Daily Archives: June 16, 2011

Who were the Knights Templar?

Artwork of a Templar knight wearing chain mail, helmet and a white tunic with a red cross emblem and wielding a sword and shield Photo: GETTY

The order of the Knights Templar was founded by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, along with eight of his companions, in Jerusalem around 1119.

Telegraph | Jun 16, 2011

By Nick Squires, Rome

They originally consisted of a group of knights who protected Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land against attack from brigands and Saracen pirates, after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.

The order’s full name was the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.

They were given quarters next to the temple and adopted their distinctive uniform – white tunics with an eight-pointed blood-red cross.

In 1129 they took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and pledged themselves ready to die for their faith.

They were gradually transformed into a chivalric order of warrior-monks who fought with distinction in the Crusades.

Thanks to generous donations they received from kings, feudal lords and the Church, they accrued territory and property throughout Europe.

They were granted special privileges by the Vatican – in 1139 Innocent II exempted them from lay and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

They may even have secretly venerated and guarded the Shroud of Turin for 100 years after the end of the Crusades, Vatican researchers claimed two years ago.

Turin Shroud ‘the creation of Renaissance artist Giotto’

Dr Barbara Frale, a historian in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud – said to be the cloth in which Christ was buried after his crucifixion – vanished during the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century.

She found a document in which a young Frenchman who became a Templar in 1287 said that as part of his initiation he had been shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and that he was told to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

After being dissolved in the 14th century, the Knights Templar was revived as a movement in Paris in 1804, adopting the title The Grand Priory of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani, commonly called Knights Templar International.

Its remit to carry out charitable works and historical research and to protect Christian sites in the Holy Land, through diplomatic rather than military means.

It is recognised as a non-governmental organisation with special consultative status by the United Nations.

The Templars now have representatives around the world, including around 500 members in Italy, and a branch in England and Wales, based in Hertfordshire.

. . .



Pope’s Berlin mass moved to Nazi Olympic site

View of the Olympic Stadium, centerpiece of Berlin’s Reich Sports Field. Berlin, Germany, 1936. Photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Pope Benedict’s mass in his homeland has been moved due to high demand and will now take place in Berlin’s Nazi-built Olympic Stadium.

Telegraph | Jun 15, 2011

The original venue, the Charlottenburg palace in Berlin, was ruled out because ticket requests had surpassed its 40,000 capacity for the September 22 mass, the Berlin archdiocese said. The stadium has a 74,000-seat capacity.

Despite extensive renovations in 2004, the Olympic stadium’s architecture still reflects its origins under Adolf Hitler, who used the 1936 Summer Games to promote a resurgent Germany on the world stage.

African-American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals in prized track and field events, a blow to Hitler’s theory of white racial superiority.

Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth when membership was compulsory and was later drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps.

His four-day visit from Sept 22-25 comes as a rising number of German Catholics are quitting the church over allegations that priests sexually abused children for decades.

Some 180,000 German Catholics left the Church in 2010, a 40 per cent increase from the previous year and the first time the number of parishioners quitting the Church surpassed those leaving the main Protestant churches in postwar Germany.

The visit will be Benedict’s third trip to Germany since becoming pope in 2005.

Cows churn out “human breast milk”

“I think natural products are much better. I don’t know what might happen if my daughter consumes genetically modified things.”

Reuters | Jun 16, 2011

By Haze Fan and Maxim Duncan

BEIJING – Chinese scientists have produced a herd of genetically modified cows that make milk that could substitute for human breast milk — a possible alternative to formula in a nation rocked by tainted milk powder scandals.

Researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology of the China Agricultural University introduced human genetic coding into the DNA of Holstein dairy cow embryos, then transferred the embryos into cow surrogates.

In 2003, after years of testing on mice, scientists managed to create the first cow that could produce milk with the same nutritional properties as human breast milk, but with a taste even stronger and sweeter.

“The genetically modified cow milk is 80 percent the same as human breast milk,” said Li Ning, a professor and the project’s director as well as lead researcher.

“Our modified cow milk contains several major properties of human milk, in particular proteins and antibodies which we believe are good for our health and able to improve our immune system.”

Over 300 cloned cattle now live on an experimental farm in suburban Beijing, with new calves delivered every week.

Li’s team, which is supported by a major Chinese biotechnology company, aims to have an affordable form of the milk on the market within three years.

