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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 177                          Email us
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The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico and the 
Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica now place the event off the coast near Sámara.
dueling epicenters
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico/A.M. Costa Rica

Experts and residents wonder: Is this the big one?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 12:10 p.m.

Pacific coast residents and particularly those living on the Nicoya peninsula have long awaited a major earthquake.

That the quake would take place was so certain that emergency officials have been giving seminars on the topic to raise awareness in the populations.

Now the experts are about to study to determine if the major quake that hit at 8:42 a.m. today, Wednesday, was that long-predicted event. If so, the country escaped cheaply. Two deaths were confirmed. One of the deaths was from an indirect cause.

The quake was of relatively long duration, perhaps 30 seconds. The epicenter was estimated by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia to be near the Pacific coast community of Sámara. 

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica revised its estimate and also placed the epicenter 6.6 kilometers south soutwest of the same town. That would be 36.1 kilometers or about 22 miles south and west of the administrative center of Nicoya.

The quake was felt strongly in all of the country. Those in buildings in the Central Valley fled to the streets and parking lots. Some structures suffered superficial damage. There have been at least two dozen repetitions, and more are predicted. One had a magnitude of 4.8, said the Observatorio.

Some schools closed for the day. There were reports of electrical outages in Desamparados, San Pedro and, of course, on the Nicoya peninsula.The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, S.A.  later confirmed outages in  Guadalupe and Sabanilla and in  San Antonio de Belén, San Juan, San Lorenzo and Santa Bárbara de Heredia as well as  Zapote. Road surfaces cracked on the peninsula. Patrons at a Sámara service station were reported to be stuck there to do a shift in the road surface.

The national emergency commission said its experts were conducting a flyover of affected areas to assess damage. There were landslides, and some blocked major highways, including Ruta 32 north of San José. A bridge on a secondary road in Sarapiquí collapsed. Windows cracked and shattered, including those at the Banco Nacional office in Playas del Coco.

An alert for a tsunami was issued and then withdrawn.

The final estimate of magnitude was 7.6. That was in the range of the April 22, 1991, Limón quake that was estimated at 7.5. that event resulted in 50 casualties.

The May 4, 1910, quake that destroyed Cartago was estimated at just 6.7 That quake caused between 400
and 700 deaths.  A 7.0 magnitude earthquake March 4, 1924, caused the highest level of destruction ever recorded in Costa Rica, and killed 70 people and  around Orotina near the central Pacific coast.

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake Jan. 8, 2009, destroyed the mountain town of Cinchona in the province of Alajuela, killed 23 people, left seven
Servicios Periodísticos Globales S. A. photo
 Nicoya residents walk past rubble that fell as a
 result of the quake

persons missing and injured dozens. The quake also changed the area’s landscape and scenic attractions after causing 180 landslides.

A spokesperson for the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that President Laura Chinchilla arrived at commission offices not long after the quake today to help in the assessment of damages. She urged calm.

Residents reported that objects fell in the Central Valley, Puntarenas, Cañas, Grecia, Quepos, Tilarán, Turrubares and in Cóbano, Jicaral, Paquera in the entire canton of Carrillo, which are on the Nicoya peninsula. There were unconfirmed reports of some homes on the peninsula being damaged beyond use.

The commission said that its offices all over the country reported by radio electrical outages and structural damage especially on the peninsula. Two homes were reported to be heavily damaged in Nosara north of Sámara.

Expats took to the various Internet discussion lists to recount their fears and experiences. The Internet continued to function while cell telephones and some landlines suffered outages. In some cases this was due to excessive use. Ham radio operators also obtained some first-hand reports.

Some individuals suffered bouts of anxiety due to the quake.

Earthquake experts attributed the quake to the subduction of the Cocos plate beneath the Caribbean. This is the usual cause of quakes in western Costa Rica. The depth was estimated at 40 kilometers, some 25 miles.

