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.


A New Biopesticide For The Organic Food Boom

From: American Chemical Society
Published on ENN
August 25, 2008

With the boom in consumption of organic foods creating a pressing need for natural insecticides and herbicides that can be used on crops certified as "organic," biopesticide pioneer Pam G. Marrone, Ph.D., is reporting development of a new "green" pesticide obtained from an extract of the giant knotweed in a report scheduled for presentation here today at the 236th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

That 12-foot-high Goliath, named for the jointed swollen nodes on its stem, invaded the U.S. from Japan years ago and grows along the East Coast and other areas. "The product is safe to humans, animals, and the environment," says Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Organic Innovations Inc., in Davis, Calif.

The new biopesticide has active compounds that alert plant defenses to combat a range of diseases, including powdery mildew, gray mold and bacterial blight that affect fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals. The product will be available this October for conventional growers, according to Marja Koivunen, Ph.D., director of research and development for Marrone Organic Innovations. A new formulation has also been developed for organic farmers and will be available in 2009.

In one of the presentations by Marrone Organic Innovations (MOI), the progress toward discovery of an "organic Roundup" — the Holy Grail of biopesticide research — an environmentally friendly and natural version of the world's most widely used herbicide was discussed.

Biopesticides are derived from plants, microbes, or other natural materials and are proven to be safer for humans and the environment. The active ingredient in one of the company's first products, GreenMatch EX, came from lemongrass oil, and microorganisms from around the world are studied in the search for novel and effective natural pesticides. Currently, the MOI R&D team is working on an organic rice herbicide based on an extract from a marine microorganism, as well as on insecticides and nematocides to kill insect pests and soil-inhabiting, parasitic roundworms that affect plants and animals.

Although sales of synthetic pesticides dominate the $30 billion pesticide market, the use of biopesticides is increasing. Officials from MOI estimate that global sales will hit $1 billion by 2010 and grow 10 percent a year on average. Biopesticides could make up 4.25 percent of the global pesticide business in 2010, up from 2.5 percent in 2005. As they become more popular, synthetic pesticides are expected to shrink by 1.5 percent each year over the same period.

What accounts for the changing numbers? Public awareness, Koivunen said. "I think the time is right, there's more demand," she said. "People are becoming more aware of the negative effects of conventional pesticides. At the same time, growers are more willing to switch. They have more choices and incentive compared to 10 years ago."

All organic farmers must have markets for their food — markets that might not have been available to them a decade ago, Koivunen said. Why are people switching to organic food? "I think there has been enough scientific evidence that there's a difference between, let's say, conventional tomatoes and organic tomatoes in terms of pesticide residues but also improved taste and higher levels of antioxidants," she said.

Koivunen adds that the growing popularity of biopesticides and organic foods is not a fluke. In fact, it is part of a much larger development.

"I think it's a combination of the movement of green chemistry, trying to protect the environment and people's thoughts about their own health — maybe not even their health but their kids; and grandkids' health."



Sustainable development committee encouraged by public's response

By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
24 August 2008

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said on Sunday that the ideas received via the have both quality and breadth, and the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development has been encouraged by the response.

Suggestions from the public include tapping on renewable energy in their living environment. For now, solar panels will be piloted at the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) eco-precinct Treelodge@Punggol.

Mr Mah said the relevant ministries will study all the ideas and continue to engage Singaporeans. A final report on sustainable development, which will contain a list of recommendations, is expected to be ready in the first quarter of next year.

He said there could be greater use of solar panels in public housing.

"This is one of the issues that is being studied in detail – how far we can go, how fast we can go, what we need to do, (while) bearing in mind that solar panel is still a new technology.

"It is still very expensive, but I think it would be useful for us to do some test-bedding of this new technology," Mr Mah said.

- CNA/so

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Singapore's food safety standards still world-class

By 938LIVE/ Channel NewsAsia
22 August 2008 2113 hrs

SINGAPORE: Singapore's food safety standards continue to be world-class, according to a high-level panel of foreign experts who have completed a review of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

They said AVA has done well in using a science-based method of sourcing for food from markets with health risks, instead of slapping a blanket ban on such markets.

Dr Gardner Murray, who chairs the international advisory committee of experts, explained the benefits of Singapore's approach on Friday.

He said: "When one talks about zero tolerance, it's effectively saying 'no' – you feel a country may not be able to safely send you food, that is zero tolerance. But, if you're reliant on food for imports, you've got to look further than that and increase your source of supply.

"The way to do this is to use a science basis for making decisions on imports. It doesn't mean your standards of food safety decrease. In fact, because you're being scientific, the food safety risk minimises."

For example, Singapore continues to buy pork from Brazilian farms that are billed safe, even though the hand, foot and mouth disease is widespread there.

The panel also praised AVA's efforts to keep out bird flu within the region by creating a control zone in Kepri, a nearby Indonesian province.

"If you want to manage risk, you need to think about the sources of introduction of disease and one source could be neighbouring countries. And if there's difference with respect to the efficiency or the veterinary service, it's actually quite useful rather than build up a fortress for Singapore where you have a big wall around you," said panel member, Professor Dirk Pfeiffer.

Still, Dr Murray said there are areas Singapore can strengthen.

He said: "A key initiative that we see as important is developing intelligence networks within the region and globally - on food safety, animal and plant health issues - so that all this data can be brought together to enable improved analysis of risk and this will enhance food safety and biosecurity in Singapore."

The experts also said AVA should beef up its staff competencies through training and enhance its strategies to deal with food-borne diseases.