Behind their efforts is a series of poisonings and toxin scandals that have shaken consumer trust in China’s dairy sector and its products.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added to low quality or diluted milk to fool inspectors checking for protein levels.


Before the milk can be marketed, for other people as well as babies, stricter safety tests are needed, Li said.

“In fact, we still need to conduct clinical trials on human beings with volunteers and finally prove that the cow milk is good and safe for the elderly, infants and the ill, especially those suffering from chronic diseases,” Lid added.

“Only after these steps are completed can the government examine it and approve a certificate for its commercial use.”

Despite the potential, the team’s breakthrough has drawn criticism from opponents of genetically modified food who question the safety of the milk for humans. Others worry about the impact on the cows’ health.

Greenpeace notes that China has been investing considerably in genetically modified food research in recent years, despite the lack of a credible, independent system of supervision and inspection.

It also insists that genetically modified products should not be allowed to enter the human food chain.

Chinese parents had a mixed response, with some wary but willing to give the milk a try while others were far more cautious.

“I won’t try it. Even if it’s similar to human breast milk, it’s still genetically modified,” said a woman who gave her family name as Lu, the mother of a 14-month-old girl.

“I think natural products are much better. I don’t know what might happen if my daughter consumes genetically modified things.”

Dangerous new plant disease linked to genetically engineered crops and pesticides

A US scientist is concerned GM crops and the pesticide glyphosate could be causing a dangerous plant disease.

abc.net.au | Jun 16, 2011

By Flint Duxfield from Adelaide

US scientists claim to have discovered a dangerous new plant disease linked to genetically modified crops and the pesticides used on them.

The research, which is yet to be completed, suggests the pathogen could be the cause of recent widespread crop failure and miscarriages in livestock.

Emeritus Professor Don Huber from Perdue University says his research shows that animals fed on GM corn or soybeans may suffer serious health problems due the pathogen.

“They’re finding anywhere from 20 per cent to as much as 55 per cent of those [animals] will miscarriage or spontaneously abort,” he said.

“It will kill a chicken embryo for instance in 24-48 hours.”

Professor Huber says it isn’t clear yet whether it is the GM crops or the use of the pesticide glyphosate that causes the pathogen. But he says his research shows both the pesticide and the GM crops also reduce the ability of plants to absorb nutrients from the soil that are necessary for animal health.

“If you have the [GM] gene present there is a reduced efficiency for the plant to use those nutrients.
“When you put the glyphosate out then you have an additional factor to reduce the nutrient availability to the crop,” he said.

Professor Huber’s concerns came to light in February this year after a private letter he wrote to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Tom Vilsack, was leaked to the media.

The letter requested the USDA halt plans to approve GM alfalfa for the US market until further research could be done into the threats posed by the pathogen.

Following the publication of Professor Huber’s letter, the company that produces the genetically modified seeds, Monsanto, released a statement rejecting his claims.

“Monsanto is not aware of any reliable studies that demonstrate Roundup Ready crops are more susceptible to certain diseases or that the application of glyphosate to Roundup Ready crops increases a plant’s susceptibility to diseases,” the statement read.

The Australian plant science industry peak body, Croplife, also dismissed Professor Huber’s concerns.

“We’ve had more than a trillion meals of GM based crops served globally with no health incidents whatsoever,” said chief executive officer, Matthew Cossey.

Mr Cossey says it is premature to be raising concerns about GM crops or glyphosate until the data is published.

“There’s a whole range of claims out there, very few end up being backed up by data.”

Following Professor Huber’s letter six scientists from Perdue University published a statement saying the suggestion that glyphosate is having a significant affect on plant health is “largely unsubstantiated”.

While the scientists say that GM soybeans and wheat are no more susceptible to soil-borne diseases than non-GM varieties, they acknowledged that Prof Huber’s concerns are not unfounded.

“Research has indicated that plants sprayed with glyphosate or other herbicides are more susceptible to many biological and physiological disorders,” the statement says.

The final outcomes of Professor Huber’s study are expected to be published later this year. In the meanwhile he says it would be appropriate to adopt a precautionary approach to the use of glyphosate and the deregulation of GM crops.

“All the red flags are standing in a row for us,” he said. “I would certainly express serious concerns with deregulation of our genetically modified crops.”

