Irradiated Beef Okay for National School Lunch ProgramWASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted its ban on irradiated ground beef in the national school program last week, a move that drew sharp criticism from some public health groups who do not believe safety concerns have been addressed. The USDA's decision means that school districts will be allowed to purchase irradiated meat starting in January 2004.
USDA officials say they were forced to issue the ruling because the 2002 Farm Bill directs the agency not to prohibit the use of approved safety technologies on foods purchased for the National School Lunch Program, which feeds some 27 million children each year.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation of raw meat and poultry products in 1997, concluding that the process is a safe way to reduce disease causing microbes, including salmonella and E. coli.
"Each school district will have the option to choose between irradiated and non-irradiated ground beef products and will decide how to notify parents and students if they choose to offer them," said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Eric Bost.
"While USDA does not have the authority to require that schools inform parents and students about whether or not the district will be ordering irradiated beef, USDA is strongly encouraging schools to provide information to students, teachers, food service personnel, school administrators, parents and caregivers as part of the decision-making process," Bost said.
Critics worry that the possible health risks to humans from irradiated meat are not well known and say that the federal government received thousands of comments opposing allowing irradiated beef to be distributed through the National School Lunch Program.
"This horrendous decision benefits the meat industry at the expense of society's most vulnerable citizens - our children," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Approving irradiated meat for school cafeterias nationwide means the USDA is willing to put our children's health at risk to help cover up the meat industry's sanitation failures."
Hauter says the decision could turn USDA into the "largest distributor of irradiated food in the world."
It is lower income children who are most likely to be eating the irradiated food, says Hauter, who calls the decision "an error in moral judgment."
Tighter Ethics Code in the Works for Interior ScientistsWASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton announced last week a code of scientific conduct for the Interior Department.
Developed by a panel of scientists and ethicists, the new code will ensure that the department's research and analysis meet the highest standards of the scientific community, Norton said in a prepared statement.
The department developed the code in accordance with a new federal policy on conduct of science published on December 6, 2000, by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
In addition, the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General recommended the department develop a scientific code of conduct in its report on its investigation of controversy over biologists who submitted unauthorized samples to a laboratory during population surveys for the Canada lynx in 1999 and 2000.
The code is being developed through a process involving both peer review by an independent panel and employee involvement. It will be a new addition to the Department Manual, and this will be the first time employees have had a chance to comment on a change to the manual.
"We want the new code of conduct to be fully embraced by Interior scientists as an accurate statement of their ideals," Norton said. "We will fully involve employees in active discussion to ensure this reflects their professional standards."
In addition to the employee comment process, there will also be an opportunity for public comment on a similar code being prepared for consultants and contractors to the department. Their code will go through the ordinary administrative rulemaking process. Dates for public comment will be announced later.
"It is vitally important that any organization that does as much scientific research and analysis as the Interior Department have a well-founded code of scientific conduct that governs the full range of scientific activities," said Dr. Deborah Brosnan, president of the nonprofit Sustainable Ecosystems Institute and head of the independent review panel.
"Our panel felt that this was a strong code that meets three key goals of building trust between science and the public, giving guidance, and providing support for scientists," Brosnan said.
According to the Interior Department, the code is similar to the codes of conduct of many scientific organizations, including the Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society, and Ecological Society of America, to which many department scientists belong.
All of the scientific activities conducted or funded by the Interior Department are covered by this definition.
These involve inventory, monitoring, study, research, adaptive management or assessments that are conducted in a manner specified by standard protocols and procedures.
Partnership Targets Preservation of 100,000 Acres of California LandTEJON RANCH, California, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - A public private partnership announced last week will pursue the sale and permanent protection on up to 100,000 acres of habitat and wild lands on the historic Tejon Ranch, some 60 miles north of Los Angeles.
The partnership between The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Tejon Ranch Company will develop a conservation plan to map important habitat areas, wildlife corridors and other high value, environmentally sensitive lands and identify key areas for public acquisition. TPL will then work to appraise the property's value and seek out public and private sources to fund the purchase and protection of the land.
According to Reed Holderman, executive director of the TPL, the partnership is the " first step toward possible public purchase and permanent protection of a pristine, unique, and historic landscape the size of Yosemite Valley and twice the size of Santa Catalina Island."
"We will work closely together to publicly protect sensitive habitat lands that are home to many rare and endangered species," Holderman said. "The Ranch is also home to the California Condor and the largest unspoiled oak woodland in the state. We hope to protect for all time the critical wildlife corridor that links the coast to the sequoias."
The 270,000 acre Tejon Ranch is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year and Tejon Ranch Company's CEO Bob Stine says the partnership is part of a long term vision of conservation and an effort to preserve for all time the historic legacy of the ranch, including farming and grazing operations.
"We are a publicly traded company and we have fiduciary responsibilities to our stockholders, so we are not in the business of giving our land away," said Stine. "But our goal and our vision for the future includes permanent protection of these highly valuable habitat areas if a fair price can be obtained."
Tejon Ranch was founded in 1843 as several Mexican land grants. It is now home to farming operations, cattle grazing, oil production, mining, recreational activities, and limited development along the Interstate 5 corridor.
