Best of our wild blogs: 27 Sep 17

TED Talk – The fascinating secret lives of giant clams
Mei Lin NEO

Read more!

Price of curbing plastic bag use

Audrey Tan Straits Times 27 Sep 17;

Supermarket shoppers may have to start paying for plastic bags next year, if Singapore's four main supermarket chains - FairPrice, Dairy Farm Group, Prime Supermarket and Sheng Siong - agree on implementing a plastic bag surcharge.

The discussions, reported by The Sunday Times this week, came about after a green group called on the Government and businesses last year to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags, mainly as a disincentive to shoppers who use them.

A tax is not the first strategy aiming to cut plastic bag use. There have been other incentive-based schemes, although their success is debatable.

Some 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, but only 7 per cent was recycled. Non-recycled plastic bags, whether biodegradable or not, are all incinerated. So, while it is a pity that disincentives have to be used to get people to recognise the environmental impact, it is necessary.

FairPrice has had, since 2007, an incentive-based scheme offering customers 10 cents off a minimum spend of $10 if they take along their own bag. It saved the supermarket 10.1 million plastic bags in 2015, it said.

Still, any shopper can attest to how freely cashiers at most supermarkets give out plastic bags: Individual items are sometimes bagged separately, some are double-bagged, and even items that come with handles, such as rolls of toilet paper, are bagged again.

Plastic bags are useful for bagging food waste that can dirty chutes. But key to the issue is the sheer number of bags distributed. Many households will find that they have more bags than needed. The right recycling habits, such as separating food waste from other recyclables, could further reduce this number.

A plastic bag tax would serve to curb usage by encouraging people to take along their own bags.

In April, Japanese lifestyle brand Miniso began charging customers 10 cents for every plastic bag, and usage has dropped by as much as 75 per cent.

A Straits Times online poll showed that more than 70 per cent of almost 4,000 respondents supported a plastic bag tax. A levy may just be the kick consumers need to change entrenched habits.

Audrey Tan

How to dispose trash down rubbish chutes if there are no plastic bags, ask readers
CHEN JINGWEN AsiaOne 26 Sep 17;

It looks like Singaporeans still want their supermarket plastic bags for free - and for a good reason.

Here in Singapore, plastic bags are mostly reused to contain the daily garbage that's discarded down high-rise rubbish chutes and some people also reuse them to carry items.

Some 30-odd Facebook users who responded to AsiaOne's article on whether major supermarkets here should follow the example of some countries to charge shoppers for the use of a bag, felt they should be given away free since many people are reusing them to dispose trash.

Facebook user Harry Yip said: "My family uses those thin plastic bags from the supermarkets as garbage bags for food waste, packaging waste, vaccum bag and sweeping floor waste, etc. One can only go to any bin centre and see that these bags are extensively used as garbage bags."

Another user, Ah Hong, is against a ban on supermarket plastic bags as the rubbish chute will be "dirtier and smelly" if people just discard rubbish without sealing them in a bag first. Those living on lower floors will suffer if this happens, he added.

Also against a ban or levy, Esther Lee said: "No doubt there are lots of plastic waste but what is the percentage contributed from supermarket plastic bags? The amount of trash may likely come from industrial waste, buildings being pulled down, food courts and hawker centres using plastic disposables. Singapore should lead by example and not always a blind follower."

KM Chia agreed: "We must examine our whole waste management system, and make better change. Plastic bags have been recycled in Singapore as part of our waste management so please don't make the change for the sake of changing."

For another user, Eng Seng Lim, the problem lies in the rubbish chute system that is being used in HDB flats and apartments across Singapore.

In a comment on AsiaOne's Facebook page, he attributed the unavoidable use of bags on the rubbish chute system and the distant location of the bin centre. He added that the authorities should come up with a better way to transfer waste from a residential unit to a common bin centre more effectively.

Two Facebook users think the charging of supermarket bags will drive more people to shop online.

Another two feel that supermarkets should restrict the use of thinner plastic bags used for containing vegetables, fruits and meats instead as they are usually discarded and not recycled after use.

One user highlighted a method to dispose of compost waste in Singapore, which is currently being used in some Western countries - to install a waste food disposer at all kitchen sinks in HDB flats.

