Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 18

International Year of the Reef: Corsola the.. Coral

19 Mar (Sun): Ubin 2Rivers Trail (with a hike to the tallest one!)
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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17 F&B businesses in Singapore commit to sourcing for sustainable palm oil

Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore has been free from the scourge of haze for the past two years, but at least 17 food and beverage companies here are not taking the clear skies for granted.

The 17 - including major brands such as Crystal Jade, F&N and TungLok, as well as smaller businesses such as Veganburg in Eunos and NomVNom in Tai Seng - have recently committed to sourcing for sustainable palm oil.

Of these, 10 of them made the commitment to do so this year. They include TungLok Group and Commonwealth Capital, whose portfolio includes brands like PastaMania and Baker and Cook.

On Monday (Feb 26), they officially joined the South-east Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) - an initiative led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

The alliance, formed since 2016, champions the use of sustainable palm oil in business supply chains, and now has a total of 15 member companies.

The other two F&B businesses that use sustainable palm oil are Veganburg and NomVNom. They are not part of the alliance but told The Straits Times that they have committed to sourcing for sustainable palm oil since last August and September respectively.

Ms Elaine Tan, WWF Singapore's chief executive, said Saspo is the first private sector-led initiative in the region to address the need for sustainable palm oil, in relation to the haze.

She added: "The addition of the 10 companies to Saspo raises the bar for corporate responsibility to the environment and puts the Singapore business community ahead of the region."

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, who was guest of honour at Monday's Saspo event, said that with demand for palm oil projected to grow by another 50 per cent by 2020, sustainable production must take root in the industry.

"This underscores the significance of Saspo... Being the first of its kind, this industry-led initiative provides a platform for localised insights and shared resources for companies that source for sustainable palm oil," said Mr Masagos.


The cultivation of oil palm in countries such as Indonesia has long been pointed out as a major contributor of air pollution in the region, due to drainage of carbon-rich peatland, deforestation and slash-and-burn tactics used by plantation companies and farmers to prepare land for crops.

But as palm oil is found in many products, from food items to cosmetics, banning it is a near impossible task.

Environmental groups are touting sustainable palm oil as an alternative. This refers to palm oil from plantations which adhere to strict standards set out by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Among other things, certified plantations are not allowed to burn to clear land, and the rights of local communities must be respected.

Ms Zhang Wen of volunteer group the People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) said that other important criteria under RSPO include not planting new crops on extensive areas of peat soil, maintaining water levels in existing plantations on peat, and conserving primary forests, as well as secondary forests, with high conservation value.


Companies said the added costs of sourcing for sustainable palm oil were manageable, although an obstacle to more firms making the switch is a lack of awareness on the issue.

Dr Ng Wai Lek, founder of vegetarian company NomVNom, told ST that the price difference between sustainable and unsustainable palm oil is about $3 per tin.

Members of Saspo - such as TungLok Group, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Commonwealth Capital - said during Monday's event that sustainable palm oil adds just less than 10 per cent to total operating costs.

Commonwealth Capital's group managing director Andrew Kwan said that there are audit costs involved, which can be reduced if more companies come on board and the use of sustainable palm oil is made the norm.

Businesses are also divided on whether or not to pass on the extra costs to consumers. Some, such as Veganburg and NomVNom, said they would not. "We strive to keep our food prices as reasonable as possible so we can make our sustainable and plant-based burgers accessible to everyone," said Veganburg's founder Alex Tan.

TungLok's chief executive Andrew Tjioe said it has not increased the selling price of its products even after using more expensive sustainable palm oil, although he suggested that consumers here would be willing to pay for sustainable products. "In the same way as people are willing to pay more for organic products... this (added cost) is not a problem in Singapore."

WWF's Ms Tan said that Saspo's 15 members, being prominent businesses in Singapore, could prompt smaller businesses to come on board. The alliance also plans to conduct outreach efforts to raise awareness of palm oil here.


The latest additions to Saspo follows a campaign launched by WWF last year pressuring firms here to use sustainable palm oil. WWF surveyed 27 Singapore firms from April to June using a global Palm Oil Buyers' Scorecard that the group does each year to track what companies are doing to prevent the negative impacts of palm oil production.

