Friday, August 1, 2008

Scottish smoking ban seen to cut heart attacks

By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Scotland's 2006 ban on smoking in public places cut the heart attack rate by 17 percent within one year, with non-smokers benefiting most, researchers reported on Wednesday.

The study is the first real-time, large-scale look at how a ban on second-hand smoke might benefit smokers and nonsmokers. Earlier research looked at the effect of smoking bans in individual cities, or had other limitations.

"A total of 67 percent of the decrease involved non-smokers," Dr. Jill Pell of the University of Glasgow and colleagues wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The number of people admitted to nine Scottish hospitals for a heart attack dropped 14 percent among smokers, 19 percent among former smokers and 21 percent for those who had never smoked.

In contrast, the rate declined only by 4 percent in England during that period, before a ban went into effect there. Historically, heart attack rates in Scotland had been dropping 3 percent per year.

"There are a number of countries considering whether to impose similar bans, and obviously the more evidence of the effectiveness of such intervention, the more likely they are to do that," Pell said in a telephone interview.

Among the 5,919 cases she and her colleagues studied, women seemed to benefit the most. The heart attack rate among smokers dropped 19 percent compared to an 11 percent decline among men. It dropped 23 percent among female nonsmokers versus 18 percent among nonsmoking males.

There had been concern at the start of the ban that it would increase the amount of smoking in private homes.

Using measurements of a chemical that gauges exposure to cigarette smoke, the researchers found that the fear was unfounded, and exposure to secondhand smoke declined by 42 percent.

"So it seems that the ban is not only protecting non-smokers, it is changing society's idea of what is normal," said Pell.

When New York imposed tough restrictions on public smoking, exposure levels declined by 47 percent.

The United States does not have national smoking restrictions. Limits are placed by individual states or municipalities.

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25 Breast Cancer Myths and Misunderstandings (Nos. 1-5)

1. Myth: Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk.

Reality: Roughly 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease. But the family-history risks are these: If a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) has had or has breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease approximately doubles. Having two first-degree relatives with the disease increases your risk even more.

2. Myth: Wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of getting breast cancer.

Reality: Claims that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system of the breast, causing toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer, have been widely debunked as unscientific. The consensus is that neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear or other clothing has any connection to breast cancer risk.

3. Myth: Most breast lumps are cancerous.

Reality: Roughly 80% of lumps in women's breasts are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts, or other conditions. Doctors encourage women to report any changes at all, however, because catching breast cancer early is so beneficial. Your doctor may recommend a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy to determine whether a lump is cancerous.

4. Myth: Exposing a tumor to air during surgery causes cancer to spread.

Reality: Surgery doesn't cause breast cancer and it doesn't cause breast cancer to spread, as far as scientists can tell from the research so far. Your doctor may find out during surgery that your cancer is more widespread than previously thought, however. And some animal studies have shown that removing the primary tumor sometimes enables metastatic cancers to grow, but only temporarily; this has not been demonstrated in humans.

Former Playboy model Pamela Anderson has admitted to having breast implants.

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Restaurant tipping law to change

Manuel in Fawlty Towers.
Tips left for restaurant staff do not always reach them

Employers are to be banned from using tips and service charges to "top up" staff pay to meet the minimum wage, under government plans.

The changes, set to come into force next year, will benefit those working in industries such as restaurants, where tipping is commonplace.

Firms are currently allowed to divert service charges into takings.

Unions have welcomed the move, saying that not allowing employees to have tips in addition to pay is an "abuse".

The national minimum wage, currently £5.52, rises to £5.73 on 1 October.

'Common sense'

Business Secretary John Hutton said there needed to be more transparency in tipping.

Waiters and waitresses across the country have been hungry for the tips loophole to be closed and the announcement today will satisfy their appetites
Derek Simpson

He called on employers to make it clear how tips were distributed so that customers knew where their money was going and whether or not the establishment operated a fair tipping policy.

"Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have jobs in sectors where tipping is commonplace," Mr Hutton said.

"When people leave a tip, in a restaurant or elsewhere, they expect it to go to service staff and as consumers, we've got a right to know if that actually happens.

"This is an issue of fairness and common sense, and it's one many people clearly care a lot about."

'Vulnerable workers'

Unions, which have argued that the current law is unfair, have welcomed the move.

UK restaurants are accused of not being upfront about staff tips

"Waiters and waitresses across the country have been hungry for the tips loophole to be closed and the announcement today will satisfy their appetites," said Derek Simpson, joint leader of the Unite union.