Experts at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico have been predicting a major quake for years in the gulf of Nicoya east of where the epicenter was estimated today. They predicted extensive damage and a shifting and uplift of the coast. An early report today said there may have been a shift of the beaches on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula near Ostional. The last major earthquake recorded in Nicoya was the one in 1950, and such events are expected to occur every 50 years.

Costa Rica also has at least 150 local faults that can cause serious damage, the Red Sismológica Nacional, an agency of the Universidad de Costa Rica has warned.
Earlier story below

Major morning quake rattles nation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 9:11 a.m.

A major quake estimated locally at 6.7 magnitude took place at 8:45 a.m. today, Wednesday, near Sámara on the west shore of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The quake was of long duration, perhaps as much as 30 seconds. The quake was felt strongly all over the country. Lesser quakes followed. There were no initial reports of serious damage.

The estimate of a magnitude by the U.S. National Earthquake center was 7.6. That agency said the quake was just 41 kilometers deep, some 25.4 miles. Shallower quakes generally cause more earth movement on the surface.

Some communications failed in the Central Valley, perhaps due to thousands of persons being on cellphones and land lines.

The U.S. center said the epicenter was 53 kilometers (95 miles) west of San José. 
quake epicenter
U.S. Naitonal Earthquake Center mao 

There were reports of some damage even in the Central Valley where many homes suffered at least falling objects. There were reports of trees falling elsewhere.

Initial reports from the Nicoya peninsula were delayed due to communication failure. There were some reports of small landslides.

Tsunami warnings were posted briefly for areas along the Pacific then withdrawn.

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Taxi drivers awarded
a tiny increase in rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers are getting a raise. The government-controlled fare is going up 1 percent.

That translates to 5 colons more for the first kilometer, from 585 to 590. The new rate will be about $1.18.

Taxi drivers in the orange airport fleet will get a raise of 5 colons only on the second and subsequent kilometers, said the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

Chance encounter leads
to arrest of two suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourist police detained two men as robbery suspects after a victim, a U.S. citizen, identified them on the road. The incident happened on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste.

Police said the U.S. citizen spotted the men in a vehicle driving behind his. He was robbed several days ago, police said.

The victim called police during the chance encounter, and officers managed to stop the vehicle. One man fled but was detained a short time later. Officers said the suspects were turned over to prosecutors in Santa Cruz.

Tanker drivers will talk
to ministry over complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tanker truck drivers have accepted negotiations with the environmental ministry in place of a strike. The truck drivers had blocked delivery of fuel.

The dispute now hinges on the age of tanker trucks that will be allowed to stay in service. The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía says older tankers are a danger.

The brief strike that started Monday left some stations without fuel because there were no deliveries and some motorists panicked and bought up as much motor fuel as they could.

Supplies are expected to be normal today.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Third News Page
RAdio PAcifica
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 177
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fruits of the country
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
From left these are cas, jocotes and mamón chinos, all available at modest prices in Costa Rica
Some different fruits that can tempt the palate of newcomers
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For fresh fruit lovers, Costa Rica might be considered heaven on earth.

One need not go far to find heaps of fresh bananas, pineapples, papayas, mangos, coconuts and dozens of other fruits that just do not taste the same as those shipped thousands of miles to markets around the world.

However, there are also some fruits that look strange and almost as if they have sprouted hair that looks like a 60s mop-top.

Though lesser known, these fruits are some of the most delicious produced in Costa Rica.

Though they may appear strange, here are some of the tastiest, most convenient, uniquely Costa Rican fruit snacks out on the market.

Mamón chino

By far the most exotic looking fruit available at almost all Costa Rican outlets is the mamón chino.  This fruit is about the size of a golf ball and looks like a deformed sea urchin that has grown red or yellow hair instead of spines.

Technically the fruit and the tropical evergreen tree on which it grows is called a rambutan, and it is native to Malaysia. The chino part of the fruit's Costa Rican name stems from its Asian origin. Its Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

When peeled, the fruit has a cloudy-white flesh very similar to the flesh of a grape. Inside is a brown pit that looks like a pecan. Although this pit can be eaten roasted, it is not advisable to eat the pit raw as it is mildly poisonous.

