Food and Rural Affairs
Food and Rural Affairs
News Article | May 11, 2017
If you were wondering why bees popped up in the Labour party’s leaked manifesto this week, then here’s the answer. Since 1900 about 20 bee species have become extinct in the UK and 35 more are now at risk. According to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, between 1980 and 2010, 51% of pollinator species – including all bee species and wasps – became less widespread, with 36% showing a strong decrease. The threats to the diversity of bee populations include climate change, loss of habitat and – evidence suggests – use of neonicotinoid pesticides. But the extent to which neonics, as they are known, are the cause of bee population declines is contested between environmental campaigners, and farming and pesticide groups who say their use is vital for crop protection. In 2013 the EU imposed a partial moratorium on three neonics – imidacloprid and clothianidin, produced by chemical company Bayer, and thiamethoxam, produced by Syngenta. Until now the moratorium on neonics has only covered their use on flowering crops, which in the UK are predominantly oil seed rape. Labour in its manifesto adopts a tougher position – one the EU itself is considering introducing. If elected the party would impose a ban all neonicotinoid pesticides, which would stop them being used on non-flowering crops such as wheat and sugarbeet. One of the most recent studies on the impact of neonics on bees was published last year by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. It suggested their use correlated with “wild bee biodiversity losses at a national scale.” The pesticide is coated on to the seeds of the plant, and acts systemically, seeping into the pollen and nectar. When ingested by bees it can attack the nervous system affecting the way they can feed, navigate and reproduce. Dave Timms, senior policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, says there is also growing evidence that the pesticides leak into the environment . Friends of the Earth has called for a total ban, to stop the pesticides being used on wheat and other non flowering crops. This position is not without controversy. Prof Gary Bending, from the school of life sciences at Warwick University – who sits on the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides – said on Thursday any complete ban would be contentious. He said there was no evidence that their use on wheat and non flowering crops was harmful to pollinators (some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality). “There are a lot of papers to suggest there may be impacts on bee populations (of neonics use on oil seed rape) but it is only correlation analysis. It doesn’t provide cause and effect. The big issue is – ‘Is the concentration of neonics that bees are exposed to toxic to them?’ “It would be quite contentious to extend the ban to other crops like wheat and sugarbeet. The point about all these decisions is they should be evidence based.”
News Article | May 16, 2017
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs visited Grimsby to reassure business leaders.
News Article | May 17, 2017
Three stories intertwine in Client Earth, a study of the innovative European public-interest environmental-law firm of that name, founded by James Thornton. The first is about how one person can make a difference through creative collaboration and persistence. The second is on the role of litigation in advancing social change. The third details how collaborative enforcement actions in multiple countries can build on one another to address immense planetary challenges, from climate change to pollution of air, water and soil. Thornton, who co-wrote the book with his husband, author Martin Goodman, expresses his goal simply, as “systemic change to protect people and nature”. In his view, “the most efficient way to achieve it is through law”. He began his career as a litigator for the US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) during the presidency of Ronald Reagan; he brought 88 citizens' suits against polluters. One of his important successes at the NRDC was a suit to enforce the US Clean Water Act against food company Gwaltney, for 666 days of violations as it discharged pollutants into a river. The court awarded a US$1,285,322 penalty “to deter possible future violations.” For the past decade, Thornton has led ClientEarth's work in Europe, China and Africa. The book details some of the organization's notable environmental enforcement victories and what went into them. In 2015, ClientEarth succeeded in its challenge against Defra, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, over its failure to comply with its obligations under the European Union's Ambient Air Quality Directive. ClientEarth has also been involved in a mixed legal and political action in Krakow, Poland, to ban burning of coal in domestic stoves. The book provides an unusual and much-needed inside view of the development of environmental enforcement litigation, and its broader implications. It conveys the complex scales at which environmental protection works. Individual cases may be pinned to one location, but Thornton and Goodman reveal how the aim is to leverage them in a layered, strategic way with an eye to the long term. Goodman's chapters detail Thornton's journey and the evolution of ClientEarth as a complex dance among the diverse groups of people who shape transnational environmental policy, nature conservation and governance. Thornton's contributions explain his motivations and strategic decisions. Each case, despite differences between legal systems, used law as a tool to enforce or develop