For those who may be unaware, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and vocal opponent of reptiles as pets, stands accused of excessive political lobbying, a violation of 501(c)(3) incorporation rules, which could result in the loss of its tax-exempt status. Several U.S. Congressmen have called for an immediate IRS investigation.
Now it appears that the IRS investigation of the Humane Society of the United States may have been stonewalled by Lois Lerner, an active HSUS member, and also the Director of IRS Exempt Organizations Division.
Humane Society of the United States IRS investigation letter
Lois G. Lerner, the embattled Internal Revenue Service official who apologized for improperly scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of conservative nonprofit groups, is a member of the Humane Society of the United States, a liberal animal advocacy organization.
Lerner -- the suddenly infamous IRS Exempt Organizations Division director -- "is an active member of the Humane Society of the United States where her efforts in performing pet rescues necessitated by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes were widely acknowledged," according to her biography.
The HSUS has been accused of sending less than one percent of its funds to animal shelters, a charge that a spokesman in 2012 would not deny. According to IRS filings, the group took in $148,703,820 in revenue in 2010.
On May 12, 2010, Republican Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer wrote a letter to Lerner, expressing his concerns about the tax-exempt status of the HSUS, which is listed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group.
"The attached information unquestionably demonstrates that [the] HSUS invests a substantial amount of time and money in political campaigns and attempts to influence specific legislation, a clear and direct violation of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code," Luetkemeyer wrote in the letter.
"I understand that you are not at liberty to comment on any potential IRS actions but do hope your agency will give thoughtful consideration of the concerns I have expressed," Luetkemeyer wrote.
Lerner has been unresponsive to Luetkemeyer's office's repeated requests for status updates on the matter over the past three years.
"This was actually the result of concerns from constituents at the time that [the] HSUS was involved in political activity," Luetkemeyer spokesman Paul Sloca told The Daily Caller Thursday.
"Since then, over the past three years, we've been in contact with Treasury, and with Ms. Lerner, on this issue," Sloca said. "They have told us they can't comment on an ongoing investigation, but they haven't been able to confirm that they've even launched an investigation."
"They won't confirm that there is an investigation going on. They haven't provided any substantive information," he said.
"Considering the current news about the IRS, this is definitely something the congressman is definitely going to follow up on," Sloca concluded.
By the time Luetkemeyer sent his letter to Lerner in May 2010, the IRS had already begun targeting conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny, according to a report released Tuesday night by the Treasury Inspector General.
Lerner did not respond to TheDC's request for comment for this report.
The Humane Society of the United States declined comment.
Mealworms: The Other-Other-Other White Meat?
By Katherine Harmon, Associate Editor, Scientific American
December 19, 2012
Looking for the perfect holiday entrée? Something nutritious yet easy on the Earth? Something with a subtle, yet distinctive, je-ne-sais-quoi flavor? Have you considered the humble mealworm? What about the super superworm?
Before you click away in disgust, remember that the creeping, shelled, 10-legged crustacean we now so lovingly dip in butter (ahem, the lobster) was once considered so repulsive as to be inhumane to feed to prisoners. And in many parts of the world, insects are already a popular—and important—menu item.
A new study, published online December 19 in PLoS ONE, makes the case that the mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) and the superworm (Zophobas morio)—consumed as larval forms before they become beetles—are palatable (ecologically speaking) alternatives to traditional livestock products.
Rearing cows, pigs and chickens is an intensive ecological endeavor. Currently, more than two thirds of all agricultural land is used for animal production (whether housing the animals themselves or growing feed crops for them). This whole process—from fertilizing grain to raising (farting) cows to shipping milk—produces some 15 percent of all human-generated greenhouse gasses. Many climate-minded researchers have advocated switching to a more plant-based diet as a way to reduce these harmful emissions. But bugs might be an opportunity to keep animal protein on the menu.
Mealworms might be more familiar to pet owners as reptile, fish or bird food. But these insects are already available freeze-dried, canned or live for human consumption and can be baked into breads and cookies, deep fried with potatoes for more nutritious French fries or simply roasted with some salt for a protein-rich snack.