House Moves to Ban Genetically Modified Salmon

NY Times | Jun 16, 2011

By PAUL VOOSEN of Greenwire

In a potential blow to the future of the biotech industry, a handful of House lawmakers voted last night to bar the Food and Drug Administration from approving any bioengineered salmon for mass consumption.

A terse amendment (pdf) offered by Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) would ban FDA from spending any funds on genetically engineered salmon approvals beginning in the next financial year. Less than a dozen lawmakers voted by voice to attach the amendment to an agriculture spending bill expected to pass the House this week.

The amendment is squarely aimed at preventing the approval of a fast-growing modified salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies. For years, FDA has considered approving the salmon for limited cultivation in inland tanks, and last fall the agency held public meetings considering the approval, drawing broad public notice. The largely sterile salmon could be the first bioengineered animal approved for human consumption.

“This sort of political gamesmanship undermines the science-based regulatory process,” said Ronald Stotish, AquaBounty’s CEO. “It is astonishing that Young and the very few representatives present during this vote — less than the number of fingers on both hands — would try to game the system in this way.”

Young has long been opposed to AquaBounty’s salmon, introducing bills last year and this year banning the fish or, if it is approved, requiring mandatory labeling of the salmon as genetically engineered. He has been joined in his fight by a small bipartisan group of Pacific Northwest lawmakers, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), among others.

In a statement, Young said he had deep concern about the salmon, which he dubbed “Frankenfish.”

“Frankenfish is uncertain and unnecessary,” Young said. “Should it receive approval as an animal drug, it clears the path to introduce it into the food supply. My amendment cuts them off before they can get that far. Any approval of genetically modified salmon could seriously threaten wild salmon populations as they grow twice as fast and require much more food.”

AquaBounty’s salmon has drawn fire from a host of environmental groups, concerned about its potential escape, and also from the salmon farming industry. Should the bioengineered salmon be approved and grown profitably in inland tanks, the fish could undermine traditional ocean-based farms and give AquaBounty a dominant position in the industry.

If FDA approves its petition, AquaBounty would grow its largely sterile salmon at inland fish farms in Canada and Panama for eventual sale in the United States. AquaBounty has proposed layers of confinement for these facilities, and its partners would need to seek FDA approval for expanded cultivation. However, these applications could come without public input and could allow a compounded environmental risk to go unexamined, environmental groups warn.

In recent months, these groups have focused their campaign against the salmon on the state level, pushing for a bill to label the fish in the California Legislature. While the state’s Assembly Health Committee approved the bill, it has not yet faced a full vote.

Meanwhile, they have also submitted a formal petition to FDA calling for a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on the fish’s potential effects, said George Leonard, director of the aquaculture program at the Ocean Conservancy.

“The only person I’ve seen that wants this fish is the company itself,” he said, adding that his group was certainly “on board” with Young’s amendment. “We’ve had troubles with FDA’s approval of this fish from the beginning.”

While there may not be a broad outcry for the salmon, that may not be solid enough grounds for banning the fish.

This is a question of science, said David Edwards, director for animal biotech at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“It’s unfortunate that the politics that has gotten into this,” Edwards said. “It’s really a problem that should be debated by scientific experts. And those experts are at FDA.”

Already, FDA’s experts have found the fish safe to eat, a finding echoed by many independent scientists. However, the agency has not yet issued an environmental assessment of what risks, if any, the salmon could pose to the environment.

When it rules, the agency could either call for a full EIS or approve the fish outright; either decision would then entail a month of public comment.

Debate over environmental impact

Many scientists have said that if the fast-growing fish allows salmon to be profitably grown away from the ocean, where fish farms cause heavy environmental damage through their waste and escaped charges, the AquaBounty salmon could be a theoretical win for the environment. But knowing if that theory translates into practice may require additional research confirming that the modified salmon would not thrive in wild conditions if it escaped.

AquaBounty’s salmon grow twice as fast as conventional salmon, their DNA spliced with an always-on growth hormone gene from the chinook salmon. While fast-growing, they do not ultimately grow larger than their Atlantic salmon cousins. AquaBounty will also induce sterility into its all-female populations of the fish, though the firm’s own assessments agree that these sterility controls could leave up to 5 percent of the fish sterile.

Some scientists have been critical of a provisional environmental assessment, prepared by AquaBounty and overseen by FDA, that the agency published on its website last fall. That report cited multiple proposed confinement methods — including physical isolation and a high sterility rate — to avoid a consideration of broader environmental impacts should a few fertile fish escape (Greenwire, Oct. 7, 2010).

