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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Florida Everglades fire scorches 33,000 acres - CNN.com

(CNN) -- Almost 33,000 acres of the Everglades National Park were burning Sunday, fire officials said, the latest in a series of wildfires that have scorched parts of Florida in May.


Smoke obscures the flames Sunday in the Everglades National Park.

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The smoke cast a haze over parts of South Florida, including Miami, prompting a dense smoke advisory from the National Weather Service.

The fire, which threatened private property as well as an endangered bird, started Friday, the Southern Area InterAgency Management Blue Team said.

By Sunday morning it was 20 percent contained, and fire crews were working to restrict it to the park while protecting the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, a federally protected species whose only habitat is in the Everglades. Video Watch the Everglades fire spread »

Windy conditions Sunday morning pushed the fire into the corner of the park closest to Miami, fire officials said.

About 200 personnel battled the blaze in southern Florida Saturday night, but more crews were expected to join them Sunday.

It is the latest wildfire to scorch Florida. More than 12,000 acres burned in the "Brevard Complex" fire near Palm Bay, on Florida's Atlantic Coast just south of Daytona Beach. That series of fires is about 75 percent contained and is expected to be fully contained on Tuesday, the National Interagency Fire Center said Sunday. Learn how wildfires spread »

Last week, Florida authorities charged a suspect, Brian Crowder, with arson in connection with some of the fires in Palm Bay. Video Watch the suspect's 'perp walk' »

The Brevard County fires have destroyed about 22 homes and structures, and damaged another 160 homes. Damage totals more than $9 million, officials said.

A 19,000-acre fire near Clewiston, Florida, on the south end of Lake Okeechobee, is about 50 percent contained, the fire center said Sunday.


And a 1,300-acre fire north of Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle was 80 percent contained by Sunday, it said.

Last week, U.S. Navy officials said a Navy jet sparked a 257-acre forest fire in the Ocala National Forest in the north-central part of the state. The jet had missed a target on a practice bombing run, the officials said.
Florida Everglades fire scorches 33,000 acres - CNN.com
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'Prince Caspian' gets royal reception at box office - CNN.com

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" dethroned "Iron Man" as ruler at the box office, pulling down $56.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.


William Moseley stars in Walt Disney Pictures' "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

The Walt Disney Co.'s action sequel took in less domestically in its opening weekend than "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," which sold $65.6 million in North America in its debut weekend in December 2005. "Caspian" also raked in $20.7 million overseas.

But Disney expects the PG-rated movie, based on the C.S. Lewis fantasy series, to ride high through the coming Memorial Day weekend. The first "Narnia" tale grossed $745 million worldwide over its theatrical run.

"This is a film that we think is going to play all summer long and it's got nothing but school holidays in front of it," said Mark Zoradi, president of the Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group.


Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," $56.6 million.
2. "Iron Man," $31.2 million.
3. "What Happens in Vegas," $13.9 million.
4. "Speed Racer," $7.6 million.
5. "Baby Mama," $4.6 million.
6. "Made of Honor," $4.5 million.
7. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," $2.5 million.
8. "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," $1.8 million.
9. "The Forbidden Kingdom," $1 million.
10. "The Visitor," $687,000.

Disney is in pre-production on the third of the series, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," set for release in the summer of 2010.

Marvel Studios' "Iron Man" slipped to second place after two weeks at No. 1 with $31.2 million, bringing its domestic total to $222.5 million.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of tracking firm Media By Numbers LLC, said the flawed superhero flick is holding its appeal better than "Spider-Man 3" did the previous May.

"'Iron Man' continues to hold very well," he said. "It's definitely cutting into audiences across the board."

The 20th Century Fox comedy "What Happens in Vegas," starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, came in third, with $13.9 million in its second weekend. Its domestic total reached $40.3 million, well above its $35 million budget.

"It's clearly the comedy, non-family movie in the marketplace right now," said Chris Aronson, a Fox senior vice president.

Warner Bros.' disappointing "Speed Racer" slowed to $7.6 million for fourth place, driving in $29.8 million over two weeks.

The studio said it was not ready to call it game over on the Wachowski brothers movie, which cost $120 million to make.

Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive vice president of distribution, said next weekend was "do or die" for the movie.

