Madder cows

I fear soon the phrase, "eating crow" may be replaced with a more up-to-date sentiment, "eating beef." Researchers in Europe looking at the path of mad cow disease in animals have discovered some preliminary, disturbing news. It seems that proteins responsible for the disease can, in certain conditions, find a way into other organs. This raises the concern that there is a greater risk of encountering mad cow in slaughtered animals, even if the brain and spinal cord is removed. U.S. scientists have quickly countered saying that the risk is still slim, as sick animals are pulled from the system -- but that's only if we're paying attention 100 percent of the time. Let's hope we're paying attention.

UPDATE: The first fatality in Japan from the human variant of mad cow (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) was announced today. The man ate beef from Britian during a one-month stay in the country in 1989. Humans can incubate Creutzfeldt-Jakob for 10 to 20 years.


More mouths, less money

A report (among many, it seems) from the United Nations outlines the need to push participating nations a bit harder to achieve food program goals set in 2000. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 1.2 billion people live in extreme povery; more than 800 million of these people are involved in rural agriculture in some form. More than 850 million of the 1.2 billion are "chronically hungry." Five million children die each year from malnutrition.

There's not much in this call that is concrete -- the FAO urges the "developing and developed world to take immediate action." The worse news? Money towards rural development -- relief for the impoverished areas that need it the most -- has fallen since 1998. Read about the latest statistics on world food "insecurity" here (FAO report, 2004).


Better behavior at the trough

The Department of Health and Human Services today released updated guidelines for dietary health, recommendations that are updated every five years. In the past half-decade, there has been a lot to be concerned about. Obesity is now a national epidemic; we've learned a lot more about food additives and the potential dangers of trans fats; and still, we eat too much and move too little. Whether we "get it" and start changing our habits remains to be seen -- we're still a nation obsessed with the quick fix, and finding time to jog or simply walk faster every day (while not eating dinner) will be tough, indeed.

Higher on the "no-no" list are sugar and fat, while "good" fats -- omega-3s in fish, and the lot -- are encouraged. At least 60 minutes of "moderate-intensity physical activity" is recommended to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with 90 minutes the suggested dose for gradual weight loss. Recommended salt intake is 2300 mg, or about one teaspoon. A Quarter Pounder with cheese contains about 1200 mg of salt. Remember that next time you cruise through the drive thru.


Your blight, my boon

Soybean rust has become more than a headache for Brazilian farmers, now faced with higher costs to fight the blight while the price of soy spirals downward. This Times piece points out that although Brazil was expected to overtake the U.S. in soybean production next year, the threat of rust will probably dampen those expectations. (Meanwhile, although the U.S. had a bumper crop this year, rust was found in some Southern states after the harvest. 2005 will be "wait-and-see.")

Asian soy rust is a disease that attacks the leaves of soybean plants, quickly stripping them and exposing early pods. It moves quickly once it's established (see this picture on Syngenta's Web site) and so far, the only way to prevent the spread is to apply pesticides. Unsurprisingly, the chemical industry is far from saddened that this disease may turn into an epidemic. From the Times article:

Brazilian farmers are expected to spend $500 million on fungicides this season to combat soy rust, up from $350 million in the last harvest, according to industry estimates. Bayer CropScience, for instance, already sells three types of fungicide for the disease and plans to introduce a fourth next year.

"The emergence of soy rust," said Peter Ahlgrimm, director of institutional relations at Bayer CropScience in São Paulo, "has created a promising new market."