environmental protections. A difficult question underlies this strategy: how can the transnational environmental movement — and specifically, a law firm — most effectively connect diverse problems in many places to broaden its impact? Scaling up is easiest across places with similar problems and systems, as shown by ClientEarth's efforts to address air quality across Europe, building from its UK victory to cases in Germany and plans for a further roll-out. Even there, the strategies must be different in each country. To protect the planet more broadly, regional and national environmental enforcement movements must collaborate. Recently, Thornton worked with judges from China's Supreme People's Court to establish litigation cost structures that make it financially possible for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits. This builds on similar efforts he has made in Europe. The story of ClientEarth's work raises crucial questions about the nature of transformative change. Is it brought about through major victories, like enforcing the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive? Is it through cumulative, highly specific cases, such as fights to reduce coal use in central European power plants? These questions have also arisen in the United States, where most climate-change litigation takes place. There have been high-profile victories such as the 2007 Supreme Court decision Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court required the agency to regulate greenhouse gases or better justify its refusal to regulate; this provided the basis for the Barack Obama administration's regulation of emissions from vehicles and power plants. But numerous lower-profile cases have challenged coal projects and together had significant impact. Strategic decisions also go beyond substantive framing of cases to addressing procedural barriers and navigating legal cultures. Thornton's focus on reducing litigation costs and building country-specific strategies reflects an understanding of these concerns. Client Earth provides a tantalizing glimpse of how a variety of strategies can converge to create a global environmental enforcement effort. As we face issues such as the worsening impacts of climate change in the countries that are poorest and least able to adapt, international and national politics often fail to align to create progress. Elections since the 2015 Paris climate agreement reflect that. In such a context, the work of ClientEarth and other globally active law organizations that have advanced litigation is invaluable.
News Article | May 21, 2017
On 24 June last year, the few hundred residents of a temporary village, hidden from view in the middle of a West Sussex soft fruit farm, received letters. They were signed by David Kay, the managing director of the Hall Hunter Partnership, a business that grows 10% of the UK’s strawberries, 19% of its raspberries and a whacking 42% of its blueberries across thousands of acres, of both glasshouses and polytunnels. The recipients were his seasonal workforce, some of the 3,000 pickers from Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere who come here each year to get the harvest in, and without whom the business would simply not exist. “I wanted them to know that in the face of the vote for Brexit we would hang together as a family,” he says now, standing amid the mobile homes his workers live in during the summer months. The dwellings come dressed with satellite dishes pointed at news channels in Bulgaria, and pylons delivering high-speed wifi. Some have planted gardens. Tesco Direct delivers their groceries; coaches take them out on excursions.“I’m responsible for both a fruit farm and 2,100 beds,” Kay says. “That morning I met a lot of very sad and confused workers. For me, personally, it was a shock.” Kay may have wanted to reassure his employees in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but 11 months on their status is no clearer. Indeed, this tidy little village could now stand as a blunt symbol for one of the most serious but little talked about issues arising from the Brexit negotiations: the continued ability of this country to feed itself, if the deal goes wrong. Opponents of EU membership talked during the referendum campaign about sovereignty and control. They railed against the free movement of labour. What they didn’t mention is the way the British food supply chain has, over the past 30 years, become increasingly reliant on workers from elsewhere, both permanent residents and seasonal labour. Last month, as parliament wrapped up for the general election, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee quietly published a short paper called Feeding the Nation: Labour Constraints. As it reported, around 20% of all employees in British agriculture come from abroad, these days mostly Romania and Bulgaria, while 63% of all staff employed by members of the British Meat Processors Association are not from the UK. Around 400,000 people work in food manufacturing here, and more than 30% of those are also from somewhere else. If free movement of labour stops, the British food industry won’t just face difficulties. Some parts will shudder to a halt. Shelves will be emptied. Prices will shoot up. And right now, none of those charged with negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU are making promises that this scenario will be averted. Many of them aren’t even engaging with the issue. The soft-fruit business of which Hall Hunter is a part is right at the sharp end of that. “From February to November we need 29,000 seasonal workers across the sector,” says Laurence Olins, chair of British Summer Fruits, the crop