Among the 27 Singapore organisations contacted were Ayam Brand and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Only 10 companies responded.

Following the release of the score card, four of the 17 companies which did not respond earlier - TungLok, Commonwealth Capital, Super Group and Bee Cheng Hiang - pledged that they would work towards using sustainable palm oil.

But there are some eateries flagged in the report that have yet to respond to WWF's latest call to switch to sustainable palm oil, including BreadTalk and Polar Puffs and Cakes.

Mr Andrew Kwan, Commonwealth Capital's group managing director, said on Monday that his company was surprised by the results of the scorecard when it was first made public, citing the lack of awareness of sustainable palm oil in Singapore.

"The lack of awareness could have contributed to the poorer take-up rate... Events like these and the press could help get more industry players on board," he said. "In this regard, we count it a privilege to help raise awareness among consumers and (those) in the market on the importance of growing businesses sustainably," he said.

Crystal Jade, Bee Cheng Hiang among Singapore firms pledging switch to sustainable palm oil
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 26 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: Ten more Singapore food and beverage (F&B) businesses have joined the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (SASPO), tripling the number of members since its launch in 2016.

These 10 businesses include Crystal Jade, Bee Cheng Hiang, Tung Lok,F&N and the parent company of PastaMania and Udders Ice Cream.

The addition of these 10 companies take the total number of local businesses that have publicly committed to 100 per cent sustainable palm oil to 15, accounting for more than 80 brands and 200 F&B outlets across the country.

SASPO is the first private sector-led initiative in the Southeast Asia region to address the importance of sourcing for sustainable palm oil in a bid to tackle the haze issue, which has crippled the region in the past.

It was launched by WWF and five founding companies comprising Ayam Brand (Denis Asia Pacific), Danone, IKEA, Unilever and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

“For a business, changing palm oil sourcing is always a commitment, a joint effort and a journey. But every step taken shows other businesses in Singapore and the region that it can be done. Over time, this pushes the industry towards using a hundred per cent sustainably-sourced palm oil,” said Mr HervĂ© Simon, Group Marketing Director of Denis Asia Pacific, which produces Ayam Brand.


TungLok Restaurants president and CEO Andrew Tijioe said sourcing for palm oil from plantations approved by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil was not costly.

Members of the global certification body have to comply with stringent rules, like not using the slash-and-burn technique to clear forests.

“It’s a very small difference that we don’t even care about it. It’s within 10 per cent (more than regular palm oil)”, Mr Tjioe said.

A bigger issue, he said, is a lack of awareness.

“There are many products in the restaurant that contain palm oil, like sauces. Many of them are produced in other countries like Hong Kong or China," he said.

"We have sent out a circular to them (manufacturers), asking them to declare whether their products contain sustainable palm oil. But the result is still quite lukewarm. Many of them say 'we use very little (palm oil)', or they don’t even know if their products contain sustainable or non-sustainable palm oil," he added.

WWF-Singapore CEO Elaine Tan echoed this, saying that "general awareness is pretty low in this part of the world" compared with Europe.

However, Ms Tan said the addition of the new restaurants was “testament that companies and businesses are ready, and they also want to be responsible to consumers demanding right now for sustainable palm oil”.

"I think it’s the beginning of a real ground swell," she said.

As for consumers’ buy-in, the businesses said the response has been encouraging, and people are willing to pay the premium. Mr Andrew Kwan, Group Managing Director of Common Wealth Capital - which owns brands like PastaMania, The Soup Spoon and Udders Ice Cream - likened the momentum to organic food.

"I’m hopeful and I’m quite confident that consumers will be discerning, and that they will pay just a little bit more if they know that companies that offer food are also getting products that are sustainably sourced," he said.


In 2015, raging forest fires in Indonesia caused by a combination of dry weather and slash-and-burn techniques to clear land sparked one of the worst haze crisis on record.

The haze caused the air quality in Singapore to turn hazardous, forcing the closure of schools and costing the economy an estimated S$700 million.

As a result, Singapore authorities in 2015 took action against companies believed to be behind the polluting fires, under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

“We cannot resolve this issue without addressing the production of palm oil”, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli at the announcement of SASPO’s new members on Monday (Feb 26).

