Govt urged to take concrete action over plastic waste

A total of 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, almost 11 per cent of the total amount of solid waste generated, NEA statistics show.
TOH EE MING Today Online 3 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Rather than wait for businesses and consumers to go green on their own accord, the authorities should take “bold action” and develop “concrete plans” — such as introduce regulations and targets to phase out plastic disposables over time — to address the mounting pile of plastics thrown away by Singaporeans each year.

In a position paper on single-use plastics issued ahead of World Environment Day — which falls on Sunday — Zero Waste SG, a non-profit group here, said that efforts to reduce plastic waste have not shown encouraging results.

Plastic disposables such as takeaway containers, cups, plates and bowls, and utensils still make up the most common form of waste disposed at incineration plants, followed by food waste and paper, said the report.

A total of 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, almost 11 per cent of the total amount of solid waste generated.

Of this, only 7 per cent was recycled. And these rates have remained “persistently low”, hovering around 7 to 13 per cent, despite a nearly 42 per cent rise in volume of plastic waste from 2003 to 2015, the group said, citing National Environment Agency (NEA) statistics.

“Right now, the approach is still very much left to businesses and consumers to take action … There’s no real commitment or mandatory (guidelines) … But this approach is not really fruitful and we think it’s time to lay down some concrete (policies),” said Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG, which submitted its paper to the authorities on Wednesday.

To tackle this problem, the Government could set a quota on plastic disposables used or phase out certain plastics over a certain period, such as over 12 years, or reduce them by 8 per cent every year.

“This would allow companies time to adjust to the new regulations and switch to more green alternatives,” said the group in its report.

The Government could also work with major retailers and F&B companies to implement a “structured incentive scheme”, by rewarding consumers who bring their own reusables with cash discounts or through points.

Other suggestions involve setting up a committee spanning several industry sectors to tackle the problem holistically or providing more guidelines and information to help both companies and consumers decide which green alternatives to opt for.

For instance, it could conduct more research on the various environmental impact and costs, or provide a list of retailers or F&B outlets which offer discounts for using reusable items.

Funding schemes could also be set up for F&B companies or extended to plastic manufacturers and suppliers to allay costs of developing environmentally-friendly alternatives.

In response to queries, the NEA noted that plastic disposables in Singapore are incinerated, and not disposed in landfills.

“There is value in reducing the amount of disposables used in order to conserve resources”, the agency said, adding that it will study Zero Waste SG’s suggestions.

Businesses here that encourage consumers to use less plastic include NTUC FairPrice, which gives a rebate to shoppers who bring their own bags with a minimum purchase of S$10.

Asked about the impact of its Green Rewards scheme, FairPrice said it saw a record 10.1 million plastic bags saved last year.

Since its launch in 2007, it has seen an estimated total of 56.6 million plastic bags saved and S$2.8 million in rebates given out, said a spokesperson.

As for IKEA’s adoption of reusable blue IKEA shopping bags in 2013, IKEA Tampines sustainability manager Marcus Tay said: “IKEA was very pleased to note very little resistance from the shoppers in adopting this practice.”

While most either brought their own bags, went bag-less or carried purchases in their hands, the company also saw a drop from 32 per cent to 18 per cent in its shoppers buying the blue shopping bags from 2013 to 2015, he said.

Since March this year, it has also replaced the disposable takeaway boxes in its restaurants with reusable storage containers, which cost 80 cents or S$1 each.

“So far there has been very little complaints from our customers about the switch,” Mr Tay added.

Zero Waste SG is looking to hold a public forum to discuss the proposals.

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Malaysia: Eroding coast threatens Penang highway

Today Online 2 Jun 16;

BUTTERWORTH — Strong waves in the north Penang channel have caused serious soil erosion to the coastline along the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) near the Bagan Ajam toll plaza.

As the eroded stretch of about 300m is only about 2m from BORR, the problem is endangering motorists using the coastal highway built on reclaimed land about 10 years ago.

Factory technician Osman Abu Bakar, 43, who ply the route regularly, hoped the authorities would take immediate steps to prevent further soil erosion.

“I see the seriousness of the erosion. It is unsafe. I fear it poses grave danger to motorists,” he said.

Mr Idris Abu Bakar, 51, from Tasek Gelugor, said he could see the erosion each time he crossed the toll plaza.

“What I see is worrying. The authorities must prevent the highway from being damaged,” he said.

