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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 14, 1997

Air Date: February 14, 1997

SEGMENTS

Habitat Conservation Planning: Planning for Destruction? / Keith Seinfeld

As many as half of U.S. endangered species depend on lands which are privately owned for their survival. The federal government along with business have been second guessing ecosystems and coming up with plans for species protection, but some environmentalists argue these plans are actually sealing the doom of these creatures. Keith Seinfeld from member station KPLU in Seattle reports. (09:38)

Jane's Place: The Old Mail Road / Jane Brox

Writer and Living On Earth commentator Jane Brox muses on a place with special meaning for her. A walk on the old mail road is produced by Sandy Tolan. (05:00)

Green Garden Spot: Simple Seedlings

Evelyn Tully Costa's final installment on organic gardening how-to tips. Tips include remembering to label your seeds, and to keep them moist and warm. (04:40)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox. (01:15)

Low Cost Edible Vaccines

Steve Curwood talks with Dr. Charles Arntzen about his emerging innovative low cost oral vaccines. Pharmaceutical bananas are being developed to prevent some diarrhea, and questions are raised about what other uses may come from bio-engineered food vaccines. (06:45)

Breastfeeding Baby: A Modern Dilemma / Andrea DeLeon

Nature's most perfect food, breast milk, helps growing infants develop resilient immune systems. But along with the welcome antibodies are the persistent toxins she may have ingested in her lifetime which are stored in mother's fatty tissue and are also passed on to baby. As mother of a newborn, reporter Andrea DeLeon grappled with the dilemma of balancing the health risks against the benefits of breastfeeding her son Carter, and shares her findings with us. We are re-broadcasting this feature as it recently won the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science Journalism Radio prize. (13:00)

Update on the Breastfeeding Dilemma

Steve Curwood talks with reporter Andrea DeLeon about changes that have occured since reporting this story with research findings, policy, in her life and response she received on the piece. (04:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1997 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: James Jones, Kelly Griffin, Keith Seinfeld, Andrea DeLeon
GUESTS: Evelyn Tully Costa, Charles Arntzen
COMMENTATOR: Jane Brox

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The Clinton Administration has a deal for you if your land is home to rare or endangered species. Sign up now for a protection plan, and for the next 50 years you won't have to worry about any new restrictions. Landholders like it. Conservationists don't.

SNAPE: Our feeling very strongly is that these habitat conservation plans not only are not leading toward recovery, that they're actually heading in the opposite direction in many cases and leading to the potential extinction of many species and certainly the declines of many.

CURWOOD: And from our Green Garden Spot, some advice about starting seeds. It's cheap and easy, using everyday household items.

TULLY COSTA: Cardboard milk cartons or Dixie cups with holes on the bottom. You could use popsicle sticks for labels, and a spritzer for gentle watering. And a heating pad, like the one you had to use last year after you kind of wore your back out.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth, but first this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. More than 2,000 US economists, including 6 Nobel laureates, have signed a statement calling for taxes and emissions trading systems to combat global warming. James Jones reports from Washington.

JONES: The economists say the benefits from fighting global warming far outweigh the costs. They're calling for market-based policies like carbon taxes and international emissions trading systems, which they say are the best way to reduce greenhouse gases. Industries that emit greenhouse gases have long warned that strong steps to reduce these emissions would cripple the US economy, with no guarantee that global warming would be reduced. But Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, thinks world leaders should back policies to fight global warming now.

ARROW: There is a great deal of uncertainty. But it is precisely the uncertainty that creates the idea we want insurance against this, because it is an uncertain thing. So we think there is the economic case for intervention on a significant scale is with us.

JONES: The economists' statement comes just weeks after the Clinton Administration's call for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases produced by all industrialized nations. Negotiators are hoping to conclude an international treaty on global warming by the end of this year. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: The Supersonic Concorde may be damaging the ozone layer. A study by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the jet leaves a fog of sulfuric acid in its wake. This has an important impact on the ozone layer because the chlorine pollutants that destroy ozone gather on particles like those in sulfuric acid. In an article in the journal New Scientists, researchers said that while a handful of Concordes currently in service may not pose a big threat, other types of aircraft which fly in the stratosphere may also be doing damage.

More than 80 of the world's major environmental groups are siding with the US timber industry in opposing a global treaty to manage the world's forests. Representatives from the World Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, the Green Earth Organization, and others say a convention now would limit the role of grassroots conservation groups and allow unsustainable forest practices. One example, they said, was a Canadian proposal that discourages illicit traffic in forest products but provides no penalties. Canada, the European Union, Malaysia, and Indonesia are calling for an international convention to set rules for managing the world's remaining forests.

President Clinton's plan to avert development of a gold mine year Yellowstone National Park has hit an obstacle. In August, Clinton pledged to swap $65 million worth of Federal property for land outside Yellowstone where the New World mine is proposed. But as Kelly Griffin reports, Federal officials are having trouble finding land and assets suitable for the trade.

GRIFFIN: Earlier this month the Federal Government missed a deadline to submit a list of suitable lands. Once that deadline passed, work on the New World mine could have resumed. But the companies that own it gave the government another month to develop a list of properties for the swap. But Federal officials are struggling to find an appropriate offering. They considered most of the nation's shut down military bases, but those sites are too contaminated, and some other sites have encountered opposition from members of Congress who must approve the final plan. Now, the Department of Interior wants to sell more than 35,000 acres in Montana to timber and coal companies, and then use the profits to buy out the New World mine. Montana's governor and the state's Congressional delegation back the plan, but some environmental groups are questioning whether the trade is a fair use of public lands. And they note it could take years to get permits to sell the timber and coal. For Living on Earth, I'm Kelly Griffin in Denver.

