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Science Policy Around the Web – April 20, 2018

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By: Jennifer Patterson-West, Ph.D.


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source: USEPA via flickr

Food waste

Grocery Stores Get Mostly Mediocre Scores On Their Food Waste Efforts

Food waste is often thought of as unavoidable. Everyone creates food waste. However, steps can be taken to minimize or eliminate waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued simple guidelines to reduce food waste. These ‘guidelines’ have been outlined into a hierarchical ranking based on their effectiveness at preventing food waste. The most effective tier is ‘Source Reduction’, which entails reducing the total volume of food generated. Source reduction reduces pollution and cost associated with the growth, preparation, transport, and disposal of excess food.   Producers can save money by reducing the cost of labor and other resources (such as water and pesticides) associated with unused food.

The second tier is focused at ‘Feeding the Hungry’ by donating extra food. In 2016, it was estimated that ~15.6 million American households faced low or very low food-security at some point. Low food security is defined as households that obtained enough food by participating in food assistance programs, such as community food pantries, whereas very low food security applies to those that experienced a disruption in normal eating patterns due to insufficient money or other resource for food. Taken into account, that over 38 million tons of food was wasted in 2016 alone, the donation of excess food could significantly reduce food-insecurity in America. Food donation programs have already been implemented by the 10 largest U.S. supermarkets. To promote donations by corporations, potential tax deduction for food donation are available to companies and they are protect from liability by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.

The third tier promotes diverting food scraps to ‘Animal Feed’. Converting food scraps to animal feed is often cheaper then transporting it to a landfill. Although this practice has been implemented by farmers for centuries, corporations can also participate by donating extra food to producers of animal feed or zoos. The fourth and fifth tiers are ‘Industrial Uses’ and ‘Composting’, respectively. For industrial purposes, food can be converted into biofuel or other bio-products. Composting, which creates nutrient-rich soil amendments, is a great option for inedible parts of food waste that remains after all other actions are taken.

These guidelines were recently used by the Center of Biological Diversity and The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign to score the 10 largest U.S. supermarkets for their handing of food waste. A report of their findings was recently released. They found that the surveyed companies focused on donating and recycling food waste instead of preventing it with none of them achieving an A scoring. A limitation to this survey is incomplete tracking and reporting of the amount of food waste throughout an entire company. Some practices that were specifically noted as reducing food waste include Whole Food’s use of produce that is pulled from shelves to make prepared meals, Walmart’s replacement of eggs within partially damaged packages to reduce waste, and Walmart’s standardization of expiration labels.

(Menaka Wilhelm, NPR)

The opioid crisis

Nursing homes routinely refuse people on addiction treatment – which some experts say is illegal

Opioids account for more than 50% of all drug overdoses, however, total deaths are likely underestimated due to under coding in mortality data The opioid epidemic which was largely isolated to Appalachian communities and minority populations in the 1990s has rapidly spread across the United Stated into more affluent suburban communities. The surge in opioid use correlates with an acceleration in the prescription of legal opioid pain relievers, such as OxyCotin. For this reason, many individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) became addicted due to long-term use of prescription pain medication. This link between prescription drugs and addiction are likely why evidence-based medication-assisted treatments (MAT) are treated skeptically by the public.

MAT has been shown to reduce symptoms of withdrawal, thereby significantly reducing the risk of relapse and overdose. These drugs, such as methadone or buprenorphine, reduce cravings associate with withdrawal by activating the same receptors in the brain without providing the euphoria associated with other opioid use. Contrary to evidence, many patients are directed away from medications and toward treatment programs that have no scientific or medical evidence supporting their efficacy. In fact, only 1 out of 5 OUD patients receive MAT of any kind.

Two major barriers to MAT, including prescribing restrictions and issues finding extended care facilities. Currently, authorized physicians can use buprenorphine to treat a maximum of 275 patients for opioid dependency. In order to get authorization to prescribe buprenorphine, physicians must apply for a waiver from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. However, the physician must have already been authorized under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 to prescribe buprenorphine to up to 30 patient for one year prior to applying. These restrictions are thought to be essential to limit over use of these drugs; however, they increase the administrational burden on physicians and decrease assess to MAT. In an effort to expand access to treatment, the declaration of public health emergency under the Trump administration in 2017 gave doctors the ability to prescribe medications for addiction remotely through telemedicine services.