BORR concessionaire Lingkaran Luar Butterworth (Penang) general manager Adnan Ariffin said the company was taking steps to resolve the problem.

He said they had anticipated the problem as the highway involved heavy construction on a reclaimed coastal area.

“We are concerned about the safety of highway users and our men are monitoring the stretch daily, especially during strong waves,” Mr Adnan said.

“It has to be resolved holistically. We have written to the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and we are in discussion with it.

“It is not only the concessionaire’s problem just because we constructed the highway. It is also DID’s problem and we want their cooperation in resolving the problem,” he said.

He said erosion could have been avoided if a wave breaker, which was built near a row of seafood restaurants two years ago, was built nearer to the affected area.

“Constructing any sea structure is expensive. We are discussing the matter with our consultants,” Mr Adnan said.

State health, welfare, caring society and environment committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the erosion was caused by strong waves during the northeast and southwest monsoons.

He said the waves affected the coastal highway, from a point north of the Bagan Ajam toll plaza until a seafood restaurant along the coast.

“The government should build wave breakers to weaken the impact of the strong waves hitting the coast,” Phee, who is also Sungai Puyu assemblyman, said.

He said the breakers would also benefit fishermen as they would also attract fish.

The Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority has data which can be used to build the wave breakers and Phee said the federal government should pursue the matter without further delay.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Penang adviser D Kanda Kumar said it was important to conduct a proper study before reclaiming land along coastlines to prevent any negative effects in the future.

“A study on tide, wave and sea currents should be conducted before any reclamation works. Such works can impact other areas along the coast.

“If the reclamation was done without proper studies, the current pattern could also affect areas in Kedah and Perak. A holistic study involving the coastline on the island and the mainland should have been done before reclaiming the land to build the highway,” Mr Kanda Kumar said.

“The authorities should have built concrete barriers to avoid soil erosion along the coastline.”

He said the destruction of mangrove forests along coastal areas was a major cause of erosion.

A state DID spokesman said the department was aware of the problem and had alerted Putrajaya about it.

He acknowledged the damage was worsening.

“Our officers in Putrajaya will talk to the state secretary and highway operator on the matter. Eventually, the highway operator would be asked to build concrete or metal barriers to prevent further damage to the coastline,” the spokesman said. MALAY MAIL ONLINE

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Malaysia: Perhilitan seizes protected birds worth RM50,000

G.C.TAN The Star 2 Jun 16;

ALOR SETAR: The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) seized nine protected birds worth more than RM50,000 in Jitra on on Wednesday.

Kedah Perhilitan director Mohamad Hafid Rohani said the birds were seized from a house occupied by a 22-year-old man at Jalan Tanjong Pauh,Jitra which is also a motorcycle workshop.

“The raid was carried out based on information obtained from social media and a week of intelligence gathering and observation.

“Investigation showed that the man sold the birds online,” he said on Thursday.

The birds seized included a Burung Murai Batu, Burung Punai Daun (both protected species), Burung Lang Sewah (Elanus caeruleus), Burung Daun, Burung Merbah Luris Leher, three Burung Ayam-Ayam and a Burung Sintar (all totally protected species.)

The man would sell the birds between RM2,000 and RM8,000 each to interested parties.

“All the birds are local birds which can be trapped from forests in Kedah,” Hafid said.

Nabbed for selling protected birds
The Star 3 Jun 16;

ALOR SETAR: A motorcycle workshop mechanic who sold protected birds via the Internet and social media platforms such as Facebook has been arrested.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) nabbed the 22-year-old man in a raid at his house-cum-motorcycle workshop in Jitra.

“The raid was carried out based on information obtained from social media, and a week of intelligence gathering and observation,” Kedah Perhilitan director Mohamad Hafid Rohani told a press confe­rence yesterday at the state Perhi­li­tan’s terrapin conservation centre in Bukit Pinang near here.

He said the raiding party seized two protected birds and seven totally protected birds worth a total of RM50,000 from the premises in the 4pm bust on Wednesday.

The protected birds were a White-rumped Shama and Little Green Pigeon while the seven totally protected birds were a Black-shoulder­ed Kite, a Blue-winged Leafbird, a Striped-throated Bulbul, a Slaty-breasted Rail and three Watercock.

Mohamad Hafid said the department’s investigation revealed that the suspect had advertised the birds for sale on a popular online classifieds website as well as Facebook and WhatsApp besides direct face-to-face sale.