For the new study, researchers examined the process of raising these two insects—the “cradle-to-farm-gate approach,” as they noted. Dennis Oonincx, of the Department of Plant Sciences, and Imke de Boer, of the Animal Department of Animal Sciences (both at Wageningen University) studied a Dutch mealworm producer called van de Ven Insectenkwekerij in the town of Deurne. The worms were fed a diet of carrots and mixed grains. The insects also required recycled cardboard egg trays, a climate-controlled rearing station (which requires natural gas and electricity), cages, as well as water.
Nevertheless, they appeared to be a more sustainable source of protein than beef, pork, chicken or milk. To produce one kilogram of protein, including feed growing, the mealworms required just one tenth the amount of land required to produce one kilogram of beef—and much less than chicken, pork and milk, too. Producing one kilogram of mealworms generated about 2.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gas (mealworms do not produce earth-warming methane, like gassy ruminants do, although the worms do produce their own tiny manure), which is far less than the standard livestock lineup. The lion’s share (42 percent) of the mealworms’ greenhouse gas contribution came from producing and transporting grain feed (26 percent of the CO2 came from the heating gas; 17 percent came from the electricity; and 14 percent came from the production and transportation of carrots).
The study authors suspect that with additional research, the bugs could become an even more Earth-friendly option. “Over the last two decades productivity of chickens and pigs has increased annually by 2.3 percent, due to the application of science and new technologies,” they wrote in their paper. “Further improvement of the mealworm production system by, for instance, automation, feed optimization or genetic strain selection is expected to increase productivity and decrease environmental impact.”
The mealworms are already quite efficient at turning mealworm food into mealworm-based food for humans. They can convert about 2.2 kilograms of food into a kilogram of total bug weight (which is similar to chickens and a much better rate than pigs and cows). They are also proficient reproducers. The female mealworm T. molitor matures in about 10 weeks and will lay some 160 eggs in her short three-month life; and the impressive female superworm Z. morio reaches maturity in three and a half months and can lay some 1,500 eggs in her year of life.
Perhaps most important, the authors concluded, was the mealworm’s small land demand. Forest clearing for agricultural use is a major global contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. “Since the population of our planet keeps growing, and the amount of land on this earth is limited, a more efficient, and more sustainable system of food production is needed,” Oonincx said in a prepared statement. “Now, for the first time, it has been shown that mealworms, and possibly other edible insects, can aid in achieving such a system.”
So perhaps insects will someday graduate from novelty candy and double-dare tequila shots to a meal’s main attraction. Even if they aren’t yet replacing many holiday hams.
New, Deadly Virus Related to Ebola ID'ed in Snakes
Sometimes, though not very often, a science story starts off as a love story. And it's likely that no other tale of scientific discovery, particularly one that touches on some of the most frightening diseases on the planet, begins with one woman's enduring love for a boa constrictor named Larry.
Yet an attempt to save Larry set in motion a series of events, many outlandishly serendipitous, that allowed scientists to hunt down a virus new to science. The virus is apparently the culprit for an infamous and deadly scourge of captive snakes called inclusion body disease, or IBD.
The newfound pathogen is also related to viruses that cause nasty diseases in humans called viral hemorrhagic fevers. The most famous of these is Ebola.
When a California woman named Taryn Hook brought Larry — all 7 feet (2 meters) of him — to the vet a few years ago, she never imagined that the trip would one day lead to such a remarkable discovery, which was announced today (Aug. 14) in the journal mBio. [Read Larry the Snake's Story]
IBD afflicts pythons and boa constrictors, causing a host of strange symptoms. The snakes tie themselves in knots, they projectile vomit and engage in an eerie behavior called stargazing; the snakes raise their heads over and over, stare into thin air, and sway drunkenly from side to side.
Biopsies from animals with the disease show their cells filled up with globules of proteins called inclusions, which may be responsible for the odd behaviors.
There's no cure for the disease. It moves swiftly in pythons, and can progress slowly in boa constrictors, but it is always fatal. And it's infectious, moving from snake to snake, though the mechanism of transmission isn't entirely clear. If one animal in a collection gets IBD, typically all the animals are euthanized.
