AmeriScan: May 3, 2007

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Court Halts Planting of Monsanto’s Transgenic Alfalfa

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - A federal judge today made a final ruling that the 2005 approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, was illegal.

In U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Charles Breyer placed a permanent injunction on the further planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa seed until the USDA conducts a complete Environmental Impact Statement on the crop.

This is the first time in the United States that a court has stopped the planting of a commercialized genetically engineered crop.

In today's decision, Judge Breyer affirmed his preliminary ruling, which upheld the Center for Food Safety’s arguments in their lawsuit against USDA, that the crop could harm the environment and contaminate natural alfalfa.

In his preliminary ruling last month the judge found that USDA violated national environmental laws by approving genetically engineered alfalfa without a full Environmental Impact Statement.

Monsanto and Forage Genetics, the developers of the genetically engineered alfalfa seed, failed to convince the Judge that their interests outweighed the public interest in food safety, freedom to farm natural crops, and environmental protection. Judge Breyer ruled that Monsanto’s fear of lost sales "does not outweigh the potential irreparable damage to the environment."

Today’s ruling also requires Forage Genetics to provide the locations of all existing Roundup Ready alfalfa plots to the USDA within 30 days.

The judge ordered the USDA to make the location of these plots "publicly available as soon as practicable" so that growers of organic and conventional alfalfa "can test their own crops to determine if there has been contamination."

"The judge’s order to make public the location of Roundup Ready alfalfa fields is a critical part of the decision," said Blaine Schmaltz, an organic alfalfa seed producer from Rugby, North Dakota, and spokesperson for the Dakota Resource Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils.

"It allows GM-free and organic producers like me to make sound planting decisions," he said.

"This permanent halt to the planting of this risky crop is a great victory for the environment," said Will Rostov, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, CFS. "Roundup Ready alfalfa poses threats to farmers, to our export markets, and to the environment. We expect the USDA to abide by the law and insure that American farmers are protected from genetic contamination."

"This ruling is good news for organic farmers and most conventional farmers across the country," said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director. "This crop represents a very real threat to their crops and their livelihood. This ruling is a turning point in the regulation of biotech crops in this country."

The Center for Food Safety initiated the legal action resulting in today’s ruling in February 2006, representing itself and co-plaintiffs - the Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms.

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Report: National Guidance on Wind Power Planning Needed

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - The use of wind power is increasing rapidly in the United States, but government guidance to help communities and developers evaluate and plan proposed wind energy projects is lacking, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.

The nation's wind energy capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006. The report concludes that in view of such rapid growth some national policies to enhance the benefits of wind energy and minimize its harms would help guide state and local regulatory efforts.

To inform the development of guidelines, the report offers an analysis of the environmental benefits and drawbacks of wind energy, along with an evaluation guide to aid decisionmaking about projects. The report does not examine the impact of offshore wind energy projects.

Currently, federal regulation of wind projects on private land is minimal, the report observes. And although some states have developed guidelines, wind energy is such a recent addition to the energy mix in most areas that most states are relatively inexperienced at planning and regulation.

Despite the growth in its use, wind energy still generates less than one percent of the nation's electricity. Still, it emits no greenhouse gases, while in 2005, electricity generation accounted for 39 percent of the nation's total carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions.

The American Wind Energy Association, AWEA, estimates that in 2007, wind electricity will displace 19 million tons of CO2, which otherwise would be emitted by energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and oil.

Based on U.S. Department of Energy projections for wind energy development in the United States, the committee that wrote the report estimated that by 2020, wind energy will offset about 4.5 percent of the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted by other electricity sources.

The committee concluded that wind energy power would not reduce emissions of two other pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, because current and expected regulations of these are largely based on cap-and-trade programs.

Wind facilities can kill birds and bats that fly into turbines and damage their habitat. Among birds, the most frequent turbine fatalities are nocturnal migrating songbirds, probably because of their abundance, the report says.

