Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Why Are Squirrels Going Nuts? No Acorns

November 30, 2008

The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn’t find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing. 

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page A01

Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis

“I’m used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it’s something I just didn’t believe,” he said. “But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It’s a zero year. There’s zero production. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn’t a climatic event. “Let’s hope it’s not something ghastly going on with the natural world.”

To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Once I started paying attention, I couldn’t find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year,” said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. “We’re talking zero. Not a single acorn. It’s really bizarre.”

Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called “No acorns this year,” reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. “We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don’t have any acorns this year. Really weird,” wrote one. “None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/29
/AR2008112902045.html?hpid=topnews

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Vietnam Needs to Increase Rice Exports to Africa, Tuoi Tre Says

November 26, 2008

Vietnam needs to increase rice shipments to Africa as there is strong demand for the country’s exports, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing three officials from the continent.

African nations buy about 20 percent of Vietnam’s rice exports and have become the third-largest market after Asia and the Middle East, the report said, citing government data released yesterday at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Southeast Asian nation shipped about 1 million metric tons of rice to Africa this year, Tuoi Tre said, without giving figures for earlier years.

The officials named in the report included Macaria Baira, vice chairwoman of International Cooperation and Integration for South Africa and Jules Touka from Cameroon’s Chamber of Commerce.

From Bloomberg,
By Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen

U.S. says food, drug inspection access in China improving

November 19, 2008

U.S. officials opened the first overseas Food and Drug Administration office in Beijing on Wednesday as they gear up for a long battle to ensure the quality of food, drug and feed imports from China.

The eight FDA workers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou will set up a process for pre-certifying and inspecting imports from China, which has hundreds of thousands of food processors and drug manufacturers.

A series of food safety scandals in China, where thousands of babies fell ill after melamine was introduced into milk formula to cheat protein tests, has triggered alarm in the United States, which imports about 15 percent of the food it consumes.

By Lucy Hornby, Reuters

A laboratory researcher works at the food safety inspection ...
A laboratory researcher works at the food safety inspection center in Beijing July 18, 2007.(China Daily/Reuters)

Problems with melamine-tainted dairy products from China were so pervasive that the United States issued an import alert, which force importers to certify that the food was problem-free before entering U.S. markets. A similar alert has been in effect on Chinese seafood since last year.

U.S. inspectors have complained in the past of limited access and information when investigating safety disputes with Chinese suppliers and manufacturers, but U.S. Secretary of Health Mike Leavitt said cooperation was improving.

Access was “clearly spelled out” in agreements between U.S. and Chinese authorities, Leavitt told reporters.

“Heparin, for example, was not one of the drugs under the agreement but those protocols were used and there were U.S. inspectors and Chinese inspectors together visiting the points of production,” he said. “Progress is being made.”

Chinese-made heparin, a blood thinner, was blamed for fatalities and adverse reactions in U.S. and German patients, prompting a recall by Baxter International Inc. early this year.

The FDA offices would try to identify and train laboratories that can certify shipments for faster clearance into the United States, with the goal of ultimately accepting inspections by Chinese quarantine and inspection agency AQSIQ.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081119/us_n
m/us_china_usa_food_2

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open three offices in China this week

November 17, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open three offices in China this week in an unprecedented effort to improve the safety of exports headed to America amid recurring product safety scares.

The new FDA offices, which are the first outside of the United States, will increase effectiveness in protecting for American and Chinese consumers, according to the office of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Leavitt and the agency’s Food and Drug Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach will open the first office in Beijing on Wednesday, followed by one in Guangzhou and another in Shanghai.

Associated Press

“Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries,” Leavitt’s office said in a statement last week.

Safety issues involving the blood thinner heparin, food and other products imported from China has put pressure on the FDA to boost its international presence. In the heparin case, a Chinese-made component contained a contaminant linked to as many as 81 deaths and hundreds of allergic reactions.

In October, cribs made in China were included in a recall of 1.6 million cribs issued by New York-based Delta Enterprises.

