A Drug Used for Cattle Is Said to Be Killing Vultures
By JAMES GORMAN
New York Times
January 29, 2004
A mysterious and precipitous plunge in the number of
vultures in South Asia, which has pushed three species
to the brink of extinction, is probably a result of
inadvertent poisoning by a drug used widely in
livestock to relieve fever and lameness, scientists
Studies in Pakistan showed that the drug, diclofenac,
an anti-inflammatory commonly prescribed for arthritis
and pain in people, caused acute kidney failure in
vultures when they ate the carcasses of animals that
had recently been treated with it. The findings, which
followed a two-year investigation by an international
team of 13 scientists, were published online by the
Dr. J. Lindsay Oaks, an assistant professor of
veterinary medicine at Washington State University who
was the primary author of the report, said the
devastation of vulture populations was the first clear
case of major ecological damage caused by a
There has been growing concern among scientists and
environmentalists about the "vast amount of drugs that
end up in the environment one way or another," he said,
but no effect of this magnitude.
A study in 2002 by the United States Geological Survey
found traces of many different pharmaceuticals and
"personal care products" -- including steroids, insect
repellents and many others -- in the American water
supply. The effect of these traces is unknown, but the
concern is about the unexpected. One laboratory study
suggested, for example, that antidepressants like
Prozac could trigger spawning in some shellfish.
The vulture finding in South Asia comes as a surprise:
while environmental toxins had been suspected in the
deaths, a pharmaceutical drug had not. Scientists in
India and England suggested that disease was the cause
of vulture deaths in India, but they found no
infectious agent. The scientists who did the research
in Pakistan said the situation in India was likely to
be the same as that in Pakistan. But they said they did
not have conclusive evidence.
Dr. Oaks said the investigation, which began in 2000,
was prompted by reports of a 95 percent drop in the
number of Asian white-backed vultures (Gyps
bengalensis), Indian vultures (Gyps indicus) and
slender-billed vultures (Gyps tenuirostris). All three
are listed as critically endangered by the World
Conservation Union, the international environmental
agency based in Switzerland.
Thomas E. Lovejoy, president of the H. John Heinz III
Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, who
has long been a leader in environmental policy, said he
thought the paper made a "watertight" case for
diclofenac as the culprit in the vulture decline.
"I think what it actually says is that we really need
to look systematically at the use of pharmaceuticals
for veterinary purposes," Dr. Lovejoy said. He added,
"It does raise a question of whether we should be
looking more closely at the trace chemicals from human
In the United States diclofenac, which is in the same
class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as
ibuprofen, is not used in veterinary medicine, although
it is often prescribed for people. In Asia the drug is
widely given to cattle because it is cheap and because
losing livestock to lameness or fever can be
devastating to small farmers with only a few animals.
The rapid decline in vulture populations was first
reported in the late 1990's by Dr. Vibhu Prakash of the
Bombay Natural History Society. Vulture populations had
been shrinking gradually from loss of habitat and
disease throughout Asia, but what happened in India and
Pakistan was different. The decline was quick and
severe and posed a problem in a part of the world that
relied heavily on the ubiquitous vultures for the
efficient disposal of dead livestock.
The decline also threatened the traditions of the
Parsis, a sect of Zoroastrians who have traditionally
exposed their dead to the elements rather than burying
or cremating them. In Bombay they had to stop putting
their dead on the stone Towers of Silence because the
birds that once quickly consumed them were vanishing.
The plight of the vultures attracted worldwide
attention, prompting the Peregrine Society, a bird
conservation group based in Boise, Idaho, to begin an
investigation with the Ornithological Society of
Dr. Oaks, who is a diagnostician, said the
investigation of the cause of vulture deaths followed a
painstaking course. Examination of dead vultures
provided the first clues. Eighty-five percent showed
evidence of acute kidney failure. The scientists then
tested the vulture tissue for traces of obvious causes
of kidney failure: heavy metals, pesticides and other
chemicals. They found none of the substances they were
The next step was to survey veterinarians and the
sellers of veterinary drugs to find which medications
were regularly used in livestock, since domestic
animals formed a major portion of the vultures' diet.