But the committee saw no evidence that fatalities from existing wind facilities are causing measurable changes in U.S. bird populations. A possible exception is deaths among birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, near Altamont Pass, California, a facility with older, smaller turbines that appear more apt to kill such birds than newer turbines are.

The report states, "Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of ... total anthropogenic bird deaths – less than 0.003% [three of every 100,000] in 2003."

AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher said, "The report verifies the fact that wind energy development’s overall impact on birds is extremely low compared with many other human-related activities. More than a thousand times as many birds are killed flying into buildings, for example, than wind turbines."

National Audubon Society President John Flicker is a supporter of wind energy. In a column he wrote for the November-December 2006 issue of the Audubon’s magazine, he said that Audubon, "strongly supports [properly sited] wind power as a clean alternative energy source" and pointed to the threat global warming poses to birds and other wildlife.

A common objection to proposed wind projects is that they will have a negative aesthetic impact. The report outlines a process to help communities and developers assess a project's likely aesthetic effects, and suggests ways to minimize them - for example, by using uniform types and sizes of turbines, and by ensuring that each region retains some undeveloped scenic vistas.

The report also offers questions to ask, to help determine whether the aesthetic impact might be great enough to make a project unacceptable.

Copies of the report, "Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects" are online at: http://www.nap.edu.

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Microbes High in New Orleans Sediments After Hurricanes

WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - In a new study documenting the microbial landscape of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, scientists report that sediments in interior portions of the city are contaminated with fecal microbes.

They say this was a chronic condition in the area before the hurricanes, and that the resulting water quality in the city and in nearshore waters of the lake continues to be impacted by discharges from this contamination.

Study co-author Dr. Linda Amaral Zettler of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, MBL, says that while floodwaters pumped from New Orleans back into Lake Ponchartrain following the hurricanes showed higher than normal levels of bacteria and pathogens, fecal indicator microbe and pathogen concentrations in the lake returned to pre-hurricane levels within two months.

But the sediments left behind in the flooded regions of the city appear to contain microbes commonly found in sewage treatment and remain a cause for concern because they may serve as a potential source of ongoing microbial exposure, she said.

"Our hope is that this data will provide some perspective not just on the immediate impact to the area, but the long term effects of this kind of natural disaster," says Amaral Zettler. "We certainly know a lot more now about the microbial diversity present in Pontchartrain than we did when we started the study."

The study was a collaborative response of several institutions, including the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health, of which the MBL and Amaral Zettler are a part.

The researchers began collecting water and sediment samples from the interior canals and shoreline of New Orleans and the offshore waters of Lake Pontchartrain in October 2005 after the floodwaters had receded.

She said the Centers for Oceans and Human Health network enabled the team to mobilize quickly. "Security was huge and the logistics of just getting around the city at that time were not trivial," she says.

A collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation made it possible for the scientists to leverage their expertise and use their resources to contribute to a common goal. "We really felt that as centers we were serving a role. This research would have been next to impossible if we would have had to go it alone - a true example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts."

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New Federal Law Cracks Down on Cockfighting, Dogfighting

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - Today, President George W. Bush signed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act into law. The tough new legislation is the culmination of a six year campaign by The Humane Society of the United States and its allies to enact meaningful federal penalties for animal fighting.

"With the passage of this landmark anti-cruelty legislation, law enforcement agencies now have the tools to dismantle the vast underground network of dogfighting and cockfighting syndicates that operate throughout the country," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

The law provides felony level penalties for interstate and foreign animal fighting activities, and outlaws interstate commerce in cockfighting weapons.

Each violation of the federal law may bring up to three years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine

"Staged animal fights spawn not just malicious animal cruelty, but also drug trafficking, illegal gambling, public corruption, and even murder," said Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat and primary author of the Senate legislation.

"We are fortunate to have had an extraordinary team of legislative champions to craft and pass a powerful law that will go a long way toward eradicating these sickening forms of animal cruelty," she said. "We’ve waited six years to see this legislation signed into law. With this law, we can clamp down on these cruel, inhumane practices."