association for berries, which account for one in every £5 spent on fruit in the UK. “And 95% of those are non-UK EU citizens.” The industry has tried to get UK nationals to do the work but they’re simply not interested. “Our hope is for some sort of permit scheme,” Olins says. “But if, say, we get only half the permits we need, we will simply have only half the size of the industry.” The 29,000 non-UK workers they have are therefore vital. And, what’s more, the number required is growing. Kay agrees. “We’ve worked with job centres and with ex-prisoners, but British people don’t want to do these jobs.” Instead, he says, he gets a steady supply of highly educated and motivated eastern Europeans, most of whom have some connection to farming because their families still have smallholdings. “We have a return rate of 76% each year,” he says, “which means we retain a skills base – 70% of our management arrived here as pickers and worked their way up the ranks.” He shows me a list of the 20 most important people in the company and it’s littered with Slavic surnames – 20 nationalities are represented on site. Some have settled here, put their kids into schools and taken UK citizenship. But many more are just seasonal, coming and going at short notice. Every single one is interviewed for a job by a member of Kay’s team; they run temporary recruitment centres in town halls and civic libraries across eastern Europe. At the farm, amid glasshouses of glossy strawberries planted at shoulder height for easy picking, I meet Zyulfie Yusein, 29, and Nikoloy Kolev, 34. Both are from Bulgaria. Both are graduates. Both first came here to earn a little money as students, returning home with their earnings. Over the years, they’ve stayed longer and longer. “It’s a great job,” says Yusein. Kolev agrees. “We work as a team and the team is like family.” But both say the Brexit vote has changed everything. “I worry about the future,” Yusein says. “My friends worry too. The vote made me feel unsafe.” Kolev says, “Going back is not an option but what am I going to do?” They are warm, bright, friendly people, but the tension just beneath the surface is palpable. They are already experiencing the downside. The Brexit vote has weakened the pound by up to 20%. Their salaries are worth far less at home than once they were. And the message is getting back to their friends. “Some of the seasonal labour is choosing not to come to the UK because of the value of sterling,” Olins says. “If you can go to work in a Euro country like Spain, rather than Britain, it’s worth doing so.”There used to be 10 applicants for every picking job in the UK. Now there are three. “The candidates we’re getting are older, they have fewer skills, their English is worse.” Is that just down to Brexit? “The media in the home countries has been reporting attacks on immigrants to the UK,” he says. The mood here has changed. And it risks imperilling the harvest British citizens don’t want to help bring in. On 26 July, 2016, a little over a month after the referendum vote, representatives of more than 40 food and drink associations gathered in the meeting room on the sixth floor of the Food and Drink Federation’s HQ on London’s Bloomsbury Way. Here were representatives of the British Poultry Council and the Federation of Bakers, the British Growers Association, the National Association of Cider Makers and many more besides. They were joined by civil servants from Defra, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Business, David Davis’s Brexit department and HMRC. The meeting had been called by Ian Wright, a former executive at drinks company Diageo who now heads the Food and Drink Federation. The meeting was to coordinate a response to Brexit. And top of the agenda was the issue of labour. The same group has met every month since. “It’s fair to say that we started out with a degree of surprise at all levels,” Wright says. “Very few ministers or civil servants understood the nature of the food-chain workforce.” He believes they have managed to get the message across, but that’s a very different thing to dealing with the issue, given the refusal by Downing Street to be drawn on their negotiating positions. “Right now, there’s a great deal of work going on to define the choices the prime minister will have to take to sustain the variety and complexity of the food supply chain.” The alternative, he says, is fewer choices for consumers or sources of labour from outside the EU. Early in this election campaign Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, made a commitment to guarantee the rights of the estimated 3.9 million EU citizens living in the UK on day one of a Labour government. David Davis met this with a soothing assertion of a swift deal to secure those rights. That’s not surprising. The non-UK citizens here are mostly of working age and economically active. The 900,000 UK citizens in Europe are mostly pensioners living out their retirement on the sun belt in increasingly poor health. Theresa May’s government is desperate not to have them sent back for fear of the pressure they will place on the NHS. But what matters is not those living here full-time but the seasonal workforce that comes and goes. Until 2013, there was a seasonal-labour permit scheme which, ironically, was abolished, because the EU free movement system was deemed to be working so well. A replacement would be needed. Pushed for a number of permits required, Wright suggests “around half a million”. Hard-line Brexiters, committed to an end to the free movement of labour, might well find this unpalatable. Indeed, one of the big food-sector bodies told me they received off-the-record calls from civil