AmeriScan: May 21, 2003

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President Bush Bashes EU Biotech Ban

NEW LONDON, Connecticut, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - In a commencement address today in front of the 2003 graduating class of the U.S. Coast Guard, President George W. Bush accused the European Union of contributing to starvation in Africa by rejecting U.S. genetically modified crops.

The President said European objections to genetically modified, or biotech, crops are the product of "unfounded, unscientific fears." Europe's reluctance to embrace biotech crops is impeding the effort to solve the long term problem of world hunger, Bush said, in particular in Africa.

Bush said that the European ban on approving new biotech crops has "caused many African nations to avoid investing in biotechnologies, for fear their products will be shut out of European markets."

"European governments should join - not hinder - the great cause of ending hunger in Africa," Bush said.

Several African nations, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, have rejected U.S. food aid because it contained GM corn. These countries fear the GM corn could end up in crops or be fed to beef cattle tagged for export to Europe, which could then reject the African imports.

The President's remarks come only a week after his administration launched a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the European Union's five year ban on approving biotech foods.

U.S. officials say European policy is illegal, harming the U.S. economy, stunting the growth of the biotech industry and contributing to increased starvation in the developing world.

EU officials say the U.S. is mischaracterizing its position on biotech foods and that the EU's regulatory system for approving these foods is in line with the WTO's rules.

Critics of the administration's policy say it is disingenuous to link the biotech debate with starvation in Africa and many point out that the benefits of biotech foods are unproven. There is not a food supply problem, some contend, rather there is a food distribution problem.

In his speech today Bush partially agreed with this notion, but insisted that biotech crops could provide the answer.

"Our world produces more than enough food to feed its six billion people," Bush said. "By widening the use of new high-yield bio-crops and unleashing the power of markets, we can dramatically increase agricultural productivity and feed more people across the continent."

The United States produces some two thirds of the world's biotech crops and U.S. officials estimate the EU ban has cost its agricultural industry hundreds of millions, including some $300 million a year in corn sales alone.

Bush's speech today escalates a growing trade dispute between the two massive trading partners just as the members of the Group of Eight (G8) countries prepare to meet in June for their annual economic summit. A group of executives from some of the world's largest U.S., European, Japanese and Canada sent a joint letter this week to Bush and the other G8 leaders urging them to get global trade negotiations back on track.

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Mad Cow Fear Prompts U.S. to Ban Canada Beef

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - The United States has banned all beef imports from Canada after learning that a single cow in the province of Alberta had bovine spongiform encephalophathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

U.S. officials say the risk of infection from Canadian beef is very low, but the swift and dramatic action underscores the concern about BSE. Beef from infected cattle is believed to cause a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which is often fatal for humans.

BSE attacks the nervous system of cattle fed protein that came from other ruminants, which are animals that chew their cud and have a multichambered stomach. Scientists do not believe the disease can be spread directly from cow to cow.

On Tuesday the Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief announced that a cow slaughtered in January because it had symptoms of the disease did indeed have BSE. Vanclief said the remains of the infected cow did not get into the food chain.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman quickly issued the ban on imports and said the U.S. government would send experts to help Canada investigate the finding. The ban extends to all ruminant animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, bison and elk.

Veneman said that after speaking with Canada's Vanclief, she is assured that "all appropriate measures are being taken in what appears to be an isolated case" of BSE.

The U.S. has never had a confirmed case of BSE.

Canada is the United States' largest live cattle supplier and its second largest processed beef supplier. Industry groups report that the United States imported some one million cows and one billion pounds of beef from Canada in 2002. The ban could be a boon to the U.S. beef industry, said Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt, unless beef consumption drops for fear of the disease.

"The consumers are going to have the biggest impact," Hurt said. "If they maintain faith in U.S. beef, this could turn out to be a good thing for our cattle producers."

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Federal Fish Management Should Be Overhauled, Conservationists Say

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - Current federal ocean fish management is in dire need of reform, finds a new report released today by a coalition of more than 150 national and regional environmental organizations, commercial and recreational fishing groups, aquariums, and marine science groups.

The coalition - the Marine Fish Conservation Network - says that given the steady decline of ocean resources from Alaska to the Caribbean "the only solution is to fundamentally reform our ocean management system."

The report's recommendation for major agency reform is a departure from the group's past seven years of efforts to strengthen, close loopholes in, and cajole federal managers to aggressively enforce the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

"While our oceans are facing a truly dire situation, we have reason for hope," said Gerry Leape, Vice President for Ocean Programs at National Environmental Trust and Co-Chair of the Network. "However, we are convinced that such hope will not be realized by tinkering with current law. An overhaul of our management system - replacing it with one that truly puts the long-term health of our ocean resources above the short-term gain of a few - is the only solution."