More than 500 groups have endorsed this legislation, including all major humane organizations, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Sheriffs' Association, and more than 400 local law enforcement agencies covering all 50 states.

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California, Hawaii Must Pevent Spread of Destructive Moth

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, Wednesday implemented a federal Order to restrict the interstate movement of nursery stock, cut flowers and greenery, from several counties in California and the entire state of Hawaii to prevent the spread of the light brown apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana.

The moth is native to Australia and is also found in New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. More than 250 plant species are susceptible to attack by this pest. Major domestic hosts of concern are stone fruit such as peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots, apples, pears, grapes, cherries and citrus fruits.

The pest destroys, stunts or deforms young seedlings; spoils the appearance of ornamental plants; and injures deciduous fruit-tree crops, citrus and grapes.

APHIS confirmed the presence of the light brown apple moth in Alameda County, California. on March 22. Surveillance and trapping have since identified the pest in seven additional California counties.

Under the federal order, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and San Mateo counties in California and all Hawaiian counties must meet certain conditions before shipping articles interstate.

Under the federal order, all California shipments of host articles originating within 1.5 miles of a light brown apple moth detection must be visually inspected and certified as free of the pest prior to movement.

Outside of the 1.5 mile area, but still within the quarantined counties, host-article production facilities must undergo a one time visual inspection and be certified as free of the moth before moving their products outside of the quarantine area.

The order also requires survey trapping, nursery treatment applications, and precautionary production practices be implemented within quarantine areas to mitigate the risk of infestation.

APHIS included Hawaii in the federal order because the light brown apple moth is known to be established in the state but no data exists on the exact distribution of the pest, and it has not been a problem in Hawaii, state agriculture officials say. STill, all individual shipments of host commodities leaving Hawaii must be visually inspected and certified as free of the moth before leaving the state.

USDA officials in Hawaii have informed the Hawaii Department of Agriculture that they believe previous established inspection requirements are sufficient enough for the movement of plant materials from Hawaii and they do not anticipate any problems or delays in shipments leaving the state.

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$100,000 Renewable Energy Prize Offered

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer, have partnered to offer a new $100,000 Renewable Energy and Wildlife Conservation Research Prize. The deadline for applications is June 29, 2007.

The prize will be awarded this fall to a single innovative project that cultivates new technologies or practices that contribute to making renewable energy a practical energy alternative while considering wildlife and their natural habitats.

"This Renewable Energy and Wildlife Conservation Research Prize is another great example of how Budweiser and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are working together to improve our environment by ensuring wildlife and their habitats are protected when developing renewable energy technologies," said Jeff Trandahl, NFWF executive director. "We look forward to reviewing the many innovative proposals that this new program will generate."

The prize is an extension of the 2007 Budweiser Conservation Scholarship Program, now in its seventh year.

"Anheuser-Busch has a long history of environmental stewardship, including conserving wildlife and their habitats, implementing recycling and litter prevention programs, using water and energy efficiently and using renewable energy to help power its breweries," said Doug Muhleman, group vice president of brewing operations and technology, Anheuser-Busch Inc.

"We're excited about the balanced approach this prize offers because Anheuser-Busch recognizes the importance of considering the impact on wildlife when developing renewable energy technologies," said Muhleman.

Budweiser, NFWF, and federal agency partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, are committed to advancing the relationship that exists between renewable energy and wildlife conservation.

The total amount will be awarded to one project that seeks to advance the cooperation between an academic institution with public agencies and nonprofits and will take into consideration the project's ability to develop or evaluate new cost-effective renewable energy technologies for industrial applications, while demonstrating the measurable benefits such practices can have in advancing wildlife habitat.

To learn more about the Budweiser Renewable Energy and Wildlife Conservation Research Prize or to apply, visit: http://www.nfwf.org/budscholarship