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LONDON (Reuters) - Genetically modified chickens could be the drug factories of the future, according to New Scientist magazine.

Two U.S. biotechnology companies have already produced genetically modified birds that can lay eggs containing drugs, proteins and antibodies to ward off illness.

GeneWorks of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has up to 60 birds that carry genes that enable them to make human proteins or antibodies in their eggs.

"Although the company will not name the proteins, it says both have great potential for treating disease. According to its chief operating officer Steve Sensoli, GeneWorks has deals to make 14 proteins for six drug companies around the world," the magazine said.

Another company, AviGenics of Athens, Georgia, is producing birds that carry a human interferon, or natural antibiotic, to treat cancer. The firm says the birds have already passed on the interferon gene to the next generation of birds.

"With hens producing an average of 200 eggs each year, and 100 milligrams or more of a drug in each egg, both companies believe the yields could be large and lucrative," according to the magazine.

The companies insert the genes that make the proteins into harmless viruses to get them into the birds.

"We microinject it into the pronucleus in the egg yolk," Carl Marhaver, the president of AviGenics, told the magazine.

Neither company has published its achievements in the scientific press because they claim it is too commercially sensitive.

"It's a shame we can't blow our horn a bit more," said Sensoli.


CLONING: Ever think that all cows look indistinguishable? It might not be long before they ARE indistinguishable, even genetically.

The announcement in February that scientists had successfully cloned sheep and monkeys begs many questions about the laboratory engineering of farm animals. The news raises the prospect that (1) pigs and cattle could be specially designed as human organ donors and (2) herds of cloned farm animals might allow for "more efficient care and slaughter." For example, cloning could lead to pigs that produce lean, tender meat, chickens that produce low-cholesterol eggs, or the production of steaks or pork chops that are similar in taste and appearance.

On this last point, Roger McCaw, a beef specialist with NCSU extension said, "In my opinion it could be implemented in a very short time. From a technical standpoint, I would expect it within three years." McCaw said that the beef and dairy industries would likely be the first to benefit from cloning since both already have extensive genetic and performance databases that would help identify prime candidates for cloning.

Cloning could "revolutionize" animal agriculture and breeding, says Neal First, professor of animal biotechnology and reproductive biology at the University of Wisconsin. All milk cows could produce 40,000 pounds of milk per year, compared to the 13,000 pounds produced by the average dairy cow. This could allow for a reduction in herd size, cut food costs and protect the environment, he says. Among the downsides--many dairy farmers would go out of business.

Sources: Matt Crenson, "It's a Brave New World--Especially if you are a sheep," AP Science Editor, Feb 25, 1997; Reuters, "US livestock industry eyes cloning cautiously," Feb 24, 1997.

HUNGER and MEAT CONSUMPTION: A study by two Stanford University researchers has found that two or three bad grain crop years in a row will hurt the world's poorest, who already spend much of their income on food, the most. The researchers also note that the potential harm done by grain shortages is exacerbated by the fact that 38 percent of the world's grain production is being fed directly to livestock. In 1995 and 1996, the price of wheat rose 40 percent and the price of corn rose 60 percent. Such escalations in price not only heighten the risk of hunger, they also heighten the chance for social unrest and political destabilization, the researchers conclude.

Source: "Food Supply Fluctuations Could Cause Crises for World's Poor, Researchers Say," News/Business Editors & Agricultural Reporters, Business Wire, Feb 13, 1997.


McDONALD'S and CORPORATE WELFARE: The US Libertarian Party is calling for an end to government subsidies to multibillion dollar companies like McDonald's. The US Department of Agriculture funneled $1.6 million in tax money to McD's to help them advertise their fast foods to Europeans. "Anyone with a McNugget of common sense should be outraged by programs like these," says Libertarian Party chairman, Steve Dasbach.

Source: Libertarian Party press release, Jan 31, 1997.

