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.


Households to see average rise of about 22% in electricity bills from Oct

By Channel NewsAsia
29 September 2008 1035 hrs

SINGAPORE: Higher oil prices have pushed up electricity prices for this quarter by about a fifth.

SP Services said on Monday households will see an average increase of 21.46 per cent in electricity bills, when average electricity tariffs go up by 5.38 cents per kilowatt-hour.

On average, all SP Services customers will face a 21.89 per cent increase.

For the period from October 1 to December 31, tariffs have been pegged to a higher "forward fuel oil price" of S$155.14 per barrel.

This price is 38.06 per cent higher than the S$112.35 per barrel in this current quarter.

The electricity tariff is reviewed quarterly and adjusted in line with fluctuations in the cost of electricity, and approved by the Energy Market Authority.

At a news conference on Monday, the Authority's chief executive Khoo Chin Hean said that the increase is the highest so far this year.

- CNA/yb



FDA approves irradiating spinach, lettuce to kill germs

The FDA says spinach and lettuce may be treated to kill germs.
From the Associated Press, From the Associated Press
August 22, 2008 (LA Times)

WASHINGTON -- Consumers worried about salad safety may soon be able to buy fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce zapped with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and other germs.

The Food and Drug Administration today will issue a regulation allowing spinach and lettuce sellers to take that extra step, a long-awaited move amid increasing illness outbreaks caused by raw produce.

It doesn't excuse dirty produce, warned Dr. Laura Tarantino, the FDA's chief of food additive safety. Farms and processors still must keep the greens as clean as possible, she said.

"What this does is give producers and processors one more tool in the toolbox to make these commodities safer," Tarantino said.

Irradiated meat has been around for years. Spices also can be irradiated.

The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. petitioned the FDA to allow irradiation of fresh produce, too, starting with leafy greens that have sparked numerous recent outbreaks, including E. coli in spinach in 2006 that killed three people and sickened nearly 200.

The industry group expects the first irradiated products to be targeted to high-risk populations such as people with weak immune systems.

A food safety expert said irradiation can kill bacteria -- but it doesn't kill viruses that may also contaminate produce, and it isn't as effective as tightening steps to prevent contamination at the farm.

"It won't control all hazards on these products," cautioned Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The FDA determined that irradiation can kill E. coli, salmonella and listeria, as well as lengthen shelf life, without compromising the safety, texture or nutrient value of raw spinach and iceberg lettuce -- the first greens studied.


Farmers stalk wildlife to keep salads free of bacteria

Under pressure from companies that sell fresh greens, California growers are resorting to shooting, trapping and poisoning animals and destroying their habitats to avert another E. coli disaster.
By Tracie Cone, The Associated Press

September 2, 2008 (LA TIMES)

FRESNO -- Farmers in "America's Salad Bowl" are turning into hunters -- stalking wild pigs, rabbits and deer -- to keep E. coli and other harmful bacteria out of their fields.

It's part of an intense effort to prevent another disaster like the 2006 spinach contamination that killed three people, sickened 200 and cost the industry $80 million in lost sales.

The exact source of the contamination was never discovered, but scientists suspect that cattle, feral pigs or other wildlife may have spread the E. coli by defecating near crops.

The pressure to safeguard crops comes from the companies that buy fresh greens. In response, some farmers are learning how to shoot animals that could carry the bacteria. Others are uprooting native trees and plants and erecting fences to make their land inhospitable to wildlife.

Spinach grower Bob Martin has even poisoned ponds with copper sulfate to kill frogs.

But some officials have questioned whether such drastic measures are necessary based on limited evidence.

"We're trying to talk now with the companies, buyers, retailers, wholesalers to bring things back into balance," said Scott Horsfall, executive director of the Leafy Greens Handlers Marketing Board, which oversees farming standards drawn up after the 2006 E. coli contamination.

Concern over contamination is most pronounced in the Salinas River Valley. The lush valley, nicknamed America's Salad Bowl, grows 60% of the nation's lettuce.

The nonprofit Resource Conservation District of Monterey County surveyed 181 leafy-greens growers who manage more than 140,000 acres. The survey showed that more than 30,000 acres had been affected by trapping, poisoning, fencing or removal of habitat.

Growers, packers and shippers adopted new food-safety standards last year for farms, including requiring 30-foot buffer zones between fields and grazing land for cattle, which are known carriers ofE. coli.