He said the Facebook pages created for the sale were only active for less than a day.

The suspect, currently under remand for four days, had been running the business for about six months and caught the birds himself in local forests, he added.

“He sells the birds for between RM2,000 and RM8,000 each,” said Mohamad Hafid, adding that it had yet to be ascertained how many birds the suspect had sold so far.

He said Perhilitan believed the suspect was part of a group involved in selling protected wildlife and was looking for his accomplices.

Mohamad Hafid said the case would be investigated under Section 68 of the Wildlife Conserva­tion Act 2010 for hunting totally protected wildlife without special permit, which carries a maximum RM100,000 fine or maximum three-year jail term or both.

“He will also be investigated under Section 60 of the same Act for hunting protected wildlife without a licence, which carries a maximum RM50,000 fine or maximum two-year jail term or both,” he added.

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Indonesia: Trees Don't Grow In Ash -- A Closer Look at RAPP’s Forest Fire Prevention Program

Muhamad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 2 Jun 16;

Pelalawan, Riau. For both the APRIL Group — a producer of fiber, pulp and paper with a production base in Indonesia — and subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, or RAPP, it does not make sense to let the practices of slash-and-burn to clear up land for farming or plantation occur nearby or within their concession area.

“Blackwood does not make white paper. Trees don’t grow in ash. It does not make sense to burn because it does not benefit us at all,” said Ian Wevell, Head of Operations at APRIL's Fire and Aviation department.

APRIL subsidiary RAPP sells its PaperOne line of office paper in more than 75 countries.

Forest fire and the choking haze resulting from it has become a complex and costly issue for Indonesia, with losses estimated at $16 billion last year, a World Bank report says.

The haze from the forest fire poses many serious health risks and threatens the livelihoods of millions of of people in Indonesia and in neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore.

This year, President Joko Widodo's administration has been trying a new strategy to prevent forest fires with pilot projects involving the private sector, particularly major pulp and paper companies and other companies involved in the forestry and agricultural sectors.

RAPP, which manages a 1,750 hectare manufacturing complex in Kerinci and one of the biggest single-site pulp mills in the world, is among a number of companies now working together with the government to prevent forest fires.

Last week, RAPP’s President Director Tony Wenas signed a memorandum of understanding for a pilot project to standardize forest fire prevention procedures.

The pilot project — called “Desa Bebas Api,” or Fire-Free Village — will focus on community development which will reward fire-prone villages around the Tanoto family-controlled RAPP plantations for keeping the area free of fires during the dry season starting from 2015.

This year, the program will be expanded into 20 villages in four Riau districts (Pelalawan, Siak, Kepulauan Meranti and Bangkalis). RAPP will take care of 18 villages, and two other villages will be handled by RAPP’s supply partners.

Last year, RAPP’s Desa Bebas Api program was implemented in nine villages in Riau and data from the company show it reduced the number of fire incidents by 90 percent compared to the 2014 figures in participating villages.

Ian said RAPP has so far invested $6 million in new fire fighting equipment, including pumps, hoses, helicopters, fire trucks, airboats, double-cabin cars and speed boats. It also spends about $2 million a year on fire fighting operations.

Prevention better than cure

RAPP corporate communication manager Djarot Handoko believes in the old cliché, “Prevention is better than a cure.” To that effect RAPP this year will offer a reward of up to Rp 100 million in infrastructure development for each village participating in Desa Bebas Api program if they manage to keep their villages free from forest and land fires from July 1 to Oct. 31.

Darwis, 52, a farmer from Pelalawan who works on a half-hectare of government-owned farmland, said people in the past tended to burn land to open it up for farming because it was cheap and did not require much effort.

“You only need gasoline and a box of matches to burn land. How much would that cost?” said the father of five, who also works as a cleaner at the Pelalawan subdistrict office.

“Burning takes just one day, by the end you've only got ash on top of the cleaned oil. If you have to cut trees with cleavers and then clean up the tree roots with a hoe to open the land for farming — for half a hectare of land, if you do it on your own, it would take at least a month. It takes a hell of an effort to do that,” Darwis said.

Darwis is among a group of farmers receiving RAPP’s assistance to clear new farmland. In his village in Pelalawan, some farmers have already received hand tractors from RAPP.

Unlike in Indonesia’s most populated island of Java, most of the peatlands in Riau have not been prepared for farming. With little or no irrigation facilities and reliance on rain to water the land, farmers in the region typically enjoy just a single harvest every year, not three or four like their counterparts in Java.

