Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Koh Soo Keong appointed as new Chairman of Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority

Channel NewsAsia
31 March 2008

SINGAPORE: Mr Koh Soo Keong will be taking over as the new Chairman of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) come 1 April.

Currently AVA's Deputy Chairman, Mr Koh will be succeeding the current and founding Chairman Mr Koh Poh Tiong.

Mr Koh Poh Tiong has been AVA's Chairman since April 2000.

He helped to guide the growth and development of AVA and established it as the national authority for food safety.

Under Mr Koh Poh Tiong's leadership, AVA adopted a risk management approach to achieve diversification in food supply sources.

Its food safety management system was also strengthened by the upgrading its professional and diagnostic capabilities.

Mr Koh also helped AVA formulate strategies to enhance the resilience of Singapore's food supply.

Minister for National Development, Mah Bow Tan, said: "I deeply appreciate Mr Koh Poh Tiong's significant contributions, as the first Chairman of AVA, in guiding the development of AVA into a recognised and credible authority on food safety and veterinary services." - CNA/vm

Labels: ,


LTA may give cash rebates to persuade more to switch to public transport

By Asha Popatlal, Channel NewsAsia
30 March 2008

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is considering giving cash instead of credits when one gives up his or her car to persuade more people to opt for public transport.

Transport Minister Raymond Lim said he has asked LTA to work with the Finance Ministry to see if Certificate of Entitlement (COE) and Additional Registration Fee (ARF) rebates can be given in cash when motorists decide to give up their cars.

This study should take about four to six months.

A whole slew of measures was announced from late January on improving bus and rail services to get more people to use public transport. A more extensive ERP system was also set up as part of the deal to keep traffic smooth.

But what kind of push do people actually need to give up their cars?

One idea that has been tossed about and was recently brought up by MP Inderjit Singh during the Budget debate is to give cash incentives.

The current situation is that when a motorist gives up his or her car, ARF and COE rebates are given in terms of credits. In order not to lose out, motorists usually end up using these credits to purchase another car.

Many people have given the feedback that if these rebates are given to them in cash, it would be more of an incentive for them not to buy another car.

But by that same token, motorists could – just as easily – take the cash rebate and purchase another vehicle.

Mr Lim said: "That can happen – I agree. That is why I said we have to study this very carefully. If we are going to do this, how best are we going to do it?"

The transport minister was speaking at the release of the detailed Masterplan report on Sunday, which marks out in detail the announcements made recently and the plans on the road map for the next 15 years, with a simpler illustrated version for the community at large.

The Community Outreach Programme to solve day-to-day problems like parking was also launched on the same day.

Over the next six months, LTA will hold 14 dialogue sessions with grassroots leaders from all constituencies. Efforts like site visits and road shows will also be stepped up at locations where there are major projects like the construction of the Downtown Line.

- CNA/so



Rich bear the brunt

Inflation hits top income earners in unusual turnabout
Neo Chai Chin (TODAY)
March 25, 2008

FOR the first time in at least eight years, the wealthy in Singapore have borne the brunt of inflation, while lower-income earners have — in a reversal of roles — seen expenses rise at a slower rate than the national average.

In the last six months of 2007, inflation was 3.9 per cent for the top 20 per cent of income earners. The bottom 20 per cent saw a 2.8-per-cent hike in their consumer price index (CPI), while middle-income earners fell in between, with 3.3 per cent.

For the whole of last year, the top income-earners experienced 2.3-per-cent inflation, compared to 2 per cent for the rest.

It's an unusual turnabout. The Department of Statistics records dating from 2000 show inflation hurting the bottom 20 per cent of the population most. And one key reason high earners were harder hit last year: Spiralling fuel prices, which started reaching record highs in October.

This, said economists, fed into more expensive holiday travel, cars and petrol. Together with housing — where private property rentals helped push up the CPI — transport and recreation costs make up almost two-thirds of the top 20-per-cent earners' CPI.

Forecast's economist Vishnu Varathan said the affluent are more likely to hail cabs and to drive, and July's taxi fare hikes and higher pump prices would have affected this demographic more. "The impact of bus and MRT fare increases would be less acute for the lower-income as there have been small increases over time," he said.

Transport inflation for the bottom earners was 2.9 per cent for the second half, compared to 5 per cent for top earners.

As for recreation, said Standard Chartered economist Alvin Liew, the wealthy are more likely to go on holidays, and a "key component of air travel is fuel costs".

And with the high-end property market fetching record prices last year, consumers would have to pay higher rents for more swanky accommodation, said Mr Varathan.

But does all this mean that higher earners necessarily had it harder than the middle- or lower-income? Not so. As Citigroup economist Chua Hak Bin pointed out: "What is important to note is that the higher-income group saw the highest nominal wage increases and are better able to withstand higher price increases."

Looking ahead, a slower global economy this year could ease prices of luxury items, which form a more significant part of higher earners' CPI, said Mr Liew.

