News briefs on Congress denying protection to 240 endangered species, Brazil nut proteins in soybeans causing allergic reactions and saving the planet using an earth-friendly shopping guide.
Endangered Species Protection, Soybean Allergies and Earth Friendly Shopping
It was originally enacted to protect popular American
animals like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the blue
whale. But now, owing to a congressionally mandated
moratorium imposed in April of 1995, the Endangered Species
List has gone a record amount of time without a new species
listing. According to William Snape, legal director for the
Washington, D.C.— based environmental protection
group Defenders of Wildlife, the list is facing its own
"The Republican Congress wants to shut down the Endangered
Species program." Says Snape, "They don't want any new
species to come onto the list even if they deserve it."
Snape describes the method by which the 104th Congress
passed the moratorium as an act of legislative "trickery."
"What they did," says Snape, "was attach a completely
unrelated rider onto a $5 billion defense spending bill.
This technique is one that they have become quite masterful
at. They stick all these very nefarious and tricky riders
onto spending bills and budget bills that the president
sometimes is forced to sign because there are a lot of
other things riding upon it."
Since its implementation, the moratorium has prevented over
240 new species from being added to the Endangered Species
List. "At this point the listings program for the Fish and
Wildlife Service is entirely shut down," says Assistant
Director of Ecological Services Jamie Clark.
Some of the animals that are facing virtually assured
extinction are the jaguar (only a few Mexican populations
remain), the Atlantic salmon (only 120 returned to their
native rivers in Maine to spawn last year), the Florida
black bear (less than 1,500 remain), and the Quino
checkerspot butterfly (only six known populations are in
existence). All of these species were proposed for listing
by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but were denied because
of the moratorium. There have been over 100 plant species
proposed as well.
Ironically, this record-setting moratorium has taken place
during the administration of revered wildlife
conservationist Bruce Babbitt. Although some have
criticized the secretary of the interior for not working
harder to help lift the moratorium, Jamie Clark lauds
Babbitt's efforts: "Secretary Babbitt has worked during
this administration to insure an efficient implementation
of these agencies. He has worked to insure that it provides
fairness and flexibility, and has probably pushed the Fish
and Wildlife Service further than we ever thought we could
go. But Bruce Babbitt can't trump Congress. Bruce Babbitt
didn't do this — Congress did."
Specifically, it was Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX),
who sponsored the moratorium amendment in 1995. A
spokesperson for the senator's office states that Hutchison
didn't design the moratorium to save taxpayers' money but
rather to "strike a balance between the need to preserve
species, and to protect private property rights of private
"My sense," says Defenders of Wildlife's William Snape, "is
that the Endangered Species Act is sort of a red meat issue
for the far right. Because the Endangered Species Act even
dares to regulate private property, the far right has
decided that it is going to make an example of the
Endangered Species Act to the rest of the public."
When asked if the moratorium was expected to be lifted in
the near future, Hutchison's office remarked, "Not by the
end of this fiscal year."
Environmental experts suggest that the greatest hope for
the reinstatement of the Endangered Species Act is the
outspoken support of the public.
"I don't think that the majority of the congressional
delegation understands that the American public is against
extinction and that the American public supports species
conservation," says the Fish and Wildlife Division's Jamie
For information on the current status of the Endangered
Species Act contact the following:
Fish and Wildlife Division
c/o The Defenders of Wildlife
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
Senate Office Building
The Brazil Nut Incident
They were light tan, small, and ovular, like conventional
soybeans. But during a study sponsored by the Pioneer
Hi-Bred International company, scientists at the University
of Nebraska found these genetically engineered beans to be
anything but ordinary. The transgenic soybeans,which Pioneer HiBred had
infused with Brazil nut proteins, contained a potentially deadly allergen
know as 2S Albumin.
"An allergen is a protein that people react to, and can
cause reactions ranging from itching to upset stomach to
death," said Dr. Marion Nestle, a molecular biologist and
nutritionist with New York University. "I really thought
that the possibility of transferring an allergen from one
food to another was a remote one. I was floored when I
heard about this."
The Brazil nut incident has re-ignited the ongoing debate
over the Food and Drug Administration's labeling of
genetically engineered foods. According to Dr. Margaret
Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington,
D.C., the FDA is disregarding the public's desire to have
genetically engineered foods labeled.
"Almost every survey that has been done says that consumers
would like to be told," says Mellon. "But consumer desires
and fifty cents will get you about a cup of coffee at the
Dr. Mellon claims that although the FDA does have a policy
of labeling biogenetically engineered foods, it is one that
caters to the biotech companies themselves.
