Summary

 

Taiwan plans ban on artificial trans fats  

There could be an end to artificial trans fats in Taiwan, as the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) works on banning the unsafe substance in food products.

“The current trend worldwide is to implement a full ban on artificial trans fats,” said Pan Chih-kuan, director of the FDA’s Food Safety Division. “Taiwan is on the same road, but details are still in the planning stages.”

Director-General of Health Promotion Administration (HPA) Chiou Shu-ti noted that “artificial trans fats are more poisonous than fake oil”.

The HPA found that 43% of the people were in favour of a full ban, based on a survey conducted from February to March. Two-thirds of the respondents were unaware that the government has made it mandatory to list the trans fats content on food packaging, while over half of the respondents had not seen this on the label.

Only 20% of people surveyed were satisfied with the government’s current education and promotion of trans fats awareness, while at least 80% expressed the hope they would be able to find stores that refuse to use or stock products containing trans fats.

The percentage of those who had never heard of trans fats dropped from 63.7% to 32.8%, and half of the respondents claimed to check the label before buying a food product.

Research has proven that even low intake of trans fats daily, around 4-5gm, could cause a surge of bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream, and decrease good cholesterol levels, said Chiou. This will in turn cause clogged and inflamed arteries, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by at least 23%.

Other studies point to a correlation between artificial trans fats and infertility, dementia, breast cancer and diabetes. The World Health Organisation aims to see a ban on trans fats in place worldwide by 2025. On June 16, the US announced its prohibition of trans fats in food products, with manufacturers being given three years to phase out the substance. Source: www.chinapost.com, July 28, 2015

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Chile’s labelling law spurs US action on junk-food warning

The US Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has waged campaigns against acrylamides, trans fats and soft drinks among other targets, has found fresh impetus in championing the cause of food labelling.

It has expressed support for a new law in Chile that requires a front-of-package (FOP) notice that warns consumers of foods high in calories, saturated fat, refined sugars or sodium. The warning symbol – which looks like a ‘stop’ sign – must be affixed on food packages by next year.

“Such a measure is likely to have a far greater effect in influencing companies to market – and consumers to choose – healthier foods than labelling measures deployed elsewhere,” CSPI said in a statement.

In the US, FOP labelling is used to market certain foods. For example, ‘Gluten-free’ now appears on a number of products, even those without wheat as an ingredient. Other examples include ‘Zero Trans Fats’ and ‘Fat-free Food’ on sugar-based candies.

Because of the liberal use of these labels, the US Congress directed the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake a study with the Institute of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration and USDA’s Centre for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

The first stage of the report was completed in 2010 and concluded that FOP labels often draw attention away from the standardised mandatory ‘Nutrition Information’ panel required for food products. The report also recommended that, to be most effective, FOP labels should display nutrition information on saturated fats, trans fats and sodium.

The second phase of the report went a step further. It recommended that the FOP label moves away from information that does not give clear guidance about healthier choices through simplicity, visual clarity and the ability to convey meaning without written detail.

The FDA is to develop, test and implement a single-standard FOP symbol system to appear on all food and beverage products in place of other forms already in use. According to the report, the symbol system should show calories in household servings on all products.

Foods and beverages should be evaluated using a points system for saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. The more points a food or beverage has, the healthier it is. A product could earn up to three points in the following manner:

  • 1 if sodium does not exceed the threshold
  • 1 if added sugars do not exceed the threshold
  • 1 if saturated and trans fats are below the designated level

The points are to be displayed on packaging as a check mark, star or some other icon to be determined by the FDA.

CSPI claims this system “would encourage food and beverage producers to develop healthier fare”, but that goal is of course accomplished by essentially requiring a warning label. Four years after the study, the FDA has not acted to date on the recommendation, but the CSPI is using Chile’s new labelling law to promote the idea.

Ironically, the FDA proposed to change the nutritional panel on food labels last summer, in a way that moves toward the other direction. While the FOP proposal boils down to three key items, the FDA argued that it would require more information because consumers have a “greater understanding of nutrition science”.

The proposed rules would continue to require information about ‘Total fat’, ‘Saturated fats’, and ‘Trans fats’ but would abandon ‘Calories from fat’ because research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount.