In addition to limited access to MAT treatment, patients also face the possibility that if they receive MAT they may be refused for admittance into nursing home facilities. For instance, a trade group in Ohio released a written statement that none of its more than 900 member facilities will accept patient receiving either methadone or buprenorphine for addiction. Experts exert that refusal of OUD patients receiving MAT is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for nursing facilities. Despite an unknown prevalence of such restrictions, Massachusetts Department of Public Heal release a circular letter in 2016 providing guidance for nursing facilities caring for patient on medications for addiction. Similar efforts can be expanded by other states to educate nursing facilities of their legal obligations and to provide guidance for proper care.

(Allison Bond, STAT news)

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April 20, 2018 at 9:29 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 2, 2018

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By: Patrice J. Persad, PhD

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source: pixabay

The Environment

Plastic Pollution Is Killing Coral Reefs, 4-Year Study Finds

Plastic, plastic everywhere / Disease of corals on the flare. A large-scale investigation surveying coastal regions of the Asia-Pacific, including parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia, found that approximately 11.1 billion pieces of plastic littered coral reefs. Given that the populous China and Singapore were omitted from the analyses, the bona fide count may be higher than this published value. Supporting the hypothesis that plastic, a manmade product, may find it’s way into coral reefs proximal to regions with more humans and with less developed waste management systems, the less densely populated Australian locations had the smallest numbers of plastic items while heavily populated Indonesian sites had the largest numbers.

Although quantification of plastic occupying the seas, especially on the visible surface, were pursued by other research groups, a link between plastic and the physiological state of the corals beneath was understudied and, thus, never established. Upon viewing diseased phenotypes of coral reefs imprisoned by plastic, Joleah B. Lamb and colleagues constructed regression models to determine if coral disease presence was associated with the presence of plastic debris. The likelihood of having skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes, or black band disease increased significantly in the onslaught of plastic debris. The team also noted differences in disease likelihood for coral anatomy/morphology categories; the massive coral morphology, the most intricate coral structure, had the highest disease likelihood when engulfed with plastic items (although this category had the lowest likelihood of plastic waste encounters).

How does plastic precisely contribute to coral disease? Researchers are not completely sure. However, there are several hypotheses. Plastic debris cloak coral reefs and bar contact with the sun’s rays. Solar interaction is vital because coral species—those involved in reef generation—have a symbiotic relationship with the photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae. The algae nurture these corals and assist with the formation of the reef’s calcium infrastructure. Another sea of thought is that the plastic items on reefs may be gouging coral tissue and allowing pathogenic microorganisms from surrounding waters to creep in. A third explanation is that the chemical compounds constituting plastic itself may incite disease outbreak on coral reefs.

The coral reef is an ecosystem with brilliant biodiversity rivaling that of the terrestrial tropical rainforest. Like the mangrove forest and seagrass communities, the coral reef is both a nursery and asylum for various fish and invertebrate species. If these facts on the mere ecological worth of protecting coral reefs do not compel citizens, then the economic worth might. These natural underwater marvels rake in billions of dollars from tourism, aquaculture, and fishing. Coral reefs prevent beach battery in the midst of titanic tempests. The oceans and waterways are interconnected, along with the ecosystems and accompanying food webs. Even though the Asia-Pacific was the center of Lamb et al.’s study, citizens everywhere can engage in recycling plastics or diminishing use of non-biodegradable plastic items.

(Christopher Joyce, National Public Radio)

Wildlife Conservation

China’s lust for jaguar fangs imperils big cats

One fang, two fangs, three fangs, four / Of the jaguar gone in gore. Imagine you are a police officer in Bolivia. Your duty is monitoring wildlife trafficking and apprehending any individuals who are exploiting native species. Recently, you have encountered several decapitated jaguars, an endangered species, in local canals. Aside from these decapitated jaguars, other retrieved cadavers were fangless if not headless. After communicating with colleagues in neighboring Brazil and Belize, you learn that these are recurring patterns in jaguar fatalities. The next week, you discover pamphlets and posters advertising payment for a single jaguar fang: $120 – $160 USD. Your division confiscates almost 200 jaguar fangs. During a briefing with your supervisor, you gravely state, “Sergeant, I think this [wildlife trafficking] is getting bigger than we thought.”