Over the years, the Costa Rican government has encouraged farmers to grow this fruit for various reasons including to prevent farmers growing other crops that can be ravaged by diseases. Although the fruit has yet to gain popularity in the United States, a previous A.M. Costa Rica report said Costa Rica exports 1,800 metric tons to its neighbors. That story is HERE!

The quickest way to get to the fruit through the inedible peel is to simply bite off a piece of the skin and peel it from there. Then one simply pops the crystal-ball colored oval into the mouth, biting gently and sucking to pry flesh that tightly clings to the pit. It takes time, but the sweet, juicy succulent fruit comes off after a few minutes of sucking. This is where the mamón comes from, loosely translating as “sucking.”

In Costa Rica there are two varieties both of a different color. The red is common across all tropical countries, especially Asia, while the yellow one is more unique and especially common in Costa Rica. Both are generally available between July and November. Although prices have gone up, mamones chinos are usually available for 500 colons per half-kilo. About $1 a pound

Earlier this year there were plans to make the fruit into a flavor for ice cream and yogurt. The story is HERE!


Another fruit that may seem foreign is the jocote, a small fruit that ranges from green, to yellow or red and is also about the size of a deformed golf ball.

This fruit is from a deciduous tree native to the tropical regions of North and South America. Although it also goes by many names including the Latin Spondias purpurea, its  regional name, jocote, comes from xocotl, the Aztec word for fruit.
vendor seeling fruit at the Mercado Central.
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Vendor weighing fruit at the Mercado Central.

An A.M. Costa Rica report in March said Costa Rica produces 2 million tons of jocote each year, and at that time a new jocote processing plant was under way to use the flavor in a variety of processed foods. That story is HERE!

The region of La Uruca de Aserrí, a prime jocote-producing region in Costa Rica, regularly holds a festival to honor the fruit. Residents make jam or use the fruit in desserts. That story is HERE!

The fruit is eaten when both its skin is green and unripe as well as when it has matured and turned red or yellow. Both have a tart flavor but unripe jocotes are slightly more so. Regardless of color, the skin is edible. It's usually available for 500 colons per half kilo.

The first bite hits the tongue with a wave of sourness that gradually subsides into a semi-sweet flavor with a chalky texture. As one scrapes the soft yellow pulp off of the large pit inside, each bite seems to get progressively sweeter except for the ringing twinge of acidity that lingers on the tongue from the initial bite.

Unlike with the mamón chino, no amount of sucking will get flesh of the jocote off the seed and one must scrape it off with the teeth. More on jocotes can be found HERE!


Finally another fruit that may seem strange to newcomers is  known as cas in Costa Rica. Very similar to the jocote, it is a  small, greenish yellow, spherical fruit, but inside there is a juicy center with dozens of small, white seeds that are edible if chewed hard enough.

Although the fruit may seem strange, it is actually a type of guava which has become a relatively common find in United States markets or is at least a fruit that Gringos can recognize. This variety is just slightly bigger than the jocote.

In fact, dozens of guava varieties grow in Costa Rica including cas, regular guava, pineapple guava, strawberry guava and others. A more detailed analysis of the different kinds of guava available in Costa Rica is HERE!

Unlike its sweeter relatives, biting into a cas will result in a punch of sour and is only slightly more pleasant than sucking on a lemon. Although the entire fruit can be eaten, peel, seeds and all, it is largely uncommon to eat this fruit by itself.

People here treat cas like people in the United States treat lemons: When life gives Costa Ricans cas, they make cas-aid. Juice made from the fruit is very common at all varieties of Costa Rican restaurants, especially sodas.

Eight U.S. warships given permission to dock in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a discussion that took nearly all of the legislative session Tuesday, lawmakers finally gave permission for eight U.S. warships to dock in Costa Rican ports. The measure was a compromise. The security ministry had asked for approval of 17 boats through next May. The lawmakers voted permission through December.