Because an overdose of diclofenac can cause kidney
damage in humans, the drug seemed to be a likely cause
of death in the vultures. Further tests established
that there were residues of diclofenac in dead
vultures. The researchers then conducted experiments
that showed that the amount of diclofenac a vulture
might ingest from a carcass could kill it within days.
Unlike DDT, which devastated populations of birds of
prey, diclofenac does not accumulate in the tissues of
livestock or birds. But for the vultures, it is poison.
The drug, the researchers conclude, "may also be
responsible for vulture declines in the rest of the
Indian subcontinent wherever diclofenac is used for the
treatment of livestock." The Peregrine Fund, the
researchers and other organizations said theyintend to
push for a ban on the drug in veterinary use in India,
Nepal and Pakistan.
Organic and food news tidbits with an edge!
1/29/2004 By Organic Consumers Association
Feel free to forward this informative publication to family and friends,
place it on websites, print it, and post it. Knowledge is power.
WE NEED TO TALK
Interested in sharing your thoughts and ideas with hundreds of thousands
of other like-minded folks locally and around the world? Register free
for OCA's new online web forum and chat center. The OCA website has been
getting 2-6 million hits every month, so we decided it's time to open up
the communication channels and let everyone share their ideas, post
articles, comment on related issues, and come together with others who
share your concerns. Start talking with others in the organic consumers
community right now! http://www.organicconsumers.org/chat/index.php
MILLIONS AGAINST MONSANTO
The Organic Consumers Association announces the launch of its new
"Millions Against Monsanto" campaign. If you're talking about PCBs,
Agent Orange, Bovine Growth Hormone, water privatization, biopiracy,
untested/unlabeled genetically engineered organisms, or persecuting
small family farmers for seed saving, you're talking about the Monsanto
Corporation. Join OCA's campaign to mobilize one million consumers to
end Monsanto's global corporate bullying. Send an instant fax to
Monsanto, demanding the corporation:
-Stop intimidating small family farmers.
-Stop force-feeding untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods
-Stop using billions of dollars of U.S. taypayers' money to subsidize
genetically engineered crops--cotton, soybeans, corn, and canola.
MONSANTO BULLIES CANADIAN FAMILY FARMER
Seventy-three year-old Percy Schmeiser, a family farmer on the brink of
bankruptcy, is currently being attacked in Canada's Supreme Court by one
of the world's most controversial and powerful corporations, Monsanto.
Schmeiser's canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's genetically
engineered Round-Up Ready canola by pollution from nearby farms.
Monsanto says it doesn't matter how the contamination took place, and is
suing Schmeiser for millions of dollars, for unlicensed use of its
patented GE seeds. "I never had anything to do with Monsanto," says
Schmeiser. "If I would go to St. Louis (Monsanto Headquarters) and
contaminate their plots--destroy what they have worked on for 40
years--I think I would be put in jail and the key thrown away." Hundreds
of other farmers across North America have had their crops contaminated
by pollen from neighboring genetically engineered crops and have been
forced to pay fines to Monsanto. However, a thousand organic farmers in
Canada have decided to turn the tables, and have sued Monsanto for
polluting their farms with Frankengenes. Stand up with Percy Schmeiser
and family farmers and get involved with OCA's Millions Against Monsanto
MENDOCINO LEADS THE WAY
Northern California farmers and consumers are challenging Monsanto and
the biotech industry directly. In Mendocino County CA, voters will soon
be deciding whether or not to ban genetically modified crops, once and
for all. The vote will be held March 2, 2004 and would make the county
the first in the U.S. to ban genetically engineered crops. The ballot
initiative has been organized and supported by local farmers and
citizens, but they are being outspent 50 to 1 by biotech and
agribusiness front groups. OCA encourages people everywhere to follow
Mendocino's example and go on the offensive. Your help is needed:
USDA SAYS GMOs SPREAD LIKE WEEDS
A new study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
confirms that genetically modified organisms pose a dramatic risk to the
environment, given the fact that they simply cannot be contained, once
released into the wild.