MULLINS: The vast Siberian Republic of Yakuta is setting aside nearly 300,000 square miles for nature reserves. The nation hopes the preserves will help protect endangered species such as the Siberian crane, polar bears, walruses, and reindeer. Yakutans regard the Siberian crane as sacred, and hope to preserve the species by protecting its summer breeding grounds. The republic's environmental minister says the scattered reserves will allow traditional hunting and fishing but ban industry and mining. Yakuta, a semi-autonomous republic on the rim of the Arctic Circle in Siberia, is nearly 3 times the size of France and is rich in diamonds, oil, gold, and in other minerals.

Defying a government ban and animal rights protesters, villagers in northern Spain threw a goat from a church tower. People waiting below the 45-foot belfry caught the animal in a tarp, and it emerged apparently uninjured. The event is part of the Maganeses La Poveroses annual festival to honor its patron saint. In the past it has attracted fierce protest from animal rights activists. Officials banned the ritual in 1992 and villagers had to content themselves with using ropes to lower the goat. But last year the villagers' new mayor defied the ban and allowed the goat to be tossed from the belfry. Activists say that goats have fallen to their death when they have missed the canvas sheet.

And that's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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Habitat Conservation Planning: Planning for Destruction?

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many landholders become unhappy when the government tells them that the use of their property will be limited for the sake of an endangered species. And recent biological surveys show that more than half of America's endangered species may depend on private land for their survival. the Clinton Administration thinks it's found a solution. It's called Habitat Conservation Planning, and it reduces the element of surprise for property holders. Many conservationists don't agree. They say these plans will not work, and instead will ensure the demise of fragile ecosystems. From member station KPLU in Seattle, Keith Seinfeld filed this report.

(Beeps amidst static)

SEINFELD: Loren Hicks has been tracking northern spotted owls as the chief biologist for Plum Creek Timber Company.

HICKS: This is an example of one of the radios that we put on the owls. This is a transmitter. We attach it to the base of the tail feathers.

SEINFELD: Mr. Hicks has radios on 6 of the endangered owls, which he tracks through old growth forests. Plum Creek owns more than 170,000 acres of Cascade Mountain forests here, about an hour east of downtown Seattle. It's a patchwork of clear-cuts, tree farms, and some prime old growth Douglas fir. More than 100 owls live in the area, one of the densest populations anywhere. They've shut down half the company's operations here because logging's restricted within 1.8 miles of any nest.

(An engine revs up)

SEINFELD: Resuming on a snowmobile down an old logging road, a white corridor through dense evergreens, we're heading for owl habitat.

(Motor engine continues; fade to sleet)

SEINFELD: As sleet falls alongside a frozen lake, the biologist points his radio device in various directions.

HICKS: There he is.

SEINFELD: It beeps when the antenna locates an owl.

HICKS: Looks like the male of the pair is right across the lake at a fairly low elevation right along the shore.

SEINFELD: Plum Creek's been watching the owls for more than 5 years now, because wherever they build nests the company has to stop logging. And the company also has to keep an eye on ever-changing interpretations of the Endangered Species Act by courts and regulators. Mr. Hicks admits all this uncertainty has led many landowners to cut down what they can as fast as possible.

HICKS: There's not much incentive for a landowner to want to do the right thing if at the time it becomes time for him to reap the economic benefits of that it's suddenly taken away from him by another rule or a law that he couldn't foresee at that time.

SEINFELD: But now Plum Creek's getting the predictability it says it needs to do the right thing. Through what's called a Habitat Conservation Plan. It's an agreement with Federal agencies. The company studied its holdings in surrounding lands around the Cascades and drew up a management plan to preserve nearly 300 species, from grizzly bears to salamanders and owls. The idea is to protect species that are on the endangered list and ones that might become endangered. The plan will last 50 years. During that time, Plum Creek can log most of the land, but on a slower, gentler schedule than in the past, preserving a variety of hillsides and stream corridors for wildlife. The plan's costing the company millions of dollars, but they're willing to pay that price.

HICKS: The best thing for Plum Creek in having a Habitat Conservation Plan is providing a predictable regulatory and economic environment.

SEINFELD: Habitat plans have been an option for 15 years, but they were rarely used under Presidents Reagan and Bush. The Clinton Administration began promoting the plans, but companies didn't start lining up until 1994. That's when the Administration announced its no surprises policy. No surprises is a promise built into every habitat plan that there will be no new environmental demands, even if conditions change or new information emerges. As an incentive it's worked. A flood of applications is keeping the Fish and Wildlife Service busy. Major landowners in southern California, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina are creating habitat plans. They're setting aside some land as wildlife preserves so they can develop the rest. But environmentalists say the government's in too big a rush to satisfy landowners.

(Digging and footfalls)

SEINFELD: Charlie Rains of the Sierra Club's been keeping an eye on Plum Creek's forest for years, first as a volunteer and now in a full-time job.

RAINS: Shall we walk out and see a little bit? See what we can see.

(Footfalls)

SEINFELD: We're in the heart of Plum Creek's forest, just a few miles from the radio-tagged owls. It's a spot frequented by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.

(Footfalls)

SEINFELD: We climb a small hill and he points at the mountain in front of us, where a straight line separates dark green forest from bare clear-cut, as if some giant plucked away the trees with a square cookie-cutter. It's one of the areas that's been transformed by decades of logging. Charlie Rains says he's glad Plum Creek is committed to managing for habitat in the future. The problem, he says, is in the details of their plan.