The new report, called "Horrors of the Deep: Chilling Tales of Denial, Conflict of Interest and Mismanagement of America's Ocean Resources," chronicles eight case studies of poor management by federal regulators.

"The great hope of the SFA was that it would once and for all end the overexploitation of marine resources," said Lee Crockett, executive director of the Network. "The SFA was a direct response to the cycle of overfishing that led to the rapid depletion of one fish stock after another. The intent of Congress was clear - end overfishing, stop the indiscriminate killing of non-target wildlife, also called 'bycatch', and protect ocean habitat."

The report finds that the promise described by Crockett has been compromised by conflict of interest, lax oversight, mismanagement, disregard for science, and a regional system of management councils dominated by the fishing industry.

The Network recommends that the SFA be reformed to put conservation of ocean ecosystems before extraction and calls for the creation of a new Department of the Oceans to administer the law.

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Florida Governor Signs Controversial Everglades Bill

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed into law Tuesday a state bill that many believe will slow the clean up of the Everglades. Critics say the bill undermines water quality standards and threatens federal funding critical to the $8 billion state/federal partnership devised in 2000 to clean up some 2.4 million acres of the massive ecosystem.

The bill relaxes standards designed to reduce phosphorus runoff that is polluting the Everglades. It had the strong support of the sugar industry, which is the leading source of phosphorus runoff.

Critics, including some Republican Congressmen, say this weakens the federal state pact and could jeopardize funding for what many consider to be the most comprehensive and ambitious ecosystem restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

But Bush, a Republican, says he is convinced the bill "reinforces" the state's commitment to restore water quality in the Everglades. The Florida governor says 95 percent of the entire Everglades will meet the goal of phosphorus levels below 10 parts per billion (ppb) by December 31, 2006.

"The remaining five percent will sporadically have phosphorus levels higher than the goal, until the phosphorus build up in the sediment can be cleansed through "green" technology," Bush said in a prepared statement.

The plan calls for the entire region to meet the 10 ppb level by 2006. The loophole in the bill delays the requirement that industry meet this deadline and has some worried it will compromise the clean up.

Bush is convinced, however, that it does not. The bill "is strong legislation built upon good policy," Bush said in a prepared statement.

"Our intention has always been to complete this work at the earliest possible date," he said. "I am convinced this bill does not deter us from this goal."

Bush said he has reached out to critics of the bill and believes he has met their concerns.

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EPA Launches New Asbestos Awareness Effort

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today launched a national consumer awareness campaign to provide homeowners with information on vermiculite attic insulation, which may contain asbestos.

The new campaign, coordinated by EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), informs homeowners how to identify vermiculite attic insulation. The government warns that some vermiculite attic insulation can contain very low levels of microscopic asbestos fibers.

The effort aims to make consumers aware of the precautions they can take to protect against disturbing and inhaling the asbestos fibers.

"People who have homes with vermiculite attic insulation should become informed, not alarmed," said Stephen Johnson, EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances.

"By using the information in this campaign, people can determine if their home contains vermiculite attic insulation and learn how to properly manage it," Johnson said. "Well informed consumers can reduce the possibility for exposure to asbestos from vermiculite attic insulation and minimize potential risks."

Vermiculite is a granular product - absorbent and resistant to heat - that has been in commerce for almost 80 years. Much of the vermiculite used to make attic insulation originated from a mine in Libby, Montana, where there were natural veins of asbestos in the earth.

The Montana mine was closed in 1990 and currently, vermiculite is mined at three U.S. facilities and in other countries that have lower levels of asbestos contamination in the finished material.

The agencies explained that there is still no easy way or dependable testing method to differentiate between vermiculite insulation that might have some asbestos fibers and vermiculite insulation that does not.

Home testing vermiculite in attics is not currently practical, according to the EPA, which suggests that it is best to assume that the material may contain asbestos and take the appropriate precautions.

The campaign includes the nationwide distribution of a joint EPA and ATSDR pamphlet that outlines how to identify and manage vermiculite. The pamphlet will be disseminated to the national news media and through major hardware store chains, and through prominent display on EPA's web site at http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/.

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New York Bill Takes On All Terrain Vehicles

ALBANY, New York, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - A bill introduced in the New York State Legislature would prohibit the use of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on some of the state's most delicate, protected forest lands.

The legislation, introduced in both the New York Assembly and Senate, would ban ATVs from four specific state owned areas - the Adirondack Park's Forest Preserve, the Catskill Park's Forest Preserve, the Long Island Central Pine Barrens and Albany Pine Bush Preserve. These areas, according to the bill's cosponsors, have already suffered from ATV use and in need of further protection.