ORGANIC FOOD BOOMS
Natural and organic food popularity within the foodservice sector of the
U.S. is exploding. According to current market statistics, if the
current growth curve continues, organic foodservice sales will reach $2
billion by 2007.
IS MONSANTO'S CONTROVERSIAL COW HORMONE CAUSING CANCER?
Since its release onto the market in 1994, Monsanto's recombinant Bovine
Growth Hormone (rBGH) has been banned in most industrialized nations,
other than the U.S., Brazil, and Mexico. While the genetically
engineered hormone is regularly being injected into 22% of the dairy
herd in the U.S. to force cows to give more milk, scientists warn that
it may increase your risks of getting cancer. Knowing consumers want to
avoid rBGH, Monsanto has successfully sued a number of dairies over the
years for labeling their products "rBGH-Free." After a decade of
forcing rBGH-tainted milk and dairy products on consumers, Monsanto has
recently admitted to having mysterious production problems in the
Austrian factory supplying them with rBGH. Last week, the company
announced it is being forced to cut back production of rBGH (trade name
Posilac) by 50%, due, in part, to failing FDA inspections at its
manufacturing plant. Rumors are circulating in the dairy industry that
rBGH, the first genetically engineered animal drug put into the U.S.
food supply, may be pulled off the market.
EPA BUSTED FOR BACKROOM INDUSTRY DEALS
A lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) for secretly allowing chemical companies exclusive power
over weakening environmental regulations. In 2000, under the new Bush
Administration, the EPA established the new "Endangered Species Task
Force." It has now been discovered that this powerful task force is
comprised of only 14 members, and they are all agro-chemical companies.
Thanks to the private "consultation" meetings from these industry
groups, the EPA has announced new pesticide regulations that eliminate
certain endangered species protections.
WHO SAYS SWEETS MAKE YOU FAT
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report addressing
global obesity as it relates to diet. To regulate caloric intake, the
report logically suggests limiting added sugar consumption. In response
to this recommendation, the United States Department of Health and Human
Services (lobbied heavily by sugar intensive U.S. food corporations) has
issued a response, stating that the WHO report is not based on good
MAD COW USA--STOP THE MADNESS
As news headlines of the Mad Cow crisis rock the nation, beef industry
lobbyists have effectively put a muzzle on regulatory decision-makers in
Washington, at least in regards to mandatory testing of all animals at
slaughter. However there are a number of Congress people, like Rep.
Miller of CA, who are calling for mandatory and universal testing. As
John Stauber, author of MAD COW USA, puts it, "unless there is a
complete and total ban on the billions of pounds of rendered byproduct
being fed to cattle and other livestock in the US, the disease will just
keep amplifying and spreading." Responding to consumer pressure, the FDA
announced on Jan. 26 they will no longer permit cows and calves to be
fed cattle blood or chicken manure, nor allow cow and ruminant brain
parts of animals 30 months or older to be used in cosmetics and
nutritional supplements. The FDA still gives the green light to feeding
slaughterhouse wastes, manure, and blood to chickens and pigs, however,
as well as feeding these animals back to cows. Join OCA's "Mad Cow
USA--Stop the Madness" campaign:
January 28, 2004
Judge dismisses slavery lawsuit
By Mike Robinson
CHICAGO - A federal judge yesterdaydismissed a lawsuit brought by descendants of slaves against corporations they contend profited from slavery, saying the plaintiffs had established no clear link to the companies they targeted. The court still left the door open for further litigation.