"It is great news that unscrupulous employers will no longer be able to use the tips left for staff to subsidise low wages."

The union intends to introduce a Fair Tips logo in bars and restaurants across the UK - showing that staff receive at least the minimum wage as well as all tips.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said that presently "unscrupulous" employers could "cheat" workers out of tips that were meant for them.

The quicker this is ended completely the better

Paul Kenny
GMB General Secretary

"The government is right to make sure that workers can keep their tips and that the responsibility to pay the minimum wage rests squarely with employers," he said.

"This is a welcome example of the government responding to the concerns of hard-pressed, vulnerable workers.''

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny said its members in the hotel and catering industry had fought a 10-year campaign to end tips being counted towards their pay.

"Far too many rogue employers have been using tips to make up the national minimum wage," he said.

"The quicker this is ended completely the better."

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Every Bite You Take

Listen to the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for Slate's free daily podcast on iTunes.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

A hot dog from Yankee Stadium. Potato latkes from the Four Seasons in Manhattan. Sirloin steak at Applebee's. The jumbo cheeseburger at the University of Iowa Hospital. While it would seem these menu items have nothing in common, they're all from Sysco, a Houston-based food wholesaler. This top food supplier serves nearly 400,000 American eating establishments, from fast-food joints like Wendy's, to five-star eating establishments like Robert Redford's Tree Room Restaurant, to mom-and-pop diners like the Chatterbox Drive-In, to ethnic restaurants like Meskerem Ethiopian restaurant. Even Gitmo dishes out food from Sysco. Should you worry that one source dominates so much of what you eat?

Like any retailer, chefs need wholesalers that distribute goods cheaply and efficiently, and Sysco's 400,000-plus item catalog conveniently sells everything a cook needs to run an eating establishment. A little more than half of their products are brand names like Parkay and Lucky Charms. The rest are Sysco-packaged items like 25-pound bags of rice, half-gallons of salsa, boxes of plastic gloves, beer mugs, dish-washing detergent, not to mention 1,900 different fresh and frozen chicken products. Whatever a cook orders is delivered straight to the kitchen door at bottom-barrel prices: One Sysco invoice I got my hands on has a 25-pound bag of Uncle Ben's Converted Rice selling for $20.95, or about 84 cents a pound, while a 1-pound box bought through Amazon Grocery costs $2.09.

All of that seems relatively innocuous—restaurants need to make a profit, after all. But Sysco also hawks pre-packaged food. While chefs have long relied on shortcuts like freezing and using canned goods like beans and tomatoes, it's entirely different to pass off one of Sysco's thousands of ready-made items—ground beef burritos, vegan tortellini, quiche Lorraine pie, tiramisu cake—as homemade.

The ingredients alone on some of the pre-made items are enough to make a restaurant-goer swear off eating out. The breaded cheese chicken breast, for instance, contains monocalcium phosphates, sorbic acid preservatives, and oleoresin in turmeric. The Serve Smart Chicken is particularly frightening. While it looks natural, it consists of parts of other chicken breasts mashed together into a single, chicken-breastlike block. As the company notes on its Web site, our "unique 3-D technology gives you the look and texture of a solid muscle chicken breast, at a fraction of the cost. … Available in four great flavors: teriyaki, BBQ, fajita and original." What Smart Chicken tastes like, I'd rather not know.

Restaurants make a mint from serving these pre-prepped foods, since the meals can be purchased in bulk and stored in a freezer for months. A box of 36, 4-ounce chicken Kievs, for instance, can be kept in an icebox for up to 180 days. And the savings from labor costs are considerable. Each reheated Angus country fried steak will bring in almost $5 in profits. In the words of Sysco, these meals require nothing more than the ability to "heat, assemble, and serve."

It comes as little surprise that institutions like hospitals, universities, and military bases flock to Sysco's pre-cooked foods. But well-regarded bistros and pubs have also begun to offer such items to save time and money. Recently, New York magazine reported that Thomas Keller uses frozen Sysco fries at his Bouchon bistros. (While a company spokeswoman wouldn't confirm the brand, she confirmed the use of frozen fries.) Mickey Mantle's Restaurant, an upscale sports bar, serves Sysco's pre-made soups, like Manhattan clam chowder and vegetarian black bean. And then there's Edgar's restaurant at Belhurst Castle, which has won numerous awards of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. There, the kitchen takes Sysco's Imperial Towering Chocolate Cake out of the box, lets it defrost, and then sprinkles it with fresh raspberries before serving it to diners. "We've had a lot of success with that cake," executive chef Casey Belile says. The Edgar's menu, of course, does not list the dessert as a Sysco pre-made cake, but it does charge $8.95 for the experience.