Overall, however, it is uncertain if inflation will continue to be higher for the rich. Economists point to the twin trends of rising food prices and fuel costs, which affect all tiers of society.

Mr Varathan felt food prices — which went up by 4.1 per cent in the second half, up from just 1.7 per cent in the first half of 2007 — were likely to remain high because of global trends such as urbanisation, the growing of biofuels and increased consumption of meat. These impact the supply of food — cultivation of biofuels means less farmland available, for instance.

Can rising inflation be halted? February's CPI rose 6.5 per cent over the same period last year, with transport and communication, food, education and healthcare costs leading the surge. Part of it could be attributed to the Chinese New Year period, when food and overseas travel are at a premium.

Still, a reprieve could be in sight - the slowdown of the global economy and excess manufacturing capacity could lead to lower prices in the second half of the year, said economists. And come July, the effects of last year's GST hike will no longer reflect in year-on-year CPI comparisons.



Middle-income earners were the hardest hit – healthcare costs rose 4.3 per cent for them, higher than the overall 4.1 per cent. Economists did not know exactly why this might be, saying more research had to be done. For example, are the subsidies for the poor benefiting the middle classes? Did hospital charges rise proportionately across all income classes? What types of medication did the middle classes consume?

Food prices

While the hike was about equal for all income groups, averaging 2.9 per cent, the poor felt the impact most as this component accounts for almost 30 per cent of their expenditure.


Thanks partly to the moderating influence of service and conservancy charge rebates, bottom and middle-income groups saw inflation of 0.1 per cent, compared to 1.2 per cent for top earners.

Inflation hits top income earners in unusual turnabout

Labels: , , , ,


Cold snap in S'pore

By Sumathi V Selvaretnam and Tania Tan
14 March 2008
Straits Times

TALK about a chill in the air.

Thermostats here are being turned up as Singaporeans throw on sweaters and jackets to beat the 'coldest' March in 74 years: The average temperature so far this month is 25.6 deg C, a tick higher than the 25 deg C in 1934.

Singapore dipped to its coldest of 19.4 deg C on Jan 30, 1934.

On Thursday night, the mercury dipped to 21.8 deg C - about the average day-time temperature in wintry Hong Kong.

The 'cold snap' has resulted in some things one does not typically see - or hear - in Singapore. Children bundled up like Eskimos and office workers coming to work in woollies.

But Solutions architect Sivaram Shunmugam, 29, likes it cool.

'Normally it is hot, humid and uncomfortable. Not now. Finally, a temperature I can live with!' he said.

Neither is Colin Wan, 34, complaining.

'It's like a regular English day. I get to wear winter clothes like my jumpers and cardigans that I thought I would never need in Singapore,' said the advertising executive from Britain who has been living here for five years.

The cool spell stems from the prolonged heavy rain and dense cloud, said Associate Professor Matthias Roth of the National University of Singapore's Department of Geography.

'It's more difficult for sunlight to penetrate the thick cloud cover - so the ground cools after a few days,' he explained.

The freakishly wet weather is due to a strong La Nina effect, explained Dr Roth. Caused by a cycle of cooling air over the Pacific Ocean, the weather phenomenon usually results in cooler, wetter weather.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) says next week will continue to be wet, with moist winds blowing in from the ocean.


Walk held to support consumers' rights to healthy food

By Asha Popatlal, Channel NewsAsia
16 March 2008

SINGAPORE: Consumers have rights and that includes the right to healthy food.

So, in conjunction with World Consumer Rights Day – which is focusing on fast food this year – the local Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) held a walk for a few thousand participants early Sunday morning.

CASE said it is working with fast food companies to provide healthier options and it has received a response from McDonald's.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the Guest-of-Honour at the event, recently highlighted in Parliament how obesity could quickly become a problem in Singapore.

Later at the event, Mr Khaw recalled his conversation with some children at the walk.

He said: "I was very happy when I spoke to the children just now. I asked, 'Do you eat vegetables?' They said, 'Yes!'. I hope it's true. I said, 'Do you go for fast food often?' They said, 'No!'. If they are being truthful, that is a good sign.

"There is nothing wrong with fast food, it's just (a problem of) how often you eat it. Occasionally, I go for fast food as well – maybe three times, four or five times a year. If it's three or four times a week, that will be very troublesome. Obesity seriously can be a big problem because it underlies a lot of other problems."

- CNA/so



Do you know how much of your food is genetically modified?

By Jessica Lim
Straits Times
March 14, 2008

Half of corn, canola oil and soya bean sold here are genetically
modified. But most S'poreans don't know as the law here does not require
manufacturers and retailers to label GM foods

THAT soya bean milk drink you had for breakfast could have been made
from genetically modified (GM) beans.
Lots of food in your larder - from nachos to poultry to baby food and
soya milk - could also contain ingredients whose genetic make-up has
been altered in a bid to make them plumper, tastier or resistant to

But it is unlikely that you will ever know.