McDONALD'S and INDIA: According to the Washington Post, the first McDonald's to open in India is a big hit. Located in upscale south Delhi near a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop, the three-story McD's is home to large crowds. A second store that opened in Bombay a week after the Delhi store drew 12,000 customers on its first day. Neither store serves beef or pork. The stores serve burgers made from mutton and chicken, as well as veggie burgers and "Vegetable McNuggets." Veggie items are cooked by a separate staff and made with eggless mayonnaise. Many Indians protest the arrival of McDonald's and other fast-food outlets in their country as a form of industrial-world profiteering and cultural pollution.

Source: Kenneth J. Cooper, "It's Lamb Burger, Not Hamburger," Washington Post, Nov 4, 1996.

NATURAL FOODS SALES: In 1992, 12 percent of senior managers of traditional supermarkets said it was "very important" to offer natural products. In 1996, the figure jumped to 51 percent. Why? To meet consumer demand, boost sales, attract new customers and anticipate "an upcoming trend," according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Source: Robert Steyer, "Organic Food Industry Booms As People Change Eating Habits, Lifestyles," St. Louis Dispatch, Feb 24, 1997.

ORGANIC FOODS: The sale of organic foods reached a new high in 1995: $2.8 billion. The US Dept of Agriculture reports that the acreage of organic farmland more than doubled between 1991 and 1994.

Source: Christine Blank, Coming to Market From All Directions," Vegetarian Times, Nov 1996, p24.

ORGANIC FOODS and JAPAN: Japanese officials expect that country's market for organic foods to triple to about $2.6 billion by the year 2000. The trend is attributed to growing interest in health and food safety among Japanese consumers.

Source: "Organic Foods Make Inroads within Japan," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, Dec 30, 1996.


PEOPLE and WENDY'S DAVE THOMAS: Founder of Wendy's Dave Thomas underwent heart bypass surgery in December, 1996. Wendy's spokespersons denied any connection between the bacon cheeseburgers and other fast-food fare that Thomas hawks on television and the 64-year-old's recent heart troubles. Earlier in 1996, Wendy's Chairman James W. Near, 58, died of a heart attack while attending the Olympics in Atlanta.

Source: "Founder of Wendy's, Thomas, to Undergo Heart Bypass Surgery," Wall Street Journal, Dec 17, 1996.

PEOPLE and TEXAS LIVESTOCK OFFICIAL: In May 1996, the official in charge of promoting Texan cattle announced that she has been a vegetarian for the past 14 years. Diane Smith, who oversees livestock programs as assistant commissioner of the state agricultural department said, "It has nothing to do with my work. It's a personal preference."

Source: "Vegetarian Heads Texas Beef Program," Reuter's News Service, May 11, 1996.


SCHOOL LUNCHES and THE NATIONAL CATTLEMEN'S BEEF ASSOCIATION: The NCBA plans to reach 10,515,700 school children with its "educational" kits over the next five year.

Source: "Carrot and Stick," Vegetarian Times, Dec 1996, p14.

SCHOOL LUNCHES and YOGURT: Beginning in March, students can chose yogurt instead of hamburgers, sloppy joes or other meaty entrees as their main course in school cafeterias. In a move opposed by the cattle industry, the USDA has added yogurt to the list of foods that cafeteria managers can substitute for meat, including cheese, beans, eggs and peanut butter.

The USDA provided schools with 146 million pounds of beef during the 1995-6 school year.

Source: "Where's the beef? It's in the yogurt," Associated Press, The Orlando Sentinel, March 4, 1997. "Yogurt May Replace Meat in Some School Lunches," Washington Post, March 4, 1997.

VEGETARIAN DIETS IN PRESS DRAW FIRE: The March issue of Muse, a children's magazine affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution featured a cover story on vegetarian diets and raised a cloud of controversy. Congress members and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association vehemently objected, noting that the Smithsonian is a federal institution. Though the Muse story was quite even-handed, offering views on why some children eat vegetarian diets and others don't, the protest compelled the Smithsonian to apologize immediately and pull the magazine from its shelves and Web page. Muse publisher Robert Harper defended the story, saying that it fit into the company's tradition of getting kids to think. "We are upset that people think we were trying to tell children how to think," he told the Washington Post. Muse has about 80,000 readers.

Excerpts from the Muse story follow: