Daily Archives: May 9, 2007

Climate change farmers ‘need GM crops’

Sydney Morning Herald | May 7, 2007

Australians will have to accept genetically modified food if the agriculture industry is to continue in an era of climate change, an Adelaide expert says.

Professor Mark Tester from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide said genetically modified (GM) food should be embraced as farmers battle the effects of global warming.

Prof Tester said a current GM study focused on improving the “toughness” genes of plants so they could survive in extended periods of drought, high-salinity areas or hotter weather.

Australian farmers who grew wheat and barley could benefit most from changes in the structure of plants, he said.

“Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment,” Prof Tester said.

“There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainability and economically.

“Genetic modification is one of those tools.”

Prof Tester said he understood current opposition to GM crops because the public could not see any benefit but technological improvements would produce better crops for the future with less stress on the environment.

He said there was no reason why people who embraced organic and clean food could not embrace GM food.

“Genetically modified food is about adapting the plant to the environment rather than adopting the environment to the plant,” he said.

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Federal Reserve may not acknowledge record gas prices to avoid fueling worries

Reuters | May 8, 2007

Ordinary Americans could be hurting from near-record prices for gasoline, but the Federal Reserve may not acknowledge this when it meets on Wednesday to decide on interest rate policy.

Policy-makers may want to avoid fueling worries in financial markets by underlining any concern about high oil prices.

The Fed may want to focus on making a case for leaving interest rates unchanged, as expected. U.S. central bankers meet to decide whether to tinker with the 5.25 percent benchmark overnight federal funds rate after making no changes in six meetings following a rate hike last June.

“It is unlikely they will single out energy as a commodity that is going up,” said Neil Wolfson, president of Wilmington Trust Investment Management in New York.

If the Fed does cite energy prices as a factor it is watching, it will not be for the first time. As recently as December 12, policy-makers said “inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time, reflecting reduced impetus from gasoline prices.” Then, prices had fallen about 30 percent from summer levels.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina pushed gasoline to a record high, the Fed said higher energy costs could “add to inflation pressures.”

“Rising energy does tend to curb the consumer and would have the effect of slowing down economic growth,” Wolfson added.

The national price for U.S. regular unleaded gasoline rose 8.3 cents over the last week to $3.054 a gallon, the second-highest level ever, the federal Energy Information Administration said on Monday.

Child abuse up after military deployment

UPI | May 8, 2007

Rates of abuse and neglect of young children in military families in Texas have doubled since October 2002, according to a U.S. study.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that among soldiers with at least one dependent, for every 1-percent increase in the number of active-duty soldiers departing or returning, there was a 30-percent increase in the rate of substantiated maltreatment cases.

The researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that prior to October 2002 the rate of abuse and neglect — maltreatment — was slightly higher among non-military families compared with military families.

However, after the United States started sending larger numbers of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003, rates of abuse and neglect in military families far outpaced the rates among non-military families.

During the same period, the rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect was relatively stable for non-military families, according to lead author Danielle Rentz.

Will British royalty rule over America again?

Daily Mail | May 9, 2007

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“If it had not been for my great-great-great-great-grandfather George III’s reinvasion and subsequent victory in the War of 1812, I might be coming here as a guest from Britain, rather than as your sovereign Queen.”

Americans and Britons will come together to celebrate the reestablishment of monarchy on the American continent.

From Los Angeles to Brighton, from San Francisco to Thanet, we shall all cry, God Save The Queen!
 
Welcoming the Queen on her state visit to the U.S. this week, President Bush made an embarrassing gaffe when he suggested Her Majesty had been alive when America won the War of Independence more than two centuries ago. She coolly laughed off his mistake.

But what if America had lost that war and the U.S. were still part of the British realm? Here, ANDREW ROBERTS imagines a very different world – and a remarkably different history of the past 230 years – if Britain’s dominions still extended to America. . .

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is in her 81st year, and it is perfectly understandable that she should want to take life a little easier.

Happiest on her Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham estates, she travels much less nowadays to her realm’s more far-flung western states, such as Vancouver, Texas and California.

It was a gross error of political protocol, therefore, that President Tony Blair was not in Washington, District of Columbia, when she came to visit, but instead handed over the duty to his Vice-President, George W. Bush.

Of course, Mr Blair has been globe-trotting ever since his presidency entered its ‘ lameduck’ phase last autumn, but it might have been expected that when his monarch came to visit her White House residence – the American home of British monarchs ever since 1812 – he would have cut short his transatlantic job-seeking to welcome her personally.