Conservationists Worry About Inaccurate Tiger DataNEW YORK, New York, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - The New York based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says a new study casts doubt on the method used by India's government to count tigers for the past three decades. The study finds that counting tiger "pugmarks" - or track prints - is still being used by the Indian government, even though the technique is scientifically flawed.
Less than 7,500 tigers remain in the wild and these remaining tigers are threatened by habitat loss, shrinking prey supplies and poaching.
By using the technique, developed in 1966 but never published in a scientific journal, India has been using inaccurate data that has resulted in poor conservation practices, according to the WCS study, published in the latest issue of the journal "Animal Conservation."
The study was a collaboration among several leading ecologists from WCS, US-Geological Survey, WWF-USA, Smithsonian Institution, University of Minnesota and the Wildlife Institute of India.
The authors of the study explain that by setting itself the impossible goal of counting all individuals of a secretive species across thousands of square miles of rugged landscape, the "pugmark" census is doomed to failure.
This in turn has led to field managers reporting increases in tiger numbers even in cases where mounting evidence showed protection had deteriorated, the authors report.
"Trying to estimate tiger numbers across India using the pugmark census is an impossible task," said the paper's lead author Dr. Ullas Karanth, a WCS conservation zoologist who has studied tigers for the past 20 years. "Money and effort spent on counting pugmarks can be better used on simpler, statistically sound monitoring methods that can really help save tigers."
The authors contend that "statistically robust" alternatives should be adopted to monitor tigers in India, where most of the world's tigers still live. These include sample surveys to map the presence or absence of tigers throughout their range, as well as camera traps.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is working to save tigers throughout their range, with field conservation projects in not only India, but also the Russian Far East, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Mad Cow is Not Mad Musk OxTELLURIDE, Colorado, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - The recent outbreak of mad cow disease in Canada has exposed something of which most people are unaware - the export of musk ox and caribou meat from Northern Canada to the United States.
Speaking from the Telluride Mountain Film Festival after the showing of a film on the Congolese bush meat trade, Paul Watson, a Canadian who founded the international Sea Shepard Conservation Society, compared the killing of wild musk ox and caribou for sale as meat to the bush meat trade in Africa.
"Under the guise of aboriginal subsistence, these animals are being commercially exploited and referred to as products," Watson said.
To preserve the populations of these wild animals, Watson pledged to publicize the issue to conservation groups that can work to keep musk ox and caribou meat off the export market.
"This is unacceptable," said Watson. "We will be countering by exploring the law that permits this exotic meat into the United States, and we will publicize this issue to groups that are in a position to lobby for this trade to be prohibited into the United States."
The musk ox and caribou meat is exported from Nunavut, the Inuit governed territory in the Eastern Arctic.
Last month, the Canadian beef industry suffered an economic blow with the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in the province of Alberta. This resulted in an immediate ban on the import of Canadian beef into the United States.
In response to the ban on beef exports, the government of Nunavut began to lobby the United States Department of Commerce to exempt both caribou and musk ox.
Rosemary Keenainak, the assistant deputy minister of sustainable development for Nunavut, said, "What is harvested up here in the north is not linked in any way, shape or form to the mad cow disease that has been occurring in Alberta."
Brian Zawadski of the Nunavut Development Corporation said he first heard about the ban when a shipment of caribou meat from Kivalliq Arctic Foods was stopped at the American border on Thursday.
Kivalliq Arctic Foods, owned by the Nunavut Development Corporation, makes $400,000 a year selling musk ox and caribou meat to Americans. Zawadski said the meat plant sells a third of its meat to the United States.
Keenainak said her ministry has asked the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to lobby on behalf of Nunavut's meat exporters.
Watson said, "These are the same people lobbying the U.S. government to allow the sale of seals, walrus and whales. If alerted, I am sure that we can organize a large number of Americans to organize opposition to this slaughter of wildlife in the Arctic."
"The average American has a romantic view of the Inuit. They see them on dog sleds, hunting seals and caribou for subsistence with bows and spears," Watson said.
"The reality is a corporate approach utilizing helicopters, snowmobiles high powered rifles, freezers, organized commercial trade and marketing," he said. "The Northern wilderness has been turned into an enormous ranch for the marketing of native species for sale as exotic meat to people living far from the Arctic Circle."
Trumpeter Swan Finding Alleged to Be IllegalWASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "illegally relied on false information" in its determination that Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans do not qualify for federal endangered species protection, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The complaint alleges that the service violated the Data Quality Act when it determined that Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans do not constitute a distinct population segment. The finding blocks an effort to protect the rare swans under the Endangered Species Act.
The trumpeter swan is North America's largest waterfowl. Trumpeters once flourished over much of the continent until they were extirpated from much of their range by market hunting and habitat loss. Now trumpeter swans are making a comeback where they are protected.
Last January the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a formal 90 day finding in response to a lawsuit seeking to designate the Tri-state Population of trumpeter swans as a Distinct Population Segment. The finding concluded that there was not "substantial information" to justify a listing.
