AmeriScan: June 19, 2003

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McDonald’s Tells Suppliers to Cut Antibiotics in Meat

OAK BROOK, Illinois, June 19, 2003 (ENS) – With environmental groups offering support, McDonald's Corporation today announced plans that will require its suppliers worldwide to phase out animal growth promotion antibiotics used in human medicine.

The Global Policy on Antibiotics creates a set of standards for McDonald’s direct meat suppliers and encourages indirect suppliers to take similar steps to eliminate growth promoting antibiotics and to reduce other antibiotic usage.

By one recent estimate, more than 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to healthy farm animals. Based on the growing body of evidence, the American Medical Association and more than 275 other groups have called for an end to the routine use of medically important antibiotics in healthy food animals.

“As a company committed to social responsibility, we take seriously our obligation to understand the emerging science of antibiotic resistance and to work with our suppliers to foster real, tangible changes in our own supply community, and hopefully beyond,” said Frank Muschetto, McDonald’s senior vice president of worldwide supply chain management.

“McDonald’s is asking producers that supply more than 2.5 billion pounds of chicken, beef and pork annually to take actions that will ultimately help protect public health,” he said.

In July 2002 McDonald’s joined forces with Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy organization and a partner with McDonald’s on a range of initiatives since 1989, and Elanco Animal Health, an animal pharmaceutical company, to create an Antibiotics Coalition.

"By working together, McDonald's and Environmental Defense have leveraged the company's purchasing power to help reverse the trend of antibiotics overuse in animal agriculture," said Gwen Ruta, program director for Environmental Defense.

"McDonald's new policy demonstrates that reducing antibiotic use is both feasible and affordable,” she said.

Direct relationship suppliers are those dedicated to McDonald’s business and directly control the stages of animal production where antibiotic use decisions are made. The majority of the McDonald’s worldwide poultry supply falls into this category.

According to the plan, direct suppliers must certify annual compliance with the policy, including the sustainable use guiding principles and the elimination of growth promotion uses of antibiotics approved for use in human medicine. They also must maintain records of antibiotics use that are available for company audits and review.

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Pregnant Women, Kids Warned to Avoid Albacore Tuna

MONTPELIER, Vermont, June 19, 2003 (ENS) – Finding that the levels of mercury are higher than claims by industry and government, an independent test conducted for advocacy group the Mercury Policy Project concludes that one of every 20 cans of white, or albacore, tuna should be recalled as unsafe for human consumption.

"Our tests confirm what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has known for over a decade. White tuna has higher mercury levels," said Michael Bender, director of the project. "Yet because FDA halted testing of canned tuna for mercury in 1998 to save money and because industry keeps its results secret, parents are unknowingly exposing their children to mercury."

Methylmercury, the organic form mercury assumes in fish, is a potent neurotoxin that poses the greatest risk to the developing fetus, infants, and young children. Data from the Centers For Disease Control indicate that one in 12 women of childbearing age have unsafe mercury levels.

Most mercury pollution comes from the burning of fossil fuels in the coal fired power plants, disposal of mercury containing products in incinerators and landfills, mineral mining operations, industrial uses like chlorine production, and releases from dental offices.

Mercury levels in the environment have increased in the past century as a result of human activities and are reaching threshold levels that threaten human health and environmental security, as well as the future of the global fishing industry. Since 1996, fish has surpassed beef and poultry as the main common source of protein for billions of people in the world.

Bender admitted the sample was small. "We chose 60 cans of tuna randomly off grocery shelves, had them tested by the New Age/Landmark Laboratory and then had a portion retested by the National Food Laboratory - a lab used by the tuna industry. So there is no reason to be believe that these results are not reflective of what millions of Americans consume."

Canned tuna is consumed in 90 percent of American households and accounts for around 20 percent of U.S. seafood consumption. Children eat more than twice as much tuna as any other fish, and canned tuna is the most frequently consumed fish among women of childbearing age.