Last year, U.S.-based Mattel Inc. recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys worldwide. Products including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars were pulled off shelves because of concerns about lead paint or tiny, detachable magnets that might be swallowed.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081117/ap_on_
bi_ge/as_china_us_tainted_products_8

Food, Crops, Subsidies and Hunger in the Global Economy

November 17, 2008

This spring, disaster loomed in the global food market. Precipitous increases in the prices of staples like rice (up more than a hundred and fifty per cent in a few months) and maize provoked food riots, toppled governments, and threatened the lives of tens of millions. But the bursting of the commodity bubble eased those pressures, and food prices, while still high, have come well off the astronomical levels they hit in April. For Americans, the drop in commodity prices has put a few more bucks in people’s pockets; in much of the developing world, it may have saved many from actually starving. So did the global financial crisis solve the global food crisis?

By James Surowiecki
The New Yorker

Temporarily, perhaps. But the recent price drop doesn’t provide any long-term respite from the threat of food shortages or future price spikes. Nor has it reassured anyone about the health of the global agricultural system, which the crisis revealed as dangerously unstable. Four decades after the Green Revolution, and after waves of market reforms intended to transform agricultural production, we’re still having a hard time insuring that people simply get enough to eat, and we seem to be more vulnerable to supply shocks than ever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Over the past two decades, countries around the world have moved away from their focus on “food security” and handed market forces a greater role in shaping agricultural policy. Before the nineteen-eighties, developing countries had so-called “agricultural marketing boards,” which would buy commodities from farmers at fixed prices (prices high enough to keep farmers farming), and then store them in strategic reserves that could be used in the event of bad harvests or soaring import prices. But in the eighties and nineties, often as part of structural-adjustment programs imposed by the I.M.F. or the World Bank, many marketing boards were eliminated or cut back, and grain reserves, deemed inefficient and unnecessary, were sold off. In the same way, structural-adjustment programs often did away with government investment in and subsidies to agriculture—most notably, subsidies for things like fertilizers and high-yield seeds.

People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district ... 
People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. The floods have ruined many of the area’s crops.(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

The logic behind these reforms was simple: the market would allocate resources more efficiently than government, leading to greater productivity. Farmers, instead of growing subsidized maize and wheat at high cost, could concentrate on cash crops, like cashews and chocolate, and use the money they made to buy staple foods. If a country couldn’t compete in the global economy, production would migrate to countries that could. It was also assumed that, once governments stepped out of the way, private investment would flood into agriculture, boosting performance. And international aid seemed a more efficient way of relieving food crises than relying on countries to maintain surpluses and food-security programs, which are wasteful and costly.

This “marketization” of agriculture has not, to be sure, been fully carried through. Subsidies are still endemic in rich countries and poor, while developing countries often place tariffs on imported food, which benefit their farmers but drive up prices for consumers. And in extreme circumstances countries restrict exports, hoarding food for their own citizens.

Related:
Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

Read the rest:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2008/11/2
4/081124ta_talk_surowiecki

Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

November 13, 2008

Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat announced the plan in a National Assembly session this week, said the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

AFP

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam ... 
Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.(AFP/File/Hoang Dinh Nam)

Under the government plan, Vietnam would from 2011 plant GM species of maize, cotton and soybean, said the news site Vietnamnet quoting experts attending a recent biotechnology workshop.

The Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre plans to grow a GM maize variety from the Philippines on a trial basis, the report said.

GM technology has been highly controversial, praised by some for increasing yields and improving varieties, and condemned by others for creating “frankenfoods” that pose dangers to the environment and people’s health.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081113/sc_afp/vietnambio
techagriculturegm_081113171333

Afghanistan at the crossroads: Drought, food crisis drive Afghans out of villages

November 10, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 10 (UNHCR) – Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid. Many more are expected to move in desperation as winter approaches.

Provinces such as Badghis, Faryab, Jawzjan, Ghor, Saripul, Balkh and Samangan have been hard hit by a harsh winter earlier this year, followed by a debilitating drought and poor harvest. The production of wheat – an Afghan staple – is reportedly down by 36 percent compared to last year, while the Ministry of Agriculture has said the country is facing a deficit of 2 million tonnes of mixed food items over the next six months.

Soaring global food prices have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity. A UN appeal in July reported that the prices of wheat and wheat flour have gone up by 200 percent countrywide over the past year. The worst affected people are the small farmers, landless people, nomads and casual labourers.