Such disposers are used to grind kitchen food waste into tiny particles so that it can be flushed down the water waste system together with the rest of the sewage.

While most highlighted the lack of feasible waste disposal methods in Singapore, some supported extreme measures of a ban and a charge on bags to make people cultivate environment friendly habits.

Said Tong Bn: "I can bring my bags."

Read more!

'Burning smell' across Singapore: Industrial plants in north-east operating normally, says NEA

Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: Air quality levels in Singapore remain within safety limits, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (Sep 26), a day after residents in many areas complained of a strong burning smell.

NEA said its checks included levels of volatile organic compounds, and industrial plants in the north-eastern parts of Singapore were found to be operating normally. The agency added that it has not received any more complaints about the smell.

"Investigations are ongoing," it said in a Facebook post. "NEA will continue to closely monitor the situation."

On Monday, residents in Sengkang, Buangkok and Hougang were among the first to notice the smell from as early as 4.30pm, describing it as "plastic burning" and "like petroleum". It spread to Bishan and Ang Mo Kio later in the afternoon.

By evening, the odour had spread to Commonwealth, Bukit Timah and Holland Village.

Authorities had also said on Monday that no toxic industrial chemicals were detected in the air and air quality levels were within safety limits.


The plumes could be industrial pollution that originated in Malaysia, experts told Channel NewsAsia.

"It is likely to be exhaust from a smokestack of some kind of factory. You get a burning smell from the haze not a pungent smell," said Dr Ang Peng Hwa, who leads the Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT).

It is possible that the smell came from the "release of chemical products or substances from a major industrial facility," said Dr Erik Velasco, a climate and meteorological research scientist at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

It came from the north "possibly beyond the channel", he added.

The weather conditions helped to spread the smell across a large part of Singapore, Dr Velasco explained.

"Slow winds coming from the north and a local meteorology that trapped the plume close to the surface concentrated the smell, and obviously, the chemical species or pollutants associated with it," he said.
Source: CNA/hm/dl

Air quality within safety limits, no further smell complaints: NEA
Lydia Lam Straits Times 26 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Air quality levels across Singapore, including levels of volatile organic compounds, continue to remain within safety limits, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement on Tuesday (Sept 26), a day after Singaporeans islandwide detected a chemical smell accompanied by a cloud of smoke.

NEA said in its Facebook post at 7.49pm that it has been monitoring air quality levels, including levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), across Singapore.

"The levels continue to remain within safety limits and we have not received further smell complaints from residents in Singapore," it said.

It added that checks conducted at industrial plants in the north-eastern parts of Singapore showed that they were operating normally.

Residents in various parts of Singapore, including Sengkang, Yishun, Seletar, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and Clementi, had reported smelling a petrol-like chemical burning smell that irritated their eyes, noses and throats.

However, NEA and the Singapore Civil Defence Force said that there were no toxic industrial substances in the air and that air quality during the period had been "well within safety limits".

Investigations are ongoing, and NEA said it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

ST understands that the fumes are believed to have come from Johor.

NEA also said in its statement that Singapore "may experience slightly hazy conditions" on Wednesday morning due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions.

For the next 24 hours, the 24-hr PSI is forecast to be in the Moderate range.

NEA will continue to closely monitor the situation.

Cause of chemical stench still a mystery
Air quality within safety limits, says NEA; volcanic action in Bali and haze ruled out
Samantha Boh Straits Times 27 Sep 17;

Investigations have yet to uncover the cause of the caustic chemical stench that cloaked parts of the island on Monday, but experts have so far ruled out volcanic action in Bali and the haze.

Air pollutants tracked by the authorities, such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, were also normal, following checks by officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Civil Defence Force on Monday.

These gases are usually emitted from vehicles or factories that burn natural gas.

The NEA, which has been monitoring air quality, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), across the island, said last night that air quality and VOC levels continue to remain within safety limits.

Some VOCs may have short-and long-term adverse effects on health.

On Monday, complaints first poured in from residents in Sengkang and Punggol about an acrid, chemical stench that was later detected by people in estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, Seletar and Bishan. Thick smoke also hung over some of the affected areas, residents said.

