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FEED: Union of Concerned Scientists Newsletter on Food & Farming

Union of Concerned Scientists
FEED - Food & Environment Electronic Digest
December 2005
Read FEED online at:


1. "Pharma crops" bring few economic benefits to communities
2. Gene splicing process creates food with unexpected allergenicity
3. Bon Appetit will sell cage-free eggs
4. Public doesn't trust food from cloned animals
5. Antibiotics in your vegetables?
6. Organic pigs are healthier

1. "Pharma crops" bring few economic benefits to communities
A new report analyzes the economic effects of crops genetically
engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals.
Though the industry often asserts that "pharma crops" will bring
economic benefits to farmers and rural communities, the report
finds that most of the benefits will go to corporations that
hold crop patents, not to growers or their communities.
Furthermore, the expected reductions in drug production costs
may be offset by hefty costs of containment to avoid
contaminating the food supply. The report was written by Dr.
Robert Wisner, an agricultural economist at Iowa State
University, and commissioned by UCS. Read the report, The
Economic Benefits of Pharmaceutical Crops: Potential Benefits
and Risks for Farmers and Rural Communities, at

2. Gene splicing process creates food with unexpected
Australian scientists have abandoned development of genetically
modified peas after a decade of work, because mice that were fed
the peas developed an allergic lung inflammation. The peas were
modified by inserting a gene from beans to confer insect
resistance. Neither the peas nor the beans alone triggered the
immune reaction in mice, but the way the pea plant modified the
bean protein apparently conferred new allergenic properties. The
story suggests that proteins from non-allergenic foods may pose
allergenicity risks when expressed in transgenic crops, and that
animal tests should play a greater role in the safety evaluation
of genetically engineered food. If these genetically engineered
peas had been developed in the United States under the U.S.
regulatory system, the allergenicity of the altered bean protein
likely would have escaped detection, and the peas probably would
have been allowed on the market. Read the study in The Journal
of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, at

3. Bon Appetit will sell cage-free eggs
Bon Appetit Management Company is the first food service company
to adopt a policy to buy only cage-free eggs. Most egg-laying
hens spend their lives packed into wire "battery" cages. The
company will transition to cage-free eggs over the next year.
Bon Appetit, which serves specialty venues, universities, and
corporations at 190 locations nationwide, joins Whole Foods
Market, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, Jimbo's Naturally, and
Earth Fare food retailers in eliminating battery-produced egg
sales. Visit to read a
press release by Bon Appetit.

4. Public doesn't trust food from cloned animals
Sixty-six percent of survey respondents are "uncomfortable" with
animal cloning and 43 percent think food from cloned animals
would be unsafe to eat, according to a poll conducted for the
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. In a different poll by
ViaGen Inc., a Texas cloning company, 35 percent of people who
were told that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was likely
to allow products from cloned animals in the U.S. food supply
said that they would never buy it. Thirty-four percent said they
would consider buying it after doing additional research, and 29
percent said they were currently willing to buy it. Currently
the FDA has no plans to label food from cloned animals, leaving
the public with no choice in the matter. Read a Washington Post
article about the polls at

5. Antibiotics in your vegetables?
Even people who avoid meat may still be at risk of developing an
antibiotic-resistant illness that originated in animals. A
recent study found that vegetables fertilized with manure from
animals fed antibiotics can absorb the antibiotics. Consumers
could experience allergic reactions to certain antibiotics, or
develop antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections after the
antibiotics kill off susceptible bacteria in their bodies. The
findings may not apply to organic vegetables because organic
regulations specify that manure must be either composted or
applied to a field no later than 90 days before harvest, twice
as long as the time period for manure that was used in the
study, and long enough for many antibiotics to break down. Read
the abstract in the Journal of Environmental Quality, at

6. Organic pigs are healthier
Organic pigs have a 30 percent lower prevalence of disease than
conventionally raised pigs in Denmark. A large study by the
Danish Veterinary and Food Administration that compared
veterinary records of 21,000 pigs from organic farms and 202,000
pigs from conventional farms found respiratory disease in 12
percent of organic pigs and 29 percent of conventionally raised
pigs. Organic pigs also had a lower incidence of
gastrointestinal disease, although they had more parasitic
worms. The results suggest that organic management of livestock
confers overall health benefits to the animals as well as to
consumers. More information about the study is available in the
International Organic FQH Research Association's newsletter, at (pdf)