RAINS: When you read the fine print, the lawyers for Plum Creek have been very successful in protecting themselves while still sounding like that they're taking the full responsibility for their actions. The certainty that's talked about is on the side of Plum Creek, and the risk is on the side of the wildlife.

SEINFELD: It's a risk, he says, because whatever the company and government agree to, there will be surprises. There's still a lot to be learned, for example, about the impacts of clear-cuts like the one here, or about how to manage an old growth forest. Even when left alone, ecosystems are ever-changing.

RAINS: We have to recognize that we don't really understand how this system works. We have just scratched the surface in understanding how this system works. And yet the Fish and Wildlife Service is willing to sign a contract for 50 years, assuming that we understand this.

(Footfalls and bird calls)

SEINFELD: For its part the Clinton Administration says the no surprises policy does not ignore new discoveries. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is probably the biggest promoter of habitat planning.

BABBITT: Science does provide new insights, but there's enough flexibility in these conservation plans that adjustments can be made, and there are in all of these habitat conservation plans, you know, language which suggests that if there are major issues that arise, the plans can be adjusted.

SEINFELD: Secretary Babbitt says the plans are actually meant to prevent one of the biggest surprises, having another species become endangered. And he says it's only fair to give landowners security if they're conserving habitat. About a half dozen environmental groups have sued Secretary Babbitt over the no surprises policy. It's a procedural challenge. They say a rule was created without proper public review. But a bigger problem, they say, is the no surprises approach merely compounds a basic flaw in the Endangered Species Act. That it only kicks into action after there's already a shortage of habitat. According to Bill Snape, legal director for Defenders of Wildlife, these habitat plans are locking in a situation where species and ecosystems are on a downward slope.

SNAPE: Our feeling very strongly is that these habitat conservation plans not only are not leading toward recovery, that they're actually heading in the opposite direction in many cases and leading to the potential extinction of many species and certainly the declines of many.

SEINFELD: Mr. Snape and others consider the no surprises clause more of a political tool than a scientific one. They say the Clinton Administration is trying to fend off a landowner revolt against the Endangered Species Act. But they think the Administration is being too timid. They say the law, along with court decisions on the limits of property rights, give government plenty of power to insist landowners preserve enough habitat. The debate over the Endangered Species Act, at least in Congress, is deadlocked. It's several years overdue for reauthorization, and neither side's been able to muster the votes for strengthening or weakening it. And some say the political deadlock itself is making it hard to protect ecosystems. J.B. Rule, an endangered species scholar at Southern Illinois University, who once represented local governments and small landowners, says officials are left tinkering at the margins of an outdated law.

RULE: We don't have a law right now that's really telling us at the Federal level how this is supposed to happen. Who does what, who makes which decisions. We're cramming all this into a provision of the Endangered Species Act that was passed in 1982 as an amendment to the Act. Well, we're, you know, 15 years and a lot of knowledge later.

SEINFELD: Professor Rule endorses the call for a new law that focuses explicitly on ecosystem planning instead of on individual species. But he says it also should be sensitive to property rights. He suggests one part of the answer might be a national loan fund to help buy property that can't be used without harming an ecosystem. Such a fund might take the pressure off both landowners and endangered species. But this also might undermine the central idea behind habitat conservation plans, that people can use the land and still have enough room for threatened species. For Living on Earth, I'm Keith Seinfeld in Seattle.

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Jane's Place: The Old Mail Road

CURWOOD: It isn't always the vast scenic stretches of nature that move us the most. we all have places we go to that help us to reflect on the larger issues and private moments in our lives. For writer Jane Brox, that place is an old road that runs behind her farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. It is a road that doesn't just run from one place to another. It's also an avenue that transports her from one time to another.

(Footfalls)

BROX: I've walked the old mail road all my life: a rutted dirt path that turns down into the woods beyond our farm, and runs for a scant mile through pine, maple, birch, and oak, until it reaches a back road where it opens onto another farm with its own high view of the eastern hills.

(Footfalls)

BROX: I can take longer and freer walks elsewhere. Cape Ann, the salt-laden air, the constant tones of the sea in my ear. Or the solitary peak of Monadnock, a head-clearing climb above low, wind-sculpted spruce, then the quieter breath of the loose-legged descent.

But the mail road is a daily route through common ground, less than a hour if I go straight out and back. Just enough to ease the creaks of a day's work at my desk.

(Footfalls)

BROX: This was never a significant road. More like a shortcut between 2 routes to the center of town. But it once had its uses. All these woods had been pasture and cared-for farmland. The wheel tracks were kept clear by wagons, then tractors. Every spring someone shored up the makeshift bridges over the 2 brooks. Now I walk by a cellar hole deep and duff and crowded with lilacs, and dumps full of bottles and rusted blades of shovel sides and hose.

(Metallic sounds)

BROX: That's an old milk can. Yeah.

(Footfalls)

BROX: For its entire length stone walls run on each side of the road, and in places they're strung with barbed wire which had once kept the cattle in their pastures. The mail road shows up as a shoreline on all the old maps of town. Sometimes it's drawn on the newer ones as well, but the mapmaker must have taken for granted what a former hand had set down. Since anyone walking here would know the road has come close to disappearing in recent times, having lost its reason when the pasture and land was abandoned. And once reason is lost, tameness goes, too.