Overture Films' acclaimed drama, "The Visitor," crept into 10th place at the box office with $687,000.

The distributor picked up the indie film, about a professor who discovers a couple living in his little-used New York apartment, at the Toronto Film Festival for a reported $1 million. It has grossed $3.4 million so far.

"It's good to know that you don't have to have special effects in your movie to make money," said Overture Films' senior vice president Adam Keen.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which received a somewhat ho-hum reaction at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, whips its way into theaters on Thursday.
'Prince Caspian' gets royal reception at box office - CNN.com
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Microsoft considers new Yahoo deal - CNN.com

(CNN) -- Microsoft is talking to Yahoo! about an alternative transaction that doesn't involve an acquisition, the world's largest software maker said Sunday.


Yahoo said it is open to "pursuing any transaction which is in the best interest of our stockholders."

The announcement comes two weeks after Microsoft abruptly stopped its pursuit of Yahoo, withdrawing a sweetened $46 billion offer and saying it would not make a hostile bid for the Internet company.

"Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo!," a Microsoft statement said Sunday. "Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative .... There of course can be no assurance that any transaction will result from these discussions."

In response, Yahoo issued a statement in the evening, saying the company "has confirmed with Microsoft that it is not interested in pursuing an acquisition of all of Yahoo! at this time."

The statement goes on to say, Yahoo is open to "pursuing any transaction which is in the best interest of our stockholders," and that the company would be willing to evaluate alternative transactions, including "any Microsoft proposal."


Microsoft has said the breakdown of the acquisition proposal came despite having raised its bid to $33 a share -- $5 billion above what it said was the current value of the offer -- and a 70 percent premium compared to its original offer.

Yahoo's board unanimously rejected the deal, saying it "substantially" undervalued the company.
Microsoft considers new Yahoo deal - CNN.com
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Man opens fire outside California church - CNN.com

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A man with a rifle opened fire near a church Saturday morning in the San Fernando Valley and wounded three people, Los Angeles police said.


Emergency services respond to a shooting Saturday at St. John Baptist de la Salle Parish.

Fernando Diaz Jr., 33, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, said Los Angeles Police Officer Ana Aguirre. He was held in Van Nuys jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

"I don't really have too much to say about that. It's a personal thing between me and the church," Diaz said to The Associated Press before being taken to jail.

When asked if he has an issue with the church, Diaz responded: "The church has an issue with me."

Diaz is the father of a student who goes to the church school, according to CNN affiliate KTLA.

A second victim was in stable condition and a third was in critical condition, Los Angeles police spokeswoman Norma Eisenman said. Video Watch police on the scene »

The man in critical condition was shot in the chest. He is 45. Another man, 47, was struck in the leg and is in stable condition, reported KTLA. The names of the victims have not yet been released.

"We believe this is an isolated incident, a domestic-violence dispute," said police Capt. Steven Ruiz.

Authorities said Diaz was on parole for an unspecified crime, and a restraining order was in place to prevent him from being near the school, his son and wife.

The Rev. Robert Milbauer, the parish's pastor, told AP that about 50 people, mainly church volunteers and their children, were setting up food and game booths and carnival-style rides when the gunfire erupted.

"I was walking toward the festival area to say an opening prayer and I saw them," Milbauer told AP of the shooting victims.

"I heard bang, bang, bang, bang. It sounded like balloons popping," said Jeff Sempelsz, a church volunteer speaking to AP. "I didn't know what it was but I could see the rifle in his hand."

William Griffin, a security guard at the festival, was standing near the entrance. "I heard someone yell, 'Somebody's shooting. Somebody's shooting.' I turned and saw a man with a long rifle. He was very calm," Griffin told AP.

The guard said he herded people into the church, then began locking the doors. The man who had been shot in the leg calmly limped in with the others, Griffin told AP.

The suspect was reloading his weapon when he was tackled by several witnesses who were volunteers at the festival. The shooter put up a fight, struggling and taunting people as they were trying to subdue him. KTLA said the suspect and the weapon were taken into custody near the church, St. John Baptist de la Salle Parish in the Granada Hills area of Los Angeles.


The call about the shooting came in around 10:57 a.m. PT (1:57 p.m. ET), KTLA said.