The company has a long history of championing frozen foods. Sysco founder John Baugh has been quoted as saying, "frozen foods taste better than anything I could grow in my garden." He started the company in 1969 when he saw an opening in the food services marketplace for a large, national distributor that would beat out local competitors through its sheer size. At the time, Baugh owned a small frozen-food company in Houston, and he convinced eight other regional food distributors to join forces to form a national conglomerate. Within a year of its start, Sysco posted more than $100 million in sales, and for the next 30 years, snapped up more than 150 local food distributors, becoming the largest in the nation. The company is about 50 percent larger than its next-largest competitor and five times bigger than the third-largest player; its boxes and cans are now as common in restaurant kitchens as salt and flour. A very partial listing of its better-known customers can be found here.

Some obvious food trends have helped Sysco's rise to Wal-Mart-like dominance. In 1970, households spent 34 percent of their food budget on dining out, compared to almost 50 percent today. And as small, local farms have closed down to make way for strip malls, restaurants increasingly depend on regional and national food processors to supply them with basic ingredients. While Sysco has smartly capitalized on all of this as the middleman between individual food distributors and the kitchen door, it's also earned the ire of gourmets, who portray the company as a leviathan that destroys local economies—and good taste.

But many quality restaurants, like Tree Room, use Sysco responsibly—shying away from pre-made items they can disguise as their own. Bardia Ferdowski of Bardia's New Orleans Café in Washington, D.C., purchases only raw and unprocessed Sysco products such as flour, potatoes, and beef, and receives frequent deliveries so that ingredients are as fresh as possible. For its part, Sysco has also been upping the quality of some of its offerings. It now distributes more locally grown meats and produce, and teams up with companies like artisanal cheesemonger Murray's to deliver specialty foods. Chef Tom Hosack of Hudson's at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, Wash., for instance, buys most of his greens through Sysco, and they're almost all regionally grown.

And not every cook has the time—or the money—to spend every afternoon foraging for fresh heirloom tomatoes at the local farmer's market. Nor do they need to. Many of Sysco's products—the meat, the vegetables, the fruits—are not that different than what you'll find at your local supermarket. But no restaurant diner should pay a chef to defrost and heat. Cooks are called cooks for a reason.

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Food Apartheid

A cheeseburger

The war on fat has just crossed a major red line. The Los Angeles City Council has passed an ordinance prohibiting construction of new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area inhabited by 500,000 low-income people.

We're not talking anymore about preaching diet and exercise, disclosing calorie counts, or restricting sodas in schools. We're talking about banning the sale of food to adults. Treating French fries like cigarettes or liquor. I didn't think this would happen in the United States anytime soon. I was wrong.

The mayor hasn't yet signed the ordinance, but he probably will, since it passed unanimously. It doesn't affect existing restaurants, and initially it will impose only a one-year moratorium. But that period is likely to be extended to two years or more, and the prohibition's sponsor hopes to make it permanent.

What we're looking at, essentially, is the beginning of food zoning. Liquor and cigarette sales are already zoned. You can't sell booze here; you can't sell smokes there. Each city makes its own rules, block by block. Proponents of the L.A. ordinance see it as the logical next step. Fast food is bad for you, just as drinking or smoking is, they argue. Community Coalition, a local activist group, promotes the moratorium as a sequel to its crackdown on alcohol merchants, scummy motels, and other "nuisance businesses." An L.A. councilman says the ordinance makes sense because it's "not too different to how we regulate liquor stores."

A few other cities and towns have zoned restaurants for economic, environmental, or aesthetic reasons. But L.A. appears to be the first to do it for health reasons. Last year, a public-interest law group at Johns Hopkins outlined the rationale: "Given the significance of the obesity epidemic in the United States and the scientific evidence and legal basis supporting the zoning of fast food outlets, municipalities have an effective, yet untried, tool to address obesity in their communities."

I assumed this idea would go nowhere because we Americans don't like government restrictions on what we eat. You can nag us. You can regulate what our kids eat in school. But you'll get our burgers when you pry them from our cold, dead hands.