Some residents suggested the smell was from the town of Pasir Gudang in Johor, where a large zone of its 311 sq km is dedicated to heavy industries, and where fumes and pollutants have strayed to Singapore in past incidents.

Just last week, a fire broke out at a chemical factory there, creating thick smoke and causing thousands working and living around the area to panic.

But when contacted yesterday, people working there said there was nothing out of the ordinary on Monday afternoon.

According to the NEA, "checks conducted at industrial plants in the north-eastern parts of Singapore showed that they were operating normally".

The agency said it will continue to investigate the source of the chemical smell.

Meanwhile, experts have ruled out volcanic action in Bali and the haze.

Associate Professor Koh Tieh Yong of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said: "The winds were not coming from Bali yesterday. Bali is over 1,500km away. For a stench to travel so far and still smell so strong is highly unlikely."

The weather expert added that gases diffuse as they travel, and for it to smell so strong here, the compound had to be very concentrated at its source. There has been no report of a strong stench in Bali.

According to the NEA's daily haze update on Monday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the low end of the moderate range at 6pm. The hourly concentration readings for PM2.5 - tiny pollutant particles associated with haze - was also in the normal band.

This means the air quality levels were within safety limits and, after yesterday's thunderstorm, the NEA said it received no further complaints of the stench from residents.

Ms Lelavathi Annamali, 68, who lives in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8, said the strong kerosene smell that had stung her eyes on Monday night had largely dissipated by yesterday morning.

"Then the rain came at about 11am, and it was completely gone," said the retiree.

Slightly hazy conditions are expected in Singapore this morning and thundery showers in the afternoon, said the NEA.

The 24-hour PSI is expected to be in the moderate range, and the hourly concentration readings for PM2.5 normal.

Read more!

Man fined S$2,600 for releasing stingrays into reservoir

VALERIE KOH Today Online 27 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — An unemployed man charged last week in Singapore’s first court case involving stingray abandonment was fined S$2,600 on Tuesday (Sept 26).

Larry Tan Chin Guan, 48, was caught after he filmed himself releasing three pet Motoro stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir and uploaded the video on Facebook. Two individuals reported the clip, which Tan posted on the SG Tiger Fish and Aquatic Livestock page on Facebook, to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and national water agency PUB.

Following up on the complaints, PUB called Tan in for an interview to assist with investigations.

He was charged last Wednesday under the Animals and Birds Act for abandoning the stingrays – an alien freshwater species with venomous stings that are native to South America – at about 3pm to 4pm on June 2 without reasonable cause or excuse. On Tuesday, Tan was charged with releasing the stingrays into the reservoir without prior written approval from PUB. He was fined S$2,000 for the first charge and S$600 for the second.

Tan’s decision to release the creatures was irresponsible and unwise, as the reservoir was “certainly not a natural habitat” for stingrays in captivity, said District Judge Kenneth Choo.

Tan had bought four Motoro stingrays about a year ago from an aquarium in Yishun, where he lives.

The species are popular in the aquarium trade and can be sold legally here.

One of the stingrays died several weeks later and in May, Tan decided to give them up to make space for five newly-bought Black Diamond stingrays.

He placed the Motoro stingrays in a bag with a portable air pump and drove five minutes to a carpark near Orchid Country Club, then walked to the reservoir and released the stingrays.

PUB prosecutor Khong Pui Pui told the court that the release of captive stingrays harmed both the animals and the aquatic ecosystem. “These animals may not survive and those few that are able to do so disrupt the ecological balance of the natural habitats by competing with the native species for resources,” she said.

The animals also pose a risk to people who use the water bodies.

After the incident, PUB advised the People’s Association and Sport Singapore to urge those partaking in water activities to don appropriate footwear and avoid standing or walking in the shallow area of the reservoir. Its contractors were also told to immediately report sightings of the stingrays to PUB staff, and to avoid touching the creatures with their hands during the removal of aquatic plants.

The stingrays have yet to be caught, Ms Khong told reporters after the hearing.

Tan, who did not have a lawyer, said he did not know it was a crime to release animals into the reservoir. “If not, I would not have done it in the day time,” he said. “I could have sold them away but I did not want other people to use the stingrays to make a profit. That’s why I chose to release them back into nature.”