Blood tests had suggested Larry, a Dumeril's boa constrictor, might have IBD. Wanting to know what could be done to save the beloved snake, Hook contacted Joseph DeRisi at the University of California, San Francisco, a virologist known for his work deciphering another mysterious virus, this one affecting macaws and parrots.
Her plea for help led DeRisi's lab to take on IBD. The scientists put out a call for samples of diseased and nondiseased snakes. Perhaps luckily, the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, just a few miles away, had a sudden outbreak of IBD.
Many snakes, both with and without IBD, had to be killed, providing the lab with plenty of freshly preserved tissue to start their investigation. [7 Shocking Snake Stories]
Postdoctoral researcher Mark Stenglein, the research's lead author, rifled through the genes of the dead snakes and soon had millions and millions of sequences. But to sort out which sequence might belong to any suspect viruses, he needed the ultimate genetic blueprint — the boa constrictor genome, which had never been put together.
Without the assembled genome, it would be extremely difficult to tell which sequences belonged to viruses that cause disease, and which were simply vestiges of viruses now rendered harmless by the rigors of time and evolution.
"They're the fossils of old infections," Stenglein said. "They're in every genome. So if we saw those, they might have been confusing to us."
Yet fate smiled upon the effort yet again. A contest called Assemblathon 2 — which pits different groups against each another in a kind of genome-off — was getting under way. They chose to take a stab at sequencing the red-tailed boa constrictor's genome, and Stenglein got his hands on the results.
Yet to study a new virus, you must make more of it — which requires a host cell that will allow the virus to replicate itself. And here, Stenglein ran into yet another roadblock. He tried to grow the new virus in various animal cell lines — monkey cells, iguana cells, turtle cells, the cells of a viper — yet nothing worked. He needed a boa constrictor cell line. And since there was no existing boa constrictor cell line, he needed to start one himself.
"To do that, you need organs — tissue from the species," Stenglein said. "And as you might imagine, you can't go buy boa constrictor kidneys at the supermarket."
Kismet struck again, though this time the coincidence wasn't a happy one.
Chris Sanders, Larry's vet, owned a boa constrictor, Juliet, that was sick with lymphoma.
Right around that time, Juliet died, and Sanders, knowing Stenglein needed boa constrictor organs, put his pet of 20 years in the refrigerator and sent him an email.
The next day, the two men performed a necropsy, peeling back her skin and removing pieces of Juliet's organs, brain, and other tissue.
Stenglein prepped each sample, finely mincing the organs with a scalpel, putting them in petri dishes filled with a growth medium — and waited.
"Most of the organs I tried, all the cells died," he said. But Juliet's kidneys didn't die. In fact, the cells kept on growing, allowing Stenglein to grow more of the virus, and discover more of its secrets — which turned out to be a little bit scary.
Frightening family tree
Upon closer examination, it turns out the newfound virus has some dangerous relations. It looks like a mash-up of two different viruses that can jump from animals to humans, and cause diseases such as Lassa fever and Ebola. [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]
Although the newfound virus shares qualities of both, it most closely resembles an arenavirus. Until now, arenaviruses had been seen only in mammals — specifically, in rodents. And although the mice and rats that carry the arenaviruses are unaffected, they pass the virus on to humans through their urine or feces, causing diseases such as Lassa fever — a disease that kills some 5,000 people in West Africa each year, according to the World Health Organization — and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, among others.
Some of these diseases can pass from person to person, once the virus jumps from animal to human.
Despite the newfound virus's menacing cousins, Stenglein and DeRisi emphasized that snake owners have no reason to worry. There's no evidence that the snake virus can affect humans. The fact that it refused to grow in any cells but a boa constrictor's suggests there is a strong species barrier that protects humans.
Yet is it possible the virus could be passed to humans? "The bottom line is, I don't know," DeRisi said. "That is the fairest answer. I don't think it's that likely."
"There's not a big epidemic of pet owners with crazy fevers and unexplained deaths. I think people would notice that," Stenglein said.