From the above scenario, why are jaguar fangs such a popular commodity? For generations, tiger body parts, such as bone, teeth, and skin, have been important components of traditional Chinese medicine. Fortunately, authorities are successfully limiting the tiger parts trade. As a result, many in China are now directing attention, unfortunately, to another big cat, the jaguar, as a proxy. However, the jaguar is not the only big cat grievously affected by this shift. As one case in Belize features, poor species recognition by poachers ended an ocelot’s life. As the wildlife trade is highly profitable around the globe—superseded by only weapons and drugs—the conservation front in the form of law enforcement can gain little economic or corporal support. In fact, consequences for those who violate wildlife trafficking laws rarely involve incarceration. Prominent ecologist, Vincent Nijman, feels this may stem directly from the international society’s indifference to the fate of poached species, especially if the immediate reward of killing or capturing species brings in more money than saving them.

The jaguar’s plight—the species’ decimation—emerges from more than China’s hunger pangs for fangs. Urbanization has down-sized this big cat’s habitat, a range of tropical rain forests and savannas. Because of losses in sanctuary and hunting grounds, the jaguar may prey upon cattle and other agricultural animals. Consequently, irate farmers lash out by killing these feline threats. Agricultural stakeholders have several options to share the land peacefully: incorporating guard animals into herds, securing baby farm animals in complexes/shelters, granting loans on the basis of cattle/agricultural animal management history, and deterring predators with innocuous barriers, such as moats and man-made lights.

The exploitation of the jaguar, South America’s prime big cat, impacts other species’ survival and spawns from previous misdeeds against other species. Many sets of individuals are responsible for and partake in such a transgression against the jaguar. Cooperation among international conservation organizations and law enforcement agencies will be needed given the scope of wildlife trafficking and the low-key sense of emergency from society. Perhaps a beautiful friendship will cultivate between the International Criminal Police Organization’s (INTERPOL’s) environment crime division and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or TRAFFIC (if such a bond has not already deepened).

(Barbara Fraser, Nature News)

 

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March 2, 2018 at 9:34 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 27, 2017

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By: Sarah Hawes, PhD

Source: pixabay

Influenza

An Arms Race with Nature

H7N9, a new bird flu emerging in China, has infected roughly 1,500 people and killed 40% of them. The virus is contracted directly from infected birds but is not yet easily transmissible between humans, however researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have evidence H7N9 could potentially become transmissible between humans fairly easily. They examined a fragment of the virus that interacts with receptors on animal cells to gain entrance, and identified three minor mutations that could cause the fragment to shift from preferentially entering avian cells to preferentially entering human cells. If these mutations were to occur, it could rapidly result in a pandemic.

Tests in a viral fragment do not prove functionality in the intact virus; that would require mutating H7N9 itself. A 2014 moratorium on mutating three types of viruses (SARS, MERS, influenza) to more dangerous forms is expected to lift when the Department of Health and Human Services finishes current work drafting a new policy establishing reviews designed to assess benefit/risk ratios before funding research.

The subject is divisive, even among scientists in the field. Stanford researcher David Relman says he would support efforts to test mutations in a weakened strain of flu, but not in the H7N9 virus.  Bioterrorism expert Thomas Inglesby opposes increasing the contagious lethality of a virus, and opposes publishing such procedures due to concern that less benevolent actors would be enabled to replicate the process. NIH funded researcher, Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands, whose alteration of H5N1 to become highly contagious between ferrets (the animal model for humans) in 2011 influenced the moratorium, believes examining dangerous virus mutations in a controlled lab environment is important to identify potential pandemic viruses.

Many of these topics were discussed at the recent Immunology and Evolution of Influenza Symposium, and are sure to be a hot topic at the July 16 – 19 Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance meeting. With policy guidance needed on benefit/risk, potentially safer models, security, and publication limitations, the new HHS policy will be critical. (Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR)

Conservation

Modeling with Dough – Pick your Species

The Supreme Court found the Endangered Species Act was “intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction—whatever the cost.” Today, in light of the cost, conservation policy makers are being invited to triage species extinctions. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives recently met with ecologist Dr. Leah Gerber to discuss her proposed use of an algorithm guiding conservation funding.

A self-proclaimed environmentalist, Gerber says her model suggests that defunding “costly failures,” including the spotted owl, golden-cheeked warbler and gopher tortoise, could help save about 180 other species. Gerber says policy makers may opt to continue to support species that her algorithm rejects, as was done for the koala in Australia where algorithm triage has been used. In this case, a popularity contest may determine who lives and who goes extinct.