Motoro stingrays, likely released by hobbyists, have been spotted in local reservoirs since at least 2006. Between 2007 and 2008, researchers trying to ascertain the species’ status in Upper Seletar Reservoir caught five specimens including two pregnant females. It was the first alien record of a South American freshwater stingray outside the tropical region of Central and South America.

The PUB told TODAY that since 2009, about 30 Motoro stingrays have been sighted and caught at different reservoirs — Lower Seletar, Upper Seletar, Lower Peirce and MacRitchie — during ecological studies by the agency and the National University of Singapore. As they are non-native species, the specimens caught are taken back for further research and are not released back into the reservoirs.

Non-native species may upset the food chain and introduced fish may compete with native species for food and habitat, or become predators of native species, said PUB. They may even spread diseases.

According to research published in 2009 by academics Ng Heok Hee and Tan Heok Hui, however, Singapore’s reservoirs are almost wholly populated by alien species.

Motoro stingrays are also imported. The AVA told TODAY about 550 of them were imported last year, a steep drop from about 1,700 imported in 2015 but more than the 100 imported in 2014. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

Man fined S$2,600 for releasing venomous stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir
Vanessa Paige Chelvan Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: An unemployed man was fined S$2,600 on Tuesday (Sep 26) for abandoning his pet stingrays by releasing them into Lower Seletar Reservoir.

District Judge Kenneth Choo criticised Larry Tan Chin Guan’s “irresponsible and unwise” decision to release the poisonous rays into the reservoir, putting the public at risk. The stingrays have not been sighted since Tan released them on Jun 2 in the afternoon.

In court on Tuesday, the 48-year-old Tan said he did not know what he did was not allowed, “otherwise I wouldn’t have done it in the daytime,” he said.

This is believed to be the first case involving the release of stingrays into the wild.

Tan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of pet abandonment under the Animals and Birds Act and one count of releasing the rays into the reservoir, an offence under the Public Utilities (Reservoirs, Catchment Areas and Waterway) Regulations.

At least three people reported Tan to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Public Utilities Board (PUB) after coming across a video Tan had posted on a Facebook page for fish and aquatic enthusiasts.

The video showed Tan releasing the stingrays into the reservoir.

According to court documents, Tan had decided to abandon the Motoro stingrays to make room for five new Black Diamond stingrays he had bought. Tan said he thought it was better to “let (the rays) back into nature” than to sell them.

AVA prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan sought a S$2,000 fine, while PUB prosecutor Khong Pui Pui sought a fine of at least S$500.

The release of animals bred in captivity harms the animal as well as the acquiatic ecosystem, Ms Khong said.

The prosecutor added the PUB has advised all participants in water activities to put on appropriate footwear and not to stand or walk in the shallow areas of the reservoir.

Man fined $2,600 for releasing 3 venomous stingrays into reservoir
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib Straits Times 26 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - An unemployed man has been fined $2,600 after releasing three venomous motoro stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir on June 2, an act that could upset the ecological balance of natural habitats and pose safety risks to users.

The Straits Times understands that the stingrays are yet to be caught, which have prompted the authorities to issue advisories to those performing work and taking part in water sports activities in the reservoir.

Larry Tan Chin Guan, 48, pleaded guilty in court on Tuesday (Sept 26) to abandoning his pets into the reservoir without a reasonable cause or excuse.

He also admitted that he had released them into a body of water in a catchment area park without prior written approval from an authorised officer.

Tan was the first offender to be hauled to court for abandoning stingrays, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

AVA prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan said Tan bought four motoro stingrays from an aquarium in Yishun about a year ago but one of them died weeks after the purchase.

He bought five black diamond stingrays this May and decided to release the three surviving motoro stingrays into Lower Seletar Reservoir. Court papers did not mention the price he paid for all the animals.

Between 3pm and 4pm on June 2, Tan placed the three motoro stingrays into a bag with a portable air pump, drove for five minutes to a car park near Orchid Country Club and walked to the reservoir. He then released them into the water.

Tan also shot a video of the stingrays being freed into the reservoir, which he uploaded onto the SG Tiger Fish and Aquatic Livestock page on Facebook.

A netizen who viewed the clip alerted the PUB communications department at around 1am the next day.