The scientists still have work ahead: To confirm IBD as the cause of the snake sickness, they must still inject a healthy snake with the virus and show that IBD develops. That's a project in the works. DeRisi said next on his list is to see if snakes in the wild are affected by IBD.
In addition, it's still unknown how snakes get the disease in the first place. Mites that feed on snake blood have been linked to IBD, but DeRisi and Stenglein said it's very interesting that the newfound virus so closely resembles a virus known to lurk in mice and rats — favored snacks for snakes.
The discovery of the virus may lead to a fast diagnostic test for IBD, which would allow institutions to identify and kill any infected snakes before they pass on the disease.
Thanks to Juliet's kidney cells, which continue to grow, the lab can continue to replicate the virus, and continue the search for answers. (Juliet herself was given a dignified send-off. "She's buried in the backyard," Sanders said.)
"There are a lot of evolutionary and genetic mysteries wrapped up in this research," DeRisi said. "This may have opened the door to whole new world of arenaviruses and hemorrhagic fevers."
Larry, the snake that started it all, apparently does not have IBD. He is, in fact, still alive, although Hook has had to put down two other pet snakes that got sick with IBD.
And although Larry still gets sick a lot, at 15 years old, "he's a wonderful animal," Hook said. He's an integral part of the family, "just like someone's dog or cat."
Slippery customer: The four-foot-long snake, pictured, has been evading capture for days and was last seen heading up a drainpipe
A police helicopter equipped with thermal imagine gear was diverted to scour the area on Saturday, but the elusive snake - nicknamed 'Hissing Sid' by locals - remains at large.
Therapist Bernard Brotherton, 53, was one of three local residents who captured the creature in a knee-high swing-bin last Thursday, before it slipped from their grasp.
Ironically the dad-of one had been guzzling Snakebite - a cocktail of lager and cider - moments before the drama unfolded.
He said of the escapade: 'It seemed like the sensible thing to do, but it was so strong it would wrap itself around the rim of the lid and squeeze itself through the top like toothpaste.
'We got it in about three times but even with six hands pushing down on the lid it was too powerful.
'It was getting angry so we backed off, and at that point it decided to pop up the drainpipe.'
Vets, environmental health experts, the police, the RSPCA and a local animal centre have all attended the scene over the weekend, but the snake has not been spotted since Saturday.
Watch your step! 'Hissing Sid' has been spotted slithering along a pavement in Keyham, Plymouth
Mr Brotherton managed to get a picture of the snake on his mobile phone, and experts believe it is a non-native species, probably a constrictor.
Devon and Cornwall Police said PCSOs had carried out house-to-house enquiries in the Keyham area, but that nobody had admitted to being Sid's owner.
Mr Brotherton added: 'If it is a constrictor, like they think it is, it is worrying. There are young children around here and it could do them some harm.
'It could slide under some slates and into somebody's loft or maybe down a chimney.
'Or it could be miles away by now. It probably wants a nice quiet life away from all this publicity.
'It wasn't being aggressive until towards the end of our struggle, but I'd still rather know where it is.'
Devon and Cornwall Police said its force helicopter was diverted to the scene while on its way to another job.
Police have urged people to call them if they spot the runaway reptile.
Playing the Salmonella Card
by Web Wheeler
July 24, 2012
A short while ago a Toronto grade school teacher was praised in the Toronto Star newspaper for his efforts to educate students about the wonders of reptiles. Here's a link to that Toronto Star article:
Less than 24 hours later, an entry on the University of Guelph "Worms and Germs Blog", by Dr. Scott Weese, Associate Professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph and Public Health and Zoonotic Disease microbiologist for the University's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, was critical of the Toronto teacher's effort, saying, "The sentiment is great and I applaud the teacher's efforts to engage kids and teach them about animals, However, it's a cost/benefit situation and the potential costs (which may be extreme) outweigh the benefits (significant as they may be). While reptiles can be great pets in certain situations, they're not meant for schools where there are lots of kids, challenges with supervision, difficulty implementing good infection control practices and potentially individuals at high risk for infection."