As a child I played here endlessly with my brothers and sisters and cousins. And though it was a stronger road then, it always felt dark and filled with as much foreboding as wonder. It took all our courage to walk halfway down. We were only at ease when my father attached a trailer to the tractor on a summer Sunday afternoon and we jostled along to the end. Now a tractor can't possibly get through.

(A crow calls)

BROX: Fifteen or 20 years ago the far part of the woods was broken by a housing development and someone there has blocked the road with rocks and brush to keep out snowmobiles. In places there's only one faint track. The storms bring down branches that no one clears. The brooks flood and recede, and no one repairs the bridges. White pine seedlings are closing in.

(Footfalls)

BROX: One foot after another on an old dirt road cut through by those who came before me. How much of a mark in place and time does one life leave? What have I accomplished? Afterwards, the faint discernment of a path for those wanting to sift for evidence will tangle themselves in briars and wade through brooks to glean a story from barbed wire healed into bark. From rust and glass and telltale parallel walls of stone.

(Metallic sounds, more footfalls, music up and under)

CURWOOD: Jane Brox lives and writes in Dracut, Massachusetts. Her latest book is Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family.

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CURWOOD: We'd like to know about a place that is special to you. Perhaps it's a spot on a hill overlooking an ocean vista, or a cluster of flat rocks in the middle of a running brook. Then again it could be a busy street corner or a quiet urban park. A treasured room in your home, or maybe just your own back yard. Whatever place moves you, we'd like to hear about it. Tell us where it is, and why it's special. Call us any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or write us. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. The postal address is Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. That's PO Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. And check out our Web page at www.loe.org. Please give us a telephone number where we can reach you during the day.

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CURWOOD: The days are getting longer here in the Northern hemisphere and it's time to start thinking about the garden again. Seed starting tips are just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Green Garden Spot: Simple Seedlings

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Anticipation, it grows stronger as the days lengthen here in the Northeast. And we know winter cannot linger long. A warm day here and there quickens our step, and we scan the trees and shrubs for signs of buds. And the almost unimaginable green to follow. But who wants to wait for Nature to move things along? Gardeners across the country are already preparing for the ritualistic cheat on nature, starting their own plants from seeds, and extending the growing season in spite of Mr. Jack Frost. And with us once again is our Green Garden Spot correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa. Hi, Evelyn.

TULLY COSTA: Hey, Steve, how are you? Did you get around to reading any of those garden books?

CURWOOD: (Laughs) You mean those tons of seed catalogues that choked the mailbox?

TULLY COSTA: Yes. Those qualify as gardening books, in my book they do.

CURWOOD: They do. I think they're doorstops, too, there are so many of them. I was able to pick out a few veggies and flowers that we'd like to grow ourselves. And the catalogues are telling me that I should be ordering a 3-tiered grow light table shelving system with computerized irrigation controls and heated soil coils. What do you think?

TULLY COSTA: (Laughs) Steve, I think that's ridiculous. You're going to scare away all your listeners. Now, starting the seedling business? It's really simple, and it's inexpensive, and I think everybody could start out, if this is their first time, with things that they have right around the house.

CURWOOD: Like what?

TULLY COSTA: Well, you need containers, you've got to put the seeds in something. So you could try cardboard milk cartons or Dixie cups with holes on the bottom. You could use, if you have kids or even if you don't, popsicle sticks for labels and a spritzer for gentle watering and some plastic to keep the floor dry. And a heating pad, like the one you had to use last year after you kind of wore your back out digging all that compost in.

CURWOOD: Yes, yes, spades, yes.

TULLY COSTA: You do have to spend a little money on sterile potting soil and some of those long fluorescent tubes, okay. Now for the first time out this is going to be fine; if you want to get your full spectrum extravaganza, you can do that next year, okay? So what seeds are you going to order, Steve?

CURWOOD: Well, you know, I want a lot of seeds, Evelyn. I mean there are 20 different types of salad greens in there. They look delicious. And there are 15 types of heirloom tomatoes. You know, they have purple spots and heart shapes and green stripes. And oh yeah, they have these cool sunflowers in there, too.

TULLY COSTA: Okay. All right. So I guess we (laughs) -- the diversity issue has not been lost on you, all right?

CURWOOD: Oh, I'm a diverse kinda guy.

TULLY COSTA: Okay, well, there's diverse kind of small family-run seed companies out there, and that's where you get the most interesting and diverse and unusual seed varieties. You cannot buy these at the nursery, all right? So if you're thinking well, you know, I'll just wait and go down to the local nursery, you're going to get your impatience and your snapdragons and 1 or 2 varieties of each -- you can get hundreds, maybe thousands of different selections from these seed catalogues. So I say go for it. Because you're not only buying different varieties, you are bringing diversity back into your back yard and into the planet's gene pool stream.

CURWOOD: Okay, now what do I do exactly? What are the basics for getting these seeds started?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. First thing is you really should get your hand on a seed starting book. I would recommend a copy of Jane Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook. It's put out by Rodale. Your local library should have it. And basically we are talking about 3 simple stages: germination, getting the seeds to sprout, and the second phase is nursing the young seedlings along, and step number 3 is acclimating or toughening your plants up, because they've been kind of like having it easy inside, you've got to toughen them up before they go outside.

CURWOOD: Okay, and what's the most important thing to do?

TULLY COSTA: Well, there's a couple of important things. But the first thing is you really should label these seeds, or you're going to end up like I did last year with mystery tomatoes, because we didn't label, and my clients kind of benefited from that because I just gave them all away and said let me know what happens in August.

