WorldScan: July 11, 2003

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UK: Economic Benefits of GM Crops Limited

LONDON, United Kingdom, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - A report that sets out the overall costs and benefits of commercial genetically modified crops in the UK was published today. It examines crops that are currently available and looks at possible developments over the next 10 to 15 years.

The Number 10 Strategy Unit report concludes that existing genetically modified crops could offer some cost and convenience advantages to UK farmers, but any economic benefit to the UK is likely to be limited, at least in the short term.

The Strategy Unit provides the Prime Minister and government departments with a capacity to analyze major cross-cutting and strategic policy issues and to design solutions to problems.

The new Strategy Unit report does not contain specific recommendations to the government, but it will inform government decision making and policy on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, according to a statement from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Office today.

Only a narrow range of existing genetically modified crops are currently suited to UK conditions, and weak consumer demand is likely to limit take-up, the report said.

Future developments in genetically modified crops could include direct health benefits such as delivering foods with added nutrients, or non-food GM crops used as a source of pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

But, the report concludes, the overall balance of future costs and benefits will depend on public attitudes, and on the ability of the regulatory system to manage uncertainties.

Environment Minister Elliott Morley said, "The report sets out a range of potential futures for GM crops in the UK. These helpfully illustrate the trade-offs that will be involved whatever approach the UK adopts to GM crops over the next 10 to 15 years. But quite rightly, the report reiterates that consumers and retailers will play an important part in shaping the future role for GM crops."

Commenting on the new report, Friends of the Earth's Director Tony Juniper said, "Although this report was written by staff working for a pro-GM Prime Minister, they have been forced to conclude that there is little economic justification for granting commercial approval to GM crops in the short term. If public opposition continues, the long term prospect for these crops is equally bleak."

"The government should help UK farmers and food manufacturers meet the considerable worldwide demand for GM free food by keeping Britain's fields free from GM crops," said Juniper. "The priority for the future should be a program of investment in sustainable agriculture that benefits consumers, farmers and the environment."

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China and Carrier Launch Ozone Layer Protection Award

BEIJING, China, July 11, 2003 (ENS) – A new award for protection of the ozone layer was jointly announced in Beijing Thursday by the State Environmental Protection Administration of China (SEPA) and Carrier Corporation.

The purpose of the China’s Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award is to, “Promote protection of the ozone layer, reduce discharge of ozone depleting substances, and promote the use of non-ozone depleting alternatives by awarding organizations and individuals that have made outstanding contributions to ozone layer protection,” said Song Xiaozhi, head of SEPA's International Division.

“This is a good start for cooperation between SEPA and multinational companies such as Carrier,” Xiaozhi said. “Not only from a financial standpoint, but more importantly, the industry-government partnership that will bring more synergy to the China environmental protection effort."

The award is hosted by SEPA, and supported by the agency's International Economic Cooperation Office.

Carrier Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems and equipment, has committed a three year sponsorship to provide financial support. Carrier is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, provider of high-technology products and support services to the aerospace and building systems industries.

Carrier started phasing out ozone-depleting refrigerants from its products beginning in 1994, 16 years ahead of schedule in some markets. The company credits this policy for winning it contracts such as the recent Shanghai Xin Tian Di and Beijing Capital Museum project.

"We need the technical support of companies who are the pioneers and leaders of the green movement in their industry. This alliance will only serve to accelerate the environmental effort in China," said Xiaozhi.

Five Gold awards and one Special Gold award will be presented each year to organizations or individuals that have made outstanding contributions to the protection of ozone layer. Each award recipient will receive a plaque and a certificate issued by SEPA.

A secretariat, consisting of representatives from the hosting, assisting and operating organizations, has been formed to manage the project, with Xiong Kang of SEPA serving as director of the secretariat, and Zhao Xing of China Environmental Culture Promotion Association and Dr. Robert Chiang of the Carrier Corp., serving as deputy directors. A panel of experts has been formed to evaluate candidates.

Allan Jones, vice president of Carrier China said, “Both Carrier and SEPA agreed that accelerating the progress on ozone layer protection, as well as other initiatives on green building strategy, were paramount to future development in China."

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U.S. Funds Romanian Flood Management System

BUCHAREST, Romania, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has awarded a $78,000 grant to the National Institute of Hydrology and Water Management in Romania. The grant will fund technical assistance associated with a pilot program designed to assist Romania in testing large-scale flood control technologies in the country's larger river basins.