The forthcoming elections to succeed Blair, between the Tory nominee, Vice-President Bush, and his Democratic challenger, Governor Gordon Brown of South Scotland, are entering their final phase, and the Queen’s visit will be closely watched for any indication of her personal preferences.

Needless to say, after half a century on the throne, Her Majesty was far too professional to let slip any hint of whom she would like to win.

Although he is considered one of the most successful state governors in the entire 75-state Union, Brown is facing one of the most formidable electionwinning machines of recent years.

“It is good to be back in Washington,” the Queen started her speech to the state banquet in the White House last night, attended by both contenders.

“Sometimes I am asked why the name of a man who was, after all, hanged for treason should have been retained as the name of this great city.

“I answer that although George Washington was indeed a rebel, he was nonetheless a courageous and far-sighted man. For a short period, he believed he had achieved an independent America, and signed a declaration to that effect in 1776.

“If it had not been for my great-great-great-great-grandfather George III’s reinvasion and subsequent victory in the War of 1812, I might be coming here as a guest from Britain, rather than as your sovereign Queen.”

There were titters in the audience at the mere mention of such an absurdity.

The rest of her speech touched on various international issues before she made the surprise announcement that caught the attention of the evening news channels,

“In the light of my ever-advancing age, I will be spending more time at my residences in Kentucky and Florida than hitherto, enjoying the horse-breeding and racing opportunities of the former and the mild climate of the latter.

“The Prince of Wales will be taking on many of my more onerous duties, such asc investitures and state visits, and will be dividing his time between his present home in New York and Clarence House in London.”

All eyes turned to the Prince, who fiddled with his cuff-links, but looked pleased.

“There were many moments in history when the world has had cause to look back with satisfaction on my ancestor’s victory in 1812,”

Her Majesty continued, “and the subsequent reincorporation of his American colonies into the British Empire.

“We are reminded, for example, of August 1914 when the German Empire came perilously close to invading France and Belgium, and stepped back only when President Woodrow Wilson and Vice-President Herbert Asquith sent 20 American and 15 British divisions to the South Coast of England ready to embark on the outbreak of war.

“In my own lifetime, Adolf Hitler might not have been overthrown by the German generals in March 1936 if the Roosevelt-Churchill inistration had not given orders to fire on any German troops crossing into the Rhineland.

“The success of the League of Nations in keeping peace in the 20th century was also largely due to the great Anglo-American commitment to its success, and willingness to back up its words with the threat of force.”

The Queen then said that, although her transatlantic crossing in the new Royal Yacht Atlantia – a gift of the BP-Exxon conglomerat – had been enjoyable, “henceforth it will be my son and the Duchess of Cornwall who will embark on the next three state visits, to President Sarkozy in Paris, Tsar Alexander IV in St Petersburg and, of course, the Sultan Mehmed VII in Constantinople.

“Fortunately,” the Queen continued, “the fact that no European or world war broke out in 1914 meant that certain dangerous movements, such as those who followed the creed known to history as Marxism-Leninism, and those who wished to split up the territories of our long-standing ally the Ottoman Empire, were never able to impose their malign will upon the 20th century, which was instead dominated by the munificence and decency of the English-speaking peoples.

“Had there been a devastating war when that century was in its teens, it is perfectly possible, for example, that Vladimir Lenin might not have committed suicide in despair in Zurich in 1916.”

She went on to say how much she enjoyed her foreign tours, “I have happy memories of visiting, especially, my first cousins the Romanovs in their beautiful palaces such as Tsarskoe Selo and the Winter Palace.”

Her Majesty ended by emphasising how the northern seven states in what used to be Canada needed to integrate more wholeheartedly into the life of the 52 American and 16 British states.

The affection ordinary Americans have for the monarchy might seem surprising considering that it originated from across the Atlantic, but members of the British Royal Family were always very good at adapting themselves to new circumstances.

Above all, their support for Protestant mercantilism, democratic reforms and anti-French military adventures endeared them to their American subjects.

As constitutional monarchs they went along with the progressive mood of the people and were in the forefront of the abolition of slavery in the reign of Queen Victoria of UGBA (the Union of Great Britain and America).

Indeed, many historians now feel that without Victoria’s common sense in supporting abolition in the early 1860s, Americans might even have fought a civil war over the issue.

The overwhelming power that the Anglo-American Empire, stretching from Australia to the Philippines and across India to the Atlantic, enjoyed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries meant that from the time of the defeat of Napoleon, the world has been spared the regular devastating wars that so scarred the history of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The truth is that constitutional monarchy seems to have worked well in the American context.