“The rice we produce is only enough to feed our family. That’s the best we can get. We rarely have extra to sell,” Darwis said.

Edi Arifin, community head of the village in Pelalawan where Darwis lives said people in his village are queuing up to get the equipment assistance from RAPP.

“This is proof that enthusiasm for RAPP's program is huge,” he said, adding that village officials have issued clear instructions to the villagers not to burn land or forest to make new land for farming.

Indonesia is stuck in an odd dilemma, with the current administration repeatedly saying it will act firmly against those responsible for forest fires but having to face regulations that actually allow traditional slash-and-burn practices, which have been done for centuries in Sumatra.

According to a 2010 Environment Minister regulation local communities are allowed to burn a maximum of 2 hectares of land as long as they report it first to the village head.

There is also the Government Regulation issued in 2009 which stated that burning land is allowed if it is part of local wisdom.

Village head Edi nevertheless said, “Our village disapproves of land and forest burning. I have warned my people. I will not back them if the authorities punish them for burning their land.”

RAPP’s own data for 2015 show that 78 percent of land and forest fires in Riau was caused by burning land for agriculture. Accidental fires by human error contributed only 15 percent and the cause of the rest of the land and forest fires was unknown.

For people like Darwis, living in an area which was constantly enveloped in choking haze has been punishment enough.

"But please help us with solutions. Don't just blame farmers like us," he said.

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Indonesia: WWF Indonesia Talks Illegal Wildlife Trade Ahead of World Environment Day

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 2 Jun 16;

Jakarta. World Wildlife Fund Indonesia hosted a forum themed "Zero Tolerance for Illegal Wildlife Trade" in Jakarta on Thursday (02/06) in response to rising demand for exotic animals on the black market.

The Indonesian branch of the international conservation organization said critically endangered animals such as sea turtles and Sumatran tigers, rhinos and elephants are at risk as their body parts are often sold as souvenirs, lifestyle accessories or for use in traditional medicines.

Participants also discussed the alarming increase in the archipelago of the illegal wildlife trade, which is currently the fifth-largest in the world, according to WWF Indonesia conservation director Arnold Sitompul.

The forum invited several government ministries and officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, a member of the House of Representatives and officers of the Bali Maritime Police and the Jakarta Police.

"As a country with mega-biodiversity, Indonesia continues to be the source of exotic wildlife and the illegal trade is worth over $10 million a year," Arnold said in his opening speech.

It was revealed in the forum that the country lost more than Rp 9 trillion ($657 million) from the illegal trade, with almost 70 cases reported in the first three months of this year alone.

"The issue of illegal wildlife trade is just the tip of the iceberg," said Khairul Saleh of WWF Indonesia. He added that it was unlikely to stop as long as demand from both local and international markets continue to increase.

According to Khairul, it is still common to see illegally traded pets in popular Indonesian online marketplaces such as Tokopedia, Lazada, and Bukalapak, or even on social-media platforms such as Blackberry Messenger, Facebook and Instagram.

Sugeng Riyanto, a representative of the National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim Polri), added that in some cases, the body parts of exotic animals are even traded in the open.

"There is a high demand for exotic animal parts and potential buyers are often invited to check out the warehouses for themselves, sometimes even without an appointment," Sugeng said.

Despite many efforts by WWF Indonesia and the authorities to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, participants were considering ways to more effectively eliminate the scourge.

Officials from the Bali Regional Police suggested that regulations should be unified, because penalties for the illegal trade in wildlife vary in different parts of the country, in accordance with regional jurisdictions.

An Indonesia Veterinary Association representative pointed out a flaw in the quarantine coordination, as the quarantine body is important to get rid of back doors for international and local smugglers.

A survey by WWF Indonesia showed that 35 percent of respondents believe that tougher maximum punishments would help deter wildlife crimes, while 27 percent believe in stricter monitoring.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Aryo Djojohadikusumo acknowledged the importance of tougher laws, while he urged the government to increase the budget allocation for wildlife crimes.

"The state budget for all forest rangers in Indonesia is only $3 million dollars and the budget also has to cover conservation of critically endangered species," Aryo said. He called for the prioritization of a budget increase for conservation efforts.

According to the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) lawmaker, it was also important for social media influencers to push for a change in the mindset of Indonesians and to advocate for animal rights.