servants warning them to shut up, because they had been quoted in newspapers talking about the seriousness of the labour supply to the food chain. “We were told we would just enrage the hard-line Brexiteers,” a member of the body told me. The problem is compounded because some sectors need a huge mass of workers. Others need very few. In some areas of the food chain, it can be down to just a few dozen people who keep the whole thing running. For example, under Food Standards Agency rules, an abattoir in England, Wales or Northern Ireland cannot operate unless the animals on the way to slaughter are overseen by one of their vets. This is work British vets don’t want to do. They would rather be out on the farm with livestock in the prime of their lives, or dealing with domestic pets. As a result, at least 85% of vets in British abattoirs are not from the UK. Apparently, the majority are Spanish. And if they couldn’t get into the country to do the job, the meat supply chain would collapse. While Ian Wright is good at the diplomatic phrase, others feel less constrained. In the months running up to the Brexit referendum, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, co-authored a briefing paper on Britain’s dependency on EU member states for its food. It dealt in detail with seasonal labour from the EU. He can be forgiven for wondering why he bothered. “The civil service is dispirited and uncertain of what they’re doing because they haven’t been given any signals,” Lang says now. “There’s not a bleep about food policy coming from ministers. There has been a stunning silence from Andrea Leadsom, the Defra minister, on this matter of national importance. Basically, if on March 31, 2019, migrant labour is not sorted the food system is fucked.” And then he says, “I hope those who voted Brexit and who still want to eat British are prepared to go to Lincolnshire in winter to pick vegetables.” Or as Wright puts it, “Food is at the heart of national security. If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country.” For five years as a food reporter for the BBC’s One Show, I used to travel the country from one strip-lit food production unit to another, looking at exactly where our food came from. The ethnic mix was always striking. The media were forever talking about a British food revolution; of a homegrown improvement in quality at both small and large scale. And the companies were indeed British, but so many of the people doing the actual producing were not. I visited cake factories where the health and safety notices were in both English and Polish; was given tours of vegetable processing plants where the floor managers needed a smattering of four eastern European languages to get by. I take a train north from Hall Hunter’s fruit farm, to the North Yorkshire home of Heck Sausages, run by Debbie and Andrew Keeble. In just four years their innovative range of gluten-free sausages – from pork and apple, through square to non-meat alternatives – has been stocked by all the major supermarkets. Their turnover is projected to reach £18m this year and they are about to move into a new plant which will enable them to run multiple production lines. The only issue is workforce, which will have to double. Of the 60 people currently working in production, 85% are from eastern Europe; like Hall Hunter, Heck can’t get British people to do the work. I ask Debbie Keeble what an end to free movement of labour would mean to her business. “It would be cataclysmic,” she says. “No one here will take these jobs.” The Heck factory is in an area that voted strongly for Brexit. “During the referendum, campaigners were going on about people coming over here taking our jobs. Well, they’re not, because nobody here applies for them.” Mostly she says it’s word of mouth, with new employees coming either directly from Latvia or Romania or from within the communities in the UK. I talk to one young Romanian woman, Georgeta Iclodean, who talks about getting increasing amounts of hassle from Border Agency officials when she re-enters Britain. “I make sure to have all my papers with me now,” she says. I meet 34-year-old Vladim Protasovs from Latvia who came to Heck in 2014 and has risen to be one of the line managers. “I like working in the UK,” he says. “It’s a very big difference from Latvia.” But Brexit has changed everything. “My children are settled in school here,” he says. “If we had to go back it would be so hard, not just for me but for them. There’s lot of people who want to come from Latvia to work in the UK, but they are worried. I call my friends to say there are jobs but they don’t want to come.” Then he says: “What happens next?” It’s a good question. The truth is nobody knows, not the business leaders, not the diplomats and certainly not the politicians. The prime minister and her team have portrayed negotiations as a game of poker, used the language of hands unrevealed and bluffs, while failing to recognise that the analogy doesn’t work; poker is a winner-takes-all game and Britain cannot afford to lose everything. The Brexit deal isn’t just about vague concepts of nationhood. It isn’t simply about international standing or the ebb and flow of trade.It’s about the lives of individual people like Protasovs and Iclodean, Yusein and Kolev; the ones prepared to do the back-breaking jobs British people are not. What’s more, this is not just their crisis, to be worked out in anguished letters home. It’s ours too. Because without them and the half a million seasonal workers like them, our very ability to feed ourselves, at a price we can all afford, is in peril. In the forthcoming Brexit negotiations that is what’s really at stake.