But it is not about turning away from palm oil completely.

Out of the world's palm oil production, 85 per cent is produced in this region.

The palm oil industry not only contributes about up to 2.5 per cent to Indonesia’s gross national product (GNP), but also is the fourth-largest GNP contributor in Malaysia.

“The palm oil industry also supports the transition of many communities out of poverty, and significantly improves the livelihood of farmers”, Mr Masagos added.

He said that this is why Singapore supports the growth and success of a sustainable palm oil industry in the region, particularly as the demand for palm oil is expected to grow by 50 per cent by 2020.

The public has also sent signals to companies to use sustainable palm oil.

Most recently, a petition launched by two students to get food companies to make the switch garnered more than 8,000 signatures.

In 2017, a campaign led by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Singapore) saw people in Singapore sending 60,000 emails to local brands to show their support for responsibly-sourced palm oil.

Source: CNA/ad

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Wolbachia-carrying male mozzies to get a leg-up in second field study

SIAU MING EN Today Online 26 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — A fresh round of field studies taking male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to greater heights – literally – will kick off in April.

This, after the previous study found that insufficient numbers of them reached the higher floors of housing blocks, hampering efforts to control the population.

In Phase Two of the field study, the authorities will release the male mosquitoes – both adults and pupae – from high floors in addition to the ground floor, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Monday (Feb 26).

The NEA will also use X-ray or other technologies to render infertile the 0.3 per cent of small female pupae that get mistaken for male pupae when they are sorted by size. Female pupae are generally bigger and 99.7 per cent of them are successfully sifted out by a device.

Only male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are selected for release at study sites because when they mate with females, the eggs do not hatch. This leads to a smaller population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes over time. Male mosquitoes also do not bite.

If female Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are inadvertently released and mate with the males, the eggs hatch, which may hamper population suppression efforts.

The Phase Two field study will be conducted over nine months, said the NEA.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium found in more than 60 per cent of insect species, but not the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dreaded diseases like dengue and chikungunya. In addition to longstanding measures such as the destruction of breeding sites, it is a potential way to curb the mosquito population such that dengue transmission cannot be sustained.

The earlier field study, conducted between October 2016 and last December, took place at three sites: Braddell Heights, Tampines West and Nee Soon East.

This time round, the mosquitoes will be let loose in the latter two sites, but with redrawn boundaries. A total of 76 blocks with about 7,000 households will be covered – 40 more blocks than before.

Both the adult mosquitoes and and pupae will be released twice a week at the test sites, more frequently than the earlier study. More male Wolbachia mosquitoes will be released this time – one to six mosquitoes per person, instead of the one to three mosquitoes per human in the earlier study.

This is to counter the general increase in the Aedes aegypti population and compensate for any possible reduced virility of the male Wolbachia-Aedes from the X-ray treatment, said the NEA.

The mosquitoes are given low doses of X-ray and research shows they pose no harm to humans or the environment. Animals that eat or come into contact with these mosquitoes will not be affected.

They are not radioactive as they do not come into physical contact with a radioactive source, said the NEA.

X-ray technology has been used elsewhere for years without adverse effects, said chairman of the Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, Professor Duane Gubler of Duke-NUS Medical School.

For example, it is used to control or eradicate agricultural pests such as the melon fly in parts of Japan, said the NEA.

Professor Gubler does not think the Wolbachia study has been taking too long. “It is best to get this right the first time rather than rush ahead without adequate data,” he said.

A larger suppression trial was supposed to have started last year, but no date has now been set.

The new field study was called after Phase One threw up unexpected challenges. The impact of release of male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes was found to be limited by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from surrounding areas moving into the release sites.

Half of the Aedes mosquito eggs collected from the release sites did not hatch, but a larger reduction of hatched eggs and the adult population is needed.

And to better distribute the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes, they will need to be released from higher floors of apartment blocks.

The NEA appealed for support from residents and other stakeholders at the study sites and said it will provide more information to them. It urged residents to continue mosquito-control measures.