The reason: Unlike dozens of developed countries around the world,
Singapore does not require manufacturers and retailers to label GM foods.

While the foods have not proven to be unsafe, their sale has sparked
protests from Indonesia to the United States, driven largely by fears
about >the long-term effects of tinkering with Mother Nature.

According to Singapore's Genetic Modification Advisory Committee, about
half of the corn, canola oil and soya bean sold in Singapore are
genetically modified.

Dr Wong Kwok Onn, head of the survey and safety review branch at the
Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), said that Singapore's reliance
on imported food means GM foods 'could be anywhere on the market now'.

Consumers, though, have little way of knowing what they are buying.

Singapore laws allow manufacturers and importers to leave out or even
remove labels that would inform consumers they are buying GM foods.

Many companies, Dr Wong said, do just that because they are 'worried
that Singaporeans might not accept them'.

While the issue is a major one around the globe, it is only just gaining
steam here.

No one has complained to Singapore's consumer watchdog about the lack of
labelling, but some shoppers The Straits Times spoke to were concerned
when told that they might be buying GM foods.

Mrs Khairina Mohd, 45, a mother of two, wants labels on such items.

She said: 'Like most other educated Singaporeans, I want to know what I
am putting into my mouth. It's a basic right.'

Mr Daniel Koh, 36, a psychologist, said: 'Just browsing online, I can
tell the issue is getting out of hand globally and there are more GM
foods around.

'We are consumers too, and I would like to know more about the food I am
eating and the long-term effects, if any.'

Although no side effects from eating GM foods have emerged, the
long-term effects of bioengineering have not been completely evaluated,
said Mr Peter Droge, head of genomics and genetics at Nanyang
Technological University.

Still, some Singaporeans couldn't care less if GM foods are labelled.

Businessman Goh Keng Wee, 53, is among them.

He said: 'It does not matter much to me. If it is safe and tastes good,
why should I care?'

Proponents of genetic modification view it as the answer to food
shortages. Yields are higher and less water, energy and fertiliser are
used in the production process, Mr Droge explained.

Currently, 51 countries - including China, Canada and the United States
- produce GM foods.

More than two-thirds of modified American corn, for example, is exported
to Asia and Africa.

Labelling of these foods is compulsory only in the European Union and in
about 30 countries, including Japan and Australia.

It is not compulsory here because of the lack of international consensus
on the labelling of GM foods, said Dr Wong.

However, that could change following a meeting next month of an
international body that sets standards for the food industry, according
to government officials.

limjess@sph. com.sg



Public housing demand continues to be brisk in 2008

By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
11 March 2008 1742 hrs

SINGAPORE: The demand for public housing continues to be brisk. HDB's first build-to-order project this year at Punggol Spring is already four times oversubscribed.

New flats aside, property agents have also described the HDB resale market as the kingpin for the real estate sector in 2008.

The application for Punggol Spring, where 494 units of four-room flats will be built, will not close until 17 March, but the project is already oversubscribed with 2,093 applications.

Punggol Spring is part of the 4500 new flats that HDB has committed to build for the first half of this year. Prices of the Punggol Spring flats range from S$204,000 to S$259,000.

Apart from this build-to-order development, HDB's bi-monthly sale of four-room and larger flats in February also drew overwhelming response with over 10,000 flat buyers vying for just 278 units.

Eugene Lim, associate director of ERA, said: "They are usually the first timers and they do not have so much cash with them, so as the norm is cash over value for the resale market, so inevitably, they are being pushed to the new flat market where they don't have to come up with as much cash or don't need to come up with any cash at all."

Still, transaction volume in the HDB resale market is expected to remain strong.

Industry players project 30,000 units to be sold in 2008, 1,000 more than last year.

Price-wise, it is estimated to increase by about ten per cent in 2008, compared to over 17 per cent in 2007.

Property agents said the spike was partly due to the sharp rise in cash over valuation (COV). But they added this is likely to change as buyers have hit a threshold when it comes to forking out more cash.

Propnex CEO Mohamed Ismail said: "The central areas were getting as high as S$100,000 for Queenstown, Bukit Merah, Toa Payoh, but such prices are not sustainable in the long term. Therefore, I do foresee (for) the very high-end side in the central location, the COV (will) dip quite drastically."

Some property agents said the COV for flats in the central region will dip by 20 per cent within the next three months. As of the fourth quarter of last year, the average COV for the area was about S$35,000 to S$40,000.

Despite the high demand for flats, agents are confident there will be enough to go around, whether it is for families or singles.

They also welcome HDB's new incentive to offer an extra S$9,000 grant to singles who buy a resale flat and live with their parents.

The scheme, however, is unlikely to have any impact on the market given the small segment it serves. - CNA/ac

Labels: ,