"Plaintiffs' attempt to bring these claimsmore than a century after the end of the Civil War and the formal abolition of slavery fails," U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle said. He said the plaintiffs' claims "are beyond the constitutional authority of this court" and that the lawsuit claimed no specific connection between the plaintiffs and the companies named as defendants.
But the ruling dismissed the case "withoutprejudice," meaning the slave descendants seeking reparations from American companies are allowed to file an amended complaint. Lionel Jean-Baptiste, a lawyer representing two women who are descendants of slaves, said he expected to do exactly that.
"I had an expectation that this wouldhappen," Mr. Jean-Baptiste said after Judge Norgle released his 75-page opinion. The lawsuit was first filed in U.S. District Court in New York in 2002 and later moved to Chicago. The lawsuit names companies such as the Lehman Brothers brokerage firm, Aetna Insurance and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, saying they or their corporate ancestors made money off slavery. Lawsuits filed across the country seeking reparations for slavery have been combined into a single court action.
Andrew McGaan, an attorney representingBrown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., one of the defendants, said he was "not surprised at all that the court decided to dismiss." He said the judge had agreed "with what appears to be every ground that we raised."
In his opinion, Judge Norgleacknowledged "the historic injustices and the immorality of the institution of human chattel slavery in the United States." But he said long-standing doctrine in matters involving political questions "bars the court from deciding the issue of slavery reparations, an issue that has been historically and constitutionally committed to the legislative and executive branches of our government."
As for the timing, he said, the plaintiffs hadfailed to show how the wrongs cited in the lawsuit fall within the statute of limitations. "Some may view this ruling as a condonation of ancient wrongs," Judge Norgle said. "That view is wrong. To suggest that the lions have won again and that the court is impervious to the human suffering at the core of this case would be absurd."
Mr. Jean-Baptiste had said that if theplaintiffs won their lawsuit, they would set up a trust fund to help the black community support social programs. Supporters of the lawsuit said at a news conference after the decision that they did not see it as a defeat so much as a step along the way in a broader movement aimed at obtaining reparations for slavery.
Richard E. Barber of Somerset, N.J., saidhe was the grandson of slaves and had grown up on a North Carolina tobacco farm. "We are here on behalf of all of those enslaved Africans who worked for 240 years without a payday," Mr. Barber said. He said there are people in America "who have trust funds built on the backs of slaves. Time to pay up."
Overweight America Is Hooked
On Refined Sugar
By Eric Margolis
Contributing Foreign Editor
NEW YORK -- Refined sugar is the world's most popular and widely used drug.
(Webster's Dictionary defines a drug as a "chemical substance used to alter the
state of body or mind.")
We don't usually think of sugar and other favourite stimulants such as coffee or tea
as "drugs," but they all have marked effects on the human body.
The UN's World Health Organization has launched an international campaign to cut
consumption of refined sugar, which it says is the principal culprit in the current
epidemic of obesity and its associated diseases, diabetes and cardiovascular
Americans, who comprise only 5% of the world's population, account for a
whopping 33% of total global sugar consumption - over 10 million tons annually.
According to the WHO, over half of Americans are overweight and 31% - 38.8
million people - are obese. Obesity rates in children have risen 50% in recent years.
Americans have become sugar junkies and, sad to say, a nation of fatties, the
world's most overweight people. Europeans laugh at obese American tourists as
they waddle down the street.
It's hard to find any processed food products these days without some form of
added sugars: sucrose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, maltodextrin. A can of pop
can easily contain eight tablespoons of refined sugar. France and Australia have
been forced to produce sweeter wines to cater to the sugar-craving U.S. market.
Carbohydrates, the basic material for all breads, potatoes, cakes and snack foods,
are quickly converted by the body into simple sugar, and then stored as fat.
Incredibly, the Bush administration is strongly opposing the WHO's campaign to
limit sugar intake to 10% of total caloric consumption. President George Bush
seems to think lots of sugar is just dandy.