Here's a link to the "Worms and Germs Blog" entry:
I am indeed surprised by this critical blog post by Dr. Weese, and here's why:
Salmonella is ubiquitous in the environment
Salmonella is ubiquitous in the natural environment, and many opportunities exist for cross-contamination during the production, harvest, processing and/or distribution of foodstuffs.(1)
Any raw food of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs, seafood, and some fruits and vegetables may carry Salmonella bacteria.(2)
Contaminated food is the major mode of transmission
Contaminated food is the major mode of transmission for non-typhoidal salmonellae because salmonellosis is a zoonosis and has an enormous animal reservoir. The most common animal reservoirs are chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows; dozens of other domestic and wild animals also harbor these organisms. Because of the ability of salmonellae to survive in meats and animal products that are not thoroughly cooked, animal products are the main vehicle of transmission. The magnitude of the problem is demonstrated by the following recent yields of salmonellae: 41% of turkeys examined in California, 50% of chickens cultured in Massachusetts, and 21% of commercial frozen egg whites examined in Spokane, WA.(3)
Every year hundreds of thousands of people are infected with food-borne Salmonella poisoning.(3)(4)
Traditional pets can also transmit Salmonella
Salmonella infections in dogs and cats deserve special comment for several reasons related to zoonotic transmission:
1. Salmonella spp. can be isolated from healthy dogs and cats at rates of up to 36% and 18%, respectively.
2. Dogs and cats tend to shed Salmonella organisms for very prolonged periods of time after infection.
3. Dogs and especially cats can shed Salmonella organisms in both their feces and saliva, meaning that transmission can occur via licking.
4. Pig ear dog treats may be a source of Salmonella infection for both dogs and humans that handle the treats.
5. Dogs and cats may suffer salmonellosis as a "reverse zoonosis," with infection transmitted from human-to-dog and subsequently back to other humans.
6. Similarly, outbreaks of Salmonella infections in large animal teaching hospitals have been linked to the introduction of bacteria from infected human personnel, with subsequent spread to animals and then back to other human workers.(5)
Dogs and cats can become ill due to a Salmonella infection and have diarrhea, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, or abdominal pain; however, some dogs and cats may be asymptomatic. Like humans, some dogs and cats can become carriers and can infect other animals or humans.(6)
Dog food contaminated with Salmonella has [recently] sickened at least 22 people throughout the United States and two people in Canada, according to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control an Prevention (CDC).(4)
Most cases of Salmonella poisoning do not require treatment
Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment.(6)
At least 40,000 salmonella infections are reported every year, but experts believe that between 400,000 and 4 million persons each year actually contract salmonellosis.(3)
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening for the very young, the very old and for persons already weakened by other serious diseases, such as AIDS. Reports show about 2 deaths for every 1,000 known cases of salmonellosis, but experts believe that about 500 persons each year actually die from salmonella infections.(3)
Author's Note: experts believe that about 500 persons each year actually die from salmonella infections out of the 400,000 to 4 million persons who contract salmonellosis every year.
Basic hygiene can help prevent Salmonella poisoning
Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animal feces, pets, pet turtles, pet rodents, pet food, pet toys and pet treats.(7)
Is Dr. Weese overstating the risks of Salmonella poisoning from reptiles?
As a professional exotic animal breeder, as a researcher, as a citizen scientist, as a reptile and tropical fish enthusiast for over 40 years, I believe, in the case of the Toronto teacher, Jim Karkavitsas, who manages the Clinton Street public school reptile club, the answer is yes. The concerns which Dr. Weese raises, while valid, are all either expertly addressed by Mr. Karkavitsas or are not applicable to this situation.
Dr. Weese states "Salmonella. That's the big one. Reptiles are classic sources of Salmonella. You can almost guarantee that more than one of these reptiles are shedding the bacterium. If a reptile is shedding Salmonella in its feces, it will also likely have the bacterium on its skin, in its cage and in any areas where it roams. It also means that anyone touching it (or its environment, or contaminated areas) can pick up Salmonella on their hands, with subsequent transfer into the mouth. This is a high-risk situation since reptiles are a major source of salmonellosis, especially in kids. Reptile-associated salmonellosis does occur in classroooms."