World Environment Day is celebrated annually on June 5th.

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Microplastics killing fish before they reach reproductive age, study finds

Tiny particles of plastic litter in oceans causing deaths, stunted growth and altering behaviour of some fish that feed on them, research shows
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 2 Jun 16;

Fish are being killed, and prevented from reaching maturity, by the litter of plastic particles finding their way into the world’s oceans, new research has proved.

Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce.

The growing problem of microplastics – tiny particles of polymer-type materials from modern industry – has been thought for several years to be a peril for fish, but the study published on Thursday is the first to prove the damage in trials.

Microplastics are near-indestructible in natural environments. They enter the oceans through litter, when waste such as plastic bags, packaging and other convenience materials are discarded. Vast amounts of these end up in the sea, through inadequate waste disposal systems and sewage outfall.

Another growing source is microbeads, tiny particles of hard plastics that are used in cosmetics, for instance as an abrasive in modern skin cleaners. These easily enter waterways as they are washed off as they are used, flushed down drains and forgotten, but can last for decades in our oceans.

The impact of these materials has been hard to measure, despite being a growing source of concern. Small particles of plastics have been found in seabirds, fish and whales, which swallow the materials but cannot digest them, leading to a build-up in their digestive tracts.

For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that fish exposed to such materials during their development show stunted growth and increased mortality rates, as well as changed behaviour that could endanger their survival.

Samples of perch, still in their larval state, were shown not only to take in the plastics, but to prefer them to their real food. Larval perch with access to microplastic particles ate only the plastics, ignoring their natural food source of plankton.

The study, published in Science on Thursday, found that the fish born into an environment rich in microplastics – defined as tiny pieces of less than 5mm in size – had reduced rates of hatching and development to maturity.

The perch studied also ignored the chemical signals that would normally warn them of the presence of predators, the researchers found.

These particles are now found in abundance across the world’s oceans, and are often common in shallow coastal areas, where they wash in from waste dumps and sewerage systems.

“This is the first time an animal has been found to preferentially feed on plastic particles, and is cause for concern,” said Peter Eklöv, co-author of the study. “Larvae exposed to microplastic particles during development also displayed changed behaviours and were much less active than fish that had been reared in water that contained no microplastic particles.”

Environmental campaigners have been calling for a reduction in the waste allowed to drift from rivers into seas and oceans, and for an end to the use of artificial microplastics in cosmetics. Greenpeace launched a campaign against microbeads early this year, and several companies have committed to phasing them out.

However, the study suggests that damage has already been done, and preventing the leakage of more microplastics into the oceans should be a matter of urgency, as once they are in our seas they are almost impossible to get rid of.

Perch exposed to microplastics in the study were eaten by pike four times more quickly than their naturally-reared relatives, when the predators were introduced into their environment. All of the plastic-exposed fish in the study were dead within 48 hours.

This suggests that the impacts of microplastics are likely to be far-reaching and long-lasting, beyond the immediate effects on the fish’s digestive systems, which was previously the main cause of concern. Plastics may be causing differing behaviour in the fish, and inhibiting their evolved responses to danger, through mechanisms not yet fully understood.

The study adds to research that has found coastal fish species suffering marked declines in recent years, while the amount of plastic litter in the oceans has increased.

“If early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,” warned Oona Lönnstedt, another of the report’s authors.

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A switch to ecological farming will benefit health and environment – report

The world needs to move away from industrial agriculture to avoid ecological, social and human health crises, say scientists
John Vidal The Guardian 2 Jun 16;

A new approach to farming is needed to safeguard human health and avoid rising air and water pollution, high greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, a group of 20 leading agronomists, health, nutrition and social scientists has concluded.

Rather than the giant feedlots used to rear animals or the uniform crop monocultures that now dominate farming worldwide, the solution is to diversify agriculture and re-orient it around ecological practices, says the report (pdf) by the International panel of experts on sustainable food systems (IPES-Food).

The benefits of a switch to a more ecologically oriented farming system would be seen in human and animal health, and improvements in soil and water quality, the report says.

The new group, which is co-chaired by Olivier De Schutter, former UN special rapporteur on food, and includes winners of the World Food prize and the heads of bio-science research groups, accepts that industrial agriculture and the global food system that has grown around it supplies large volumes of food to global markets.

But it argues that food supplies would not be greatly affected by a change to a more diverse farming system.