Critics of Bush see this as yet another example of the radical, far-right ideology of
his administration, which seems never to have seen a tree it did not want to cut
down, an animal it did not want to shoot, or a park it did not want to pave.
But there's much more here than just Cro-Magnon anti-environmentalism. The
brilliant Republican strategist Kevin Phillips wrote in American Conservative that
his party has gone from being a small-government conservative movement to a
collection of special interests feeding off and backing ever bigger government.
Sugar is a prime example.
Even though Bush's home state of Texas has some of the highest rates of obesity,
heart disease and diabetes in the U.S., the president and his men insist heavy sugar
consumption does not cause disease.
The U.S. secretary of health actually claims, in the face of a mountain of scientific
evidence to the contrary, that it's fine to get 25% of one's calories from refined
The real reason for the administration's preposterous position is that the powerful
U.S. sugar industry is one of its biggest financial backers, and a major power in the
key electoral state of Florida. The sugar industry is also one of Washington's most
successful lobby groups and a huge contributor to congressmen and senators of
The result: the federal government subsidizes U.S. sugar producers to the tune of
$1.4 billion US annually. Import restrictions protect them from foreign competition
and keep domestic sugar prices three or four times higher than world prices. Sugar
remains the nation's most heavily subsidized crop at almost $500 per acre per
So American consumers pay inflated prices for sugar while tiny West Indian
sugar-producing islands, that depend on the crop, are shut out of the U.S. market.
Worse, sugar cultivation has damaging environmental effects. In Florida, 500,000
acres of the Everglades wetlands, one of America's natural treasures, have been
destroyed to make room for growing sugar.
Joining the sugar industry in opposing the WHO campaign are America's biggest
food and drink producers, led by the mighty Coca-Cola Company, and sugar
Instead of setting a positive example for the rest of the world by nudging
Americans to lower their sugar consumption, the Bush administration seems to see
UN efforts as some sort of nefarious foreign plot.
But action is urgently needed: the UN found that 60% of disease worldwide is now
caused by cardiovascular ailments, which are directly linked to over-consumption
of sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and increasing lack of exercise caused by too
much TV viewing.
All developed nations face this problem to varying degrees. In the Middle East,
Pakistan and India, over-consumption of fats and sugar are now the gravest public
health problem after malnutrition. But no one wants to give up their beloved
pastries, sweet tea or fatty mutton.
This column does not like government intervention in people's lives. Years ago,
when the anti-smoking jihad began, I wrote that fatty burgers killed 10 times more
people than cigarettes and, logically, should also be banned.
But the sugar epidemic has become such a peril to public health that government
should act. Not to confiscate sugar from people's homes, but to end sugar
subsidies, ban all advertising of sugar-laden products to children, get soft drinks out
of schools, and educate Americans about the perils of too much refined sugar.
Eric can be reached by e-mail at
What's the Beef?
By Tim King
The Christian Science Monitor
Tuesday 22 January 2004
The FDA weighs whether to allow meat and milk from cloned animals to enter
the food supply. Opponents fear the impact.
LONG PRAIRIE, MINN. - In the beginning, there was Dolly. Since then, one by one, beef and dairy
cattle, pigs, and goats have joined the Scottish sheep in a 21st century ark of cloned farm animals.
But while cloned animals have become common in the lab, they have yet to make it to the dinner
table. That could change if the Food and Drug Administration overturns a ban on the consumption of
cloned livestock. In a few years, their meat or milk could become a regular staple on America's menu.
The results could be significant: higher-quality meat and dairy products, foods engineered to be more
nutritious, and possibly lower grocery prices, thanks to the arrival of more productive animals. The
infant farm cloning industry is chomping at the bit to commercialize its research.
But consumer and animal advocates worry about the impact that cloning could have on human health,
not to mention the animals themselves. There is no evidence "that food from cloned animals is safe,"
said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America in a statement. "The FDA has only
limited data on the composition of food from cloned animals, and there have been no feeding studies to
see the impact of long-term consumption. All of the data come from groups who support animal
So far, the signs for the industry look positive. Last October, the FDA said that food products from
cloned livestock were essentially the same as those from conventional animals. It is working on a
risk-assessment plan that, for now, indicates there is little risk to humans who eat cloned livestock.