Mr. Karkavitsas states "Kids use hand sanitizer before and after handling the animals."(8)
Dr. Weese's second concern is "Mr. Karkavitsas buys frozen rats to feed the snakes. Frozen rats can also be contaminated with Salmonella, and frozen rats have caused salmonellosis in kids in a school (which was also brought home and spread other family members). There's also been a large (and likely ongoing) international salmonellosis outbreak associated with frozen rodents."
The large (and likely ongoing) international salmonellosis outbreak associated with frozen rodents is limited to one rodent supplier in the U.S.(9) and is very unlikely to be applicable to this situation, as Mr. Karkavitsas gets all of his rodents from a local Toronto pet shop.(8)
The last concern Dr. Weese stated is "Standard recommendations are that children less than five years of age (along with pregnant women, elderly individuals and people with compromised immune systems) not have contact with reptiles. This is a grade 5-6 classroom, so the students would be older than this, but I wouldn't be surprised if younger kids in the school also have contact with the reptiles. Additionally, the immunocompromised group is an issue, since many people have compromised immune systems due to various diseases or treatments. Teachers may not know about all of these and parents may not realize that their high-risk child is having contact with high-risk animals in school. When you can't be sure that high-risk people won't have direct or indirect contact, that's a problem."
While the Clinton Street public school is for Kindergarten to Grade 6 students, there is no indication that kids under the age of five, or other high-risk individuals, are involved with this club.(8)
Some final thoughts
Allowing kids to have fun, to learn about the natural world, to have respect for animals, to overcome phobias and disruptive behaviors, to practice good hygiene and to aspire to become scientists(8) are all excellent traits that should be fostered both at school and in the home.
Yes, there are risks, but I strongly disagree with Dr. Weese's assessment "The sentiment is great and I applaud the teacher's efforts to engage kids and teach them about animals, However, it's a cost/benefit situation and the potential costs (which may be extreme) outweigh the benefits (significant as they may be). While reptiles can be great pets in certain situations, they're not meant for schools where there are lots of kids, challenges with supervision, difficulty implementing good infection control practices and potentially individuals at high risk for infection."
Kids risk contracting salmonellosis just by going to school, by eating in the school cafeteria, by using the school's washrooms, by playing with other kids at school and by the myriad of other school activities they engage in every day.
Rather than condemning the practice of hands-on-learning via a public school reptile club, Dr. Weese should instead be working closely with Mr. Karkavitsas and other school officials to ensure that his concerns are fully addressed and that kids are getting all the benefits that a public school reptile club has to offer.
The American opossum is invulnerable to nearly all forms of poison. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Opossums may someday provide an antidote to nearly all forms of poison, including everything from snakebites to ricin.
The Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins has found that the American opossum produces a protein known as Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor (LTNF). And as the Boing Boing blog points out, the LTNF protein is exactly what it sounds like, seeking out otherwise lethal poisons that have entered an opossum's body and neutralizing them.
Amazingly, tests on the opossum LTNF found that the protein even left the marsupial creatures immune to poisons from snakes on other continents that the American opossum had not been previously exposed to.
The BittelMeThis blog goes into further detail, explaining that scientists then injected mice with the LTNF protein and subjected the rodents to venom from otherwise deadly creatures, including Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees.
When the venom did not kill the mice, the mice were then exposed to deadly poisons, including ricin and botulinum toxin. And again, the LTNF protein was able to diffuse the poison, leaving the mice unharmed.
Interestingly, the journal entry on LTNF was published more than 10 years ago, in 1999. As several readers have pointed out, this raises questions as to whether the protein benefits would be applicable to humans and why the test results are only now making news.
As the journal's own abstract notes, "Thus, natural LTNF from opossum serum has potential as a universal therapy for envenomation caused by animals, plants and bacteria."
All rights reserved. Commercial inquiries welcomed. Optimized for 1280 X 1024 screen resolution. Best viewed full screen with Chrome 4.0+, Firefox 3.0+, Internet Explorer 8.0+, Opera 9.0+ or Safari 4.0+