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FEED ? Food & Environment Electronic Digest - December 2005

"Pharma crops" bring few economic benefits to communities

Gene splicing process creates food with unexpected allergenicity

Bon Appetit will sell cage-free eggs

Public doesn't trust food from cloned animals

Antibiotics in your vegetables?

Organic pigs are healthier

1. "Pharma crops" bring few economic benefits to communities

A new report analyzes the economic effects of crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Though the industry often asserts that "pharma crops" will bring economic benefits to farmers and rural communities, the report finds that most of the benefits will go to corporations that hold crop patents, not to growers or their communities. Furthermore, the expected reductions in drug production costs may be offset by hefty costs of containment to avoid contaminating the food supply. The report was written by Dr. Robert Wisner, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, and commissioned by UCS. Read the report, The Economic Benefits of Pharmaceutical Crops: Potential Benefits and Risks for Farmers and Rural Communities.

2. Gene splicing process creates food with unexpected allergenicity

Australian scientists have abandoned development of genetically modified peas after a decade of work, because mice that were fed the peas developed an allergic lung inflammation. The peas were modified by inserting a gene from beans to confer insect resistance. Neither the peas nor the beans alone triggered the immune reaction in mice, but the way the pea plant modified the bean protein apparently conferred new allergenic properties. The story suggests that proteins from non-allergenic foods may pose allergenicity risks when expressed in transgenic crops, and that animal tests should play a greater role in the safety evaluation of genetically engineered food. If these genetically engineered peas had been developed in the United States under the U.S. regulatory system, the allergenicity of the altered bean protein likely would have escaped detection, and the peas probably would have been allowed on the market. Read the study in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

3. Bon Appetit will sell cage-free eggs

Bon Appetit Management Company is the first food service company to adopt a policy to buy only cage-free eggs. Most egg-laying hens spend their lives packed into wire "battery" cages. The company will transition to cage-free eggs over the next year. Bon Appetit, which serves specialty venues, universities, and corporations at 190 locations nationwide, joins Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, Jimbo's Naturally, and Earth Fare food retailers in eliminating battery-produced egg sales. Read a press release by Bon Appetit.

4. Public doesn't trust food from cloned animals

Sixty-six percent of survey respondents are "uncomfortable" with animal cloning and 43 percent think food from cloned animals would be unsafe to eat, according to a poll conducted for the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. In a different poll by ViaGen Inc., a Texas cloning company, 35 percent of people who were told that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was likely to allow products from cloned animals in the U.S. food supply said that they would never buy it. Thirty-four percent said they would consider buying it after doing additional research, and 29 percent said they were currently willing to buy it. Currently the FDA has no plans to label food from cloned animals, leaving the public with no choice in the matter. Read a Washington Post article about the polls.

5. Antibiotics in your vegetables?

Even people who avoid meat may still be at risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant illness that originated in animals. A recent study found that vegetables fertilized with manure from animals fed antibiotics can absorb the antibiotics. Consumers could experience allergic reactions to certain antibiotics, or develop antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections after the antibiotics kill off susceptible bacteria in their bodies. The findings may not apply to organic vegetables because organic regulations specify that manure must be either composted or applied to a field no later than 90 days before harvest, twice as long as the time period for manure that was used in the study, and long enough for many antibiotics to break down. Read the abstract in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

6. Organic pigs are healthier

Organic pigs have a 30 percent lower prevalence of disease than conventionally raised pigs in Denmark. A large study by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration that compared veterinary records of 21,000 pigs from organic farms and 202,000 pigs from conventional farms found respiratory disease in 12 percent of organic pigs and 29 percent of conventionally raised pigs. Organic pigs also had a lower incidence of gastrointestinal disease, although they had more parasitic worms. The results suggest that organic management of livestock confers overall health benefits to the animals as well as to consumers. Read more about the study in the International Organic FQH Research Association's newsletter. (pdf)

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