On Tuesday, Ms Khong Pui Pui, who is the PUB prosecutor, said the national water agency managed to track down Tan and contacted him for an interview at its office on June 8.

She told the court that the release of such animals, that have been bred and kept in captivity, into the reservoirs harms the aquatic ecosystem.

She added: "These animals may not survive and those few that are able to do so disrupt the ecological balance of the natural habitats by competing with the native species for resources. The release of non-native species into the waters may also pose a risk to users of public water bodies."

Ms Khong said that since the incident, PUB has reminded all contractor workers not to catch or touch the stingrays with their hands when removing aquatic plants.

Reservoir staff have been told to be alert and surveillance has been stepped up at the reservoir and fishing areas to look out for offenders releasing fishes into the water.

"The PUB reservoir management team had to advise the People's Association and the Singapore Sports Council that their water activity users are to put on appropriate footwear and not to stand and walk in the reservoir shallow area," said Ms Khong.

In a joint media release with PUB, AVA reminded the public that it is irresponsible and cruel to abandon pets.

The release also stated: "Pet owners who are unable to look after their pet anymore should find a suitable home for their pet. Anglers can also call PUB if they catch any stingrays when fishing at the reservoirs instead of releasing them back into the (water)."

Tan, who was unrepresented, told the court that he was unaware that the release of animals into the reservoir is forbidden.

The AVA had earlier told ST that motoro rays are allowed to be sold in aquariums as pets.

According to a 2010 ST report, the freshwater rays are native to South American rivers and can grow to the size of dinner plates.

They had been found previously in Upper Seletar Reservoir and likely had been released by hobbyists.

The rays can deliver venomous stings that cause extreme pain and even death.

First-time offenders convicted of abandoning animals can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000.

Read more!

Urban farming startup raises $1.5m to curb Singapore’s reliance on imported food

Terence Lee Tech in Asia 25 Sep 17;

Packet Greens, a Singapore-based startup which couples hydroponics technology with automation to make urban farming more efficient, has raised US$1.5 million in funding from government-related venture capital firm SPRING SEEDS Capital and cleantech-focused fund Trirec.

The company employs vertical farming – racks of crops stacked on top of one another – to improve land-use efficiency. It delivers precise dosages of nutrients and water to crops to minimize wastage. The plants are bathed in LED lights in a tightly controlled environment, eliminating the use of pesticides.

It currently grows 51 types of crops in a 167 square-meter farm – slightly larger than the roomiest three-bedroom apartments in Singapore. It claims to be able to grow five times the crops on the same amount of land compared to traditional farms, and in half the time.

It is aiming to further lower its costs. “Down the road, Packet Greens’ ambitions is to ultimately be able to sell its produce at a price that can be competitive to the wholesale price,” says Trirec co-founder Melvyn Yeo. “Packet Green’s pricing strategy is currently pegged at retail-minus.”

That means it charges wholesalers a certain percentage less than retail price.

“While our operations are not sized at scale for the cost to compete against the traditional imported produce – since Packet Green is still a start-up – our experience has shown us that we are able to achieve a viable costing down strategy.”

Packet Greens tells Tech in Asia that its revenue is forecasted to exceed US$74,000 this year, triple of 2016.

The startup sells its crops directly to consumers online. It also supplies them to restaurants, hotels, and online retailers. It plans to expand locally for three to five years before looking abroad.

Trirec is an investor in Sunseap, a major clean energy solutions provider in Singapore that is valued at US$221 million.

Singapore imports 90 percent of its food, according to a 2015/2016 annual report by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. It aims to reduce the country’s reliance on imports and has designed a number of schemes to achieve it.

Read more!

Malaysia: 'Heritage law' for land being considered

TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 26 Sep 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: A NEW law to declare certain locations, such as forests, jungles and open land, as heritage sites is being proposed.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a working committee comprising representatives of his ministry, the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) and Khazanah Nasional had been working for the past eight months to come up with a module.

He said the team was looking at international modules used by the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. This was to ensure that the country’s important heritage and historical locations were maintained and recognised.

“We are now in the process of preparing this law for this purpose; we are talking to various stakeholders. It will then come to our ministry for review and be sent to the Attorney-General’s (A-G) Chambers to determine whether it can be brought to Parliament or not.