The festival was shut down for the day, and Milbauer told AP that grief counselors were meeting with witnesses, particularly the children. The parish plans to go ahead with the festival on Sunday, Milbauer said, in part to help parishioners put the tragedy behind them.
Man opens fire outside California church - CNN.com
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Bush to Arab world: Give citizens more freedoms - CNN.com

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) -- At the start of his Mideast trip, President Bush gave Israel glowing praise. As it ended on Sunday, the president gave the Arab world a stern lecture: Isolate state sponsors of terror and give citizens more freedoms.


President Bush, seen here with Mahmoud Abbas, is pushing for unity in the Middle East.

"Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail," Bush said at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. "The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve."

Bush's address to hundreds of global policymakers and business leaders gathered in this Red Sea beach town was his finishing touch on a five-day Mideast trip to Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The speech, and Bush's second Mideast trip of the year, came eight months before the end of his presidency, his target date for reaching a sweeping peace agreement that would resolve generations-old grievances and create a Palestinian state.

The president counseled Arab states to "move past their old resentments against Israel" and "invest aggressively" in the Palestinian people, what he views as their role in the process. In contrast, many Arabs think Bush leans too far Israel's way in the long-running Mideast dispute, and that Washington doesn't push Israel hard enough to give way on issues that anger Palestinians and stymie a deal.

Bush has tried to counter that by talking more about the Palestinians' plight while here in Egypt than he did in Israel. He also offered plenty of praise for democratic advances, naming countries like Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco and Jordan.

"The light of liberty is beginning to shine," he said.

Bush's address was meant by the White House as the twin to president's speech Thursday before the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

In that speech, Bush showered Israel with praise, strongly reiterated its right to defend itself and only gently urged leaders to "make the hard choices necessary," without mention of concrete steps. He did not mention the Palestinians' plight; he spoke of them only in one sentence saying that Israel's 120th anniversary -- in 2068 -- would see it neighboring an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Bush directly about his concerns with the Knesset speech when the two met on Saturday at the Egyptian resort, according to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. On Sunday, after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas told reporters: "We do not want the Americans to negotiate on our behalf. All that we want from them is to stand by (our) legitimacy ... and have a minimum of neutrality."

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, announced that Bush might return for a third, as-yet-unscheduled visit to the region if "there is work for him to advance the peace process." Hadley made clear, though, that actually establishing an independent Palestine would take years.

"The president never said it would be implemented during his term," Hadley said. "What we've wanted to do and what is the president's still his objective is an agreement for a Palestinian state that is the core of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that would ultimately end the conflict."

To achieve more democratic reform in the region, Bush presented Mideast leaders with a long to-do list: make their economies more diverse, competitive and open to entrepreneurs; enact political reforms that move nations into democratic governments, and not just sham ones; allow freedom of information and rule of law; improve education; ensure greater participation in society for women; and push back against the negative influence of "spoilers" like Iran and Syria.

"There is much to do," he said. "The future is in your hands -- and freedom and peace are within your grasp."

His message was aimed at the countries in the region where the political and civil systems are far from free, including Egypt, the host of the gathering which was almost alone in being singled out for criticism. Delivered in person in the heart of the Middle East, the speech was a follow-up to Bush's promise in his second inaugural address to work in every nation for "ending tyranny in our world." Video Watch Bush meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak »

"I continue to hope that Egypt can lead the region in political reform," he said.

The largest recipient of U.S. aid behind Israel, Egypt has nonetheless seen roller-coaster relations with Washington in recent years.

It held its first presidential elections in 2005. But then the Mubarak government retrenched, by trying several secular newspaper editors, jailing a leading political opposition leader,and waging a heavy crackdown on its strongest domestic opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The president asked the Islamic world to join the United States in its determination to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. "To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations," he said.

The emphasis on Iran reflects Bush's desire to counter Tehran's quest for greater influence in the region. New urgency was added to that task by recent turmoil in Lebanon that the U.S. and many Sunni Arab countries believe has been fomented by Shiite-dominated Iran, as well as Syria.

Bush rebutted what he said are the many arguments from "skeptics about democracy in this part of the world," without specifying who they are. He said democracy is not "a Western value that America seeks to impose on unwilling citizens" and nor is it incompatible with the religion of Islam.

