News bites, December 2002

This article was originally published in December 2002

Zinc’s antioxidant potential

Zinc, a mineral essential to human health, may help protect cells against oxidative damage. A preliminary study by Agricultural Research Service scientists has pinpointed the mineral’s little-known role as an antioxidant.

Zinc may safeguard red blood-cell membranes against oxidative effects of other minerals such as copper or iron. Cell membranes keep cell contents in place and selectively allow salts and other compounds to flow in and out.

The findings emphasize the importance of consistently consuming enough zinc from such foods as beans, whole grains, shellfish, red meat, or dark-meat poultry. (excerpted from the ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

GE fight in Canada

In Canada, the battle over genetically modified wheat escalated when the National Farmers Union challenged Monsanto Canada Inc. to reveal the names of the farmers it has enlisted to promote the controversial crops. The farmers union says there is a conflict of interest if farmers are sitting on boards and panels. A Monsanto spokesman and some farmers dismissed the union’s request. (CBS MarketWatch)

Irradiated beef at school?

Congress has passed a provision in the most recent Farm Bill that opens the door for irradiated food in the National School Lunch Program. Previously, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibited the purchase of irradiated meat for the program, but now, the Congressional provision says the USDA can’t prohibit it. The meat industry reportedly has stepped up pressure on the USDA; a decision on whether to recommend irradiated meat to schools is expected by year’s end. Critics are most concerned that irradiated food does not have to be labeled when served in school cafeterias. Irradiation is documented to degrade the quality of numerous nutrients and does not address the causes of unhealthful product. (Public Citizen)

Wine and Alzheimers

Research from Denmark reveals that people who drink a little wine seem to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, while regular beer drinkers actually had a higher risk. The results, published in the journal Neurology, showed people who drank wine weekly or monthy were more than two times less likely to develop dementia. (CNN)

GE contamination: AIDS vaccine or industrial agent?

The Center for Food Safety has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petition for access to all government documents on two recent cases of genetic contamination. The petition follows an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that food crops in Iowa and Nebraska have been contaminated by experimental genetically engineered crops designed to produce pharmaceutical or industrial chemicals.

The USDA reportedly has refused to reveal what chemical or drug was grown in either crop, but research into the company that produces the so-called biopharms or “foodaceuticals,” ProdiGene, shows the contaminates could be an AIDS vaccine, a blood-clotting agent, a digestive enzyme, or an industrial adhesive.

Other crops reportedly grown by ProdiGene include experimental oral vaccines for Hepatitis B and for a pig disease, transmissible gastroenteritis. According to the USDA, ProdiGene has 85 test permits for experimental open-air trials of GE biopharms and chemical crops for planting in at least 96 locations.

The GE Food Alert Coalition, which includes the Center for Food Safety, is filing a petition calling for a halt to all such crops. Friends of the Earth already had filed a FOIA in April for information on test permits. The USDA declined to comply. (Agribusiness Examiner, also Family Farm Defenders)

Whatcom saving farmland

Whatcom County is taking steps to preserve its agricultural base against continued losses of farmland to development. The county council has voted to establish a program to buy development rights on farmland. The county is committing about $750,000 annually through its conservation futures tax, which was enacted by ordinance in 1992. Through the program, owners of farmland are paid market value for the property and retain other rights, including the right to sell or transfer the land, but the land is protected from development in perpetuity. (Capital Press)

GE Wheat

Issues over genetically engineered (GE) wheat played a significant role in several key state legislative elections in North Dakota last month.

On Election Day, a Democratic candidate who campaigned strongly against GE wheat in a heavily rural district won an upset victory over an incumbent State Senator who supported GE wheat.In another rural district, two candidates running on a moratorium platform ousted moratorium opponents, including another long-time Senator. (Associated Press)

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