How did the L.A. City Council get around this resistance? By spinning the moratorium as a way to create more food choices, not fewer. And by depicting poor people, like children, as less capable of free choice.

Start with the press release (PDF) issued a week ago by the moratorium's sponsor, Councilwoman Jan Perry. Its subhead says the ordinance will "help spur the development of diverse food choices." In the second paragraph, Perry declares,

This ordinance is in no way attempting to tell people what to eat but rather responding to the need to attract sit-down restaurants, full service grocery stores, and healthy food alternatives. Ultimately, this ordinance is about providing choices—something that is currently lacking in our community.

How does blocking new fast-food outlets provide more choices? It helps local officials "attract grocery stores and restaurants to the area, by preserving existing land for these uses," says the release. And why does the moratorium apply only to the poor part of town, around South-Central L.A.? A fellow council member explains: "The over concentration of fast food restaurants in conjunction with the lack of grocery stores places these communities in a poor situation to locate a variety of food and fresh food." Supporters of the moratorium call this state of affairs "food apartheid."

It's an odd slogan. As the encyclopedia Africana notes, apartheid was a racially discriminatory policy "enforced by white minority governments." Opening a McDonald's in South-Central L.A. is not government-enforced racial discrimination. But telling McDonald's it can open franchises only in the white part of town—what do you call that?

And what about the argument that people in South-Central need the government to block unhealthy food options because they're "in a poor situation" to locate better choices? This is the argument normally made for restricting children's food options at school—that they're more dependent and vulnerable than the rest of us. How do you feel about treating poor people like children?

It's true that food options in low-income neighborhoods are, on average, worse than the options in wealthier neighborhoods. But restricting options in low-income neighborhoods is a disturbingly paternalistic way of solving the problem. And the helplessness attributed to poor people is exaggerated. "You try to get a salad within 20 minutes of our location; it's virtually impossible," says the Community Coalition's executive director. Really? The coalition's headquarters is at 8101 S. Vermont Ave. A quick Google search shows, among other outlets, a Jack-in-the-Box six blocks away. They have salads. Not the world's greatest salads, but not as bad as a government that tells you whose salad you can eat.

Already, the majority leader of New York's city council wants to adopt food zoning, and several cities have phoned L.A.'s planning department to request copies of the ordinance. Hey, I'm all for better food in impoverished neighborhoods. Incentives for grocery stores are a great idea. But telling certain kinds of restaurants that they can't serve certain kinds of people is just plain wrong, even when you think it's for their own good.

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The Great Vegan Honey Debate

Is honey the dairy of the insect world?

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to enlarge.

There's never been a better time to be a half-assed vegetarian. Five years ago, the American Dialect Society honored the word flexitarian for its utility in describing a growing demographic—the "vegetarian who occasionally eats meat." Now there's evidence that going flexi is good for the environment and good for your health. A study released last October found that a plant-based diet, augmented with a small amount of dairy and meat, maximizes land-use efficiency. In January, Michael Pollan distilled the entire field of nutritional science into three rules for a healthy diet: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." According to a poll released last week, Americans seem to be listening: Thirteen percent of U.S. adults are "semivegetarian," meaning they eat meat with fewer than half of all their meals. In comparison, true vegetarians—those who never, ever consume animal flesh—compose just 1 percent.

The flexitarian ethic is beginning to creep into the most ardent sector of the meat-free population: the vegans. In recent years, some in the community have begun to loosen up the strict definitions and bright-line rules that once defined the movement. You'll never find a self-respecting vegan downing a glass of milk or munching on a slice of buttered toast. But the modern adherent may be a little more accommodating when it comes to the dairy of the insect world: He may have relaxed his principles enough to enjoy a spoonful of honey.

There is no more contentious question in the world of veganism than the one posed by honey. A fierce doctrinal debate over its status has raged for decades; it turns up on almost every community FAQ and remains so ubiquitous and unresolved that radio host Rachel Maddow proposed to ask celebrity vegan Dennis Kucinich about it during last year's CNN/YouTube presidential debate. Does honey qualify as a forbidden animal product since it's made by bees? Or is it OK since the bees don't seem too put out by making it?

Old-guard vegans have no patience for this sort of equivocation: Animal products are off-limits, period. Indeed, the first Vegan Society was created in 1944 to counter the detestable, flexitarian tendencies of early animal rights activists. Founder Donald Watson called their namby-pamby lacto-vegetarianism "a halfway house between flesh-eating and a truly human, civilized diet" and implored his followers to join him in making the "full journey." That journey, as the society has since defined it, takes no uncertain position on honey—it's summarily banned, along with bee pollen, bee venom, propolis, and royal jelly.