News Article | May 24, 2017
Shoppers at a handful of Tesco stores in the UK will no longer be able to buy 5p “single-use” plastic carrier bags, in the first such trial by a supermarket. If successful, it could lead to the bags being phased out completely, less than two years after the law was changed in England to force larger stores to charge for them. Britain’s biggest retailer has launched the 10-week trial in three stores – in Aberdeen, Dundee and Norwich – to see how customers manage without the 5p bag option. Shoppers who forget to bring their own bags will still be able to buy more expensive reusable bags which start at 10p. Online shoppers also have the choice of the 5p bags or no bags at all and 57 % now choose bagless deliveries, Tesco has said. “We are carrying out a short trial in a few stores to look at the impact on bag usage if we remove single-use carrier bags” said a Tesco spokesperson. The introduction of the 5p charge in England in October 2015 brought it into line with schemes already operating in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as part of a drive to encourage a switch away from ‘thin gauge’ throwaway carrier bags. The charge was part of a government scheme to reduce litter and protect wildlife, given that plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down. About 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds. The charge in England has clearly worked – official figures last July revealed that the number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction. More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. While retailers can choose what to do with the 5p proceeds, they are expected (though not legally bound) to donate it to good causes, and over the next 10 years the government hopes this will raise about £730m. Retailers have to report to ministers about where the money has gone, and eventually the government will also publish this information each year. The all-time high of bag usage was in 2006, when 12.2bn bags were handed out in England. Retailers blamed the recession, saying families had changed their shopping habits and were doing more smaller shops every week.
News Article | February 16, 2017
The European Commission says the UK has two months to address "persistent breaches" of air pollutants - specifically nitrogen dioxide - after it issued a "final warning". Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from sources including factories and vehicles, particularly diesel engines, and is linked to an increased risk of respiratory problems. Under EU law, when air pollution limits are breached member states must implement air quality plans to bring the levels back down. The commission says the UK failed to address repeated breaches of legal air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide levels in 16 areas including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton and Glasgow. It says if the UK fails to act within two months, it could take the matter to the European Court of Justice. The UK could face a lump sum fine or a daily penalty payment decided by the court. The commission says more than 400,000 people die prematurely in the EU every year as a result of poor air quality. Germany, France, Spain and Italy were also served with warnings. To date, legal action on NO2 has been taken against 12 member states, the commission says, with ongoing infringement cases against Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the UK. The commission says air quality standards are being exceeded in 23 out of 28 member states - including more than 130 cities across Europe. It suggests possible measures to lower polluting emissions include reducing overall traffic volumes and switching to electric cars. The commission says reducing emissions from diesel-powered vehicles is an "important step" towards meeting the EU air quality standards. The warning has reignited calls from organisations for a "clean air act" with targets to reduce pollution levels in the UK. Friends of the Earth say an act will be needed to protect the public from air pollution once the UK leaves the EU to "help safeguard existing legal protections". The charity is also calling for: Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, says road traffic is the biggest problem and diesel vehicles are the "worst of all". Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, agrees that traffic emissions are "the main culprit", particularly those from diesel. "Scrappage incentive schemes will help drivers to move to cleaner vehicles, without being financially penalised," she said. The government says it is "firmly committed" to improving the UK's air quality and cutting harmful emissions. It says the UK meets the legal limits for "almost all" pollutants. In October, proposals were announced for clean air zones for Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. The zones aim to encourage drivers to choose less-polluting electric cars and will also introduce restrictions on older, polluting commercial vehicles. Under the plans, electric cars could be given priority at traffic lights and exempted from one-way systems. They could also be given preferential parking spaces and lower charges. Councils with clean air zones are also expected to restrict access to older buses, coaches, taxis and lorries with emit high levels of gases such as nitrogen dioxide. Birmingham and Leeds also plan to extend restrictions to polluting vans. This could mean a charging zone for commercial vehicles with high levels of emissions, or by introducing stricter licensing requirements for buses and taxis. The clean air zones are the government's response to a UK Supreme Court ruling, which ordered it to take action to meet European limits on air pollution. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the government had committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes. "We will update our air quality plans in the spring to further improve the nation's air quality," the spokesperson said.