The grant will provide technical assistance to establish an Integrated Decision/Informational System for Waters Emergencies at the national level.

For the last 12 years seasonal floods have been a recurring problem in Romania. In 2002, the weather pattern with floods occurring in spring suddenly changed to flooding in the summer months of July and August bringing raging torrents that devastated parts of rural Romania as well as much of Central Europe.

The floods seriously impacted the livelihoods of 90 percent of the Romanian population which depends on agriculture. Eight people died, and more than 450,000 others were directly affected, mainly in remote rural areas.

Floods inundated 28 of the country's 41 counties, contaminating wells and washing out thousands of hectares of cultivated soil. Overall, damages in Romania totaled some US$64 million.

In March 2001 the river Tisza and its tributaries rose to record levels, affecting northeast Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. Large areas of farmland and communities were overwhelmed, with dikes breaking.

In 2001, USTDA funded a pilot program on destructive waters technologies that included testing of a variety of flood control technologies used in small rivers and flash and watershed flooding. The additional technical assistance funded by the new grant is designed to lead to a flood management system for the entire country.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency advances economic development and U.S. commercial interests in developing and middle income countries. The agency funds technical assistance, feasibility studies, training, orientation visits and business workshops that support the development of a modern infrastructure and an open trading environment.

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Canadian Youth Bike Brigade Shut Out of WTO

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - Canadian young people cycling from Vancouver to Cancun, Mexico for the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization in September may not receive official accreditation because of what they have been told are "technical barriers" to their participation.

The Sierra Youth Coalition (SYC) has received notification from the World Trade Organization (WTO) that their application for accreditation will be denied for failing to provide photographs on the proper paper.

The young people say the requirements were not communicated to them in advance by the WTO.

"How can we comply with rules that are not communicated to us?" asked Lindsay Telfer, national coordinator of the Sierra Youth Coalition. "This experience has left us feeling like many developing nations feel in the WTO negotiating process - not included and not considered."

Over 20 members of SYC will be traveling to Cancun as a bike brigade, raising awareness and support in the communities through which they travel.

"The bike ride will focus on rural communities whose livelihoods are at risk because of the global trade regime which also promotes unsustainable agricultural practices," said Telfer. "Concerned youth and rural communities alike already feel shut out of the WTO process."

The Sierra Youth Coalition is one of many international groups to apply for accreditation to attend the meetings. This accreditation would provide access inside the security perimeter to certain areas but not to key trade negotiation sites.

Application for accreditation required delivery of passport sized photographs. SYC submitted the necessary forms and photographs. The WTO responded that pictures could not be printed on plain recycled paper.

SYC responded by having digital images professionally reproduced to photo quality. The WTO then replied stating, “Pictures printed on shiny paper do not constitute photographs.” At this stage, the deadline for submission of photographs has passed.

"The global trading regime impacts the air we breathe, the fertility of the ground, the water we breath, and the future of life supporting biodiversity," said Sarah Dover, Sierra Club of Canada trade campaigner.

“The Canadian public has not given our government a mandate to bargain away our natural resources or our ability to protect and conserve our environment. The lack of public involvement and support is a crisis of legitimacy for the Canadian government and the WTO."

The Sierra Youth Coalition is not giving up and will continue to negotiate with the WTO to earn official accreditation. "We're hoping the WTO will open the door to youth," said Telfer. "In any case, we'll be at the front doors in Cancun knocking."

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Cash Starved Islanders Capture Dolphins for Bounty

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - Animal advocates at the U.S. branch of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) are worried about the welfare of dozens of dolphins captured and confined in small pens by local fishermen in the Solomon Islands, north of Australia.

The Melbourne newspaper, "The Age," reported Monday that villagers have been capturing dozens of dolphins and taking them to holding pens in exchange for a rumored A$400 cash bounty offered for each animal by a foreign business group.

The islands have been in political upheaval for several years, and economic times are tough for island residents, making the bounty money appear especially attractive.

In the Solomon Islands, the legal position in relation to catching dolphins is unclear as dolphins are part of the islands' cultural heritage. Many of the animals are being taken from waters off the island of Malaita, where dolphin teeth are part of traditional bridal dowry ceremonies.

In other areas, it is taboo to harm a dolphin, based on the ancient belief that humans with mystical powers could transform themselves into sea creatures.