Details of the algorithm are not explicit, but Dr. Gerber’s recent publication in PNAS is a straightforward return-on-investment calculation analyzing the mathematical relationship between funds requested, spent, and species success or decline.  Gerber finds “the cost–success curve is convex; funding surpluses were common for the species least likely and most likely to recover” so it’s not simply ‘money in – species out’. Other factors – endemism, keystone status, level of species risk – are also important, though Gerber acknowledges they are not currently included.

While proponents call use of the equation “doing the best you can with what you have,” lack of data on its predictive validity make it a frightening policy tool governing something as permanent as species extinction. What if region affects costs, population growth is slower in species reaching sexual maturity later, a break-through in understanding one species’ requirements is just around the corner or we haven’t yet discovered the significance of the niche occupied by another species? What if business or political interests conflict with a species’ needs? What if the algorithm developer seeks intellectual property legal status, as is happening now with a proprietary algorithm used in parole and sentencing situations? Algorithms impacting public policy should be vetted by multiple experts in germane disciplines, validated, and kept publicly accessible for healthy scrutiny. (Sharon Bernstein, Reuters)

 

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June 27, 2017 at 11:42 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 01, 2016

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By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: pixabay

Climate Change

Nations, fighting powerful refrigerant that warms planet, reach landmark deal

Over 170 nations agreed to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the key climate change-causing pollutants found in air conditioners and refrigerators. This deal reached in Kigali, Rwanda could help prevent a 0.9°F rise in temperature by the year 2100. Although the negotiations did not produce the same publicity as the climate change accord in Paris of last year, the outcome may have an equal or even greater impact on the efforts to slow the warming of our planet.

Adopting an ambitious amendment to phase down the use and production of HFCs is “likely the single most important step that we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Kigali, in remarks before the passage of the agreement. President Obama called the deal “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis.”

Total global HFC emissions are still far less significant contributors to climate change than the combined emission of other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. However HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide on a pound-per-pound basis, making them an obvious target for international efforts to combat climate change.

Many experts still believe that international efforts have moved too slowly as research continues to show significant effects and large scale of global warming. Scientists say 2016 will top last year as the hottest year on record with some months showing a temperature rise close to the 3.6°F benchmark. (Coral Davenport, New York Times)

Wildlife Conservation

Nations agree to establish world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica

Twenty-four countries and the European Union agreed to establish the world’s largest marine sanctuary in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. This area is home to “50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins,” according to a statement from the United Nations Environment Programme.

“The significance of this is that most of the marine protected area is a no-take area,” acknowledged the State Department’s Evan Bloom, head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting. More than 600,000 square miles of the Ross Sea around Antarctica will be protected under the deal. This means that an area about the size of Alaska will be set aside as a no-take “general protection zone”.

No-take areas are zones set aside by authorities where any action that removes or extracts any resource is prohibited. These actions include fishing, hunting, logging, mining, drilling, shell collecting and archaeological digging. (Merrit Kennedy, NPR)

Science Funding

Budget cap would stifle Brazilian science, critics say

Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer proposed a constitutional amendment to limit public spending growth for up to 20 years as a solution to curb a rise in public debt. The proposal, known as PEC 241, would prohibit all three branches of Brazil’s government to raise yearly expenditures above the inflation rate. This would essentially freeze spending at current levels for two decades. The effect of the bill, if passed, would put Brazilian science in a budgetary straightjacket. “It will be a disaster,” says Luiz Davidovich, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2016 federal budget for science, technology, and innovation was approximately $1.5 billion, the lowest in 10 years when corrected for inflation. (The National Institutes of Health in the United States currently has a budget of about $30 billion.) Agencies have been reducing scholarships and grants to adjust for the lack of funding. For example, the Brazilian Innovation Agency has slashed funding for national programs and is delaying payments on research grants. This has led to consequences such as finding money to pay for electricity bills. “There is no way we can survive another 20 years like this,” says Davidovich, who is also a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

“Smart countries increase funding for science, technology, and innovation to get out of a crisis,” says Helena Nader, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science in São Paulo. “We are doing the opposite.” (Herton Escobar, ScienceInsider)

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November 1, 2016 at 9:14 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 13, 2016

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By: Daniël P. Melters, PhD

Giraffe by Muhammad Mahdi Karim through Wikimedia

Conservation Policy

There are four species of giraffe – right?

Recent work published in Current Biology by Axel Janke’s group at Göthe University in Frankfurt, Germany looked at seven genes to determine the genetic relationship between different giraffe found throughout Africa. Previously, giraffes had been grouped in sub-genera based on their coating pattern, but the study of genetic relationships showed that over the last 1 to 2 million years, four distinct groups of giraffes have evolved. The authors argue that their findings represent four distinct giraffe species.

