Journal "Nature" Renounces Mexican Maize ArticleWASHINGTON, DC,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - The journal "Nature" says there was insufficient scientific evidence to support its publication of an article warning of contamination of Mexican maize varieties with bioengineered genes.
The editorial note, published today on Nature's website, is an unprecedented admission on behalf of the venerable and respected scientific journal.
The journal's editors said that after they published the paper, "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico" last November, "we received several criticisms of the paper." The journal contacted the authors of the original paper, David Quist and Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, Berkeley, as well as independent scientists regarding the validity of the original data.
"In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, 'Nature' has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper," the editors wrote. "As the authors nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the authors' response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves."
The original paper "fueled concerns about the unintentional transfer of genes into wild species in geographical areas of crop origin and diversification considered essential for global food security," the journal notes today.
"Nature" has published new data from Quist and Chapela, along with expert criticisms of the original paper.
Matthew Metz of the University of Washington in Seattle, and Johannes Fütterer of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Zürich, Switzerland, write that the evidence presented in the original paper for the presence of hybrid genes in native maize may be mere "artifacts" of their laboratory procedures.
"The discovery of transgenes fragmenting and promiscuously scattering throughout genomes would be unprecedented and is not supported by Quist and Chapela's data," charge Metz and Fütterer.
Six additional researchers, from the University of California at Berkeley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Gene Expression Center, make the same criticism, adding that, "Transgenic corn may be being grown illegally in Mexico, but Quist and Chapela's claim that these transgenes have pervaded the entire native maize genome is unfounded. It is important for information about genetically modified organisms to be reliable and accurate, as important policy decisions are at stake."
Quist and Chapela reply that their lab work and methodology may indeed have been flawed, or at least subject to error, but add that the results of further testing "continue to support our primary statement," that engineered genes have mixed with native maize strains in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Light Truck Fuel Standards Remain the SameWASHINGTON, DC,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Transportation has passed up another opportunity to raise fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.
For model year 2004, automakers will have to meet a minimum average fuel efficiency of 20.7 miles per gallon - the number set more than two decades ago.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule for model year 2004 light truck Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards on Monday. Under federal law, the NHTSA was required to issue a final rule setting a model year 2004 light truck CAFE standard by April 1, 2002.
But until December 2001, the agency was prohibited by Congress from examining fuel efficiency standards. For six years, Congress added a rider to the Department of Transportation's budget bill barring any studies of changing CAFE standards.
"Given this time constraint, NHTSA lacked sufficient time to complete its research and lay the factual and analytical foundation needed to change the existing standard," the agency said Monday.
Later this year, the NHTSA will propose light truck CAFE standards for model year 2005. The agency is now also considering possible changes to the overall CAFE program for both passenger cars and light trucks, including those recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in July 2001.
Research by the National Academy found that automakers could raise average fuel efficiency to 37 miles per gallon over the next 10 to 15 years, without compromising safety, consumer choice or industry profits.
$85 Million Supports Local Wildlife ProgramsWASHINGTON, DC,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - State and territorial fish and wildlife agencies will share $80 million in federal money to support wildlife conservation through the new State Wildlife Grants (SWG) program.
The grants will help states develop and implement programs that benefit wildlife, including non-game species, and their habitat. Native Americans can also apply for grants to support their efforts to implement wildlife conservation programs with a $5 million Tribal Wildlife Grants program.
The new grants may also be used for wildlife conservation projects, environmental education, wildlife associated recreation, and wildlife law enforcement projects.
"These grant programs send a clear signal that the Service is working to strengthen its conservation partnerships with State wildlife agencies and the Tribes," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Steve Williams. "In order to meet the challenges of fish and wildlife conservation, all of us must work closely together."
To be eligible for State Wildlife Grant funds, each state must submit a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan by October 1, 2005.
The state plans must include information on the distribution and abundance of wildlife species as indicators of the diversity and health of that state's wildlife; descriptions and locations of key habitat; descriptions of proposed actions to conserve the identified species and their habitats; and descriptions of proposed plans for monitoring the effectiveness of these programs.
No state may receive more than five percent or less than one percent of the available funds. The District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive one half of one percent and Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will receive one-fourth of one percent.
Irrigation Water Delivered to Klamath FarmersKLAMATH FALLS, Oregon,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture held a ceremony last week to symbolically deliver irrigation water to farms in the Klamath River basin.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon opened the headgates on the A Canal as a first step in delivering water to Klamath Basin irrigators for the 2002 growing season. Last year, water was withheld from hundreds of area farms in the drought stricken region, to help protect threatened and endangered fish.