Another sore point in the public discussion of AquaBounty’s salmon has been the possibility that the fish, like all modified crops grown in the country, could be sold on store shelves without any labeling. Since the salmon is relatively indistinguishable from conventional and farmed salmon — at least from a nutritional standpoint — FDA may not have the regulatory authority to label it, the agency has said.

The amendment’s ultimate fate is uncertain. The Senate is unlikely to approve the House spending bill unmodified, and it is unclear whether the amendment has the broad support to survive to final passage.

Gates Foundation: Human excrement would make a good fuel for the poor

Residents carry water brought from a well just yards away from a river of human waste and garbage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UMA Press/Newscom/File

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used.

csmonitor.com | Jun 15, 2011

By Gregory M. Lamb

It’s not enough just to keep human excrement out of water supplies and other places where it’s not welcomed. Not putting it to practical use is, well, a waste.

Now a Columbia University professor of environmental engineering has teamed up with a social enterprise in Accra, Ghana, to turn “fecal sludge” into biodiesel or methane fuel. The project, called the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility,” is in cooperation with Waste Enterprisers and is being underwritten by a recently announced $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” says Dr. Kartik Chandran in a news release from Columbia University. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.”


Japanese scientists: “Let them eat shit”

Half the people in the developing world – some 2.5 billion people – lack access to safe sanitation, according the Gates foundation. “1.2 billion people practice open defecation, meaning they have no sanitation facilities at all, and 1.3 billion people use unsafe latrines. Most of these people live in rural areas, but as urbanization increases, the crisis is spreading to towns and cities as well.”

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says. “Energy can be derived through digestion, extraction, or combustion, simultaneously reducing the volume of sludge that must be disposed.”

The Gates foundation is focusing on improving sanitation in poor regions, seeing it as one of the “Grand Challenges” facing the world.

Dr. Chandran and his partners are developing methods to convert organic compounds in human waste into usable fuels. That will keep the waste out of the environment, where it’s a contributing factor to disease, and provide an alternative fuel source.

Chandra’s work is part of a project by Engineers without Borders, which taps engineering expertise to address human needs.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used, Chandra says. “In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic,” he says. “Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition.”

Dubai says no to body scanners, procedures adequate

thenational.ae | Jun 10, 2011  

by Awad Mustafa

DUBAI // Full-body scanners will not be introduced at Dubai International Airport, police have confirmed.

Security teams will instead rely on well-trained personnel to provide screening, Brig Gen Ahmed bin Thani, the director of the Airport Security Department at Dubai Police, said yesterday.

The airport had been considering purchasing the controversial machines – which create images of passengers’ bodies through their clothing – as recently as December, when officials suggested they could be modified to protect privacy and health.

However, Brig Gen Thani said that international standards adopted by the airport in 2007 were already adequate to ensure passenger safety.

“Every airline has security procedures set by the international air travel association and their respective civil aviation authorities,” he said.

About 12 million passengers were expected to use the airport during the summer, he said, but police were not expecting a seasonal increase in crime.


New Airport Scanners Will See Through Bodies

“We have had no indications of spikes in criminal activities during the busy summer season, but the main problems related to the increase in passenger traffic are to do with people who are unaware of security regulations.”

Passengers who issued threats would be “dealt with in accordance to the set guidelines and laws”.

“The majority of the cases that have been reported showed that there was no real intention for a security or terrorist threat, but mostly people just speaking in anger. However, any such talk will be treated very seriously.”

Passengers arriving in the country were the main concern. “We have not registered any departure cases,” said the brigadier general.

However, departure passengers could face arrest if there were a bulletin posted for them at the airport for either criminal or civil matters.

“This procedure is concerned with people who have mostly financial cases registered against them,” he said.

The brigadier general’s comments came at the start of a campaign by the Airport Security Department in conjunction with Dubai Airports to raise safety and security awareness among travellers this summer.

The campaign will involve 100 students and 250 Dubai airport staff. It aims to inform the public of security precautions, such as the limits on liquids allowed onboard, through the use of radio and television adverts, SMS messages and 50,000 flyers.

“Delays by passengers incur financial costs on airports, airlines and the general public. We would like the travel process to go smoother and safer for all members of the public,” Brig Gen al Thani said.