CURWOOD: What else?

TULLY COSTA: Lighting is important, and also heat, too. I think people make the mistake of thinking they can just stick these things on windowsills. Your poor little plants stretch for the little light they're going to get, and at night it gets cold. These things have to be -- to germinate anyway -- it has to be warm and dark, and when the lighting process comes around you've got to keep the lights right on top and for 16 hours a day, not just the 8 or the 4 hours they're going to get on your window sill.

CURWOOD: So, the heating pad, then, huh? This comes into play to keep them warm.

TULLY COSTA: Right. The germination process, which is step number one, it's got to be warm and moist. And no light, you don't need light for this part, so you put your seeds in, you put the heating pad underneath, and you keep the soil as moist as a rinsed out sponge. Not soggy, not too dry.

CURWOOD: And then when they pop through, when you see the little guys, you start the lights?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. You roll the lights in or you put the seed trays underneath the lights. Make sure you can adjust them. Keep the light about an inch above the seeds, and as the seeds grow up you slowly raise the lights. You want strong plants. You don't want them flopping over trying to reach, you know, stretching themselves out to reach those lights. So that's the important thing.

CURWOOD: And then when can I put them outside?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. Well, as soon as the frost passes in your area what you do is you stick them outside for just a few hours a day, and you extend that as the days go by. You wait for a cloudy day and then you put them out. Probably about a week or so after you've, the last frost has passed in your area.

CURWOOD: Okay. Tips on going lightly on your pocketbooks and the planet from our Green Garden correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa.

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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: A new twist on oral vaccines, genetically engineered food. The story is next on Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: While we here in the West say the new year of 1997 began on January first, in China February 7th marked the beginning of 4695, the Year of the Ox. In ancient China, oxen represented unflagging dependability, so no wonder then that according to the Chinese cosmological system, those born in the Year of the Ox are introverted, self confident, steady, and conscientious. Oxen, which are neutered bulls more than 4 years old, are still used in much of the developing world to plow fields. In China alone there are more than 53 million draft animals. They wouldn't make sense for the huge factory farms commonplace here in the United States, but as a source of farm power for poor people, oxen and other working animals have certain advantages. They come from a breeding stock which reproduces itself, and they fertilize the fields as they plow. According to one study, to replace all the draft animals in the world with tractors and trucks would cost more than $200 billion and another $5 billion each year for fuel. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Low Cost Edible Vaccines

CURWOOD: Last year for want of vaccinations, millions of children died from such diseases as diarrhea, hepatitis, and cholera. But developing countries often can't afford conventional vaccines and all the refrigeration and sterilization needed to deliver them. Researchers have been working on cheaper and easier ways to immunize people. One of the most promising efforts so far involves moving the production of vaccines into the fields of developing nations, where costs are lower and delivery problems are reduced. But this plan doesn't call for the building of conventional pharmaceutical facilities. Instead it calls for the use of genetically altered plants to produce vaccines which can then be taken orally. One of the pioneers in this field of so-called edible vaccines is Dr. Charles Arntzen. He's a molecular biologist who says he came up with this notion during a trip to Southeast Asia.

ARNTZEN: I was on assignment to look at biotechnology in Thailand and happened to be at the floating market outside Bangkok. Was watching a mother carrying an infant. She went down to the floating market, bought a bunch of bananas, and walked over to a park bench not far away. And as she was peeling one of these bananas her infant started squalling, just really crying intensely. And it was fascinating, because I watched this mother who had just peeled a banana, took a little portion of a banana on the end of her finger and stuck it in the child's mouth. And it just -- it seemed very intuitive, again, to me, saying now if we could put a special product like a vaccine in that banana, this could really be powerful. So I went back home and recruited a couple of colleagues and we set out to find ways to put genes in the bananas and are now well on our way to produce vaccine-containing bananas.

CURWOOD: Now, how do you expect to actually deliver these vaccines? Are there simply going to be bananas that have the vaccine in it? How will you know if somebody's getting an overdose or not?

ARNTZEN: First of all, I'm not sure that the diseases we're talking about that you would ever have an overdose of the vaccine. But we do anticipate this is going to be a pharmaceutical product, and it would be produced and delivered under health care standards that would be established by the country. So I would imagine that it would take a relatively small amount of acreage to grow the banana crop, harvest it, and then perhaps put it in something like a baby food jar for delivery by health care workers to the parents or to the children themselves in the country.

CURWOOD: Now, you've tested this concept with animals so far, right?

ARNTZEN: We've used 2 specific vaccines -- or we call them candidate vaccines because they're still under evaluation. One is for a viral form of diarrhea; it's called Norwalk Disease. We've also worked with a gene from a bacterium called intero-toxic e-coli, or ITEC. This also causes a very common form of bacteria, so if you go to many developing countries and come back with what's called Traveler's Disease or Traveler's Diarrhea, probably about 90% chance that you've picked up ITEC.

CURWOOD: And so you've made a vaccine that works against this.

ARNTZEN: What we've done is put the gene into potatoes, and we feed our raw potatoes to mice, and they develop antibodies both in their bloodstream and secreted into their gut against the active protein from these 2 infectious agents. And we know that if antibodies are produced, there is a high likelihood that it's going to be an effective vaccine. But again, the ultimate test is to go to primates, animal models closer to humans, or to humans. And we are in the process now of accumulating all the data that's necessary to put together a request to the Food and Drug Administration for human clinical trials.

