that it was closing. Up to 80,000 dogs are sold and slaughtered at the market each year, to be made into a soup which folklore claims boosts the eater’s sex drive. READ MORE

WATER SAFETY

Legionnaires’ disease caused by low chlorine in Flint water: An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people and sickened at least 87 in Flint, Mich., in 2014 and 2015 was caused by low chlorine levels in the municipal water system, scientists have confirmed. It’s the most detailed evidence yet linking the bacterial disease to the city’s broader water crisis. READ MORE

MISCELLANEOUS

Another request for FSIS investigation: A Montana legislative committee is seconding a request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture order an outside investigation into allegations that small meat processors in the state were intimidated, coerced and tormented by federal inspectors. Montana’s congressional delegation wrote to Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong in December asking for an outside investigation over concerns of misconduct within the Food Safety and Inspection Service in Montana dating back to 2005. READ MORE