“If the A-G passes it, we are hoping that the law can be enforced by 2018,” he told the New Straits Times recently.

Wan Junaidi said the law allowed the Tourism Ministry to recognise only buildings as heritage sites. But the proposed new law would empower his ministry.

Asked about the difference between gazetting an area and declaring it a heritage site, Wan Junaidi said the state government held the right to gazette an area as a forest reserve.

“The laws we have on heritage sites are for buildings, or if a specific area has an important building that needs to be preserved. Open spaces and land belong to the state, for example, Fraser’s Hill. The state needs to give consent whether to gazette it or not.

“If they do not agree, then there is nothing we (the ministry) can do about it. It is clearly written in the Constitution,” he said.

On the situation in Fraser’s Hill, Wan Junaidi said a technical evaluation must be made to determine its importance and safety.

“As of now, the only thing we can do is to push it to the Tourism Ministry to bring it up to the state, and request it to stop the development. My ministry can only suggest because it involves a primary forest reserve.

“The state will decide whether to gazette it or not, but they can, at any time, choose to degazette it, too. That is the issue we face now. The state has the upper hand,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said he believed the public and stakeholders from both sides of the political divide would support the legislation, adding that he also personally sat in the committee and technical meeting several times.

The meetings, he said, included BNBBC chairman Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad and Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar.

Wan Junaidi said he was told by Pahang Forestry director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman that the area approved for land clearing and mining was not in the primary forest reserve, but on state government land.

“From the conversation I had with the director, it can be concluded the whole area that has been highlighted is actually licensed for mining on state government land, and not on primary forest reserve land.

“The question now is whether it is proper to mine in the area? That decision is controlled by the state,” he said.

Read more!

Malaysia, Johor F&B outlets have three months to prep for biodegradable packaging

zazali musa The Star 26 Sep 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: Food and beverage operators in Johor have been reminded to get ready to start using biodegradable containers for their takeouts.

Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat (pic) said they have about three months from now to switch from polystyrene to biodegradable food containers.

He said hawkers in Johor Baru have already started switching to biodegradable food containers and by Jan 1 next year would be using biodegradable containers completely.

“We will extend the ruling to hawkers in other local councils in the state and most probably they will have to comply with the ruling next year,” he said at a press conference Tuesday to announce the state’s environment day celebration to be held at Dataran Segamat from Oct 21-22.

Ayub said there should be no more excuses from hawkers for not using biodegradable food containers.

He said the state government had given them ample time to get ready and has been speaking about the ruling over the past two years.

“Starting from January next year, caterers who serve state government functions must also use biodegradable food containers for guests,” said Ayub.

He said that hawkers taking part in the Johor Berkemajuan Expo at Dataran Mahkota in Kota Iskandar next month have also been directed to use only biodegradable food containers.

Start using biodegradable containers, hawkers told
zazali musa The Star 29 Sep 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: Food operators in Johor have been reminded to start using biodegradable containers for their takeaways.

Johor health, environment, education and information committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said traders have about three months from now to completely switch from using polystyrene to biodegradable food containers.

He said hawkers in Johor Baru districts have already started using biodegradable food containers gradually and by Jan 1, they would use only biodegradable containers.

“We will extend the ruling to other local councils in the state with enforcement most probably taking place next year,” said Ayub.

He reminded hawkers that using biodegradable food and drink containers was not a reason to increase their prices.

“Consumers can also play their part by bringing their own containers or tiffin carriers when buying food,” he said.

Ayub said the state had given hawkers ample time to prepare for the switch as the announcement of the new ruling was made two years ago.

“Starting from January, caterers hired for the state’s events must also use biodegradable food and drink containers.

Ayub said hawkers taking part in the Johor Berkemajuan Expo at Dataran Mahkota in Kota Iskandar next month had also been directed to only use biodegradable food containers.

He said the new ruling would also be implemented for Ramadan bazaar hawkers during fasting month.

Read more!

French government declares war on pesticides

AFP Yahoo News 25 Sep 17;

Paris (AFP) - France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France -- Europe's biggest food producer -- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer.

But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron's five-year term "the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides".

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world's most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto.