“There’s no rain this year,” complains Qadir, 25, who left his village in Balkh three months ago to find work in Kabul. “Back home, I own a plot of rain-fed land and grew wheat on it. It’s small but was enough to feed my family – until the drought. I just left the land. It’s useless.”

Saifullah, 30, chips in, “The drought has affected hundreds of families in Samangan. We cultivated seeds but couldn’t get a harvest or recoup our money. We’re all leaving.”

Momin, 18, is from Charken village in Balkh province, where he supports a family of six people. “My whole neighbourhood is affected. In the past, we could work on our farms. But now, people are going to Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul to find jobs,” he says.

The three men have joined hundreds of others at Charahi Sarai Shomali, a busy roundabout in northern Kabul located beside a bus station that plies the route between Kabul and the northern provinces. They come here early every morning and wait for potential employers to pick them up for daily-wage labour, mostly on construction sites. They make US$3-US$4 a day and work three to four days a week on average.

To save up for their families, it’s not unusual for more than 10 of these migrant workers to share one room in Kabul. The living is rough, but at least they have some income and a roof over their heads – unlike the thousands of others who have been displaced by the drought and shortage of food and water.

The numbers of the drought-displaced vary. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than 6,500 Afghans have left their homes in the north and west as a result of the drought this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes some 280,000 people are suffering from its effects, and that thousands of families could leave their homes in search of food and work as winter looms.

In the last six months, UNHCR has reported the displacement of more than 2,700 families (approximately 19,000 people), mostly from or within Badghis, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Some have gone to district centres like Mazar-e-Sharif, to nearby provinces like Herat, or to neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. All were forced to move because of food insecurity, drought or poverty.

Some families leaving Keshendeh district in Balkh dismantled their houses, indicating they had no intention to return. Those who remain said that without food and water assistance, 70 percent of the population – or some 500 families – could leave the area. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and the government to start bringing water tankers as soon as possible.

“Meeting humanitarian needs in areas of origin is the best way to prevent food and drought-related displacement,” said Ewen Macleod, the UN refugee agency’s acting representative in Afghanistan. “This means pre-positioning aid before snow and the cold weather cut off access to some of these areas.”

Returnees have been affected too, including 183 families who returned from Pakistan to Saripul last year and recently left again for Quetta in south-western Pakistan. In the central Afghan provinces of Logar and Ghazni, food insecurity meant that returnees were too busy trying to support themselves to complete construction on their UNHCR-funded shelters. The agency worked with the World Food Programme to provide food to 700 families so that they could focus on finishing their homes before the onset of winter.

The largest recent displacement took place in Balkh, where 1,400 families left their homes in Alborz in late May and set up a makeshift camp beside a river in Sholgara district. After weeks of talks between the community, government and UN agencies, the families were transported back to their villages in mid-July, where they received food rations.

As security deteriorates in parts of the country, the UN has appealed for humanitarian access to allow aid workers to distribute food to needy communities ahead of winter. A recent report by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, warned that a looming famine in Afghanistan could pose a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the conflict there.

Desperation defies definition. Whether driven by hunger, thirst or poverty, thousands of Afghans are moving in an effort to survive. Asked if he plans to return home to Balkh soon, Momin the young job seeker in Kabul sighs, “If you have money, you miss your family. If you have no money, you can’t afford to miss them. You need to do something to help them.”

His friend Abdul Qadir, also from Balkh, adds simply, “If things get worse in Afghanistan, I’ll have to go to Pakistan again.”

By Vivian Tan
in Kabul, Afghanistan

Thailand to burn thousands of melamine-tainted products

November 9, 2008

Thailand’s health ministry plans to burn tens of thousands of food products tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, the English-language Nation newspaper reported Sunday.

More than 13,000 boxes of powdered milk and 19,824 unspecified snacks containing high levels of melamine would be torched on Monday in Ayutthaya province, it said, quoting the Food and Drug Administration secretary-general.

Melamine, an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics, has been blamed for killing four babies in China and leaving more than 53,000 others sick after making its way into the food chain.

Thai authorities have so far pulled biscuits, cheese crackers, chocolate and condensed milk from Malaysia and China off the shelves after detecting high levels of the chemical.

–AFP

Graphic fact file on the melamine poisoning scandal in China. ...