The FWS said, "After an evaluation of available information, the service determined that the petition, filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Fund for Animals, does not contain substantial information to proceed with a more in depth status review. The petition asked the service to declare the "tri-state flock" of trumpeter swans near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho as a "distinct population segment" under the [Endangered Species] Act."
In order to support this finding, the service produced and relied primarily on a previously unpublished study that directly contradicts decades of biological understanding of the Tri-state Population, according to the PEER complaint.
The complaint shows that the study "failed to meet the most basic standards of the Data Quality Act," PEER says.
The act requires that the service rely on peer reviewed studies, the primary basis of the finding had never been evaluated, or even read, by trumpeter swan experts.
The authors use "politically driven language and sweeping generalizations" that are not supported by data, and the study omits important available data that contradict the authors' thesis, PEER claims.
While the secondary source document cited by the finding was legitimately researched and rigorously reviewed, that study's lead author has complained that the service distorted her conclusions. In a March 7 letter to FWS Director Steve Williams, biologist Ruth Shea argues that the service "wrongly cites" the study "while omitting any mention of that report's real conclusion."
"When the service could not find a single study that would support their agenda, they simply fabricated one and misrepresented another," alleged PEER's National Field Director Eric Wingerter. "It is pretty clear why they did not bother running their new study by other trumpeter swan experts. It simply does not meet basic scientific standards."
But Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region, said, "The trumpeter swan represents one of the great success stories in migratory bird conservation, with populations across the continent reaching record highs in recent years. The Rocky Mountain population, which includes the tri-state birds, has experienced an average annual growth rate of five percent over the past 30 years. There is no evidence to suggest that the tri-state flock should be evaluated separately from that population."
The PEER complaint asks that the Interior Department remove the original 90 day finding.
In August, 2001 PEER released a white paper written by service employees, titled "Swan Dive: Trumpeter Swan Restoration Trumped by Politics." The paper detailed how the agency inappropriately authorized swan hunters in Utah to shoot trumpeters, which had previously been protected.
Survey Finds Americans Want Action on Global WarmingEUGENE, Oregon, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - More than 80 percent of Americans think the United States should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new survey conducted at the University of Oregon.
The survey data, compiled by the University of Oregon's Survey Research Laboratory, found that 92 percent of Americans have heard of global warming. Of the people who have heard of it a majority of 77 percent supports regulation of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, as a pollutant.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the mail survey of 673 adults was conducted between November 2002 and February 2003.
The survey finds that some 88 percent of those who know of global warming support the Kyoto Protocol and 76 percent want the United States to reduce emissions regardless of what other countries do.
The Bush administration withdrew American support for the Kyoto Protocol, instead relying on voluntary measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Seventy one percent of those surveyed supported an investment in renewable energy, but the poll found mixed results on the use of taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
A slim majority of 54 percent favored a tax on what the survey called "gas guzzlers," however, a majority of 78 percent oppose a gasoline tax, and a majority of 60 percent are against a business energy tax to reduce emissions.
Americans divide evenly - 40 percent on each side - regarding a market based emissions trading system such as that proposed by the Bush administration, while 18 percent are uncertain.
"One of the most surprising findings was the strong, bipartisan support for action," said Anthony Leiserowitz, the study's principal investigator.
"Clear majorities of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals said they support national policies to address global warming," Leiserowitz said. "With the Senate now debating the issue, decisions that will affect us all for generations to come are in the balance."
How Infants and Baby Birds Learn to SocializeBLOOMINGTON, Indiana, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - New research finds that the response of infants to their mother's touches and smiles influences their development in a manner similar to what young birds experience when learning to sing.
The findings of the study, a collaboration of the Department of Psychology at Indiana University (IU) Bloomington and the Biological Foundations of Behavior program at Franklin and Marshall College, will be published this week in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
"The main point of our research is how the reaction of the babies to their mother's touches and smiles changes how they talk, and this corresponds to what birds do when learning to sing," said Meredith West, a professor of psychology and biology at IU.
West, who studies behavior development in animals and humans, said this is the first time research has shown that "babies change how they vocalize in response to social responses -- not sounds, but sights -- by using more mature sounds."
This indicates that parent behavior plays a role very early in the process of babies learning to talk, a role that goes beyond simply talking to the infant, West explained.
The research showed that babies, and birds, pay attention to the social consequences of sound-making and change their behavior accordingly, West said, and that their sounds have a function beyond simply making noise.
"By manipulating how mothers behave," West said, "we demonstrated that babies can change how they vocalize without copying or imitating their mother's behavior."
"The mothers did not change how they talked but whether they touched or smiled at the baby," West said. "That changed the content of the infant's sounds, as they were more mature or word like."
Michael Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Franklin & Marshall College and principal author of the article, added that the research shows that "social learning is a crucial part of vocal development."
The researchers studied 30 infants with an average age of eight months and monitored their interaction with their mothers over two 30-minute play sessions. This included sessions when the mothers were directed to act in specific ways while responding to the infants, and audio and visual testing equipment monitored the results. An analysis of these results formed the basis of the findings.
Andrew King, a senior scientist at IU, directed the research on birds that was a model for Goldstein's work.