Except for the Queen’s brave decision to dismiss the Nixon administration over the Watergate scandal in 1973 – long before the issue managed to poison Washington politics – there has been no need in recent years for her to exercise the great powers that she retains under the constitution.

The Royal Family has been an institution around which all aspects of American society have been able to coalesce over the past two centuries.

That is principally why everyone is looking forward so much to the bicentennial celebrations of 2012, which are set to dwarf the London Olympics.

For that is the time when Americans and Britons will come together to celebrate the reestablishment of monarchy on the American continent.

From Los Angeles to Brighton, from San Francisco to Thanet, we shall all cry, God Save The Queen!

Major powers discuss imposing tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran

Reuters | May 8, 2007

Major powers will discuss on Wednesday imposing tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran unless it halts uranium enrichment work the West suspects is part of a secret program to build nuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday President George W. Bush would keep a military option on the table but remained committed to a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.

Iran made clear again on Wednesday it would not give up its nuclear program, which it says is only for electricity to benefit its economy, particularly to export more oil and gas.

The United Nations has already imposed limited sanctions after Iran rejected resolutions ordering it to freeze the work.

Political directors from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany will discuss Iran on the sidelines of a Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Berlin.

“Among other things, they will discuss possible language for a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran,” a diplomat from one of the six powers said on condition of anonymity.

Among possible future sanctions was an increase in the number of Iranian banks to be blacklisted by the United Nations, diplomats said.

Food additives causing behaviour problems in children

Daily Mail | May 8, 2007

food_additives_child_behavior

Parents have been warned to avoid artificial additives used in drinks, sweets and processed foods amid a link to behaviour problems in children.

A study funded by the government’s Food Standards Agency(FSA) is understood to have drawn a link with temper tantrums and poor concentration.

There are also concerns about allergic reactions such as asthma and rashes.

The findings are potentially explosive for the entire food industry, which faces the need to reformulate a vast array of children’s products.

Vyvyan Howard, professor of bio-imaging at Ulster University and an adviser to the FSA, called on parents and manufacturers to protect children.

He said: “It is biologically plausible that they could be having an effect.

“Parents can protect their children by avoiding foods containing the additives. I personally do not feed these sorts of foods to my 15-month-old daughter.”

He called on manufacturers and supermarkets to remove the additives on a precautionary basis.

He said: “It is the right thing to do to remove these additives from children’s foods. They have no nutritional value, so why put them in?

“There are very tight restrictions banning these additives from foods designed for children under the age of one.

“But why stop there? Children’s brains and nervous systems are developing beyond the age of one.”

Prof Howard is not a member of the FSA committee assessing the latest research, however he did advise on how the study should be conducted.

Experts on the FSA’s Committee on Toxicity(CoT) are expected to say that parents who want to minimise any risk of an adverse reaction should avoid these additives.

Some leading companies have already responded to mounting evidence of harm caused by chemical additives, particularly the vivid colours used to dress up products.

Smarties has dropped artificial colours with the result the blue variety has been axed.

Sainsbury’s recently announced a ban on artificial colours and flavours from 120 own label soft drinks. This follows similar moves by Marks & Spencer and the Co-op.

The research, carried out by a team from Southampton University, appears to confirm earlier studies suggesting additives can cause reactions, either individually or as a cocktail.

The colours, tested on groups of three-year-olds and eight-to-nine year olds, were tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129).

The team also looked at the effect of the preservative sodium benzoate (E211), which is commonly used in soft drinks.

Precise details of the research findings are being kept secret until they can be peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal.

However, a source at Southampton University told the food industry’s magazine, The Grocer, that their results are in line with earlier findings, published in 2004.

The original research, which took place on the Isle of Wight, involved giving fruit drinks to children aged three. In some weeks, these were laced with additives.

Parents reported changed behaviour when the youngsters were given the additives.

However, the original findings were questioned because they relied on anecdotal reports from parents while the fact the children were so young made it difficult to measure their behaviour in a meaningful way.

Because of these doubts, a second tranche of research was commissioned following advice from an expert committee, which included Professor Howard.

The Founder of the Hyperactive Children Support Group, Sally Bunday, said there is good evidence that artificial additives can have a harmful effect.

She said: “The consequences can be very serious for both children and adults who are sensitive to these artificial colours.