The vote was 36 to 12 with all members of the Partido Accíon Ciudadana and the single representative of Frente Amplio voting against. The Costa Rica Constitution requires legislative approval for the docking of foreign warships.
Most lawmakers favored the proposal, which was backed by the Presdiencia. But Acción Ciudadana lawmakers staged what amounted to a filibuster to prevent voting last month.

The security ministry pushed hard and said that failure to permit the docking of the “USS Carr” would endanger a criminal case against three marijuana smuggling suspects. The “Carr” had picked up packages of marijuana that fleeing smugglers had dumped in the ocean. The suspects were snagged by Costa Rican officers closer to shore.

The main reason for docking is resupply. Costa Rica and the United States have an agreement that allows U.S. ships to operate offshore outside the three-mile limit.

Frontier police put quick end to hunt for wild pigs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía de Fronteras busted up a pig hunt in northern Costa Rica when officers forced a group of hunters to flee after killing just one animal, the agency reported.

The encounter was in the Zona Protectora Volcán Miravalles. With the frontier police were park guards.

Police were able to cause the hunters to flee without the dead animal, which is called a saino in Spanish. The animals are called piccaries in English. The animals involved are believed to have been Tayassu pecari, the most widely distributed of the four species in the Americas.

A report from the security ministry said that the hunters dropped a .25-caliber pistol and left behind two hunting dogs when they fled.

The animals are important to the environment, in part, because they provide food for larger predators, said the ministry. They travel in herds of up to two dozen.

Visitors to Monteverde have reported encountering a friendly
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía 
y Seguridad Pública photo 
This is a saino or piccary

member of the species, known as Charlie to the locals. The animal is featured in a YouTube video behaving very much like a dog.  He lets the visitors touch him and then lies down for a massage.

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You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier
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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 177
Real Estate
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Jo Stuart

Museo de Arte Costarricense photo                 
The aircraft appears to be a Douglas DC-3 in this 1940 photo of La Sabana
Art museum will mark 100 years of aviation here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Exactly 100 years ago the first aircraft arrived in Costa Rica piloted by the U.S. aviator Jesse Seligman. He landed in a field that later became the nation's first airport and now is Parque La Sabana in west San José.

The airport passenger terminal now is the home of the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and that entity is putting on an exposition to mark the centenary.

It is En alas de la imaginación: 100 años de la aviación en Costa Rica or “On the Wings of Imagination: 100 Years of Aviation in Costa Rica.” The exposition opens to the public Thursday and runs until Oct. 7. The museum staff gave this account of aviation history:

Seligman was flying a Blériot, the creation of Louis Charles Joseph Blériot, the Frenchman who first flew a heavier than air craft across the English Channel. Seligman of a New York banking family also brought aviation to Jamaica and to Panamá.

Not until 1928 did commercial aviation come to Costa Rica
with the arrival of Pan American Airways, considered for years the U.S. flagship carrier.

Two years later the first Costa Rican company,  Empresa Nacional de Transporte Aéreo, began operation. The museum identified the first Costa Rican pilot as Roman Macaya who brought a Curtiss Robbin aircraft christened the Espíritu Tico of “Tico Spirit” a year later and founded a second company, Aerovías Nacionales.

The air field in La Sabana was inaugurated as an international airport in 1940 and the first terminal opened April 7 of that year. The structure served until 1955 when it became a secondary terminal for private craft and cargo until the beginning of the 1970s. The structure underwent remodeling and became the museum in 1978.

The exhibition featured 31 works by various artists inspired by the old airport building and the history of the country's aviation. There also are photos from the past and other objects relating to the early days of aviation, said the museum.

The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Heavy machinery makes a real impact on a source of drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone in the drug business needs a safe place to store wares and perhaps even a quiet place for customers to consume the product.

Such places are called bunkers in both Spanish and English. There are many in urban areas.

In Ciudad Neily in southern Costa Rica there was one affectionately called  El Hueco “The Hole” by police officers and concerned neighbors. The location had been raided at least three times. The drug dealers reinforced the structure with metal bars, protective doors and heavy timbers.

Eventually the Ministerio de Salud and the Municipalidad de Corredores ordered the eviction of occupants and the demolition of the structure for health reasons.