Still, least 60 animals are currently being held on the island of Gela, off the capital of Honiara, and locals say that dozens more are confined in other locations.

WSPA animal experts fear the dolphins are being harmed by transportation for hours by open boat to their holding pens. "For a water borne creature, the long ride is excruciating, as its internal organs are slowly crushed by its immense weight," the organization said.

According to Richard O'Barry, WSPA marine mammal specialist and former trainer of TV's Flipper, "The large number of animals is extremely difficult to manage, especially if you don't have the right medicines, equipment and staff. It appears that the animals are in very crowded conditions, which is also of concern because this can lead to stress and aggression."

It takes thousands of pounds of fish per day to feed so many dolphins, O'Barry said. "Either the dolphins are going hungry, which I suspect is happening anyway in this chaotic environment, or the Solomons are strip mining their seas of fish."

One captured dolphin has already been killed by a crocodile and WSPA experts expect that the death toll will rise from stress induced illness, improper care and malnutrition as dolphins battle for the scarce food supply.

Greenpeace's representative in Honiara, Geoffrey Dennis, told "The Age" of that he is concerned about the environmental damage caused by using dynamite to catch large numbers of fish to feed the penned dolphins.

"This situation is already problematic and will only spiral out of control," says O'Barry. "Given the special status of dolphins in the local culture, I hope that the government will move soon to stop the dolphins-for-dollars scheme and end the suffering."

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Aborigines Protest Seizure of Land for Radioactive Dump

WOOMERA, South Australia, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - Australian Minister for Finance and Administration Senator Nick Minchin and his Parliamentary Secretary Peter Slipper MP have announced that they will "compulsorily acquire" an area in the South Australian desert claimed by Aborigines for the construction and operation of the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository.

The 6.3 square kilometer (2.43 square mile) area consists of a site known as Site 40a near Woomera and an access corridor from the Olympic Dam-Pimba Road.

“Today’s decision by Mr. Slipper to acquire Site 40a is the culmination of an exhaustive 11 year process to identify the safest site in Australia for the storage of the nation’s low level radioactive waste,” Senator Minchin said. As parliamentary secretary to Senator Minchin, Slipper has responsibility for land acquisitions.

But Aboriginal women protested the acquisition on behalf of their organization Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. "Listen to us," they wrote in a letter to federal officials. "We women have the rights of this land. We protect it. We will write a letter to the Queen to help us. Tell her to come over to Australia. [Prime Minister John] Howard won't listen to us."

"Government say 'fair and just compensation," the women wrote. "We don't want money. We weren't born with money. We want life - land for the kids. They just put that word, money, in. Trying to buy us. We want the life. Kids life, our life. That's white man's money."

But Senator Minchin said Australia needs a national low-level nuclear waste repository right now. "Australia’s low level waste is currently stored under ad hoc arrangements in hospitals, universities, industry and government stores in facilities which are not suitable for the long-term management of this material," he said. "It is in the interests of public security and safety that this waste is safely disposed of in the national repository."

But the Aboriginal women say the repository is not in their best interest, nor in the best interests of their culture. "Not your land even if you say you own it. Even if you buy it. It's women's place," they wrote to federal officials.

"It's dreamtime from long time history. We keep the story. The land holds the story, not you, spirits are still there. Stop mucking around with women's business."

"You're digging a hole in the dreamtime," the women wrote. "If you dig this hole in the manta (the earth) and fill it with the poison, make the dump, something will happen. There will be anger. If you don't listen you will be sorry. We talking and talking, go round and round same words. We're trying to help everyone. We talking straight – don't go there, it's dangerous."

The women fear that radioactivity will contaminate the groundwater that kangaroos, emu and bullocks drink. When they eat these animals, they fear that they too will be contaminated. "The water will poison the animals and kill them all, then you fellas and us," they wrote.

But Senator Minchin has other concerns. He says that progress towards the safe disposal of Australia’s low-level radioactive waste is also relevant to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency’s decision on whether to grant a license to operate the proposed Replacement Research Reactor at Lucas Heights. "The consequences of this in terms of national health and safety are wide reaching," the senator said.