CURWOOD: If we put vaccines in plants, other organisms aside from humans are going to come in contact with them. The birds might eat them, or even the microbes in the soil in which they're grown might be exposed to them. Has there been adequate research into the potential effects on non-target species.

ARNTZEN: If we produced a plant which had relatively modest amounts of this particular protein and we produced relatively modest amounts of the plant material, only the amount needed for vaccines, I think you would find that the amount of protein we're producing is dwarfed by the natural abundance of that protein which is already widely distributed in the environment. For instance, ITEC, this form of intero-toxic e-coli. It is found in soil and contaminated water throughout the world, but especially in developing countries where hygiene levels are not the same as they would be in the developed world with good sewer systems etc. So I really can't quite envision how we would have a danger from this particular approach.

CURWOOD: You're starting with anti-diarrheal vaccines. Is there any limitations to the kind of vaccines that could go into food? I mean, if there's a vaccine some day for HIV, could we put that in bananas? How about hepatitis or polio or the flu for that matter?

ARNTZEN: Let me start with hepatitis, which you mentioned. We have spent a fair amount of our research, my colleagues and I, studying hepatitis-B vaccines produced in plants. We have shown that plants will produce a hepatitis-B vaccine that in all respects is identical to the commercial vaccine now available on the market. Our big technical challenge right now is cause the plants to produce more of this particular protein so that it becomes a cost effective production system. So, we have technical hurdles left in front of us in that particular case. You asked about other vaccines such as HIV. To date there is no good HIV vaccine that's available. I'm sure with all the current research interests that are going on, that will come some time in the next 5 years. If we were to ever consider or contemplate a worldwide immunization program for something like HIV, we're going to have to find an inexpensive delivery system that could be used in every country in the world, especially in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa etc. I believe that our plant delivery system and production system would be a very appropriate technology. As to whether or not it would work, there is no theoretical limitation at the present time, but as with everything in science we need to test it before we can say yes, this is the approach you should take.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Dr. Charles Arntzen is a plant biologist and president of the Voice Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. Thank you, sir.

ARNTZEN: Thank you, Steve.

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CURWOOD: The risks and benefits of breast feeding in this modern age of dioxin and other highly toxic chemicals, coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Breastfeeding Baby: A Modern Dilemma

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For a newborn baby there is no better food than mother's milk. It contains a perfect balance of nutrients, antibodies, and hormones. The feeding itself helps to forge the vital emotional link between mother and child. But over the years much of Western society has deemed breastfeeding crude and primitive, even though breast fed babies tend to have fewer illnesses and better growth than their bottle fed brethren. Of course, some people have always breast fed, and recently activists have encouraged mothers to give it a try. Now comes another major threat to breastfeeding: worry about pollution. Dioxin, PCBs, and other persistent toxic chemicals in the environment tend to concentrate in body fat, including milk fat, and get passed on to babies. About a year ago we asked Andrea DeLeon of Maine Public Broadcasting to look into this issue for us. She had just gave birth to her second child and was breastfeeding him. The story she reported for us just won this year's top award for radio journalism from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Here's Andrea DeLeon's prizewinning entry.

(A baby babbles)

DE LEON: That's my son Carter. Four months old and he still wakes me each night at about this time: 3 AM, hungry.

(Carter whines)

DE LEON: I can stumble to the cradle in the dark, now, without knocking into the rocking chair. I take him into my bed to nurse. He stops crying as we lie belly to belly under the covers in the dark. In this position I can bend my face down to kiss the top of his fuzzy head, to breathe his baby smell as I doze. In all the chaos of my days, the only word that even comes close to these moments is peace.

(Traffic sounds)

DE LEON: Peace at least until a month ago, when I tuned my car radio to a speech about a health threat long suspected by scientists but only now gaining public attention.

(Lois Gibbs on radio: "Dioxin affects every man, woman and child. It comes from solid waste incinerators...")

DE LEON: The speaker was Lois Gibbs, the Love Canal homemaker who turned activist when she discovered her neighborhood was built on a toxic waste dump. Her topic: dioxin and a host of other persistent toxic chemicals which she says are waging covert war on the human population.

(Gibbs: "It goes out into the air, it goes out into the water, it gets into our food supply. It gets into the cow. When the cow is milked, it gets into our bodies. And ladies and gentlemen, the top of the food chain is our infants. Women who are breast feeding their babies are the top of the food chain. So when the cow is ... ")

DE LEON: That evening, when my son fell back, milk drunk and ruddy cheeked in my arms, I carried him upstairs with a sense of unease. Was he really as all right as he looked? I needed to know if my milk contained chemical time bombs that might wait half his life to go off. I called Dr. Beverly Pagan, a senior staff scientist at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbour, Maine. She told me she hated to talk about contamination in breast milk, and then reluctantly agreed to meet with me.

PAGAN: Breastfed babies are taking in dioxin at a level that is 10 to 100 times more than an adult is getting. This is quite a serious issue. In fact, a breastfed baby takes in 10 to 15% of his entire lifetime dose during that first year.

DE LEON: Dr. Pagan told me that dioxin, PCBs, furans, and other persistent toxics have been entering my body in minute servings as part of the food I eat, and accumulating over my lifetime in my fatty tissues. I get my largest doses in meat, dairy fat, and freshwater fish. The older I get, the higher my levels become. When I nurse my son, Beverly Pagan says, toxics long stored in my fat migrate into the fatty breast milk.

PAGAN: Particularly, these chemicals are often an antagonist to the male hormone. These chemicals also might increase cancer in hormone target organs, such as breast cancer, testes cancer, prostate cancers. All 3 of these types of cancer are going up dramatically in America. And we don't know any reason, except for the exposure to these chemicals.