News Article | February 28, 2017
On Shrove Tuesday, the biggest egg-buying day of the year, UK consumers are being warned that eggs branded as free range have actually been laid by housed hens because of emergency measures to combat the spread of bird flu. All free-range egg boxes will carry a sticker explaining that the box contains “eggs laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare”. But consumers, who will be stocking up on eggs to make pancakes on Tuesday, will still be charged a premium for free-range eggs. The UK consumes an estimated 52m eggs on Pancake Day, more than double the normal rate. About half the eggs sold in supermarkets are usually free range. On 6 December poultry farmers were ordered to house their flocks to protect the UK from a virulent outbreak of avian flu. The stickers are being introduced because, under EU rules, if hens have been housed for more than 12 weeks they cannot be sold as free range. Andrew Opie, the director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium, said: “What we will start to see is stickers appearing on boxes of eggs to indicate that the hens that have produced those eggs are no longer free range. The likelihood is that all egg boxes will be stickered.” Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme whether prices would fall as a result, he said: “We would hope that customers would recognise that this is a challenge beyond the control of the farmers themselves and will continue to support British free range farmers through this difficult time.” There have been several confirmed outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of avian flu this year, including on farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire. About 20% of egg producers have flocks in areas classed as a high risk of contagion. From Wednesday, the restrictions will begin to be eased. All farmers in the high-risk areas will be required to continue to house birds. Those outside the area will be allowed to let birds out, but many are expected to continue to house their flocks as a precaution. The H5N8 strain of bird flu poses no risk to humans. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association said birds were not being be kept in battery farm conditions. It said: “While free-range egg farmers would prefer their birds to be outside, they also wouldn’t want to risk the health of their birds. Their sheds have plenty of room for the birds to move around freely and include scratching areas so birds can still display their natural instinctive behaviour. “Farmers have also put in additional stimulants like footballs, cabbages and even Christmas trees to keep the birds happy.” It added eggs “will still taste great and will have been laid by birds who were allowed outside before 6 December, and that will be allowed outside again as soon as it is safe”. Opie said: “We expect more farmers to be bringing hens indoors than might be anticipated from those higher risk areas that have been identified by Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]. “That’s a genuine concern from farmers to prevent the virus entering their flocks and destroying their livelihood. We anticipate that all eggs will be stickered for that reason.”
News Article | March 1, 2017
Coloring hair has become a common practice, particularly for people who want to hide their graying locks. But an ingredient in many of today's commercial hair dyes has been linked to allergic reactions and skin irritation. Now scientists have developed a potentially safer alternative by mimicking the hair's natural color molecule: melanin. Their report appears in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. The permanent hair dye ingredient p-phenylenediamine (PPD) has been associated, although rarely, with allergic reactions including facial swelling and rashes. Coloring hair with natural melanin would be an intuitive alternative to PPD. But previous research has found that the pigment molecules clump together, forming rods and spheres too large to penetrate into the hair shaft to create lasting color. Jong-Rok Jeon and colleagues wanted to build on the idea of using melanin but with a molecule that mimics the real thing. The researchers turned to polydopamine, a black substance that is structurally similar to melanin and has been explored for use in a variety of biomedical applications. Polydopamine with iron ions transformed gray hairs into black and lasted through three wash cycles. Lighter shades could also be achieved with polydopamine by pairing it with copper and aluminum ions. And toxicity tests showed that mice treated with the colorant didn't have noticeable side effects, while those that received a PPD-based dye developed bald spots. The authors acknowledge funding from the Korea Institute of Planning and Evaluation for Technology in Food, Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (Korea). The study is freely available as an Editors' Choice article here. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With nearly 157,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Daybreak in the capital and on the pavement opposite Great Portland Street underground station runners cut virtuous paths through a crisp, cold winter’s morning. To one side of them lies Regent’s Park, deep green beneath a perfect frost. On the other roars a source of contamination so severe that the health of these runners might have been better served staying indoors. Marylebone Road, one of London’s main east-west streets, illustrates with filthy glamour why the city suffers from stubbornly poor air quality – with recent record-breaking pollution levels having caused particular concern. The road bears three and sometimes four lanes of intermittently fast-moving cars, vans, taxis, lorries, coaches and buses to and from the inner metropolis: past Madame Tussauds, junctions with Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes, the 200-year-old St Marylebone Parish Church, the University of Westminster, several imposing hotels and, somewhat ironically, a cluster of medical facilities. Across the road from Tussauds, right at the pavement’s edge, stands a large, brown, crate-like construction containing what King’s College’s air quality expert Dr Gary Fuller describes as “the foremost urban air pollution research lab in the world”. He believes this monitoring site, set up in 1997 and now a part of the network of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, makes Marylebone Road “the most studied road in air pollution terms anywhere”. This internal combustion corridor provides one of London’s starker spectacles of motor pollution. Its diesel-powered vehicles discharge fumes of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic soot particles, while further “particulate matter” is produced by the friction of tyres on asphalt and wear on brakes. All become airborne hazards to human lungs throughout the capital, prematurely ending an estimated 9,500 lives a year. Between 2005 and 2009, the capital saw average NO2 rises of 11% – a period in which the trend was supposed to be towards reaching new, lowered limits. “This was one of the things that was first discovered at Marylebone Road,” Fuller says. “It was like a canary, tweeting away that something was going wrong.” Around the road is the neighbourhood of Marylebone itself, an irregular grid of fine, primarily residential streets and handsome squares. The two City of Westminster council wards that cover most of the area – stretching south to another notorious pollution hotspot, Oxford Street – contain around 25,000 residents, none of them safe from the effects of a toxic atmosphere. Westminster City council has made a successful bid for £1m in funds from the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to set up a low emission neighbourhood encompassing the two wards (one of five LENs across the capital). Also supported by local business organisations, landowners and residents’ groups, it will introduce an array of small policies, some on a trial basis, with the aim of having a large improving impact on air quality that has been the subject of serious scrutiny in recent weeks. On 23 January, a “very high” London-wide air pollution warning was issued for the first time through a new system brought in by Khan, after a maximum reading for particulates was registered along Marylebone Road and elsewhere. The episode illuminated more variables in London’s air pollution equation: low temperatures and a lack of wind, which meant that pollutants, augmented by the contribution of newly fashionable wood-burning fires, weren’t being dispersed. According to the mayor, this “shameful” state of affairs meant “everyone, from the most vulnerable to the physically fit, may need to take precautions to protect themselves”. The question of which is the most polluted part of London is, in the words of the King’s College research group that gathers pollution data from dozens of monitoring sites, “difficult to answer sensibly”. This is because different sites have different goals, while “pollution hotspots are often quite small and vary depending on the weather and the time of year”. But Marylebone Road and its surroundings have consistently illustrated issues surrounding London’s most persistent air quality problems and the attempts to solve them. Its most vexing finding of late is that levels of NO2 are not being brought down nearly fast enough. This is in line with a report by King’s scientists, published last autumn, which found that, since 2010, most monitored roads in London showed an average NO2 decrease of 5% a year, thanks substantially to a clean-up of buses. According to Fuller, there is “still a long way to go” in combatting NO2 – but the Marylebone Road monitor has also generated some better news over the years. He relates how after diesel standards were tightened from 2008, removing a lot of sulphur from the fuel, the number of dangerous particles in the air there fell 60% within a month or so. “I don’t know of any other fall in urban air pollution that dramatic resulting from a policy,” Fuller says. It certainly worked better than the “dust suppressant” measures introduced by the then London mayor Boris Johnson in 2011 to “glue” harmful particles to ground along the road, but which the monitoring kit later showed to have been ineffective. King’s College is to play a part in the LEN scheme, which originated with the Johnson mayoralty and has been expanded under his successor. There are plans for new green spaces, additional charging points for electric vehicles (including dedicated shared ones for residents), and incentives for changes in behaviour. A policy of fining vehicle owners who leave their engines idling despite being asked to switch them off will operate intensively in the LEN, with “air marshals” serving £80 penalty charge notices. And from 3 April, a 50% surcharge will be levied on visiting diesel cars parking within Marylebone, pushing the hourly rate up to £7.35 per hour. Air quality has become the biggest concern for residents across Conservative-run Westminster over the past two years, overtaking issues such as litter and antisocial behaviour. Tim Carnegie, who chairs the Marylebone Association, has lived in the area for 16 years and was closely involved in developing the LEN bid. He says the community has come together “to recognise the issue and do something about it”. A chartered surveyor whose job entails giving companies location advice, Carnegie either walks or cycles to work, and regularly takes his two young daughters to primary school