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Applications for modified animals debated

Progress of mad cow disease investigated
London (UPI) Feb 25, 2011 - Infectious proteins in brain conditions such as mad cow disease can exist in the brain for months with no evidence of the disease, U.K. researchers say. The findings by researchers at the U.K. Medical Research Council Prion Unit in London suggest other factors besides the level of the infectious proteins characteristic of prion diseases may trigger the lethality of the disease, reported Friday. Scientists say determining what those factors are could yield treatments that may be able to prevent the infectious protein diseases -- including mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people -- from progressing to a fatal stage.

In a study on mice, prions quickly built up in the brain over the course of a month or two, then remained constant for months with no evidence of disease. "Whatever you do, it sort of stops at that level and remains there for the duration of the infection," researcher John Collinge said. The lag time between prion buildup and disease suggests infection is a separate process from toxicity, Collinge and his colleagues said, and they speculate some other as-yet-unknown molecule or cellular process might be needed to make the switch between infectious and toxic prions.
by Staff Writers
Ottawa (UPI) Feb 25, 2011
The Canadian government is considering requests to allow genetically modified fish and pigs, but the public may never hear of their decision, critics say.

Groups have applied for permission to produce fish that grow twice as fast as normal, and pigs with mice DNA spliced into them, but Health Canada says it cannot publicly acknowledge the requests, Quebecor Media Inc. reported Friday.

"For confidentiality reasons, Health Canada cannot confirm whether or not a submission has been filed or any other information related to a submission," Jenny Van Alstyne, spokeswoman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, said.

AquaBounty, a firm with Canadian and U.S. operations, says it is working on developing genetically modified salmon, trout and tilapia, which will grow faster than traditional fish.

The application for a genetically modified pig comes from the University of Guelph in Ontario, where researchers spliced DNA from mice into Yorkshire pigs to reduce the amount of phosphorous in the pigs' manure.

The researchers say the reduced phosphorous could mean less pollution in rivers and streams near large-scale pig farms.

Opponents of genetic modification say that under current regulations, there would be no requirement to tell the public the animals they are eating are anything other than a regular fish or pigs.

"Consumers have a right to know what they are eating," said Parliament Member Alex Atamanenko of the opposition New Democratic Party agriculture and a food security critic.

"I think it would be a travesty if the government would allow this to happen without letting consumers know what they are eating."

earlier related report
Transitioning To Organic Farming
Madison WI (SPX) Feb 25, 2011 - As the organic food trend continues to grow; more farmers are converting from conventional agriculture to organic production. One of the fastest growing markets in the U.S. is the production of organic milk. The growth of this industry has prompted many farmers to transition their land to organic feed grain production. With transition on the rise, it is necessary for these farmers to have effective and economical organic management practices.

A research team led by scientists from Penn State University and University of New Hampshire conducted a four-year study examining the impact of reduced-tillage and cover crops managed for hay and forage production on the agronomic and economic performance of feed grain production.

Two cropping system experiments were carried out in central Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2007. For the first year both plots rotated between a cover crop, corn and soybeans; one plot was managed with full tillage and the other with reduced tillage. Changes in weed populations, crop yields, and economic returns over the three year rotation were monitored by the research team.

From a weed management perspective, the results indicate that utilizing reduced tillage for organic production could present a challenge for some farmers. Weed populations were less responsive to the choice in cover crop than to the reduction in tillage. Weed populations dramatically increased in reduced tillage systems.

"This is a troubling result because the weed populations that increased included perennial species such as Canada thistle and bindweed which are very difficult to control without tillage once they become established. In a way, these perennial weeds can actually act as 'management drivers,' forcing organic growers to have to periodically utilize more intensive tillage practices to reduce their populations," says Richard Smith, University of New Hampshire.

The study also suggests that growers who want to transition to organic production while minimizing tillage may experience variable economic success depending on how they begin their rotation. Costs associated with manure and compost, which was purchased off-farm, also strongly influenced the economics of the systems.

The authors conclude that integrated systems that include field crop and dairy production, where manure sources are available on-site or locally, would improve the economics of these systems. While tillage did not have a significant effect on cumulative net returns in either experiment, there did appear to be a trend for higher returns in the rotations that utilized full-tillage.

According to Smith, further research will be necessary to determine the most cost-effective approaches to reducing tillage in transitional and organic production systems. Research is ongoing at Penn State University.

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High food prices threaten seething Mideast
Cairo (UPI) Feb 25, 2011
As if the Middle East wasn't battered enough by political turmoil, analysts say the region is likely to be hit by rising food prices - one of the problems that triggered the unrest. The political tempest that has unseated two presidents and is expected to see the downfall of a third could well be fueled by the rising oil prices that it has engendered. Oil prices have climbed pas ... read more

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