scientists seek to disable genes that cause aflatoxin
No mold is as dark a character as Aspergillus
flavus, which is why scientists with the Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) and their collaborators are scrutinizing
this fungus, one gene at a time. Its deadly toxins,
known collectively as aflatoxin, are fungal poisons.
They are the second leading cause of aspergillosis in
humans. Considered to be among the most potent carcinogens
in nature, they've been linked to some forms of cancer.
ARS geneticist Jiujiang Yu was part of a team of scientists
who recently sequenced a strain of the A. flavus
fungus. One of the team's primary goals is to pinpoint
which of the fungus' 13,000 genes regulate toxin production.
They'd like to disable them so they can rob the fungus
of its poison-making machinery.
Report calls for sustainable
principles, rural focus
in shaping US biofuels development policy
A new report on US biofuel potential from a rural development
perspective spells out what it will take to make this
a reality. These include making biofuels part of the
USDA conservation programs tied to sustainable agricultural
practices, one of the recommendations of “Biofueling
Rural Development” from the Carsey Institute at
the University of New Hampshire.
Author Jim Kleinschmit of the Institute for Agricultural
Trade Policy (IATP) also says independent oversight
would be critical to building sustainability into crop-to-energy
programs and calls for community involvement to keep
public research into biofuels public. The report includes
a US map created in 2005 tracking biomass potential
by county, showing a strong dominance of high-potential
in the upper Midwest from central Illinois through eastern
China halts use of corn
for biofuels, citing food security concerns
Worried over surging crop prices, China has clamped
down on the use of corn and other edible grains for
producing biofuels. The country’s National Development
and Reform Commission (NDRC) has told local governments
to stop approving new projects that process corn for
“industrial use,” according to a report
in the Asia Times Online. While it wants to support
the growth of alternative energy sources, Beijing says
the issue of national food security should take precedence.
Experts warn that if ethanol production continues to
be corn-based, China will be forced to import the crop
by 2008. Chinese planners are also worried because arable
land is reported to have shrunk by 8 million hectares
between 1999 and 2005. The NDRC has demanded local producers
step up efforts to make ethanol from non-grain sources,
such as potato and sweet sorghum.
Farmer seeks farmer
input to create collaborative web-marketing service
A new Internet marketing project is being initiated
that will bring the cost of web development for small
farms down to an affordable level. This is not an online
directory, but a service that allows farmers to create
individual professional web sites for their farm.
Farmer Simon Huntley is the lead developer of the project.
He’s seeking farmer interest in his endeavor to
create low-cost site opportunities. A core group of
farmers will assist in developing the concept, then
enjoy free development services for their sites, Huntley
Lester Brown: Grain-to-fuel
hopes wildly misplaced;
demand from current plants underestimated by USDA
From an agricultural vantage point, the automotive
demand for fuel is insatiable. The grain it takes to
fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed
one person for a whole year. Converting the entire U.S.
grain harvest to ethanol would satisfy only 16 percent
of U.S. auto fuel needs.
The competition for grain between the world’s
800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility
and its 2 billion poorest people who are simply trying
to survive is emerging as an epic issue.
There are alternatives to creating a crop-based automotive
fuel economy. The equivalent of the 2 percent of U.S.
automotive fuel supplies now coming from ethanol could
be achieved several times over, and at a fraction of
the cost, by raising auto fuel efficiency standards
by 20 percent.
and Ham” report outlines benefits
of pasture-raised pork, chick and egg production
The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a report
that shows how pasture-raised pork, chicken, and egg
production can avoid the problems conventional production
poses for water and air quality and for animal and public
health. The report also explains the definitions, standards,
and label claims for pasture-raised foods that consumers
encounter at grocery stores.
The report provides an overview of alternative pork
and chicken production systems and is a complementary
report to UCS's “Greener Pastures,” which
describes the benefits of grass-fed beef and dairy cattle.
Both reports are based on reviews of the broad literature
on these topics.
Traditional hog farms don’t
have Salmonella risks of large confinement sites
Iowa State University researchers found little or no
Salmonella problem on small hog farms in their state.
Farms surveyed had 20 to 150 sows, raised on open lots
using management procedures with varying risks of contributing
to Salmonella on the premises.
The researchers found that practices such as maintaining
small herd sizes, limiting the use of vaccines and refraining
from using growth-promoting antibiotics did not translate
into high prevalence of Salmonella. But those practices
apparently don’t have as much impact on keeping
Salmonella levels low as do other practices such as
the use of meal feed and straw bedding, low stocking
densities or rodent control.
The lesson here is that avoidance of antibiotics by
itself isn’t enough to keep Salmonella out. “It’s
a real plus for organic and traditional farming,”
explained D.L. (Hank) Harris, an ISU Food Safety Consortium
researcher and animal science professor.
Michigan State prof updates
corporate links of his “Who Owns Organic”
Dr. Phil Howard of Michigan State University has added
fresh research to his effort to graphically connect
organic brand names with their ties to the top 25 food
processors in North America.
He’s also collected data on the major independent
organic companies and a chart of private label organic
brands, including supermarket chains, specialty chains
here to view maps
Research on industrialized
farming and community impact
shows citizen environmental concern is well-justified
Public concern about the detrimental community impacts
of industrialized farming is warranted, according to
updated research conducted at the request of the State
of North Dakota. The report, “Industrialized Farming
and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: An Update
of a 2000 Report” by Linda Lobao, added the results
of research from 2000 to 2006 to the findings of past
research on industrialized farming.
Dr. Curtis Stofferahn, lead author, indicated, “In
brief, this conclusion rests on five decades of government
and academic concern with this topic, a concern that
has not abetted but that has grown more intense in recent
years, as the social and environmental problems associated
with large animal confinement operations have become
The report examined conclusions from 56 studies on the
consequences of industrialized farming for communities.
Of these, approximately 82 percent found adverse impacts
on indicators of community well-being.