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News Briefs 2

New FDA Reports Says MSG Additive Is Safe to Eat

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Pass the mu shu pork, please. A new Food and Drug Administration report released Thursday concluded that MSG - the controversial flavor-enhancer often added to Chinese food - is safe to eat, finding that it causes a mild reaction in only a tiny portion of the population.

The report, prepared by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said that there is no scientific evidence that any "free glutamate," the chemical family to which MSG belongs, causes or aggravates severe disease. However, the report cautioned that MSG, or monosodium glutamate, could exacerbate problems for people with severe asthma.

In connection with the favorable MSG report, the FDA announced Thursday that it will only require foods that contain "significant amounts" of the product to be relabeled as such. It did not give any details on which foods will fall under the new MSG guidelines.

Currently, foods must be specifically labeled as containing MSG only when the chemical itself is added to the product and not when a glutamate is naturally found in foods or in other ingredients contained in the product. MSG - a sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid used for building proteins - is found naturally in tomatoes, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.

Judge Kills Extradition Law

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

A federal judge Thursday struck down a 150-year-old extradition law that has allowed Americans accused of committing crimes abroad to be sent to foreign countries to face punishment.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said the law is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers principle by allowing the secretary of state to review legal decisions by judges.

The judge said the law also improperly allows the secretary of state to hide the true motives for extradition decisions - such as politics or foreign policy considerations - by blaming judges and the law when it suits the secretary's purposes.

"Under the present statute, the secretary may simply claim that his hands were tied' because the law did not permit him to perform the requested extradition," the judge wrote in a 32-page opinion.

The ruling was made in a case involving two off-duty Chicago police officers accused of kidnapping by Canadian authorities. The two officers allegedly agreed to help another man, Anthony DeSilva, bring his mentally and physically impaired wife Tammy back to the United States to prepare for a lawsuit they had filed. The officers, and others, went to Winnipeg to get her. Canadian authorities, however, stopped them at the border and refused to allow them to take her to the United States after her parents alleged that she had been kidnapped.

Shuttle Aide Faults NASA's Turnover Plan

Newsday
WASHINGTON

A NASA plan to turn space shuttle operations over to a private contractor will eliminate vital safety checks and could pose "the biggest threat to the safety of the shuttle and its crew since the Challenger disaster," a veteran NASA operations manager has charged in a letter to President Clinton.

Jose Garcia, technical assistant to the chief of one of the shuttle engineering divisons at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, wrote the letter last week, and it was posted by a colleague this week on the Internet computer network.

Garcia said he was concerned that the current system of prelaunch cross checks between space agency and contract engineers will be drastically changed under a plan by NASA that may "privatize" the shuttle.

"We're not talking about privatizing the cafeteria," Garcia said. "The way we'll find that we screwed up is when we kill somebody." Garcia added, "My biggest concern is that, in essence, you are dismantling the best launch team in the world. We've got a process that works."

NASA officials have said safety will not be compromised as the shuttle management is restructured. The agency announced plans last week to replace 85 shuttle contracts - involving 56 different contractors - with a single agreement to be administered by a prime contractor. The contractor probably would be selected in about a year, beginning a process that eventually could lead to turning the shuttle over to private industry.

New York Rushes to Prepare As Death Penalty Takes Effect

Newsday
ALBANY, N.Y.

Sometime after midnight Thursday, when New York's death penalty goes into effect, a fax should slip out of a machine identifying the first candidate to die by lethal injection in the state in nearly two decades.

With no way to predict where that first case will come from, or when an execution will ultimately take place, the entire criminal justice system has rushed to prepare for implementation of the death penalty.

Prosecutors statewide have set up special units. Attorney General Dennis Vacco has assembled a capital crimes team. A Capital Defender Office was created for New York's poor. And the prison system has established procedures for carrying out the actual execution - selecting Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., near the Canadian border, as the site for death row for men, and Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, Dutchess County, for the death house.

As promised, Gov. George Pataki brought the death penalty back to New York. It was one of the key issues that helped unseat three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo and propel the little-known state senator from Peekskill into the job of chief executive. For 18 years, Cuomo and his predecessor, Hugh Carey, vetoed death-penalty legislation, fueling a debate over capital punishment that raged in every corner of the state's political arena.