The hard-liners argue that beekeeping, like dairy farming, is cruel and exploitative. The bees are forced to construct their honeycombs in racks of removable trays, according to a design that standardizes the size of each hexagonal chamber. (Some say the more chaotic combs found in the wild are less vulnerable to parasitic mites.) Queens are imprisoned in certain parts of the hive, while colonies are split to increase production and sprinkled with prophylactic antibiotics. In the meantime, keepers control the animals by pumping their hives full of smoke, which masks the scent of their alarm pheromones and keeps them from defending their honey stores. And some say the bees aren't making the honey for us, so its removal from the hive could be construed as a form of theft. (Last year's animated feature, Bee Movie, imagined the legal implications of this idea.)

So, any vegan who eats honey but avoids milk is making the tacit assumption that the pain experienced by a bee counts for something less than the pain experienced by a cow. It's exactly the sort of compromise that so appalled Watson and the early vegans. Once you've allowed yourself to equivocate on animal suffering, how do you handle all the other borderline cases of insect exploitation? What about silkworms and cochineal bugs? Come to think of it, does a bee feel any less pain than a scallop or an oyster? Why can't we eat them, too?

(For the record, pearls aren't vegan. Oysters are killed during the harvest and often suffer the indignity of having a hole cut into their gonads.)

The flexitarians counter that if you follow the hard-line argument to its logical extreme, you end up with a diet so restrictive it borders on the absurd. After all, you can't worry over the ethics of honey production without worrying over the entire beekeeping industry. Honey accounts for only a small percentage of the total honeybee economy in the United States; most comes from the use of rental hives to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops. According to food journalist Rowan Jacobson, whose book Fruitless Fall comes out this September, commercial bees are used in the production of about 100 foods, including almonds, avocados, broccoli, canola, cherries, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, sunflowers, and tomatoes. Even the clover and alfalfa crops we feed to dairy cows are sometimes pollinated by bees.

Life for these rental bees may be far worse than it is for the ones producing honey. The industrial pollinators face all the same hardships, plus a few more: They spend much of their lives sealed in the back of 18-wheelers, subsisting on a diet of high-fructose corn syrup as they're shipped back and forth across the country. Husbandry and breeding practices have reduced their genetic diversity and left them particularly susceptible to large-scale die-offs.

Even the vegans who abstain from honey end up dining on the sweat and hemolymph of exploited bees. There isn't really an alternative: We can't replace our insects of burden with machines, as we've done for the mules that once pulled our tractor rakes. You might try to do right by seeking out wind-pollinated grains and fruits tended by wild insects. But what about the bugs that inevitably perish in the course of any large-scale agriculture? Even the organic farmers are culpable: They may not spray synthetic pesticides, but they do make use of natural chemicals and predators to kill off unwanted animals.

In the face of this insectile carnage, vegans fall back on a common-sense dictum that animal suffering should be "reasonably avoided" as opposed to "avoided at any cost." By this logic, it's not a sin to treat a termite infestation that's imperiling your house, nor should you worry over the gnats that get squashed on your windshield whenever you drive to the farmer's market. But that doctrine won't absolve us for eating honey. In the first place, honey is quite easy to avoid—especially compared with everything else in the Vegan Society's codex of forbidden foodstuffs. (A scrupulous eater must also attend to calcium mesoinositol, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, disodium guanylate, and dozens more unpronounceable, animal-derived chemicals.) Honey doesn't fill any nutritional gap, nor is it the only acceptable vegan sweetener.

From a practical perspective, all this back-and-forth doesn't help anyone (or any animal). You either eat honey or you don't; to debate the question in public only makes the vegan movement seem silly and dogmatic. According to Matthew Ball, the executive director of Vegan Outreach, the desire for clear dietary rules and restrictions makes little difference in the grand calculus of animal suffering: "What vegans do personally matters little," he says. "If we present veganism as being about the exploitation of honeybees, it makes it easier to ignore the real, noncontroversial suffering" of everything else. Ball doesn't eat honey himself, but he'd sooner recruit five vegans who remain ambivalent about insect rights than one zealot who follows every last Vegan Society rule.

