News of Note

Vegan diets becoming more popular, more mainstream
You’ve come a long way, vegan.  Once mocked as a fringe diet for sandal-wearing health food store workers, veganism is moving from marginal to mainstream in the United States.  The vegan “Skinny Bitch” diet books are best-sellers, vegan staples like tempeh and tofu can be purchased at just about any supermarket, and some chain restaurants eagerly promote their plant-only menu items. Today’s vegans are urban hipsters, suburban moms, college students, even professional athletes.

Doctors’ group sues USDA over vegetarian alternative to food pyramid
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violated federal law by failing to respond to a PCRM petition offering a simple, plant-based alternative — the Power Plate — as an alternative to MyPyramid, the USDA’s name for its food pyramid.

US scientists sound alarm over animal research
Scientists who use monkeys, mice and dogs for research on human diseases fear that the US government is restructuring the massive National Institutes of Health in a way that could slash their funding.  The NIH, which funnels $31 billion per year into medical research, is considering an advisory panel recommendation to create a new center for turning lab advances into practical health solutions for the public, also known as translational medicine.

USDA aims for more humane slaughterhouses
In the continuing fallout from the 2008 Chino beef scandal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will roll out new measures in 2011 to ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of cattle.  The measures aim to improve the handling of cattle, ranging from enhanced employee training to clearer guidance on existing rules, said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

State veterinarian approves Smithfield’s pig handling
Smithfield Foods Inc. has been “very responsive and very responsible in how they’ve addressed the issues” raised by an undercover video at its Waverly farm, State Veterinarian Richard Wilkes said last week.  The video, released in December by the Humane Society of the United States, showed pigs being prodded, thrown by their legs and cramped in gestation crates. Several had sores and cuts, and one had blood dripping from its mouth.

S. Korea offers therapy amid massive animal cull
South Korean officials said on Monday they would offer therapy for workers traumatised by massive culling of animals as they battle the country’s worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.  The midwestern province of South Chungcheong said it would offer stress treatment to health officials, soldiers, police and farmworkers who took part in the culling of more than 90,000 cattle and pigs in the province so far.

Strickland bans owning wild animals
Buying or selling a big cat, bear, wolf, primate, crocodile or large constricting or venomous snake is now officially banned in Ohio.  And if you already have one of those critters and want to keep it, you’ll have to register it with the state by May 1 and annually thereafter, under terms of an executive order issued yesterday by Gov. Ted Strickland.

Report Examines Trade Effects of Antimicrobial Restrictions
Although antibiotic use in animals has not been a significant factor affecting U.S. trade in meat products to date, evidence suggests that country restrictions on the use of these drugs could become an issue in the future. The restrictions could affect U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry products, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

A Diet for an Invaded Planet: Invasive Species
There’s a new shift in the politics of food, not quite a movement yet, more of an eco-culinary frisson. But it may have staying power; the signs and portents are there. Vegans, freegans, locavores — meet the invasivores.

Trial of six eco-activists collapses as undercover policeman ‘goes native’
olice chiefs were facing serious questions after an undercover Met officer who “went native” triggered the collapse today of a key eco-activist trial.  Six environmental activists were due to go on trial accused of trying to shut down one of Britain’s biggest power stations.  But the case collapsed amid allegations that Pc Mark Kennedy, who had infiltrated the group to expose their activities, had switched sides.

Breeding Killers?
In 2009, there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the United States. Some of these “canine homicides” were random — consider the attack on a German professor and his librarian wife in rural Georgia by 11 dogs. But even a cursory glance at the reports confirms a pattern: victims were usually children, the dogs were usually intact males, the attack took usually place at home, and — most controversially — the offending canines were usually (75 percent of the time) either pit bull terriers or Rottweilers.

A retirement home for pets
The scene at Texas A&M University’s Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center could come straight from a 19th-century painter’s vision of the “peaceable kingdom” — lions, lambs, babes and bulls all lolling in blissful communion.  For 17 years, the center, adjacent to the university’s college of veterinary medicine, has been a cushy retirement home for pets whose owners have died or no longer are able to care for them.

Will Game-Playing Cats Now Dream of Electric Mice?
A growing number of apps are being created for cats — not cat owners. Seriously. (Do a YouTube search for “iPad and cats” or “cat plays with iPad” and you’ll see some amusing examples.) The apps do for pets what they generally do for people: help them fight boredom while also letting them look cool.

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