Saturday, February 16, 2008

Some links, 2-16-08: bats, beets, and budgets

A widespread affliction is threatening bat populations in the Northeast.
The disease was first discovered in a cave near Albany, N.Y., in January 2007 and was soon found in three more within 7 miles. In March, officials at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation determined that as many as 11,000 bats had died from the disease, dubbed "white nose syndrome" because of a flaky white fungus on the nose of many of the sick and dead bats.


Scientists say they are extraordinarily concerned because the disease is already affecting four species - including the Indiana bat, recognized by the federal government as an endangered species - and mortality has reached as high as 97 percent in some caves. In one New York cave, the population crashed from 1,300 bats several years ago to 38 this year.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has asked the public to stay out of caves, mines, and other bat havens in the Northeast, for fear that humans may be serving as a vector of disease spread.

Bats are important in insect control, and diminished populations could have a negative impact on area crops.


The Jew and the Carrot covers this year's big new GMO story: Roundup Ready sugar beets. Like Monsanto's other Roundup Ready products, the GE sugar beets will revel in the application of herbicides; the EPA has increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on beetroots by 5000% in a remarkably accommodating gesture. There are other problems, too. Read the post, by a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety.


The new Bush budget for 2009 proposes to cut public funding for agriculture research at land-grant schools by nearly 1/3. Without public funding, our research institutions are dependent on corporate dollars to determine research priorities. As Nancy Scola writes at Alternet,
When it comes to how industry-university relations shape academic research, UCLA's Andrew Neighbour is the person to talk to. While an administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, Neighbour managed the school's landmark multiyear and multimillion-dollar relationship with Monsanto. (Note: WashU is a private institution.) "There's no question that industry money comes with strings," Neighbour admits. "It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by."

And so the issue at hand becomes one of the questions that are being asked at public land-grant schools. While Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, et al., are paying the bills, are agricultural researchers going to pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as "How will this new corn variety impact the independent New York farmer?" Or, "Will this new tomato make eaters healthier?"
This is a fairly long and complex piece, which is definitely worth a read.

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