DE LEON: And there was more.

PAGAN: The sperm count in men has been falling. We think this is because of these hormone disrupting chemicals, because most of them seem to interfere with the male hormone. We know that they can decrease sperm production in animals.

DE LEON: Breastfeeding is the only natural way humans can rid their bodies of some of these poisons, but with the demeanor of a friend breaking bad news, Pagan told me that most human mothers are carrying around enough chemicals to pose some threat to their children. But a single conversation and a couple of magazine articles didn't convince me that my own milk could bring harm to my baby. My bedside table sprouted stacks of literature on the subject. I read about the alleged dangers of nursing while nursing. I learned that the endocrine system is kind of like the postal service, delivering messages to all parts of the body, using cortisol to regulate my metabolism, releasing estrogen to trigger and modulate my reproductive cycles, telling my son's genes when to trigger each miraculous stage of his journey from egg to embryo to baby. I needed someone to explain how chemicals in such small amounts could affect my hormone system and my child's as well. If my endocrine system is the postal service, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum explained that dioxins, PCBs, furans, and certain persistent toxics were keeping some of the mail from getting through, delivering letters to the wrong addresses, or forging messages of their own. I reached Dr. Birnbaum in North Carolina, where she heads the Environmental Toxicology Division at the Environmental Protection Agency's Health Effects Research Laboratory. She says that while there's a lot researchers don't know about how these chemicals do their work in the human body, they do know a great deal about the effects of dioxin.

BIRNBAUM: In some cases dioxins have been shown to increase the levels of hormone receptors, in other cases decrease. In some cases dioxin lead to changes in the transformation of hormones, so there are a number of ways in which compounds like dioxins or PCBs or other synthetic chemicals can impact hormone systems. There's not a single mechanism that can explain everything.

DE LEON: And higher levels of these chemicals do not necessarily mean more troubling effects on the body. But hormonal disruptions are blamed for everything from neurological problems to suppression of the immune system. Dioxin also appears to interfere with insulin. Hormonal effects have been documented in seagulls in Canada, lab mice in Maine, and victims of an industrial accident in Italy. But none of this told me my son's risk. I weighed my years of vegetarianism against my fondness for tooling down the highway with a double cheeseburger balanced on my knees, my organic garden against the pint of ice cream in my freezer. I lay in bed in the middle of the night nursing, obsessing. Beverly Pagan suggests that women have their milk tested, but such tests can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, and with so many chemicals out there which would I test for? More importantly, what would I do with the results? My son has to eat something, and in the first months of life the choices are limited to formula or breast milk. Everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the formula manufacturers themselves says that breast milk is superior. Does the information coming to light about persistent toxic chemicals mean that's no longer true for some infants? Not from what scientists have learned so far. No one I talked with for this story told me to stop breastfeeding. Lactation consultant Bettina Pearson says a woman's breast milk is perfectly suited to her child at each stage of his development. It even serves as the infant's immune system in the first few months, until the infant's own immune system begins to function.

PEARSON: So in that interim, we are providing our babies with our antibodies, and our antibodies are specifically a result of what our own environment is. So the antibodies I make, being exposed to my 5-year-old for a newborn child, would be different than someone else. And each of our environments, what we're exposed to for illnesses or contaminants.

DE LEON: She says babies fed on breast milk spend less time in hospitals and have lower incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They also have fewer infections and fewer allergies. I'm hoping Carter won't be plagued with the ear infection so common in young children. Though how my milk adapts to his needs remains something of a mystery. Bettina Pearson says formula could never show such response. Dr. Birnbaum of the EPA says a study underway in the Netherlands demonstrates that even breast fed children born to mothers with high levels of contamination are healthier than formula fed infants whose mothers have similar levels of persistent toxics. But no one knows for sure whether breast milk actually counteracts some of the very contaminants it contains. Pregnant and nursing women are left to consider the evidence for themselves and discuss it with their caregivers. So far, these discussions seem to be few and far between. My own midwife says clients have only just begun to raise the issue. My search turns up no doctors and only one midwife who regularly discusses the issue with clients.

DANIELS: Let's take a listen. There we go. Got the heart, and I can feel the baby thumping around in there, too. There's a kick.

DE LEON: Midwife Ellie Daniels runs her hand over a young woman's rounded belly, conducting a routine prenatal exam.

DANIELS: I think the baby has the hiccups.

DE LEON: She warns her clients to avoid freshwater fish, and the clams and lobsters that are a staple for many of the coastal Maine residents in her practice. One hundred percent of the women Daniels cares for breast feed their babies: an incredibly high rate. She encourages me to continue.

DANIELS: What could we find that is better? I mean, any milk source is going to have dioxin contaminants in it. If you feed a soy formula, you're feeding a formula that's made from the most heavily sprayed soils in the country, you know, the Midwest, I mean, is in a terrible crisis with all of the chemicals that we've grown our crops with and sprayed on our crops. I mean, what can we find that is better? This is just a terrible situation.

DE LEON: This terrible situation is taking its toll on my breastfeeding experience, which was already almost as difficult as it is emotionally rewarding. I tote a breast pump and cooler everywhere I go, so that I can collect milk for my son when I'm not with him. It is a struggle to keep up with his needs and work full time. I eye the free samples of formula I brought home from the hospital. Child health advocates worry that information about the potential contaminants in breast milk will drive women like me away from breast feeding, even though none of the scientists studying the effects of persistent toxics believe women should forego nursing. Lactation consultant Bettina Pearson says American culture remains anti-breast feeding. Women are criticized for nursing in public. Television programs show only bottle-feeding moms. And employers are sometimes unsympathetic to workers' needs to express milk on the job.

