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Health Highlights: July 17, 2012

Annual Report Ranks Mass. General as Top Hospital in U.S. U.S. Produce Testing Program Faces Uncertain Future California Sues Companies Over High Lead Levels in Costume Jewelry

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Annual Report Ranks Mass. General as Top Hospital in U.S.

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston knocked off long-time champion Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to take this year's title as top hospital in the United States.

Hopkins was first for 21 consecutive years in the annual rankings by U.S. News and World Report, the Associated Press said.

The first-place ranking is a "tribute to the more than 23,000" staff at MGH, hospital president Dr. Peter Slavin said. The competition was not with other hospitals, but rather with "disease, health care costs, accessibility of services, and social issues," Dr. David Torchiana, chairman of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, said.

MGH is a 950-bed facility that admits about 48,000 patients a year and delivers about 3,600 babies annually. The hospital was founded in 1811, the AP reported.


U.S. Produce Testing Program Faces Uncertain Future

A produce-safety testing program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue for the rest of the year but then may shut down due to lack of funding.

The Microbiology Data Program screens thousands of produce samples a year and is the nation's largest produce-safety testing program. It has detected more than two dozen bacteria-contaminated samples that led to recalls of produce such as lettuce and tomatoes, the Associated Press reported.

Funding for the program -- which cost $4.3 million to run last year -- was slashed in President Barack Obama's proposed budget earlier this year and the House and Senate have not included money for it in their agriculture spending bills.

In order to keep the program operating until the end of the year, the USDA will use existing agreements with states.

Ending the program would leave the nation without a vital way to investigate outbreaks of foodborne illness, food safety advocated and public health officials say. The program could not easily be replaced by more modest federal sampling programs or by companies' internal tests, according to Dr. Robert Tauxe, the top food-germ investigator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the AP reported.

Last year, contaminated fruits and vegetables caused nearly one-third of major multistate foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S., the CDC says.

"It is unacceptable for this crucial, cost-effective program to be eliminated," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a longtime food safety advocate, the AP reported. She said she would continue to push for the program to keep operating beyond December.

In recent years, produce industry leaders have urged the federal government to eliminate the USDA program and have said they want the private sector to do more testing.


California Sues Companies Over High Lead Levels in Costume Jewelry

California is expected to file a lawsuit Tuesday against 16 companies accused of selling and distributing costume jewelry containing dangerous levels of lead.

State investigators found that some of the items from the retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and distributors had lead levels more than 1,000 times the legal state limit, the Associated Press reported.

Along with being accused of violating lead safety standards, the state alleges that the companies engaged in deceptive practices by falsely advertising contaminated jewelry as lead-free.

The three-year investigation involved spot checks at stores and factories in which inspectors used hand-held X-ray devices to check for lead in items such as earrings, necklaces, tiaras and hair clips. Items with a high lead content were then sent to a laboratory for detailed analysis, the APreported.


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