The proposal also provides for the inclusion of potassium and Vitamin D on the label as those are new “nutrients of public health significance”. The calcium and iron content will continue to be required, and Vitamins A and C could be listed on a voluntary basis.

In short, while the new CSPI push for FOP labelling is based on the premise that consumers don’t understand nutrition information, the FDA seemingly believes otherwise.

Source: Dave Juday, Ag Perspectives, August 2015

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Impact of Iran’s nuclear deal on oil markets 

After two years of negotiations, the Obama administration together with the UK, France, China, Russia, the EU, Germany and Iran reached an agreement in Vienna in mid-July, on Iranian nuclear proliferation.

Foreign policy debate aside, the commodity interest in this deal pertains to the potential impact that the lifting of sanctions might have on global oil markets. Provided the agreement goes through, the removal of all financial sanctions would have to first be worked out.

Nuclear Proliferation Agreement, July 2015

That would lead to reinvestment in the oil sector, which would be necessary to restart additional production. It would likely be some time into 2016 before Iran could reach its pre-sanction levels of imports.

In 2014, Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports were about 1.408 million barrels/day. In the pre-sanction year of 2011, the average was approximately 2.611 million barrels/day. After sanctions, Iran lost exports of about 587,000 barrels/day to the EU and 573,000 barrels/day to Asia, which account for 88% of the lost volume.

In 2013, exports to China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, the UAE and Syria amounted to 1.3 million barrels/day. The 2014 exports reached 1.408 million barrels/day as a result of increased sales to China and India. Most of the lost exports were replaced by those from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Angola and Russia. If sanctions are lifted and Iran ramps up oil production, its output will compete with the OPEC producers as well as other nations.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), world demand will rise about 2.67 million barrels/day in 2016 against 2014. About 670,000 barrels/day will be from China, which is already increasing purchases of Iranian oil. Approximately 700,000 barrels/day will additionally come from other Asian nations that are traditional buyers of Iranian crude.

World Oil Production and Consumption Projections

About 870,000 barrels/day will emanate from other countries outside of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes the EU, Japan, Korea, Australia, US, Canada and Mexico. That all represents 84% of the world’s net growth in consumption, with most of the rest emanating from the US.

Global production will not keep pace with consumption by 2016, according to EIA projections that peg production increases at 2.4 million barrels/day. Of total global growth, 770,000 barrels/day will come from OPEC nations and 1.16 million barrels or 48% from the US.

If Iran fully returns to pre-sanction levels (assuming about 1 million barrels/day more than projected for 2016 already), the market in 2016 will look much like it does today. While the prospect of such additional volume may remain bearish, it is not overwhelming and the new supply is not a short-term development. Iran does have about 20 million barrels of crude in storage.

The process remains a hurdle. US lawmakers must review the agreement and vote to either approve or reject it. They have 60 days to do so once it is submitted to them, which has not yet occurred. The administration has now taken the deal to the UN, and that has become a political problem with Congress.

If Congress rejects the agreement, it will need to secure two-thirds of the vote in both chambers to override a presidential veto. Whether disapproval from Congress or a sustained veto of any proposal would have an impact on the UN remains to be seen, but the likelihood is low.

Source: Dave Juday, Ag Perspectives, August 2015

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Greenpeace fined US$17,500 for blocking ship

In July, US Federal Court judge Sharon Gleason slapped a US$2,500 fine on Greenpeace for every hour its activists continued to block a Royal Dutch Shell ship headed for Alaska on a drilling expedition.

Early on July 29, the protesters hung from ropes from St Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon, to prevent the departure of the MSV Fennica, an icebreaker that was in port for repairs. However, the US Coast Guard cleared the activists the next evening, leaving Greenpeace facing a total fine of US$17,500.

The NGO had earlier said the activists had enough supplies for several days and were “prepared to stay in Shell’s way as long as possible”. TV footage showed 13 activists dangling from the bridge in hammock-like devices above the water.

A similar number were in kayaks in the water below, also trying to keep the vessel from leaving. However, Greenpeace claimed that the kayakers were not employees or anyone that it directed.

The protests followed authorisation given to Shell by US President Barack Obama in May to drill for oil in the Arctic, a decision which infuriated environmental groups. The same month, Justice Gleason had issued an order prohibiting Greenpeace members from interrupting or stopping ships involved in Shell’s offshore Arctic drilling.