"These four areas have already been given special protection under state law, but are still quite vulnerable to abuse by ATVs," said Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican.

The proposal would explicitly prohibit ATV use in these areas and would allow police, state environmental officers and other enforcement officers to immediately impound an offender's vehicle. It requires a $100 enforcement penalty before an impounded vehicle can be returned to its owner and earmarks these funds for local ATV enforcement costs.

Environmental groups praised the move and held a press conference with the bill's sponsors to showcase photographs of damage from ATVs.

"These machines are literally ripping apart some areas of the Adirondack Forest Preserve," said Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal. "It is hard to believe the extent of the damage to the state land in the Adirondacks."

State and ATV industry officials estimated that roughly 250,000 ATVs are currently being operated in the state. The exact number is not known as only about half are registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The legislation would only apply to the state owned portions of the Adirondack Park, Catskill Park, Long Island Central Pine Barrens and Albany Pine Bush Preserve, which account for only nine percent of the land in the state.

ATV operation would continue, as it is currently allowed by law, on the other 91 percent of the land.

"While they are fun to operate, the public use of all-terrain vehicles and all motor vehicles on the trails and lands of the Forest Preserve violates the State Land Master Plan, State regulations and the spirit of the State Constitution, which requires the Forest Preserve to be forever kept as wild forest lands," said David Gibson, Executive Director for the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.

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A New Way to Measure the Value of City Parks

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - A new report released today by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) outlines a new system for measuring how a city's parks serve residents.

The report, "The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How to Get There," proposes seven measures of city park excellence, as identified by city park directors and park and urban experts nationwide.

"City park systems should be judged by how they serve their communities," said Will Rogers, president of TPL, a national nonprofit group. "Until now, we have not had a framework for understanding how cities create and support successful parks. This report is that framework and we are committed to the measures it proposes for city parks' excellence."

The measures include a clear expression of the park system's purpose, an ongoing process of planning and community involvement, as well as sufficient land, staffing and equipment to meet goals. The TPL's system also measures equitable access to parks, user satisfaction, safety from crime and physical hazards and benefits for the city beyond park boundaries.

"City parks are vital to a city's well-being," said study author Peter Harnik, director of TPL's Green Cities Program. "These measures can help gauge a city park system's health, and the data offer useful comparisons for how the nation's biggest cities are making parks better for their communities."

Based on the criteria in the report, TPL cites park systems in four cities as achieving parks excellence: Cincinnati, Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

"We found a wide range in park system quality," said Harnik. "While all cities have room for some improvement, Cincinnati, Portland, Minneapolis, and Seattle seem to be getting most of the factors right most of the time.

"Not only are they are doing the big things, like maintaining their systems and buying land, they're also doing the smaller things, like making sure they have fee-reduction programs to assure accessibility to all," Harnik explained.

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Getting a Grip on Rip Currents

GAINESVILLE, Florida, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - A better tool for predicting tricky rip currents could soon be available, say researchers from the University of Florida.

Rip currents occur when water pushed between a sandbar and the beach rushes seaward through a channel in the bar. Rip currents cause about 150 deaths nationally each year, more on average than hurricanes, tornadoes, storms and lightning combined.

Drownings happen when swimmers, finding themselves pulled rapidly out to sea, fight the current and become exhausted. Swimmers who don't struggle may escape by swimming parallel to shore out of the rip, but many people panic and drown, researchers say.

By correlating records of rip-current rescues with wave conditions, University of Florida researchers have come up with an index that shows promise to more accurately predict the currents than the one now used by the National Weather Service.

The researchers say the index appears to be particularly good at predicting days when there will be lots of rip currents. If this information could be made available early each day, they explain, it could prompt beach managers to add lifeguards or even temporarily close beaches.

"Lifeguards could use a heads-up to the effect that this is not just going to be a rip-current day, this is going to be a major rip-current day," said Bob Thieke, an assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering who heads the ongoing project.

Most people caught in rip currents are rescued and the researchers focused on Florida's Volusia County, which averages more rescues each year than all of Florida's other counties combined, according to a study by the National Weather Service's East Central Florida Rip Current Program.

By studying some 686 rip-current rescues in 1996, the researchers discovered that the rescues occurred most often when the waves were hitting the beach square on instead of at an angle.

The researchers drew on their discovery to craft the new index for predicting rip currents, adding wave direction to the mix. They compared the accuracy of both indexes in predicting the 1996 rescues and found the new index 31 percent more accurate.

Thieke added that reported rescues are not the most accurate indicator of rip currents because weather dictates how many people are typically in the water. A recent project using sensors instead of rescues to gauge the presence of rip currents is underway and expected to make the new model more accurate.

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