The current Lucas Heights reactor produces radiopharmaceuticals, and the replacement reactor is to perform the same function. In 2000-2001 more than 520,000 Australians benefited from the radioisotopes produced in the reactor in medical procedures such as cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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Environmental Management of Kingston Harbor Funded

KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - The government of Jamaica has signed a non-reimbursable technical cooperation agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank to support pre-investment efforts to address major pollutant sources in Kingston Harbor. The purpose of the project is to kick-start a unified and sustainable effort towards a cleaner Kingston Harbor, said Agostinho Pinnock, spokesman for the National Environment and Planning Agency.

Studies of Kingston Harbor show that the water quality has been deteriorating as the result of untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, and the dumping of untreated ship wastes into the harbor.

In addition, industrial discharges directly to the waterway as well as leaching and runoff from local solid waste landfills receiving industrial waste, have contaminated the harbor area.

The issue of sewage, the largest source of pollution to the harbor, is being addressed through the Inter-American Bank’s Water and Sanitation Project that may result in construction of new wastewater treatment facilities, said Pinnock.

The Rio Cobre is the main source of agricultural runoff pollution, contributing an estimated 32 percent of the total biological oxygen demand loading. Problems stemming from agricultural runoff lie beyond the scope of this project, although some monitoring of pesticide levels may take place.

Through pilot initiatives, industrial discharges to the harbor will begin to be dealt with, and preinvestment studies for a facility to treat ship waste into the harbor will be conducted.

The total cost of the project is US$620,000 of which US$500,000 is from the bank’s Fund for Special Operations and the government of Jamaica will contribute US$120,000.

The project will create the institutional framework to coordinate the actions of a diverse range of stakeholders. It will develop the financial and legal mechanisms to sustain the institutional framework over time by spurring high level government initiatives to dedicate resources, assign responsibilities, and set objectives in concrete, measurable terms.

It will also finance the purchase of a water quality model, a pre-investment study and various teaching materials and seminars.

The National Environment and Planning Agency, working under the strategic direction of a National Steering Committee, is responsible for implementing the project.

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Marauding War Veterans Wipe Out Zimbabwe's Wildlife

SAVE VALLEY, Zimbabwe, July 11, 2003 (ENS) - The message fixed to a tree in the game reserve is stark: "Farm No 3. Dealers in Death."

It was put there by Zimbabwe's so-called war veterans to intimidate white landowners on the 850,000 acre Save Valley Conservancy near the border with Mozambique.

The war veterans, unleashed by President Robert Mugabe to seize farms owned by whites, are not only killing people, they are slaughtering animals on an unprecedented scale.

Already, they have forced out the owners and poached every animal on at least three of the 22 huge ranches that make up the conservancy. Now, they are pouring onto neighboring ranches and repeating the process.

The poaching is indiscriminate, and no animal is spared. The main targets are antelope, wildebeests and zebras, but lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalos and giraffes have all been killed by the poachers and their snares.

Wildlife experts say that unless urgent action is taken to stop the slaughter, the conservancy's entire stock of wildlife will be destroyed within three years.

The pattern is being repeated on game reserves across the country with wildlife losses of more than 70 percent reported in many areas. In the neighboring Bubiana conservancy, four of the 10 ranches have been seized and cleared of wildlife. Barberton Lodge has lost more than 400 animals to poachers in the past three years, including 71 zebras, 63 kudu antelope and four giraffes. Fourteen black rhinos, a critically endangered species, have been caught in snares, each requiring extensive surgery to save their lives.

The state owned national parks have also been targeted by poachers. Four rhinos have been killed in Hwange National Park. Nationally over the past three years, an estimated 100 black rhinos have been slaughtered for their horns, which can fetch up to $90,000.

One ranch displayed row after row of skeletons, kept for research purposes, that belonged to animals killed by the poachers' snares.

The privately owned commercial reserves are being hit hardest. Invaders seize the land, which is largely unsuitable for farming. Desperate for food, the veterans lay metal traps to catch animals to eat or to sell to others.

"A couple of years ago, this area was teeming with wildlife. Now you can walk around all day and not see a single animal," said Mike Clark, chairman of the Commercial Farmers Union in Masvingo province.

A ranch owner, who declined to be identified, said, "They see wildlife as meat on legs. We know there are food shortages, but they are using the land reform program as an excuse for out-and-out theft, and they won't leave until there is nothing left."

The penalty for killing wildlife is usually a fine of 5,000 Zimbabwe dollars (less than $6) or "community service," which can mean weeding the court's garden or washing the magistrate's car.

{This report on Zimbabwe wildlife is published in cooperation with Save the Rhino.}