In a statement on July 30, Shell said: “We have consistently stated that we respect the right of individuals to protest our Arctic operations so long as they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law. The staging of protesters in Portland was not safe nor was it lawful.

“Furthermore, Greenpeace demonstrated a complete lack of regard for the authority of a US Federal Court. We are pleased with today’s court ruling that holds Greenpeace in contempt and prescribes fines for further non-compliance.”

Source: Compiled from media reports

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Bioavtur plant for Indonesia

Indonesia’s state-owned oil and gas giant Pertamina plans to construct a bioavtur plant in support of the government’s programme to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the aviation industry.

Pertamina technology and product development manager Andianto Hidayat said the company is finalising a feasibility study.

“The study will be completed in the next six to eight months, and [the site] will be ready for ground-breaking in 2017. The construction itself may take up two years. Hopefully, the bioavtur plant will be on-stream in 2018,” Andianto told a discussion on green aviation at the Transportation Ministry on Aug 12.

The company, he said, could not yet reveal the location of the plant, but hinted that it would be built near an international airport in Java or Sumatra. Current estimates are that the project will involve investment of between US$450 million and US$480 million; and production capacity of 260 million litres per year.

Pertamina will cooperate with palm oil companies on joint-venture basis to secure the supply of CPO required to produce bioavtur.

The domestic market is expected to take up only about 10% of production. If countries in the region were to issue a policy on mandatory use of bioavtur, Pertamina would be able to supply the product, given the dearth of such plants.

The Transportation Ministry’s Bali and Nusa Tenggara airport authority chief Yusfandri Gona, who is also chairman of the Indonesia Aviation Biofuels and Renewable Energy Taskforce, said the ministry would help Pertamina to bring the plant to fruition.

“We really hope that the plan will be realised because, soon enough, there will be more demand for bioavtur and we need the supply,” Yusvandri said.

“Moreover, the government has issued the regulation on bioavtur in line with the ICAO programme,” he added, referring to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

In 2013, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry issued Ministerial Regulation No. 25/2013 on biofuel, requiring the aviation sector to reduce the use of fossil fuels by including at least 2% biofuel in its avtur with effect from January 2016. The percentage is set to increase to 3% in January 2020 and 5% in January 2025.

Source: The Jakarta Post, Aug 13, 2015

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Paper group expects bigger market share in Australia 

APRIL Group’s measures to ensure that deforestation is eliminated from its supply chain in Indonesia will help the Singapore-based paper group increase its market share in Australia, according to managing director Goh Lin Piao.

Noting that Australia is a “very strategic” market for APRIL, Goh said: “We’ve had a presence in this market for nearly 12 years – with all its ups and downs – and we are really pleased that our Australian customers can now feel confident in buying our product.”

Goh said APRIL’s “sustainability journey” started in 2002 when the company pioneered the ‘Wood Legality Chain of Custody’ system. Since then, it has conserved 250,000 ha and expanded its eco-restoration programme to 70,000 ha, as it works towards its 1-for-1 target, where 1 ha of forest is conserved for every hectare of plantation.

On eco-restoration, the company is working with Fauna/Flora International, having pledged US$17 million to date. Stephen Gates, executive general manager of APRIL Australia, said the company’s new sustainability credentials and PEFC status for its flagship PaperOne brand has been well-received by its key channel partners.

“Our sustainable forest management policy has given us an important social licence in the core uncoated wood free market,” he said. “The Oceania region accounts for 380,000 tonnes per annum, including 260,000 to 270,000 tonnes of cut-sized paper, and we are aiming for 25% of that market.”

APRIL’s parent company, the Royal Golden Eagle group, earlier this year announced that new sustainability policies will be implemented by all other pulp companies in the group, including an end to deforestation. Environment groups Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature have welcomed the announcement.

Source: www.stationerynews.com.au, Aug 10, 2015

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Protesters arrested over Spain’s ‘tax on sunlight’

Four Greenpeace activists were arrested in Madrid on July 30 after climbing up a building next to the Ministry of Industry, to protest a controversial draft ‘Royal Decree’ barring the public from gathering and storing solar energy for home use.

While the four climbed the building to hang banners stating ‘Sun Tax NO’, four other activists stood outside the doors of the ministry building with a solar panel bearing a red ribbon as a gift for Minister Jose Manuel Soria. He refused to accept it and had the gates closed. Police officers arrived and arrested the four climbers.