The group’s members, drawn from rich and poor countries with no affiliations to industry, say that industrial agriculture’s dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics to manage animals and agro-ecosystems, has led to ecological, social and human health crises.

“Today’s food and farming systems led systematically to negative outcomes and vulnerabilities. Many of these problems can be linked specifically to the industrial-scale feedlots and uniform crop monocultures that dominate agricultural landscapes, and rely on chemical fertilisers and pesticides as a means of managing agro-ecosystems,” the group says.

In place of an intensive global food system they propose that agriculture diversifies production and optimises biodiversity to build fertile, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods.

De Schutter said: “Many of the problems in food systems are linked specifically to the uniformity at the heart of industrial agriculture, and its reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.” He said that simply tweaking industrial agriculture will not provide long-term solutions and a fundamentally different model was needed.

“It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agro-ecological alternative. It is the mismatch between its huge potential to improve outcomes across food systems, and its much smaller potential to generate profits for agribusiness firms.”

“There is growing evidence that these [agro-ecological] systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods,” says the report.

Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.

The panel argues that industrial agriculture locks in farmers, subsidies, supermarkets, governments and consumers to the point where food systems are in the hands of very few companies and people.

“Food systems in which uniform crop commodities can be produced and traded on a massive scale are in the economic interests of crop breeders, pesticide manufacturers, grain traders and supermarkets alike,” says the report.

“Industrial agriculture has occupied a privileged position for decades and has failed to provide a recipe for sustainable food systems. There is enough evidence now to suggest that a shift towards diversified agro-ecological systems can dramatically improve these outcomes.”

The panel identifies three disastrous consequences of intensive farming. These include the fact that global food systems linked to industrial modes of farming or deforestation generate one-third of all greenhouse gasses.

In addition, the excessive application of fertilisers and pesticides in crop monocultures, and the waste generated by industrial animal feedlots, have resulted in severe water pollution.

Pesticide exposure in industrial farming systems has been linked to a possible range of human health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, birth defects, cancers and developmental disorders. Additionally, the preventative use of antibiotics in industrial animal production systems has exacerbated the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, creating health risks for human populations.

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Paris: Thousands evacuated, two dead, as France declares flood emergency


Torrential rain forced thousands of people from their homes south of Paris while the River Seine surged to its highest level for over 30 years in the French capital, shutting down the famed Louvre and Orsay museums and a metro line.

In Evry-Gregy-sur-Yerre, south of Paris, a man on horseback drowned on Thursday, the prefecture said in a statement. Le Parisien newspaper said the 74-year-old had been trying to cross a flooded field. The horse survived with minor injuries.

He was the second victim of the torrential rains that have caused the Loire and Seine rivers to burst their banks. An 86-year-old woman was found dead in her flooded house in a small town southwest of Paris late on Wednesday.

"Since yesterday it's just been a deluge," said Jerome Coiffier, an inhabitant of Longjumeau, less than 20 km (13 miles) south of Paris, where firemen wading thigh-deep in water rescued inhabitants using inflatable boats.

At least 3,000 out of 13,000 inhabitants were evacuated in Nemours, 75 km (45 miles) south of Paris, as floodwaters crept toward the second story of buildings in the town center.

Prolonged heavy rain also pounded parts of neighbouring Germany and at least five people have died in floods in Bavaria state in the south of the country, officials said.

In Paris, the Seine rose above 5 meters (16 feet), forcing the SNCF rail operator to close the RER C commuter line that runs along the river and is used by tourists to reach the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Versailles.

The Louvre museum shut down and said it would remain closed on Friday to keep its priceless art safe. The Orsay museum of Impressionist art will also be shut on Friday. Both are located right by the Seine in central Paris.

The Seine could peak at six meters in Paris on Friday, officials said, stressing that this was still well below the level where it would pose danger to residents. The river reached a record high of 8.6 meters in 1910, when thousands of Parisians had to flee flooded low-lying areas of the city.

President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency in the worst affected areas and promised funding to help local authorities deal with flood damage. Unusually heavy rains in June showed the urgency to curb climate change, he said.

In the Loire Valley, Chambord castle, a UNESCO world heritage site, found itself surrounded by water.

The national weather service said the greater Paris region had in May endured its wettest month since 1960.

In the Loiret region, where local officials called on the army to help evacuate motorists trapped on the A10 motorway, the floods were the most severe in a century.

(Additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Geert De Clercq and Emmanuel Jarry in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)

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