This finding has profound implications for our understanding of African bio-geography and subsequently conservation policy, especially after the latest report that states that in the last two decades 10% of earth’s wilderness has been destroyed. But using genetic data to guide conservation policy is a poorly developed area in part because of our limited understanding of how genetic variation can tell us if two groups of animals are indeed two distinct species. Genetic analysis showed that the forest and savannah elephant are indeed distinct from each other, but they can form hybrids if they do meet. To prevent conservation limbo, the International Union of Conservation of Nature still considers the African elephant as a single species. With regards to the giraffe study, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote a critical note on his blog in response to Janke’s article and subsequent media coverage. In short, the geographical dispersion of giraffes limits the potential for hybrids to be formed; yet zoo giraffes can form hybrids without much trouble. (Chris Woolston, Nature News)

US Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Blue Ribbon Report lays out wishlist for moonshot against cancer

Vice-president Joe Biden proposed a moonshot to cure cancer last year after his son died from brain cancer. In the last State of the Union, President Obama vowed to accelerate 10 years worth of scientific advances in five years. To create a framework, a blue ribbon panel of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) consulted 150 experts and reviewed more than 1600 suggestions from researchers and the public. This culminated in a list of 10 recommendations.

One recommendation that stands out is the push for clinical trials for immunotherapy, a promising approach to harness the bodies’ own immune system to fight against the disease. Another recommendation is the creation of a new national network that would allow patients across the country to have their tumors genetically profiled and included in the new database. This latter recommendation overlaps with another health initiative that recently came out of the White House, the Personalized Medicine Initiative.

This leaves one question unanswered: will Congress fund the moonshot. So far lawmakers have not included money in the draft-spending bill and inclusion in another bill remains uncertain. With the release of this Blue Ribbon Report, the NCI NCAB hopes it will implore Congress to fund the moonshot. Nevertheless, co-chair Dinah Singer suggests that even without new funding, NCI could begin funding some projects in the report on a small scale. (Jocelyn Kaiser, Science Insider)

Drug Policy

Public libraries frequently used for drug use

Libraries are an ideal location for studying and reading, with its public access, quiet corners, and minimal interaction with other people. An unforeseen consequence is that people who abuse heroin are using public libraries more and more.

The problem of heroin and painkiller resulting in overdoses is a growing epidemic. This was further exemplified by a recent controversial picture, made public by Ohio’s East Liverpool police, that has made world wide head lines, as it depicted two adults unconscious as a result of a heroin overdose and their 4-year old son in the backseat. Public libraries are especially exposed because everyone can walk in freely and linger around if they please. No transaction or interaction is required. As a result, public libraries are turning to strategies to limit their space being used for drug-abuse. The American Library Association encourages libraries to get training on interacting with special populations, such as drug users and the homeless. In addition, librarians are partnering with the police and social workers. Altogether, the role of a librarian now includes that of a mix of first responders and social workers. (Kantelo Franko, Stat News)

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September 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 3, 2015

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By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

photo credit: Pangolin via photopin (license)

Animal Conservation Policy

Poaching brings another creature to the brink of extinction

Ever heard of the pangolin? Me neither, but recent media coverage of this critically endangered creature places a spotlight on the impact humans are having on their environment. The pangolin, also known as the spiny anteater, is a nocturnal mammal that lives in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that subsists on ants and other small insects. Asian pangolins are threatened by loss of habitat, as land is increasing cleared for agricultural and other human use, but are most severely in danger due to poaching. Pangolin meat is prized as a delicacy in China, and its scales composed of keratin are used as a traditional medicine for skin and other disorders. Demand for the animal has increased in the past decade resulting increased illegal shipments disguised as other goods. According to the NY Times, “officials in Uganda said they had seized two tons of pangolin skins packed in boxes identified as communications equipment. In France a few years ago, more than 200 pounds of pangolin scales were discovered buried in bags of dog biscuits.” Because the animals are endangered, most countries have laws against hunting pangolin. However, the laws are either weakly enforced or poachers make enough from the animal carcass to incentivize the activity anyway. There is some question as to how endangered the animals are. Because they are nocturnal and shy, little is known about population levels in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has the pangolin categorized in Appendix II; species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Chinese pangolin as critically endangered and all other species of pangolin as threatened. Some conservation groups are hoping to increase the endangered status of the pangolin and make all trade of the animal illegal. (Erica Goode, NY Times; www.savepangolins.org)