This was the first act of protest Greenpeace carried out in Spain after the Citizen Security Law – also known as the ‘gag law’ – kicked in. The protestors may well face punishment.

Under the draft Royal Decree, the state intends to impose fines of as much as 30 million euros on those who illegally gather sunlight without paying a tax. This is to make sure that house-owners cannot store solar energy at a lower cost than state-sponsored providers.

Greenpeace said that, if the tax is approved, “consumers who produce their own energy and are also connected to mains supply will have to pay taxes on sunlight”.

Marina Bevacqua, who heads the Greenpeace Energy Campaign, said: “Self-provision is a key tool for energy efficiency, reducing contamination, generating employment and reducing Spain’s dependency on energy from abroad.”

She claimed that the proposed tax was established to meet the interests of the electricity giants and would stop more than seven million people from using the resource to beat energy poverty.

Greenpeace has urged the Industry Ministry to ditch the project and draw up legislation that “really favours development and takes into account the environmental, social and financial benefits of solar technology and allows a transition to renewable energy sources”.

Sources:
www.euroweeklynews.com; July 30, 2015;
www.globaleconomicanalysis, July 26, 2015

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Editorial - Delta

Malaysia’s economic development has for the most part been one of Southeast Asia’s development miracles. Over a period of 40-50 years, Malaysia has become an upper middle-income country, and is likely to be a fully industrialised country before the end of the decade.

How did this happen? It has been a slow and steady process that has involved the diversification of the economy away from subsistence agriculture and export agriculture into value-added processing, manufacturing and services.

But the basis of this – and what has set Malaysia apart from many other countries that were, and still are, reliant upon plantation-based agriculture – has been the growing involvement of smallholders.

They have been granted land with access to transportation links or which is close to urban areas. The farmers have been able to use their land as collateral, grow cash crops and pass wealth to the next generation.

There are parts of Malaysia — particularly in Sabah and Sarawak – where this development story is still unfolding. But the importance of this story remains lost on many, particularly in the West.

A recent example is that of a new report by Wetlands International which effectively argues that ‘sustainable’ livelihoods can be eked out of natural forest landscapes, and that this does not require any industrial processes such as timber harvesting or plantation agriculture.

This story sits underneath warnings about the possible environmental damage from agriculture around the Rajang Delta in Sarawak. The technical basis of the work on the delta is impressive and some if its less extreme projections on soil subsidence are probably reasonably accurate.

But its strongest recommendation – that agriculture should simply be prevented around this area and that local people should effectively revert to a subsistence existence – is, frankly, shocking.

Deltas are delicate environments. The people in Florida have struggled with the environmental changes that have taken place around the Everglades from sugar production and other agriculture, with some commentators labelling it as the biggest environmental tragedy that has befallen the US.

At the same time, the Nile Delta, the Mekong Delta and the San Joaquin Delta have been a rich source of economic development for many years for the people of Egypt, Southeast Asia and California respectively.

In most situations where economic activity – particularly agriculture – has developed in delta areas, the two have managed to find a balance and co-exist. Obviously in periods of high growth, that balance will become uneven. That has clearly become the case with the Florida Everglades; however, more careful environmental management appears to be restoring the equilibrium.

Editorial Delta 2

A more extreme case is the low-lying areas of the Netherlands that have been reclaimed for agriculture over 500 years. These require constant pumping, and the former natural environment is virtually non-existent.

What this comes down to is an argument over ideals. Clearly, environmentalists like Wetlands International, and the Norwegian Government which has made their work possible, consider that the Rajang Delta should remain in pristine condition and that agriculture should take place elsewhere. This idealistic position is simply not possible; nor is it realistic.

Wetlands has indirectly pointed the finger at palm oil. The truth is that, if palm oil were banned worldwide tomorrow, farmers would be planting something else in the same spot. Moreover, it is not possible for anyone to expect a society to regress and reverse its economic development.

The examples provided here indicate that balance is possible, given time.

Malaysians value their environment just as much as Western campaigners. But it is Malaysians who have to confront the realities of slower economic development every day and, consequently, have to strive to gain higher living standards.

To imply that this is something that Malaysians can live without is simply immoral.

Dr Yusof Basiron
CEO, MPOC

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