He made clear how he defines democracy.

"Some say any state that holds an election is a democracy," Bush said.

"True democracy," he said, requires "vigorous political parties allowed to engage in free and lively debate," institutions that ensure legitimate elections and accountability for leaders, and an opposition that can campaign "without fear and intimidation."


Bush also devoted considerable attention to the disenfranchisement of women in many Mideast nations. A strong economy can't be built without the participation of the "formidable force" of females, he said.

"This is a matter of morality and of basic math," he said. "No nation that cuts off half its population from opportunities will be as productive or prosperous as it could be."
Bush to Arab world: Give citizens more freedoms - CNN.com
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35-year-old chosen to lead NAACP - CNN.com

CNN) -- The NAACP has chosen Ben Jealous as its new president after a contentious debate that lasted long into the night, members of its board of directors said Saturday.

Jealous, 35, will be the youngest president in the NAACP's 99-year history, The Associated Press reported.

When the 34-21 vote was announced, "no one clapped or celebrated," one board member said after the meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Jealous was the only finalist presented by the search committee to the full board for consideration. Some board members wanted to hear from two others whom the search committee identified as finalists, but Jealous' supporters prevented it, sources said.

Jealous steps into a challenging role.

"There are a small number of groups to whom all black people in this country owe a debt of gratitude, and the NAACP is one of them," Jealous told AP before the vote. "There is work that is undone ... the need continues and our children continue to be at great risk in this country."

Sources said Jealous, a former newspaper editor and director of an Amnesty International division, was the only finalist for the post of president, vacant for more than a year. He was the primary choice of board Chairman Julian Bond, sources said.

He replaces Bruce Gordon, a retired Verizon executive who quit in March 2007, citing friction with Bond and the group's 64-member board. Gordon said he was also unhappy with the direction of the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.

Jealous is president of the California-based Rosenberg Foundation, and before that he directed the U.S. human rights program for Amnesty International.

In the mid-1990s, Jealous was the managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, the oldest black newspaper in Mississippi. He was later the executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 black community papers.

Jealous began his career as an organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund,working on health care issues, the NAACP said.

Jealous, a native of California, is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, the NAACP said.

He told AP that many in his generation have a false sense of progress in racial equality.

"Those of us who are 45 and younger were told, 'The struggle has been won. Go out and flourish. Don't worry about the movement,"' he told AP.

35-year-old chosen to lead NAACP - CNN.com
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Nintendo Loses Patent Infringement Case | Game | Life from Wired.com

A federal jury has found Nintendo guilty of patent infringement and  ordered the company to pay $21 million in damages.

The suit, filed by Anascape Ltd. in 2006, claims that the designs of the Wii Classic, WaveBird, and GameCube controllers infringed on patents held by Anascape.

Microsoft was also named in the suit, which alleged that  the two companies infringed upon a combined total of 12 different patents ranging from  "Remote Controller with Analog Pressure Sensor(s)" to  "Game Controller with Analog Pressure Sensors."

Microsoft reached an agreement with Anascape before the trial with Nintendo began.

Nintendo spokesman Charlie Scibetta said the company will be appealing the court's decision and expects the award will be reduced "significantly."

Nintendo Loses Patent Infringement Case | Game | Life from Wired.com
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» Brains of People with Depression Different - Psych Central News

Thursday, May 8 (Psych Central) -- Depressed BrainsPeople who suffer from depression may have far fewer of the receptors in the brain that regulate our happiness when compared to non-depressed people. The new study also suggests that the fewer receptors a person has, the more severe their depression.

Scans show untreated depressed people have fewer serotonin and opioid receptors, and that variation is linked to symptoms and treatment response. But the research also showed the numbers of these receptors can vary greatly from person to person.

The lead University of Michigan researcher, Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D., says these new results bolster what other researchers have been finding in recent years.

“There’s a substantial amount of biological difference even among people who have major depression, which is just as important as the biological differences between people with depression and people without,” he says.

“The more we can understand about these differences, the better we can address treatment to the individual and have the greatest effect on symptoms.”

Zubieta presented data from positron emission tomography, or PET, scans of the brains of patients who met the criteria for major depression but had not yet received treatment for it.