That took place Thursday with a police raid and heavy machinery to demolish the structure of some 70 square meters, about, 750 square feet.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Segruidad Pública photo/Guillermo Solano
Backhoe pulls down a wall of the fortified structure.

World conservation congress hears call to protect sharks, rays
Special via Newswise service

The Wildlife Conservation Society and over 35 government agency and non-profit partners participating at a world congress are urging the world’s governments to take urgent steps to save the world’s sharks and rays from the relentless pressure of over-fishing for international trade.

The society and others are specifically calling on the world’s governments and other agencies to advocate for the listing of sharks and rays under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the 175-member treaty that regulates international trade in animal and plant species.

The request came at the congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Sharks and rays have traveled the Earth for more than 400 million years,” said Cristián Samper, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society and keynote speaker at the Korean congress. “Yet, in only recent decades, many of these species have become threatened from overfishing and, in some instances, have disappeared entirely from major portions of their range. The potential loss of one of only two groups of the world’s living fishes is a crisis the world community must take decisive action to address. We are calling for governments around the world to vigorously support CITES international trade regulations and strengthen fisheries management and protection measures for shark and ray species. We cannot continue to allow the destruction of these wonders of evolution.”

The upcoming efforts by society and partners could triple the
number of sharks and rays that are afforded protection. 

Currently, only a handful of shark and ray species — the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfishes — are listed. Yet, numerous other species are considered to qualify for listing, including several that have been proposed previously.

In addition to efforts to enlist support for protective listings, the society and others have sponsored several motions at the congress — the world’s largest conservation event — calling for a range of measures to improve fisheries management and conserve sharks and rays. Unlike many bony fish species, most of these cartilaginous fishes are long-lived, late-to-mature, and produce few young, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and their populations slow to recover once depleted, the society said.

WCS is a co-sponsor of a motion to limit catches of mako sharks and hammerhead sharks. A third motion calls for review of all shark and ray species on the International Union’s Red List of Threatened Species for possible regulation.

“We estimate that many millions of sharks are killed annually through both legal and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for the trade in fins, the prime ingredient in shark fin soup,” said Rachel Graham, director of the society's Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. “The high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater.”

Costa Rica is a key location in the shark fin trade.

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About us
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What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier
The contents of this page and this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2012 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for details

A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 177
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Youth unemployment seen
increasing due to economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report finds that 75 million young people are unemployed around the world. The study by the International Labor Organization suggests jobless rates among young people will worsen globally as the spillover of the euro crisis spreads from advanced to emerging economies. 

The International Labor Organization reports the global economic crisis is having a particularly devastating affect on people between the ages of 15 and 24 trying to enter the labor market.

The study finds the impact of the euro crisis is spreading beyond Europe and slowing down economies from East Asia to Latin America. It notes the situation is particularly severe in the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment is above 25 percent and rising.

Lead author of the report and head of the ILO Global Employment Trends Unit, Ekkehard Ernst, said the situation in the Middle East is projected to become even worse in the next five years.

“We currently are seeing that the region has a youth unemployment rate of 26 percent and that is expected to increase to over 28 percent by 2017," says Ernst. "In the North African region, the situation is slightly better in the sense that we see a slight decline over the next five years, but from a very high level. We are currently at over 27 percent youth unemployment rates on average, in this region.”

The study forecasts youth unemployment to rise from 9.5 percent this year to 10.4 percent in 2017 in East Asia. It notes the youth unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa has been relatively stable at around 12 percent for a number of years. It says the continent had expected faster improvement in its youth labor markets - but now, that will take longer to achieve.

Among all the regions, the ILO says youth unemployment is expected to fall only in developed economies. It forecasts a gradual drop from 17.5 percent this year to 15.6 percent in 2017. 

Author Ernst cautions against any undue optimism. He says the declining jobless rate in developed countries has little to do with growing employment for young people.