The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France's biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was "out of the question" for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors.

"A sudden ban, no -- a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening," said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert.

Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research.

The EU's chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing.

But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic".

Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

Read more!

Brazil scraps bid to mine Amazon natural reserve

AFP Yahoo News 25 Sep 17;

Brasília (AFP) - The Brazilian government backed off a controversial proposal to authorize private companies to mine a sprawling Amazon reserve Monday after blistering domestic and international criticism.

President Michel Temer's office will issue a new decree Tuesday that "restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984," the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement.

Last week, environmental activist group Greenpeace said at least 14 illegal mines and eight clandestine landing strips were already being used by miners in the Denmark-sized reserve known as Renca in the eastern Amazon.

Greenpeace said this showed the risks faced by Renca even without Temer's earlier proposal for ending a ban on large-scale foreign mining in the mineral-rich region.

Temer's decree signed on August 25 on opening up Renca was suspended days later after an international outcry.

The president had argued that lifting restrictions will allow Brazil to boost its struggling economy and also push the hugely destructive wildcat mining operations out of business.

In announcing the government was formally withdrawing the decree, the mining ministry insisted that the conditions that led to the measure in the first place were "still present."

"The country needs to grow and generate jobs, attract investments for the mining sector, including to exploit the economic potential of the region," it added.

The rainforest there is rich in gold and other valuable commodities but has been protected for decades from private industry and is home to several indigenous tribes.

Critics of Temer's decree included international environmental groups, the Catholic Church and even supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who is Brazilian.

The Renca reserve is home to the indigenous Aparai, Wayana and Wajapi tribes and vast swaths of untouched forest, covering more than 17,800 square miles (46,000 square kilometers).

Environmental groups say opening up Renca to mining would accelerate the advance of private mining and deforestation of preserved areas.

"The cancellation of the degree shows that, no matter how bad it is, no governing politician is absolutely immune to public pressure," said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil.

"It is a victory of society over those who want to destroy and sell our forest."

He then added: "Renca is just a battle. The war against the Amazon and its different peoples, promoted by Temer and big agro business, is still on."

Read more!

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies

Plant and animal species that are the foundation of our food supplies are as endangered as wildlife but get almost no attention, a new report reveals
Damian Carrington The Guardian 26 Sep 17;

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts.

“Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday.

“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.

There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth. The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.

Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

The new report sets out how both governments and companies can protect, enhance and use the huge variety of little-known food crops. It highlights examples including the gac, a fiery red fruit from Vietnam, and the orange-fleshed Asupina banana. Both have extremely high levels of beta-carotene that the body converts to vitamin A and could help the many millions of people suffering deficiency of that vitamin.

Quinoa has become popular in some rich nations but only a few of the thousands of varieties native to South America are cultivated. The report shows how support has enabled farmers in Peru to grow a tough, nutritious variety that will protect them from future diseases or extreme weather.

Mainstream crops can also benefit from diversity and earlier in 2017 in Ethiopia researchers found two varieties of durum wheat that produce excellent yields even in dry areas. Fish diversity is also very valuable, with a local Bangladeshi species now shown to be extremely nutritious.

“Food biodiversity is full of superfoods but perhaps even more important is the fact these foods are also readily available and adapted to local farming conditions,” said Tutwiler.

Bioversity International is working with both companies and governments to ramp up investment in agrobiodiversity. The supermarket Sainsbury’s is one, and its head of agriculture, Beth Hart, said: “The world is changing – global warming, extreme weather and volatile prices are making it harder for farmers and growers to produce the foods our customers love. Which is why we are committed to working with our suppliers, farmers and growers around the world to optimise the health benefits, address the impact and biodiversity of these products and secure a sustainable supply.”

Pierfrancesco Sacco, Italy’s permanent representative to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, said: “The latest OECD report rates Italy third lowest in the world for levels of obesity after Japan and Korea. Is it a coincidence that all three countries have long traditions of healthy diets based on local food biodiversity, short food supply chains and celebration of local varieties and dishes?”

He said finding and cultivating a wider range of food is the key: “Unlike conserving pandas or rhinos, the more you use agrobiodiversity and the more you eat it, the better you conserve it.”

Read more!