Those scans were compared with scans of the brains of non-depressed comparison volunteers.

In one group of depressed and non-depressed volunteers, the scans were made using a tracer that can reveal the location and concentration of a particular type of receptor. Called the 5HT1a receptor, it allows brain cells to receive signals from serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter produced by the brain.

Serotonin levels in the brain are linked to depression, but the importance of 5HT1a receptor concentrations in the brains of depressed people has been cloudy. That’s why Zubieta’s team chose to scan only people who had not yet received antidepressant medications, since some such medications may actually encourage the brain’s cells to make more serotonin receptors — and masking the actual level of receptors that the person has naturally.

In the study, 5HT1a receptor concentrations were markedly lower in depressed people compared with non-depressed people, in both the left and right hippocampus region of the brain.

But even among depressed people, the lower a person’s the 5HT1 receptor levels were, the worse he or she scored on assessments of their ability to function day-to-day. They were also less likely to get relief from symptoms when the researchers prescribed a common antidepressant.

This finding of individual variation may help explain why some patients find great relief from a medication that doesn’t help other equally depressed patients, says Zubieta.

The other group of depressed and non-depressed volunteers received PET scans with a tracer that allowed the researchers to see the mu-opioid receptors (which bind endorphins) in their brains. These receptors are the gateway for signals sent by chemicals which are involved in stress response including response to pain.

In this group of depressed and non-depressed volunteers, the researchers studied the distribution of the mu-opioid receptors and looked at how active the receptors were when the volunteers were asked to summon a sad memory or scenario to mind.

Depressed volunteers had lower concentrations of mu-opioid receptors to begin with. But when they underwent the “sadness challenge”, those receptors were much more active than the receptors in non-depressed people. And, just as with the serotonin 5HT1a receptors, the fewer mu-opioid receptors a person had, the less well they responded to an antidepressant medication.

Zubieta and his colleagues are now working to submit these new data for publication. At the same time, they are continuing to recruit depressed volunteers who are not taking medication for more brain imaging studies.

The preliminary findings were presented Tuesday at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

» Brains of People with Depression Different - Psych Central News
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Adult Cells Steal Trick from Cancer to Become Stem Cell-Like: Scientific American

mesenchymal cells

GOING MOBILE: Cells that have undergone the transfer from epithelial to mesenchymal are stem cell-like in their properties.

In a boon to cancer treatment and regenerative medicine, scientists have discovered that a trick used by tumor cells that allows them to migrate around the body can cause normal, adult cells to revert into stem cell–like cells.

Large quantities of these reverted cells could be used to treat anything from spinal cord injury to liver damage without the risk of tissue rejection, said Robert Weinberg, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and co-author of a study appearing in Cell. Learning more about how cancer cells move around the body is also providing scientists with new insights that could thwart the spread of the disease.

The key to the process is a better understanding of developmental changes in the body’s two primary cell types: epithelial cells (those that constitute the skin and most internal organs) and mesenchymal cells (which make up connective tissue). The key difference between the two cell categories is that epithelial cells adhere very tightly to one another, making sheetlike layers, whereas mesenchymal cells are only loosely bound and can migrate within the body. In the developing embryo, an initial group of epithelial cells undergoes a shift called an "epithelial to mesenchymal transition" (EMT) to form bones, blood and cartilage as well as the heart.

Likewise, some cancerous cells can perform a temporary EMT transformation to the mobile mesenchymal form. The conversion improves the cells' tumor-forming ability, cutting the number of tumor cells required to form a carcinoma from one million to just 10,000, the researchers say.

"More than 80 percent of cancer in humans occurs in epithelial cells," says study co-author Sendurai Mani, an assistant professor of molecular pathology at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a former postdoc in Weinberg's lab. Previous work in Weinberg's lab had shown that after a tumor forms in one part of the body, some of the cancer cells undergo EMT, Mani explains. The now-mesenchymal cells can then travel to a remote site, where they eventually convert back to their epithelial state and clump together into a secondary tumor.

Working with human breast tissue, the new study's authors attempted to induce EMT in normal cells; they figured they would just get fibroblasts, a type of connective tissue that is important in wound healing. When they looked closely, however, they noted that the transformed cells had surface proteins that were common to stem cells. Cultured in the lab, the changed cells showed an ability to differentiate into (or become) two discrete cells found in breast tissue. And the transformed cells proved to be very similar to actual stem cells from both mice and humans.