"The FDA policy relies heavily on the industry in making
its decisions about premarket review and notification.
Instead of making these decisions itself, the agency
provides decision trees for industry. The policy relies
almost entirely on the industry to make the right
decisions. Since the FDA will not be aware of the full
range of genetically engineered products, it will not be in
a position to overrule these decisions."
Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, all GRAS
(Generally Recognized As Safe) substances won't require
premarket government approval. The labeling of all other
foods is the responsibility of the biotech companies
themselves, a responsibility that Dr. Mellon feels won't be
fulfilled unless it serves a company's needs.
"Companies," she says, "will voluntarily label engineered
food only when the engineering has produced a trait with
direct appeal or benefit to the consumer."
In the case of the allergenic soybeans, Pioneer Hi-Bred
International acted quickly and responsibly in publicly
reporting their findings.
"When we did the first work, we knew there was a potential
for allergenicity, and that's why we sponsored the
University of Nebraska study," says Pioneer Hi-Bred
spokesman Tim Martin. "When we actually got confirmation
that there was an allergen involved we decided to
discontinue the program and look in other directions."
To date, only one biogenetically engineered food, the
Flavr-Savr tomato, has been certified as marketable by the
Food and Drug Administration. The Flavr-Savr, designed by
Calgene Incorporated, is a tomato designed to stay fresh
longer than conventional tomatoes. According to Calgene,
the Flavr-Savr will be in stores starting January 1997. It
will be labeled as a genetically modified food and will
come with an information packet explaining the science of
genetic food modification.
Most experts agree that the presence of modified foods in
our stores, our restaurants, and our kitchens is imminent.
According to John Henkel of the FDA consumer magazine,
approximately 100 to 150 biogenetically engineered foods
will be introduced within the next four years.
When asked how she predicts the Food and Drug
Administration, university scientists, and major biotech
companies will find a successful resolution to the current
labeling situation, Dr. Nestle admits, "We don't really
Mother Nature's Shopping List
"It's easy to save the planet," says author Michael Shook,
"you just have to know where to start."
According to Shook, the idea behind Mother Nature's
Shopping List came to him after he'd read many of the
other environmental books that were already out on the
"I read them," says Shook, "and I thought, 'these are good,
but they're starting in the wrong place: Most of those
books focused on recycling, and I wanted to go one step
further and write about pre-cycling."
Mother Nature's Shopping List is a simple guide to
making planet-conscious purchases at the supermarket, the
hardware store, the clothing store, the automotive shop,
the office supply center, the appliance store, the drug
store, and the garden center. The book also has several
special sections with titles like "Shopping for Baby,"
"Odds and Ends," and "Getting Involved."
"One of the nice things about the book," says Shook, "is
that it tells you what companies are trying to become earth
friendly, and which ones aren't. Also, it includes some
great recipes for making nontoxic household products that
make a small impact on both the planet and the pocketbook."
When he's not writing books, Shook pursues the life of a
passionate Colorado outdoorsman, spending his days creating
angling guides for river regions across the country, and
his nights thinking up an assorted variety of new and
different ways to save the world.
For more information on Mother Nature's Shopping
List by Michael D. Shook (Citadel Press, 1995; $9.95
U.S./ $13.95 Canada), contact Carol Publishers.
The following is a list of potential dangers
inherent in the production and distribution of genetically engineered
NEW TOXICANTS : Many plants naturally
produce a variety of compounds that maybe toxic when used
for genetic engineering.
QUALITY : The nutritional quality of food
may be diminished as a result of genetic engineering.
COMPOSITION : New substances may
significantly alter the composition of commonly understood
ALLERGENS : New proteins that cause
allergic reactions may enter the food supply.
Antibiotic-resistant genes in genetically engineered food
may diminish the effectiveness of some antibiotics inhuman
and domestic animal diseases.
UNEXPECTED EFFECTS : Genetically
engineered foods may cause effects that scientists cannot
SIDE EFFECTS : The
deletion of genes may have harmful side effects.
Genetic engineering may produce "counterfeit freshness,"
giving the illusion that a food is healthier than it
FEED RISK : Engineered feed may pose risk
to domestic animals.
WILDLIFE : Genetically engineered food
crops may harm wildlife and change habitats.
UNCHARACTERIZED GENES : Uncharacterized
genetic material and gene products may be added to foods.
1 From the National Wildlife Federation's "Information
Packet on Genetically Engineered Food," August 28, 1992.