Resource Conservation Policy

Record drought forces increased water conservation in California

After a record low snowpack was recorded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on April 1st, the governor of California issued an executive order mandating cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This conservation amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water saved over the next nine months. KQED and NPR compiled an infographic to show just how severe the decline in snowpack has been over the past few years of drought; the water content of the Sierra Nevada range was just 6% of the average in 2015. The impact of the loss of mountain snow will be great. Millions of people depend on the water that melts and flows downstream during the summer and fall months, including the farmers of the agriculture-rich California Central valley. In addition to general water conservation, the governor also ordered millions of acres of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by drought tolerant landscaping and the prohibition of new developments from using potable water for irrigation. Increased conservation and enforcement measures will help, but it is small consolation to the already parched fields that account for the overwhelming majority of produce on US shelves, including 90% of all broccoli and 95% of all celery and garlic; hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland was fallowed or lost in 2014 due to insufficient water supply. Although Americans have yet to really feel the pinch (with the exception of citrus fruit; both drought and disease have been driving up prices in the past couple years), experts predict the price of fresh fruits and vegetables will rise this summer.      (Craig Miller, KQED Science and NPR; http://www.ca.gov/drought; Brian Palmer, Slate)

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April 3, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – December 26, 2014

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By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

Federal Science Policy

New recommendations to tackle seafood fraud

Do you know what’s on your plate? The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, has released its recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The term “seafood fraud” includes all manner of seafood misrepresentation, including mislabeling or substituting one fish for another. There are many steps in the supply chain in which this can occur, including at the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging facility. It can occur deliberately, when high-quality fish is exchanged for a less desirable, cheaper, or more readily available species. Fraud hurts legitimate fisherman and fisheries, as sustainable fishing tend to be more expensive and labor intensive. It also hurts the consumer. “Seafood is one the most traded commodities in the world. Consumers should be able to have confidence their seafood was legally and sustainably harvested,” said Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. And finally, IUU fishing and seafood fraud negatively impacts the environment when illegal over-fishing strips the ocean of necessary resources. The recommendations are open to public comment on the Federal Register until Jan 20th 2015.  (Media Note, www.state.gov; www.federalregister.gov; Andrew Sharpless and Ted Danson, HuffingtonPost)

 

Conservation Policy

A tough sell to protect endangered corals and fish in Florida

Biscayne National Park is in southern Florida, between Miami and Homestead. The park preserves Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. However, conservation of this public habitat, one of largest reef tracts in the US, is being hampered by arguments over how best to execute it. On one hand, federal officials want to ban fishing in 10,522 acres of the park to replenish the dwindling populations of snapper and grouper and rehabilitate the deteriorating seabed. On the other hand, state officials and the marine industry favor incremental fixes and toughening of existing rules. Saltwater recreational fishing accounts for $7.6 billion for Florida’s yearly economy.

A common thread throughout the debate is the idea of fairness and consistency in the execution of federal preservation policies. Strict rules designed to protect resources and animals on national lands – such as no hunting in Yosemite – are proving more difficult in the country’s largest marine park. “Biscayne is a national park,” said Brian Carlstrom, the park’s new superintendent. “If this were national park land” — as opposed to national park water — “there would be no question of what resources can be extracted from here.”  (Lizette Alvarez, NY Times)

 

Federal Science Policy

New report questions the strength of the FBI’s case in 2001 anthrax attacks

Beginning on Set 18th 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets and two U.S. senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. The resulting FBI investigation, called Amerithrax, one was largest and complex in U.S. history. In 2008, the FBI concluded that Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist working for the U.S. Army, was responsible for the anthrax attacks. Ivins committed suicide before the FBI findings were released. Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their analysis of the FBI investigation and concluded that the investigation could not rule out the possibility that someone other than Ivins committed the crime, similar to a previous report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The GAO report cites that contractors hired by the FBI used poor sampling techniques and statistical methods when evaluating the anthrax spores. Additionally, the GAO report chastises the FBI for failing to understand genetic variation in bacteria over time; the genetic similarity of four of the attack samples to samples found in Ivins lab was key to the FBI’s case. The GAO recommended that the FBI develop a framework for validation and statistical approaches for future investigations and the FBI agreed to these recommendations.  (http://www.gao.gov, David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

 

 

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December 26, 2014 at 11:01 am