Albacore accounts for about one-third of all canned tuna sold in the United States, and the tests found that mercury levels in white canned tuna averaged more than 0.5 parts per million.

"The FDA's own food safety committee recommended last year that the agency warn pregnant women about canned tuna, but the agency has failed to act because of undue influence by industry," said Bender. "The FDA should stop protecting the fishing industry's profits and start protecting children from mercury."

Cans of Starkist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea tuna and other brands were collected from Safeway, Shaw's, and other supermarkets around the country and sent to New Age/Landmark Laboratory in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Twenty percent of the white tuna samples were retested by the National Food Laboratory in Dublin, California. More than six percent of the white tuna samples contained mercury at or above FDA's action level for mercury of one part per million.

On average, the 48 white albacore tuna samples proved to have levels of mercury over four times higher than the 12 cans of light tuna tested. Species used in solid, chunk or flake light tuna cans are not albacore but yellowfin and skipjack tunas.

The amount of fish a person can eat before exceeding the EPA’s "virtual safe limit" is called a reference dose (RfD) and depends on body weight and mercury content of the fish. For example, a 22 pound toddler eating two ounces of tuna per week with a 0.5 parts per million mercury concentration would have an intake more than four times the EPA's RfD.

If a woman with a typical weight of 132 lbs eats 12 ounces of canned tuna per week, the limit advised by FDA, with a 0.5 ppm mercury concentration, she will exceed by four times the RfD. An 88 pound child consuming one six ounce can of tuna with a 0.5 ppm mercury concentration weekly would be exposed to three times the RfD standard.

Fetuses are at risk of neurological impairment from methylmercury passing through the placental barrier. Nevertheless, FDA scientists admitted at their food safety committee meeting last year that as many as 50 percent of American women have little or no knowledge of mercury exposure risks identified with eating fish.

According to a tuna industry spokesperson, "extensive research" found that four percent of the tuna tested exceeded the FDA's action level of one part per million.

Eleven states have issued advisories warning pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of childbearing age and children to limit canned tuna consumption. Several states also warn that the white canned tuna contains higher mercury levels than light tuna.

The U.S. tuna industry estimates that warning women about the risks of mercury exposure in canned tuna could lead to more than a 20 percent drop in sales.

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Land and Water Conservation Fund Slashed

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2003 (ENS) - The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday voted for deep cuts in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal program that funds land purchases for national parks.

The cuts are part of the 2004 Interior Appropriations bill, which would slash between $450 and $500 million from the 2004 level of $1.56 billion for the Conservation Trust Fund.

The Conservation Trust Fund was enacted in 2000 following a bipartisan agreement to protect wildlands, open space, and vanishing wildlife and to help states and local communities in their conservation efforts. It set aside $12 billion over a six year period for conservation.

The popular Land and Water Conservation Fund program would be cut by more than 50 percent in 2004. The Interior Appropriations bill also would cut support for the Forest Legacy public-private forest conservation effort by more than 25 percent in 2004.

The bill includes $198 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a figure that is down more than 50 percent - $213 million - from 2003, and almost 65 percent - $346 million - from 2001.

Conservationists today condemned the cuts. "Congress is taking a sharp right turn away from our country's commitment to conservation," said Bonnie Galvin, director of appropriations and budget programs at the Wilderness Society.

"Only by continuing to invest in protecting America's natural heritage,” she said, “can we hope to pass that legacy on to future generations undamaged."

Land and Water Conservation acquisition funds have been used in the past to preserve such crown jewels as Everglades National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Appalachian Trail.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush promised repeatedly to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Bush administration has claimed credit in the past two years for securing full funding. Simultaneously, the President has asked for less and less money for the land acquisition portion of the fund each year while redirecting monies to other purposes.

"These cuts did not have to happen," said Galvin. "Just three years ago, in 2000, Congress created the Conservation Trust Fund to make sure that America would always reserve enough money to address its most pressing conservation, wildlife and recreation needs."

During the subcommittee’s consideration, cuts in the fund came under sharp criticism by Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the original leaders in the bipartisan agreement that established the Conservation Trust Fund.

Since 2001, the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s appropriation has been cut, while additional programs have been pushed under the LWCF umbrella. The result has been the appearance of full funding but a cut of about $350 million for federal land acquisition in the bill compared to 2001.

"Congress is letting the Bush administration get away with its smoke and mirrors game on LWCF," said Galvin. "Instead of appropriating the funds we need to protect our most important wildlife habitat and most spectacular landscapes for all Americans, Congress is playing along with the Bush administration's shell game."

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Energy Groups Excluded From Natural Gas Summit

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2003 (ENS) - In a letter delivered today to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, 15 renewable energy business, environmental, and energy policy organizations criticized the agency for failing to include sufficient representation of sustainable energy interests in the Energy Department’s upcoming Natural Gas Summit.

The summit is being convened June 26 to discuss the problem of rising prices for, and dwindling supplies of, natural gas.

The letter challenged the "over-representation of conventional supply industries" and the very limited number of energy efficiency and renewable energy industry representatives invited to the meeting.

"There are few, if any options, for expanding natural gas supply in the short term and other supply side options such as increased reliance on coal and nuclear power are not options for addressing the supply and price problems facing natural gas over the next 18 to 24 months," the groups wrote in their letter.

"The U.S. can cost effectively cut gas demand more than 10 percent through gas end use efficiency and a like amount of gas through electricity end use efficiency, with much of this potential able to be reaped in the critical next 24 months,” the letter pointed out.

“In many instances, renewable electricity facilities can be meeting new demand or displacing demand otherwise satisfied by natural gas in as little as six to 12 months."

The letter concluded with a request that representatives of the energy efficiency and renewable energy communities be invited to participate in the summit.

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Scientists Develop West Nile Virus Warning System

ITHACA, New York, June 19, 2003 (ENS) - In an effort to establish an early warning system for potential West Nile virus outbreaks, Cornell University's Northeast Regional Climate Center and the Department of Entomology will spend this summer collecting climate data in areas where disease carrying mosquitoes are found.

The U.S. government funded research is expected to result in the first Internet based calculator that warns public health officials when, where, and under which conditions infectious mosquitoes can either thrive or die. The information is expected to be online by next summer.

"Scientists, whether they are climatologists or medical entomologists, have never fully examined the relationship between climate and the proliferation of the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus," says Arthur DeGaetano, Cornell associate professor of climatology and one of the principal investigators on the project.

"Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is unique in that collaborations like this are very possible,” DeGaetano said. “Interaction between climatologists and medical entomologists can be at a level where information, once it is gathered and processed,” can be readily employed in vector management schemes," he said.

The research, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will occur in four stages.

First, climatologists and entomologists will gather climate data and synchronize this with mosquito habitat bservations. These data then will be related to mosquito count information through statistical analysis for mapping and graphing.

From this information, indices will be developed for moisture surpluses, mosquito development and killing freezes. These data will be put on the Internet for public health officials' use.

While mosquitoes can live as long as three or four months in a laboratory, their life span in the wild is much shorter. Thanks to predators and pathogens, the longest a mosquito can live is probably three to four weeks, says Harrington. During the height of summer heat, a mosquito can age and become a full adult within seven to nine days.

The study also will gather information on early establishment and climate influenced development of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus in specialized habitats such as discarded tires and other types of containers located close to human dwellings.

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Large Water Systems Need Homeland Security Upgrades

NATICK, Massachusetts, June 19, 2003 (ENS) - Sixty-five percent of municipal water and wastewater systems serving the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States plan on contracting design or construction firms to assist in projects directly related to homeland security.

This is one of several findings contained in “The 2003-2006 Municipal Water & Wastewater Market for Design & Construction Firms,” a new market research report by management consulting and publishing firm ZweigWhite.

Large municipal water systems have completed vulnerability assessments mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and are implementing capital projects recommended in those assessments, the study found.

Large municipal wastewater systems are awaiting enactment of federal legislation that will provide them with millions of dollars to conduct vulnerability assessments of their own.

"Many systems throughout the country are spending money on security upgrades, such as fencing and cameras, and on increased security patrols," said Christopher Klein, a ZweigWhite principal and one of the editors of the 426 page report.

"But the largest systems in the country are also spending money on design and construction services to help them with capital improvements related to homeland security," he said.

Klein believes that most of the homeland security market opportunities for design and construction firms are with the largest systems in the country. "Smaller systems will likely not require design or construction services in such numbers because their capital needs are not as great," he said.

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Wild Trout in Connecticut Will Stay Wild

HARTFORD, Connecticut, June 19, 2003 (ENS) – A new program created by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection hopes to ensure that wild trout in the state will remain wild forever.

Trout are the most sought after species of game fish in Connecticut, attracting more than 1.5 million fishing trips per year.

"Wild trout are an important renewable resource that add quality and diversity to Connecticut's trout fisheries," said Edward Parker, chief of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Natural Resources.

"The objective of Connecticut's Wild Trout Program is to identify waters where anglers will be able to find good fishing for wild trout and to manage the fisheries and habitat so that the abundance and size of trout is adequate to support a high quality fishery.”

Connecticut has two species of wild trout. Brook trout are native to Connecticut and still predominate in small, clear, cold streams. Brown trout, first introduced in the late 1800's from Europe, have become naturalized throughout the state.

"Anglers and the general public recognize that wild trout are natural products of healthy stream ecosystems," said Michael Humphreys, a DEP fisheries biologist. "The angling public has shown a growing interest in wild trout, and there has been an increasing demand for wild trout management, particularly from organized groups such as Trout Unlimited," he said.

The DEP expanded its Wild Trout Program to 27 areas in 2002 following the completion of a statewide survey of more than 900 rivers and streams that helped identify the state's best trout waters.

The program requires a flexible approach wherein fishing regulations and stocking practices are tailored to the specific capabilities of each Wild Trout Management Area (WTMA) to produce, support and grow wild trout. Consequently, some areas are managed under strict catch and release fishing regulations while harvest is allowed on others.

Some WTMAs can support a fishery based entirely on natural trout production while other areas require supplemental stocking to enhance trout populations and recreational fishing opportunities.

"Wild trout fishing is often at its best during the late spring and early summer," said Humphreys who recommends that anglers try light colored flies or spinners fished around sunrise and sunset.

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Owls Enlisted to Keep Gophers Out of Vineyards

NAPA, California, June 19, 2003 (ENS) – When Shafer Vineyards stopped using chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the 1980s, it found that more moles and gophers were burrowing among its grapevines. Now the vineyard has begun using owls and hawks to keep the rodent population down.

The winery plants dense cover crops in between the vine rows to add nitrogen into the soil, control weeds, and create a habitat where insects like spiders and ladybugs naturally prey on leafhoppers and blue green sharpshooters, both insects that blight the vines.

Besides bugs, the tall, healthy cover crop also attracts lots of moles and gophers, which tunnel through the soil in search of the tender young vine roots.

Rather than turn to rodent poisons or gopher blasters to protect the vineyards, Shafer has enlisted the help of birds of prey.

Shafer has constructed a series of nest boxes for barn owls and installed them through the vineyard’s fields. Owls consume large numbers of rodents without causing any damage to the vines or environment, and the company says a pair of nesting owls and their young can consume 1,000 rodents in a single nesting season.

Tall perches have been built in the vineyard to offer hawks a view during the day. The night hunting owls and day hunting hawks give the vineyards an effective and natural way to control the rodents.

"Just like Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig, delivers messages, our owls deliver a message, too,” said vineyard owner Doug Shafer. “Only it is to gophers, and it is, 'Dive for cover.'”

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