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 North
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,
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
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.
“Greener Eggs 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” roadmap
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 and distributors.
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
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 widely recognized.”
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.