The release of the final assessment has yet to be scheduled.
Only a few hundred cloned cattle currently live in the United States, mostly on research farms, so a
repeal of the ban would have little immediate effect on the food supply. However, dropping the barrier
would dismantle a hurdle that has kept the industry in the starting blocks, proponents say.
"There's no question that the voluntary ban ... is holding the development of this business back," says
Don Coover, a rancher from Galesburg, Kan., and owner of SEK Genetics, a cattle-genetics company
with cloning partnerships. He has financed several cloning projects, including six clones of the
high-performance bull, Full Flush. Full Flush's calves are healthy 2-year-olds and have increased in
value more than five times their original production cost of $20,000, he says.
Cloned cattle like them could be used to breed uniform, high-quality offspring. "You could make
animals with less fatty meat or more nutritious milk," says Lisa Dry, communications director of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. "Or they could be more resistant to diseases,
which could make them safer for humans to eat."
Mr. Coover, who sells bull semen for artificial insemination, says there is a growing demand for that
product from top-quality bulls. "There's quite a lot of interest in buying semen from the clones, but we're
telling people that we're not going to do that," he says. "It's the obligation of the FDA to make a
decision that is in the best interest of ... the producers and the broader public."
The FDA's preliminary decision, which is part of the formal risk-assessment process and thus not
final, is based on findings from a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report. Although the NAS
study, commissioned by the FDA, said food from cloned animals was probably safe, it did express
"Limited sample size, health and production data, and rapidly changing cloning protocols make it
difficult to draw conclusions regarding the safety of milk, meat, or other products from ... cloned
[animals]," the NAS reported in August 2002.
But with cloning technology clipping along at a thoroughbred's pace, the FDA decided last fall to
release 11 pages of its risk assessment, which considers cows, sheep, pigs, and goats. "Food
products derived from animal clones and their offspring are likely to be as safe to eat as food from their
non-clone counterparts, based on all the evidence available," FDA officials reported in October. "These
scientific findings also showed that healthy adult clones are virtually indistinguishable from their
However, the FDA has acknowledged that it will explore animal-welfare issues. Research has shown
that the cloning process severely affects the genetic makeup of animals and can cause clones to
suffer. The Humane Society of the United States, for one, is deeply concerned about the ethical
implications of cloning.
"Deaths and deformities in cloned animals are the norm, not the exception, and these studies make
plain once again that these creatures are suffering terribly in the process," says Wayne Pacelle, senior
vice president of HSUS. "There is no societal value to this. This is just science run amok in the service
of the further industrialization of agriculture."
The main method of cloning involves taking the nucleus from a cell of the animal to be cloned and
placing it in an egg that has had its nucleus removed. A University of Missouri study on cloned pigs,
according to HSUS, reported that "out of 10 born, 5 died or were destroyed by researchers due to
defects such as heart failure, lameness, and anemia."
Jorge Piedrahita and researchers at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine
announced last month that they had cloned two Duroc pigs. "Certain genes were dis-regulated or
damaged," Mr. Piedrahita reported.
And in 2002 Rudolf Jaenisch, a researcher at MIT, reported that cloned mice have hundreds of
abnormal genes. Some have a genetic tendency toward obesity.
The NAS has pointed out that ill clones would probably be more stressed as they reach maturity, and
it suggested the animals might shed more pathogens in their manure. That would increase the
potential of contaminated carcasses entering processing plants and, later, the food supply.
"While some forms of animal cloning may have inherent benefits, others are hard to justify," said the
Consumer Federation's Ms. Foreman in a statement. "The FDA needs to make, or ask another
government agency to make, some decisions about appropriate uses of cloning."