on foot. He notices what he and they are breathing: “You can taste it in Marylebone,” he tweeted of the pollution on the day of Khan’s “very high” alert. Architect Stephen Quinn, a resident of 20 years who has children aged 11, 13 and 15 and is also a Marylebone Association member, has found his own behaviour changing as his awareness of air quality has grown. “I’ve got to the point where if I cross Baker Street or Gloucester Place or one of the busier roads when there’s a lot of traffic, I hold my breath. If I’m waiting for the green man so I can cross Marylebone Road, I stand well back from the kerb, which is where the pollution is worst. I tell the kids to hold their breath if they’re walking past a bus exhaust.” Quinn stresses the importance of educating people about a problem that many still fail to appreciate because it is largely invisible. It is, though, increasingly recognised by business. Westminster council cabinet member Heather Acton, who was until recently responsible for sustainability and parking – and has taken to wearing an anti-pollution mask when cycling – championed the LEN bid. She says that poor air quality has become “one of a number of environmental concerns when companies are deciding where to locate offices”, and that some have rejected central London as a result. Significantly, the scheme’s supporters include three of central London’s business improvement districts (BIDs) – partnership bodies formed by businesses to improve local trading conditions – whose domains overlap parts of the LEN. They share its interest in lessening traffic congestion and are facilitating “consolidation” practices, such as the use of the same waste collection supplier, to reduce the number of heavy vehicles on the streets. Kay Buxton, executive director of the Marble Arch BID, stresses the value of click-and-collect facilities to cut down on deliveries, and of adjustments to kerbside parking regulations that can mitigate the congestion effects of London’s private-hire taxi boom. Labour mayor Khan has won praise for going further and faster than his Tory predecessor in his efforts to clean up London’s air. But despite being urged by pressure groups Doctors Against Diesel and Clean Air London to ban diesel vehicles outright, he says he lacks the required powers to follow the examples of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens, which in December all announced their intention to have them removed from their roads by 2025. Khan has, though, speeded progress towards introducing a central London ultra low emission zone, urged the government to help with a diesel scrappage scheme and a new Clean Air Act, and announced a programme for low-emission bus zones on routes with many schools on them. One of these skirts the Marylebone LEN, winning praise from Conservative councillor Acton – an indicator that air quality is of cross-party concern as well as uniting employers and environmentalists. The mayor will need to channel all the power of that consensus if Londoners are to breathe easy on Marylebone Road. Guardian Cities is dedicating a week to exploring one of the worst preventable causes of death around the world: air pollution. Explore our coverage here and follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion
News Article | February 9, 2017
Zika Virus - What You Should Know Ebola - What You Should Know The South Korean government has placed the country on highest alert as a second strain of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed three days after a first outbreak was reported, officials said Thursday. The A-type strain of foot-and-mouth disease was discovered at a Yeoncheon dairy farm, some 50 miles north of the capital Seoul, where at least 10 cows were found to have contracted the strain, according to food industry policy deputy minister Kim Kyeong-kyu. After the O-type of the strain was detected southeast of the country, the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs ministry raised the country's alert status one level to the maximum. The ministry has since then issued a travel ban for all livestock in South Korea, while ordering tougher quarantine and sterilization protocols. As of Wednesday, Feb. 8, at least 826 cattle have been culled, the minister said. About 86 live-stock markets in South Korea will be shut down while the travel ban is in place. Officials could not tell when the new ban will be lifted. The ministry said this is the first time that two different strains of the same virus were reported in the country at the same time. Since 2000, seven out of eight cases of foot-and-mouth disease in South Korea were of the O-type strain. In 2010, the government last raised the foot-and-mouth disease alert level at maximum, when the country grappled its worst-ever outbreak. Seven types of viruses are known to cause foot-and-mouth disease, which mostly affects cloven-hoofed wildlife and livestock. The country has taken all emergency measures against the disease, including a nationwide vaccination and a movement control order to contain the spread of the virus. The ministry is currently conducting an epidemiological survey on all routes taken by workers and livestock infected by the new strain. Researchers will send analyses of both type O and A strains to the World Health Organization (WHO) for Animal Health for detailed inspections. All cattle in South Korea have been re-vaccinated against the O-type of the strain, and the livestock would need to be vaccinated again against the A-type virus. Meanwhile, Kyung-gyu said the government is looking to import more supplies of vaccine from a French institution. Last year South Korea had to kill more than 33 million farm birds as it tried to contain the outbreak of bird flu. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.