“The reaction in children can be horrendous in terms of mood swings with crying, screaming, inability to sleep. There can also be physical reactions such as difficulty in breathing on skin rashes.

“For a young person there is also a risk of quite angry mood swings.”

The founder of the organic brand Organix, Lizzie Vann, has been campaigning for a ban on all artificial additives from children’s food.

“The use of artificial additives in children’s foods means we are conducting a long-term experiment on our children’s health,” she said.

“If the Government is serious about improving children’s nutrition the ban on artificial food additives must be a priority.”

The Food & Drink Federation, which speaks for manufacturers, said the colours and chemicals used by the industry are proven to be safe.

“The use of food additives is strictly regulated under European law,” it said.

“They must be approved as safe by the appropriate European scientific committee before they can be used…Consumers’ intake of food additives is also closely monitored.

“A recent European Commission report on ‘Dietary Food Additive Intake’ indicated that consumption of all types of additives was within the strict safety limits set by the legislation. Particular attention was given to consumption by children.”

The FSA and Southampton University refused to comment until the research has been officially published.

Brussels backs down over plans to outlaw pounds and ounces

Daily Mail | May 8, 2007

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U-turn: Brussels has backed down over its drive to outlaw the Imperial system

Britain is to keep its pounds and ounces.

Campaigners are celebrating after the European Commission abandoned its hugely unpopular plan to scrap the historic Imperial measures.

Brussels bureaucrats admitted that forcing traders to use only metric grams and kilos would not be ‘good for business’.

The present dual labelling system, displaying both sets of measures, will now carry on indefinitely.

Neil Herron, director of the Metric Martyrs pressure group, hailed a ‘monumental victory’.

He dedicated the triumph to the memory of his friend Steven Thoburn, the Sunderland green-grocer who died at 39 as he fought his conviction for selling bananas by the pound.

Mr Herron said: “People power has forced the Commission and the Government to abandon the enforced metrication programme.

“We have saved the pint, the mile, the yard, the foot and now we have saved pounds and ounces. We have stood toe to toe with the Government and the EU and won – and shown others that you can stop the tide of EU legislation.”

Under Brussels plans dating back to the 1990s, it would have become illegal for UK shops to display the Imperial measurements after January 1, 2010, with traders facing fines of up to £2,000.

But Industry Commissioner Gunther Verheugan performed a spectacular U-turn when he spoke to a committee of MEPs on Tuesday.

He said research had shown that the intended ban would damage trade with the US, which uses Imperial measurements for many goods.

A Commission spokesman admitted later that Mr Verheugan had backtracked after consultations with traders showed overwhelming support for dual labelling.

Mr Verheugan is expected to recommend next week that the EC rejects the proposals for metric-only measures, lifting any potential threat to feet and inches as well.

Tory spokesman Giles Chichester said: “I am happy the Commission has been persuaded that it is good not only for international business but for the British people that traditional measurements are kept. I just hope that the Government will avoid forcing metrication down the public’s throat.”

David Delaney, of the British Weights and Measures Association, said he was “overjoyed”.

He added: “We have campaigned for 25 years to ensure choice in measures and faced many defeats. Now we are within touching distance of a final victory.”

A survey by the association last November showed eight out of ten people opposed metric-only measurements.

A Department for Trade and Industry spokesman said: “The EC held a public consultation on dual labelling and we responded that we wanted to keep it. We are now waiting for a formal ruling.”

But Mr Herron called the Government’s reaction ‘hypocritical’. He said the DTI had slipped plans to outlaw pounds and ounces completely on to the Statute Book in 2001.

Mr Thoburn, the original Metric Martyr, was convicted by magistrates in Sunderland in 2001 of using scales that could not weigh in metric units, which had become illegal the previous year.

He was given a six-month conditional discharge, but died of a heart attack three years later after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his final appeal against his conviction.

Mr Herron said he planned to campaign for a Royal Pardon for his friend.

He said: “He should never have been prosecuted and all the authorities knew it should never have happened. The name of Steve Thoburn will be chiselled into the pages of the history books.”

Ian Hartley, Mr Thoburn’s father-in-law, said: “He would have been so proud to see this result after years of campaigning”.

Only four shopkeepers were ever prosecuted for using pounds and ounces – an offence which carried fines of up to £5,000 – as the Metric Martyrs campaign won support from millions.

At least 15 consumer surveys between 1995 and 2000 found the British people overwhelmingly rejecting metrification.

Under existing European rules, which will now not be changed, shops must use metric units as the main measurement of weight, but can display the equivalent in pounds and ounces as well.