“Many young job seekers are now discouraged and drop out of the labor market," he says. "They become inactive and stay at home and hope that at some point in the future the situation becomes better. But, that means basically, they are not actively looking for a job and then it will be extremely harder for them, increasingly hard actually then to find a job several years down the road.”

To address this growing problem, the ILO is calling for targeted measures, such as employment guarantees and training to help get young job seekers off the street and into useful activities. It notes countries including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Latvia have enacted job guarantee programs for youth, which have worked well in drawing young people back into the labor market.

The ILO’s Ernst says the cost of implementing such plans would be less than half a percent of gross domestic product among European countries. He acknowledges this is a fair amount of money for countries in crisis. But, he says, it is a lot less than the costs that come from young unemployed people permanently losing touch with the labor market.

Environmentalists' bible
'Silent Spring,' turns 50

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson wrote and published 'Silent Spring.' Ms. Carson was ahead of her time. She said pesticides like DDT were damaging the environment and human health. Although the book became an inspiration for the environmental movement, the battle for the environment continues.

In the 1950s, The United States was spraying more than a quarter-million kilograms of pesticides each year. 'Silent Spring'  revealed that pesticides like DDT were lethal not only for insects but for all living things.  

“'Silent Spring' essentially told the reading public that human beings could alter the natural world in ways that were quite deadly and that it could be potentially lethal to human beings as well as to other parts of the natural world,” said Linda Lear, the author of a biography on Ms. Carson.

More than six million copies of the book have been sold in the U.S. It's been translated into some 30 languages.

In the Washington suburbs, the house where Ms. Carson wrote 'Silent Spring' is now a National Historic Landmark.

Ms. Carson was a pathbreaker.

“In 'Silent Spring,' she is writing in a voice that I call apocalyptic writing," added Linda Lear. "She is trying to sound an alarm to get our attention.”
Thirty years after 'Silent Spring' was published, public television, in its program 'The American Experience,' called the book one of the most important of our time.

But there were dissenters. Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, led the defense of pesticides.

“We’re having troubles now feeding this hungry world," said Borlaug. "If you remove DDT with the hysteria that is present in the USA, the U.S. will be importing food, only there won’t be any place from where to import it.”

By 1972, DDT was banned for agricultural use in the U.S. But thousands of new chemicals were being developed.

For years, the U.S. Senate's Committee on the Environment has been trying to ban or control hundreds of chemicals from agricultural products and consumer goods.

In 2006, the World Health Organization announced plans to use DDT again — indoors — in its campaign against malaria.

Syngenta is a major producer of agricultural chemicals. Like others in the industry, it says its chemicals are safe if used properly.
"We try to do every single study that is necessary to support the safety characteristics of the product." said Tim Pastoor, the company's principal scientist.

Fifty years after 'Silent Spring,' millions of kilograms of new pesticides and other chemicals are being sprayed across US farmlands. And the environmental movement is still fighting back.

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New study casts shadow
on organic food benefits

By the Stanford University Medical Center news staff

Many shoppers pay more for organic products assuming that they are better for health. But new findings from Stanford University cast some doubt on this thinking.

“There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said Dena Bravata, senior author of a paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, published in the Sept. 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

A team led by Ms. Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, an instructor at the school, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

The popularity of organic products, which are generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones, is skyrocketing in the United States. Between 1997 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these products. Organic foods are often twice as expensive as their conventionally grown counterparts.

Although there is a common perception — perhaps based on price alone — that organic foods are better than non-organic ones, it remains an open question as to the health benefits. In fact, the Stanford study stemmed from Ms. Bravata’s patients asking her again and again about the benefits of organic products. She didn’t know how to advise them.

So Ms. Bravata, who is also chief medical officer at the health-care transparency company Castlight Health, did a literature search, uncovering what she called a “confusing body of studies, including some that were not very rigorous, appearing in trade publications.” There wasn’t a comprehensive synthesis of the evidence that included both benefits and harms, she said.

“This was a ripe area in which to do a systematic review,” said Ms. Smith-Spangler, who jumped on board to conduct the meta-analysis with Ms. Bravata and other Stanford colleagues.

For their study, the researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food; the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

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