That may be the most important lesson to come out of this debate: You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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Honda Lays Out Hybrid Fleet To Challenge Prius


Honda Motor, Japan's second-largest automaker, is a longtime also-ran against its largest rival, Toyota Motor, in the race to develop hybrid cars.

Not for much longer, apparently. Stubbornly high fuel prices, combined with rising concern worldwide over pollution and global warming woes worldwide and a growing appetite for hybrid cars in the United States, are catalyzing initiatives by carmakers to create fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles.

On Wednesday, Honda's President Takeo Fukui, in delivering the company’s midterm speech, threw down the gauntlet to Toyota (nyse: TM - news - people ), seeking to mount a serious challenge in the hybrid cars segment. The weapon Fukui chose was a lineup of four models, including Honda's sole current hybrid in production, the Civic Hybrid; a new hybrid-only model yet to be named, which will be a five-door, five-passenger compact, with an exterior design similar to its new fuel cell vehicle concept, the FCX Clarity; a hybrid sports car version of its CR-Z line; and a new hybrid model for its Fit compact cars, sold as the Jazz in Europe. Sketches of Honda's new hybrid ideas first appeared as early as October of last year. (See: "Honda To Hit Accelerator On Hybrid Production")

Consumers will not need to wait long. Fukui said the new five-passenger hybrid compact will go on sale in Japan, North America and Europe in early 2009, with expected annual global sales of 200,000 units. All told, Honda (nyse: HMC - news - people ) is aiming to achieve annual sales for all four models of about half of a million units some time beyond 2010. In short, Fukui concluded, the new hybrid strategy is to "achieve full-scale market penetration."

The mass market approach promises to yield more affordable prices for its hybrid cars, narrowing the price premium to as little as 200,000 yen ($1,741.31), down from 500,000 yen ($4,834.42) now, Fukui remarked. On an earlier occasion, he had mentioned that the hybrid-only model would be smaller than the Civic Hybrid but would also cost about one-third less.

By comparison, Toyota's top-selling hybrid, the Prius, just crossed the 1 million mark for worldwide sales last week. Honda's hybrid initiative is one of the three pillars of its three-year business plan that began April 1, which also includes expansion in the motorcycle business and innovations in manufacturing technology in its home base of Japan.

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The Tata Nano: World's Cheapest (Electric) Car?

So it looks like the world's cheapest car (the Tata Nano) could soon be the world's cheapest electric car as well.

The price of the Nano is just above $2,500 and Tata's chairman Ratan Tata says he expects demand to exceed supply. Tata's plant in the city of Singur in the state of West Bengal will eventually have the capacity to make 350,000 Nanos a year.

Tata Motors plans to make a second generation of its four-passenger Nano with a diesel engine. But initially, it will have a gasoline engine capable of 50 miles to the gallon.

But the interesting news out of Mr. Tata's talk to shareholders at the annual general meeting last week was that the company is competing for an Eco car in Thailand and looking at other ways to make even more fuel-efficient versions of the Nano.

Tata is working with a French firm in developing an electric Nano. The electric car will use compressed air. Tata Motors also announced earlier this year it is in talks with Chrysler on developing electric vehicles.

According to the Economic Times of India, a diesel engine for the Nano is being developed by a German company and will use a fuel injection system. Sources told the newspaper that the 800 cc, turbo charged diesel engine will be a two-cylinder and capable of at least 30 per cent more mileage compared to 800 cc gasoline powered cars.

It's hoped that the cheap vehicle willenable more people in developing countries to be able to afford their own car. But at the same time, there are concerns about the congestion and pollution caused by more cars on the road. In India, there are seven motorcycles sold for every car, according to the World Bank.

An all-electric or efficient diesel option would certainly decrease from those concerns. However, with India being coal powered, and lagging on emissions standards, it's not clear how much greener these cars really will be.

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Video: Tesla Roadster's touch-screen interface

Posted by Martin LaMonica

You may have heard about the the 6,831 lithium ion batteries that power the all-electric Tesla Roadster. But what about the user interface from the driver's seat?

It turns out that the Roadster has a small touch screen to control battery charging. It provides people with the temperatures of different subsystems, and it gives a read of how the batteries' charge translates into range and performance.

It also lets people schedule the charging for late at night, when rates can be lower because demand on the power grid is lower--a very handy feature.

CNET News sister publication Crave U.K. talked to a Tesla representative at the British International Motor show last week for a demo. The Roadster, which just started shipping in the United States, is scheduled to come to the United Kingdom in May 2009.

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