Vietnam Urges Rice Exporters to Buy, Ship Stockpiles

November 7, 2008

BVietnam, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter [after Thailand], is calling on companies to buy up stockpiles from farmers for shipment overseas before the harvest this month, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

By Van Nguyen and Rattaphol Onsanit, Bloomberg

State-run Vietnam Southern Food Corp. and Vietnam Northern Food Corp. will have to buy 300,000 metric tons that meet export standards, said the statement, citing Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai. The ministries of trade and foreign affairs together with the Vietnam Food Association will seek overseas customers.

The Southeast Asian nation is facing a rice glut after restricting exports earlier this year amid concerns there may be a shortage. Increased exports may further depress global rice prices, which have slumped about 40 percent in Chicago since reaching a record in April.

“Vietnam’s rice production has been rising, and its government is encouraging traders to get this supply out,” said Visut Tanprasatprinya, vice president of Bangkok-based Siam Rice Trading (Thailand) Ltd., which ships around 200,000 tons a year. “That’s why we see prices tanking.”

The price of Thailand’s 100 percent grade B white rice, a benchmark for the commodity across Asia, was set at $595 a metric ton this week by the Thai Rice Exporters Association. That’s the lowest price since March.

Higher rice shipments may help Vietnam to sustain economic growth after the government pared back targets for expansion this year because of surging inflation, a widening trade deficit and the global financial crisis.

Debt Payments

Deputy Prime Minister Hai asked Vietnam’s commercial banks to extend companies’ overdue debt payments and grant more loans at the “lowest possible lending rate,” allowing them to purchase more rice, said the statement, which was issued yesterday.

Exporters borrowed more than 18.8 trillion dong ($1.1 billion) in the first nine months to buy 3.2 million tons of rice, the central bank reported, according to the statement.

The total amount of rice available for export this year may be 5.3 millions tons, instead of an August projection of 4.6 million tons, the Lao Dong newspaper reported on Nov. 1., citing the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Between January and October, the country shipped about 4 million tons….

Above: Vietnamese farmers harvest rice…

Read the rest:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/new
s?pid=20601013&sid=a83GZC6EPFgU

Six Months after Myanmar Cyclone, Rebuilding Lags Due To Government Hastles

November 2, 2008

After the cyclone devestated Myanmar last May, the military junta governing the former Burma was so uncooperative and unhelpful that even international aid groups were delayed and hastled….

From the Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar – Six months after Cyclone Nargis smashed into Myanmar‘s coastline, killing tens of thousands of people, aid groups say once-lagging relief efforts have picked up pace but the task of rebuilding and recovery is far from finished.

Foreign aid staffers were initially barred from cyclone-affected areas and the ruling military junta was criticized for its ineffective response to the May 2-3 disaster. During a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in late May, it agreed to allow in some foreign aid workers and formed a “Tripartite Core Group” made up of the government, the U.N. and Southeast Asian countries to facilitate the flow of international assistance.

A Buddhist monk walks over the remains of his cyclone-destroyed ... 
A Buddhist monk walks over the remains of his cyclone-destroyed monastery in Kaunt Chaung. Six months since Cyclone Nargis lashed the secretive state of Myanmar – killing 138,000 people – the initial despair over the ruling junta’s inaction has been replaced by cautious optimism that more aid is reaching the country’s needy, the UN has said.(AFP/File/Lisandru)

Despite the slow initial response, “the relief effort for the first six months has been successful,” said Ramesh Shrestha, the representative in Myanmar for UNICEF, which has coordinated aid to women and children. “However, we cannot stop now.”

The U.N. said in a statement issued Sunday on behalf of the Tripartite Core Group that “there is a continued need for emergency relief, as well as support for early and long-term recovery efforts.”

Only 53.3 percent of the $484 million in relief money sought by a U.N.-coordinated appeal has been raised, it said.

The official death toll is 84,537, with 53,836 others listed as missing. Some 2.4 million people were severely affected by the storm, with the total damage estimated as high as $4 billion.

A major pressing issue is how survivors will be able to support themselves.

Recent visitors to the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst hit by the storm, report that most cyclone victims have cooking utensils, mosquito nets and other basic necessities. But they express concern about opportunities to earn enough money to buy food.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081102/ap_on_re_as/as_myanmar_cyclone_
recovery;_ylt=AoBSM67gxcYSKm3mpGUipeCs0NUE