Phase 2 of dengue control study kicks off in April
More Wolbachia-carrying male mosquitoes to be released into Tampines West, Nee Soon East
Samantha Boh Straits Times 27 Feb 18;

There will be an added buzz in Tampines West and Nee Soon East come April with the release of male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the estates.

It is part of phase two of an ongoing field study into a novel method to curb dengue transmissions in Singapore which has delivered promising results.

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which neither bite humans nor transmit disease, have been artificially infected with Wolbachia bacteria. When they mate with uninfected females, the resulting eggs will not hatch.

Phase two will involve more housing blocks in the two sites and even X-ray treatment. About one to six mosquitoes will be released per person each week, up from one to three mosquitoes previously.

Braddell Heights, which was part of the first phase, will not be involved this time as it does not have high-rise buildings - a focus of phase two.

These estates represent a cross-section of typical housing estates and have seen dengue outbreaks previously.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has been monitoring the mosquito population in these sites for years, providing a baseline for comparative studies.

In phase one conducted from October 2016 to December last year, NEA found mosquito populations in the study sites were reduced by half.

The phase two study will run till January next year and aims to overcome challenges that cropped up in the earlier study, NEA said yesterday.

The agency said the plan was to embark on a larger suppression trial after phase one. But the first trial threw up unexpected hurdles.

Only 6 per cent of the adult male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes released on the ground floor were later found on the ninth-floor level and higher. So in phase two, the mosquitoes will be released on higher floors, in addition to being released on the ground floor.

They will also be released twice a week instead of once a week previously, in order to keep the population up for longer. The earlier study had found that only half of the mosquitoes released lived up to four days.

Containers holding male Wolbachia-carrying mosquito pupae will also be placed at the study sites this time, as the NEA wants to study if they will adapt better to the site conditions.

During phase one, the NEA noted that a small percentage of female Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were inadvertently released, as they had slipped through the sorting process which is about 99.7 per cent accurate.

While normal female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that mate with male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes lay eggs which do not hatch, female Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes still go on to have offspring.

These offspring cannot transmit dengue, chikungunya and Zika, but in the long term, they would affect the ability of male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to suppress the urban mosquito population, said NEA.

Hence all batches of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes, adult and pupae, will undergo X-ray treatment to ensure that any females present will be made infertile.

Studies show the X-ray treatment does not affect the virility of males.

The chairman of the Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, Professor Duane Gubler of Duke-NUS Medical School, said:"The phase one studies were very successful in helping us understand this ecology. Phase two will build on this knowledge and, hopefully, increase the efficacy of the male release method."

As for the use of X-ray, NEA said it does not harm humans or the environment, and is currently used in a field study in Guangzhou, China.

"Irradiation has been successfully used to sterile other insect species and should increase the efficacy of the trial," added Prof Gubler.

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Man gets 15 months’ jail for smuggling rhino horns, horn shavings

Today Online 26 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — A smuggler who was found with eight pieces of cut rhino horns and a bag of rhino horn shavings at Changi Airport was sentenced to 15 months’ jail on Monday (Feb 26).

Nguyen Vinh Hai, 29, was flying from Dubai to Laos on Aug 31, 2017, when he was caught during his transit in Singapore.

The arrest was made after a joint effort by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), Singapore Customs, and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority “to investigate an attempt to smuggle illegal wildlife products through Singapore”, the agencies said in a joint statement on Monday.

DNA analysis conducted on the seized horns and shavings confirmed that they were derived from the rhinoceros, a critically endangered animal protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna or Flora (CITES).

Singapore is a signatory of CITES. If convicted, offenders face a fine of up to S$500,000 and/or up to two years’ jail.

Nguyen’s sentence will be backdated to Sept 6, 2017.

“The Singapore Government adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species and their parts and derivatives,” the statement read.

Noting that tackling illegal wildlife trade requires concerted efforts of all stakeholders, including the public, AVA noted that demand fuels the wildlife trade.

“The public can help reduce demand by not buying wildlife parts and products,” the authority said.

“AVA will take stern enforcement actions against any illegal wildlife smugglers.”

Members of the public can alert AVA of any suspected cases of illegal wildlife trade, and provide information through the agency’s online feedback form or at 6805 2992.

All information shared with AVA will be kept strictly confidential.

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