The standards acknowledged that wildlife could also carry the bacteria, but they imposed no requirement for buffers between wildlife habitat and fields.

"I think there's a little brinksmanship going on," said Hank Giclas of Western Growers, who was part of the committee that wrote the standards. He worries that processors are exceeding the rules to gain a sales advantage without good science.

Industry representatives defend their above-and-beyond restrictions.

Barbara Hines, a spokeswoman for Fresh Express, which processes 40 million pounds of salad each month, said the company's tighter regulations were "generally valued" by its retail customers, which include grocers such as Safeway and Vons

Said Terry Palmisano, a senior wildlife biologist at the California Department of Fish and Game: "We have two extraordinary resources in this area: wildlife and our agricultural community. It's our position that you don't need to destroy one in order to save the other."

Thanks to Ria for the heads up!


Battling food crisis

Saturday August 30, 2008
The Star

THE Government’s concern over the state of the national food security is reflected by the generous allocation of RM5.6bil for the National Food Security Policy from 2008 to 2010.

Since early this year, securing adequate food supply topped the agenda of most developing countries, especially for rice, the staple food amid the global food crisis.

Over the past five years, Malaysia’s food import bill jumped 80% to RM23bil in 2007.

Of the total food security allocation, RM1bil would be channelled to increase padi production in the country.

Some 220,000 padi farmers nationwide are poised to receive incentives to enable them to efficiently boost their crop.

The Government is also allocating RM475mil in the form of agricultural input, fertilisers and pesticides to assist padi farmers.

A proposal has also been made to abolish import duty on fertilisers and pesticides.

“The abolishment will help farmers counter high fertiliser costs, which had gone up by more than 40% this year,” an industry players told StarBiz.

To date, over 1,300ha of abandoned land have been identified for padi and other food production such as fruits, vegetable and livestock.

Incentives would also be given to agriculture entrepreneurs to reduce production costs and encourage higher agriculture output.

Some 350,000 vegetable and fruit growers, as well as aquaculture and livestock breeders stand to benefit from these incentives.

To increase fish landings, the Government has allocated RM300mil, of which RM180mil is for the cost of living allowance to fishermen and fishing boat owners, and RM120mil in the form of incentives.

Under Budget 2009, poultry players like Leong Hup Holdings Bhd, Farm’s Best Bhd and CAB Cakaran Corp Bhd will also stand to benefit from the proposed reinvestment allowance of 60% for 15 years for the expansion of chicken and duck farms.

This is to encourage consistent supply of poultry for the domestic market amid strong demand.


Farmers: Give out incentives fairly

Saturday August 30, 2008
The Star

THE RM5.6bil provided under the National Food Security Policy for incentives to help agriculture entrepreneurs is good news to the Federation of Vegetable Sellers Associations.

However, its adviser Datuk Yeoh Chip Tong said in George Town yesterday that the incentives must be distributed fairly to all who genuinely deserve it regardless of race.

The incentives are meant to encourage higher agriculture output among agriculture entrepreneurs. More than 1,300ha of abandoned land has been identified for padi, fruits, vegetables and livestock.

About 350,000 vegetable and fruit growers, as well as aquaculture and livestock breeders, will benefit.

Yeoh said consumers would reap the most benefit with the introduction of such incentives.

With the incentives, Yeoh said he hoped to see more participation from various races in the sector as currently there are still segregated groups in the sector with the Chinese growing fruits and vegetables and the Malays growing padi.

On the RM1bil allocation which will assist 220,000 padi farmers, Yeoh said it was insufficient compared to other sectors which had secured a bigger slice in the 2009 Budget.

The move to abolish import duties on fertilisers and pesticides has met with mixed reaction from farmers in Cameron Highlands.

Federation of Malaysia Vegetable Growers Association secretary-general Chay Ee Mong said in Ipoh that any measure to reduce the operating cost of farmers was most welcome.

While the import duties for fertilisers and pesticides varied, Chay said farmers would be saving RM100 for every metric tonne of fertiliser costing RM2,000 if its import duty had been at 5%.

However, Cameron Highlands Flower Floriculture Association chairman Lee Peng Fo said that taking away the import duty translated to nothing.

“Instead, the Government should control the price of fertilisers and pesticides because importers are buying them cheap but selling to us dear,” he said.

Lee also said that farmers would have been happier if the Government had offered them help in the form of subsidies.

“In the last Budget, the Government had brought down our electricity charges. This time there is nothing for us.”


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