"We are pleased to be able to open these headgates to provide water to farmers," Norton said. "We have work to do. The law and the condition of the basin constrain our discretion. But our objectives are clear. As the president has directed, our goals are to protect farm families, restore the health of the ecosystem, honor our trust responsibilities to tribes and recover endangered species."
Several federal agencies are now working to develop a 10 year operations plan for the Klamath basin. Based on a preliminary analysis, the water stored in the Klamath Basin system, combined with projected additions from rainfall and snowmelt, is expected to be sufficient to meet both irrigation requirements and any potential endangered species needs in 2002, Norton said.
"This is an important step in ensuring farmers and ranchers in the region have adequate water supplies," Veneman said. "There is still a great deal of work to be done and this administration continues its commitment to help farmers and ranchers recover from losses suffered last year."
To help prevent fish from being drawn into the irrigation canals, the Bureau of Reclamation will install a fish screen at the A Canal Headgates. The Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group, appointed by President George W. Bush on March 1, has announced that construction of the screen will be advanced to protect endangered species living in Upper Klamath Lake.
President Bush instructed the Working Group to find short term and long term solutions to the challenges affecting farmers, ranchers, fishermen, tribes and others in the Klamath River.
Computer Model Tracks Rainfall SourcesWASHINGTON, DC,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - A new computer model can trace rain or snowfall back to the water's original source.
The model, developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), may help scientists improve rainfall and drought forecasts and gain a deeper understanding of climate change.
The model simulates water movement in the atmosphere around the world, and traces it from the places where it evaporates to the places where it falls back to Earth.
"If I see rain or snow in the central U.S., I can now tell you how much of the moisture came from the Gulf of Mexico, how much came from the tropical Atlantic Ocean and so on," said meteorologist Mike Bosilovich of NASA's Data Assimilation Office at Goddard Space Flight Center. Bosilovich is lead author of the study being published in the March-April issue of the "Journal of Hydrometeorology."
"The model gives us a much clearer picture of how water moves in the atmosphere than we have ever had before," Bosilovich added.
By identifying water vapor movement in the atmosphere, weather forecasters will better understand how evaporation from a particular place contributes to local and regional precipitation, leading to more accurate weather forecasts. The model can pinpoint individual regional sources of atmospheric moisture, rather than combining them.
Bosilovich said if scientists can understand how geographic sources of atmospheric moisture fluctuate from year to year, they also will have a clearer picture of how climate changes in the long term.
Each region sends up different sized plumes of moisture at different times, and changes in wind and temperature can push them in different directions depending on the day or season. Even the fastest computers have had trouble keeping track of all the variables, but the new model appears capable of this feat.
Bosilovich and Siegfried Schubert, who works with Bosilovich, have demonstrated the new model's capabilities by analyzing the atmospheric water cycles over India and North America.
"Currently, the only hard data the model accounts for is sea surface temperature; everything else is simulated," Bosilovich said. "Our next big job is to work more observational data into the model, so it can reflect actual global atmospheric conditions."
Such improvements will take time, but could lead scientists to better understanding of both next week's weather and the next century's climate.
More information is available at: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20020401watervapor.html
Flood Risks Underestimated by Current ModelsLEXINGTON, Kentucky,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - The standard methods of calculating flood risks for all rivers in the U.S. does not recognize long term changes in river systems, like different land uses, climate shifts, or engineering structures.
Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at Southern Illinois University, has been using a new technique that isolates the effects of engineering modifications of rivers. Looking at the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, he found that the same quantities of water have caused increasing floods because of the effect of human structures built along these rivers.
These structures push flood stages higher and cause more severe floods.
"Engineers have harnessed rivers worldwide for navigation and flood control, but engineering structures can cause larger and more frequent floods," Pinter said. "For example, record breaking flood crests on the Missouri River in 1993 can be expected to occur every 15-20 years at some locations, rather than every 100-500 years as widely estimated."
The current official level for the 100 year flood in downtown St. Louis is 47.1 feet. Pinter has discovered that this flood height needs to be raised about four feet.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers has advised lowering the flood height by half a foot. They obtained their results by using a standard methodology that does not consider systematic changes in flood behavior over time.
"The difference between our results and the new Corps number is about 4.5 feet in flood height," Pinter said. "That's a lot of water."
It has been difficult to estimate what the human impact on flooding has been, because the factors that create severe floods are difficult to separate from annual weather variations. Other factors include climate change that drops more water into the river system, land use changes that cause more runoff to reach streams faster, and engineering changes that lower a river's capacity to transmit flood water.
Pinter and one of his students, Reuben Heine, are presenting their findings today and Friday at the Geological Society of America's regional meeting in Lexington, Kentucky.