"What we're doing is inducing dedifferentiation," Mani says. He noted that it's not yet clear how far these cells can go down the path to immaturity—and, with it, the ability to become any tissue in the body. "We found, surprisingly, that EMT and stem cells could be linked; we show that, yes, they are very closely linked."

Mani says that the scientists may next pursue two paths: The team can determine how to stop cancer cells from undergoing this transformation in the first place. Second—a path they are already pursuing—they can gauge these transformed adult cells' worth as stem cell surrogates for regenerative medicine.

As far as the promise of regenerative therapies, the team will attempt to determine just how stem cell–like these cells are by inducing EMT in epithelial cells from the mammaries of mice to see if they can grow a breast in the lab. If they succeed, they can be reasonably confident that epithelial cells can be taken from a patient and used to regenerate damaged tissue in that same person.

Adult Cells Steal Trick from Cancer to Become Stem Cell-Like: Scientific American
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Yahoo! Personal Finance

Column: How consumers can cut their grocery bills
Tuesday May 13, 5:15 pm ET
By Anne D'Innocenzio, AP Business Writer

Strategic shopping can help consumers lower their supermarket bills despite soaring prices Q. The price of milk, rice and other food basics is soaring. How can I reduce my grocery bill while still providing my family with nutritious food?

A. With staples like milk now selling for almost $4 a gallon and the price of eggs at more than $2 per dozen, Americans' household budgets are being squeezed. And some analysts predict food inflation could double this year, lifted by the rising costs of fuel, corn and soybeans. But families can take steps to limit the impact of higher prices.

"Overall, you can control what you spend even in an environment where food prices are escalating fast," said Goutam Challagalla, associate dean and associate professor of marketing at Georgia Institute of Technology. "You can save without sacrificing quality."

First, Challagalla and other experts recommend that consumers make a list of food items the family needs before they go shopping and stick to it. Walking aimlessly up and down the aisles will encourage shoppers to pick up extra items like cookies and other munchies.

It's also a bad idea to go shopping when you're hungry. Consumers tend to be more impulsive, and pick up unnecessary items when they're shopping on an empty stomach.

Here are more tips to keep your food budget in check:

-- Buy store brands. The quality of store branded food items has improved dramatically in recent years, and many now compete with major national labels, according to Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports magazine. Some consumers may want to stick with name brand detergents or soaps, for example, but buying store brands for a broad array of products from fruit cups to cereals and pastas can save anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent, Marks said.

-- Evaluate unit prices. Buying in bulk is traditionally more economically, but that's not always the case, Marks says. So he and other experts recommend shoppers look at the item's cost per unit, which is found on the shelf sticker next to the item. Marks added that when items go on sale, shoppers should always compare the cost per unit on both the big and small packages to see which is a better deal.

But experts also say shoppers should keep in mind how much their families are going to consume. It's not economical to buy a big bag of fruit if it's going to end up rotting in the refrigerator.

-- Compare prices of the same product in different areas of the store. "Where things are placed in a store can make a big difference," says Challagalla. For example, cheese is often cheaper in the dairy aisle than the deli because shoppers have to pay extra for it to be sliced.

-- Clip coupons. Shoppers should look through circulars for special deals, but Marks warns them not to assume that all items in a supermarket's weekly flyer are on sale. He noted that manufacturers could have paid to have the item featured.

-- Obtain a store card. These loyalty cards allow shoppers to get extra discounts on items without having to clip coupons.

-- Consider frozen foods. Frozen peas, fish and other items are cheaper than fresh because they have a longer shelf life.

"Anything that is perishable, shoppers are going to have to pay higher prices because stores have to build it into their (profit) margins," said Challagalla.

-- Ignore precut fruit or vegetables or other prepped items. While it's nice to have that pineapple cut up in chunks, that extra convenience costs money.

-- Avoid items displayed at the checkout counter. Stores feature single serving pies, cans of soda and other items at the checkout that are often more expensive, but can be tempting to shoppers, particularly hungry ones, Marks said.

On the Web:

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