DANIELS: Breast feeding is so personal an experience, and I think women feel so vulnerable emotionally around it that if you're to say to them you could be poisoning your baby, the last thing they're going to want to do is breast feed. So until we really know if there is a reason not to breast feed, even bringing it up I think is going to decrease the rates just because women are so conscientious about what they're doing.

(Carter laughs, babbles)

DE LEON: I'm still breastfeeding, despite all that I've learned about contamination. Because I believe it's the best thing I can do for my baby. I'll try to mitigate his exposure at the breast by feeding him a diet low in animal fat when he's ready for solid food. The thing that strikes me is that these chemicals are already being reduced in the natural world, and that is good news. The fish caught in the rivers near my house last summer are cleaner than those taken the year before. But these same substances will persist in our bodies, in our breast milk, and in the bodies of our children. For Living on Earth, this is Andrea DeLeon.

(Carter babbles)

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Update on the Breastfeeding Dilemma

CURWOOD: Joining us now is Andrea De Leon from her post as news director at Maine Public Broadcasting in Portland. Congratulations on your award, Andrea.

DE LEON: Thank you very much, Steve.

CURWOOD: So, first things first. How's your son Carter doing these days?

DE LEON: My son Carter is wonderful. He's 14 months old. He is fully mobile and getting into everything.

CURWOOD: Uh oh.

DE LEON: Trying to climb his way to the ceiling in every room. He's absolutely wonderful.

CURWOOD: And are you still breastfeeding?

DE LEON: I am not breastfeeding. I had always intended that I would breastfeed him for a year, which is what the World Health Organization recommends, and I did make it to a year. At which point he got teeth and got a little bit rambunctious. And it was a pretty sad moment to say goodbye to that. I think we were both ready to do it in a way, but I still miss it a little bit.

CURWOOD: You know, I'm wondering, Andrea, if there are any ways in which your reporting on this story led to a change for you, or your family, in the ways in which you live your lives.

DE LEON: The change that has persisted for me is that I am much more conscious of what I feed the whole family, but particularly my children. I try to feed them very little in the way of animal fat and to, if I can buy organic food, to at least focus on the food that they eat a lot of, like organic apple juice and those kinds of things.

CURWOOD: Did you have a reaction to this piece? What did people tell you?

DE LEON: Yeah, I had a lot of reaction from people in Maine, who know me as a sort of almost a "just the facts ma'am" kind of a journalist, who were touched by the personal part of the story. There were also a number of people who didn't like this story, who felt that anything that questioned the -- how wise it is to breast feed in this day and age was negative and wasn't information that should be put out. But I don't agree with that. I think it's important for people to hear all of the facts, and as I said I have really no doubt that breastfeeding is absolutely the best thing that you can do, even having learned what I learned.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you've kept in touch with your sources for this story, and what they're saying now, if you have, a year later.

DE LEON: I have. I've checked in from time to time with one of my sources, Beverly Pagan, who's a senior scientist at the Jackson Lab, which is in Bar Harbour, Maine. And she has stayed very well on top of this subject and has participated in a couple of books about it. I spoke with her recently, and since I did my initial burst of research on the topic there have been several more papers that confirm what I reported. And another one that she's particularly concerned about that came out in 1996 in the journal Science, which was the first study that looked at how these chemicals may work together, whether they are additive, whether a little bit of dioxin and a little bit of the PCB adds together, or what is the effect when you put them together. Since all of our bodies contain just a sort of selection of minute trace amounts of all these things. And what she tells me is that this first study, which was done in tissues, shows a synergistic effect where you have these various substances multiplying the effect that they might have on the endocrine system. And that's very troubling.

CURWOOD: So the story is not really less troubling now. It's perhaps a little more troubling.

DE LEON: I think it's a little bit more troubling, although the things that have been happening, at least where I live within the state of Maine, politically are very encouraging. We've seen the governor of Maine just last week announcing a bill that would force a pretty major phase-out of dioxin, and everybody agrees that it's as much as can be done. But in Maine the paper industry is by and large the source of dioxin and the furans that we worry about. And these issues are really percolating politically. There's a lot of activity and a lot of concern being generated. So I think that that makes me feel very good about what's going on, that there is some movement in the policy arena.

CURWOOD: Andrea, before we go, I've just got to ask you, please excuse me for doing this. But do you have any plans for your prize money?

DE LEON: I don't know. I was thinking about building a chicken coop for a while.

CURWOOD: A chicken coop?

DE LEON: I have a new house, yes. I have a new house and I would like to build to keep chickens in part because of what I've learned in the story has made me more committed than ever to producing as much food as I can. We already -- we're big gardeners and that kind of thing, and I thought it would be nice to use the money to build a chicken coop. But we'll have to see, Steve.

CURWOOD: Okay, Andrea. Talk to you soon.

DE LEON: Okay, thanks very much, Steve.

CURWOOD: Andrea De Leon is reporter and news director at Maine Public Broadcasting in Portland, and winner of this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Radio Journalism.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Jennifer Schmidt edited this week's program. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Our production team includes George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, Peter Shaw, Constantine Von Hoffman, and Kim Motylewski. We also had help from Michael Giammusso, Kim Chaney and Colin Studds. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are George Hicks at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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