$1.25 Million Supports New York Fishing OpportunitiesALBANY, New York,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - New York State will spend $1.25 million to expand fishing opportunities across the state.
Marking the first day of trout season this week, New York Governor George Pataki announced a new five year initiative to acquire additional public fishing rights and easements along popular rivers and streams in the state.
"Fishing is a terrific way for people of all ages to enjoy the outdoors, and New York State offers some of the finest fishing waters in the nation," Pataki said. "By continuing our efforts to expand the thousands of miles of access on our prime fishing streams and rivers, we will provide even more opportunities for anglers to enjoy this great sport."
The Public Fishing Rights (PFR) program, overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), was established in 1935 in an effort to increase the public's access to the state's fish and wildlife resources, particularly those in private ownership.
Since the program's inception, more than 1,230 miles of easements have been purchased along some of New York's best fishing streams. In addition, almost 400 parking areas have been constructed to improve public access to remote rivers and streams in the state.
With the Governor's announcement, the popular program will be continued for at least five years, allowing the state to purchase up to 25 new miles of public fishing rights easements and develop ten new parking areas for use by fishers.
Public fishing rights are permanent easements along productive fishing streams that allow the public to wade and walk along the streambed and banks for the purpose of fishing. The easements consist of a 33 foot strip of land along one or both banks, depending on land ownership.
Easements give DEC the right, when funds are available, to do stream improvement work, such as planting trees or shrubs to protect and stabilize stream banks. Landowners receive a payment based on a rate per bank mile or proportionate part of a mile that is owned.
In 1996, a state fishing survey found that anglers spent an estimated $1.7 billion in New York and helped support more than 28,000 jobs. In that same year, sportfishing in New York generated more than $71 million in state sales tax and more than $21 million in state income tax revenues.
College Students Honored for Saving WaterELIZABETHTOWN, Pennsylvania,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - A team of Elizabethtown College students have been given a Golden Spigot award for saving more than 4,000 gallons of water in two weeks.
The students are winners of a two week, drought inspired contest at the college to see which residence hall could save the most water. The 124 students who live in Royer Hall were able to cut their water usage from 220 gallons to 208 gallons per student, per week, for a total water savings of 2,232 gallons per week and more than four thousand gallons saved during the contest.
"I want to congratulate all the Elizabethtown College students who took part in this fun way to draw attention to the need for everyone to conserve water," said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Hess. "It's important for people in all 24 drought emergency counties to cut back on their use of water now so we do not have to take more drastic steps later."
In addition to the "Golden Spigot" award plaque from DEP, the winning dorm team received $150 in board games from the college for the Royer Hall student lounge. The Elizabethtown College students also had a water conservation contest during that area's last drought in 1999.
"Elizabethtown College is committed to protecting the environment in anyway we can," said Elizabethtown College president Dr. Theodore Long. "I applaud our students for their efforts in helping the environment and the community."
Elizabethtown College is in Lancaster County, one of the counties under a Drought Emergency that was declared by Governor Mark Schweiker back in February. For the past 365 day period, Lancaster County is more than 13 inches behind normal rainfall.
"Recent rain has been very welcome and has helped to alleviate some of the stress on water systems served by reservoirs, however, groundwater levels remain low," said Secretary Hess. "But our advice remains the same - save water!"
Animal Rights Advocate Rejects Leather SeatsAUBURN HILLS, Michigan,
April 4, 2002 (ENS) - Unable to order a Mercedes-Benz without leather seats despite two years of effort, an animal rights advocate sent the leather seats from her new car back to the manufacturer.
Texas shopping mall owner Jeanne Daniels, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), ripped the leather seats out of her car and replaced them with synthetic leather. She then had the original seats hand-delivered to DaimlerChrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Stuttgart, Germany, by PETA's "cow" mascot.
In a letter to DaimlerChrysler, Daniels asks the company to save the lives of up to four cows by reusing the leather instead of sentencing four more cows to death.
"I must inform you that your company is doing itself - and the animals - a great disservice by not offering a humane, skin free option," wrote Daniels. "I am offended that your company has assumed that people with means are unmoved by the plight of animals."
PETA says that animals raised for leather are kept in "atrocious" conditions. An investigation by the "Washington Post" at the largest slaughterhouse in the U.S. revealed repeated instances of animals' being dismembered while they were still alive.
In India, whose top leather importer is Germany, cows are marched to slaughter for days and often collapse from exhaustion, PETA says. Chili peppers are rubbed into the animals' eyes, and their tails are broken so that they will keep moving.
After Daniels' delivery of her leather seats, DaimlerChrysler sent PETA a letter stating that all of its car brands which fall under Chrysler Group are available with a non-leather option. Company representatives agreed to discuss the matter with its Mercedes division.
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