Humans must guard against animal disease risk: WHO

BEIJING – CHINA must adopt a holistic approach to addressing food safety challenges connected to the risk of contracting infectious diseases from contact with animals, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Peter Ben Embarek, food safety officer at WHO’s China office, said the country faces risks connected to the need to produce more meat, eggs and milk to feed its growing population. He said the increased production will ramp up the risk of people being infected by food-borne diseases because of poor slaughtering oversight and the absence of proper surveillance and inspection systems.

About 50 per cent of pigs in China are slaughtered outside of formal facilities without the inspection of veterinarians or food safety officers. He said poorly trained producers have little or no awareness of food safety or the risk of animal diseases being passed on to humans.

Such an environment could lead to the emergence of a new pandemic of influenza.

Meet Treebot, the tree-climbing forest sentinel

HONG KONG – INSPIRED by tiny caterpillars, Treebot may be China’s new answer to forest preservation.

The slinky robot grips trees with spidery legs to climb and is equipped with a camera to spot any dangers to forests high amidst the leaves. Its segmented body allows it to negotiate complex branches and make turns.

Xu Yangsheng, a professor at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said nature gave him the idea for his creation. ‘I used to basically observe how inchworms actually walk on the trees and I like this idea very much,’ he said.

‘I thought we should develop a robot monitoring the situation in the forest, especially now there are so many fires, so many environmental disasters happening in the forest areas.’ Treebot’s camera transmits images in real time and it can support a solar cell, so potentially there would be no need to halt its work to recharge. And while it weighs in at only 600g it can carry three times its weight.

‘It can climb different kids of trees: smooth surface, rough surface, big or small and different directions. Also, it can automatically cling to branches so its mobility is good,’ Dr Xu said.

The robot still needs some refining – the camera doesn’t work well in low light and it tends to slip when trees are wet – but Dr Xu says the potential is obvious and he hopes it will soon be crawling its way into trees around the world. — REUTERS

Meet Treebot, the tree-climbing forest sentinel

State to revisit plans for 12,000 new homes in Ewa

A state commission decided today to allow a developer to amend its long-pending plan for turning 1,554 acres of Ewa farmland into a community called Hoopili with 11,750 homes.

The OK by the state Land Use Commission followed a nearly two-year halt in the case, and essentially allows the local Schuler Division of Texas-based developer D.R. Horton to present its case to the commission again.

There was some debate and testimony over whether Schuler should be allowed to proceed after adding project phasing to its petition.

In August 2009 the commission, in a 5-3 vote, deemed Schuler’s original petition deficient because it didn’t adequately split the project into phases.

LUC members voted 9-0 today to allow the case to resume.

The commission is expected to allow a more-or-less entirely new presentation of the case, with opportunities for public testimony and consideration of new elements added to the Hoopili master plan.

State to revisit plans for 12,000 new homes in Ewa – Hawaii News –

E. coli outbreaks linked to Egypt

E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France could have come from seeds sourced in Egypt, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said.

A report said there was still “much uncertainty”, but fenugreek seeds imported in 2009 and 2010 “had been implicated in both outbreaks”.

More than 4,000 people were infected during the German outbreak, 48 died.

Investigators traced the source back to a bean sprout farm in Bienenbuettel, Lower Saxony.

The outbreak in Bordeaux affected 15 people and was linked to seeds sold by a firm in the UK – Thompson and Morgan, although it said there was no evidence of a link.

Both outbreaks involved the rare strain of E. coli known as O104:H4.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the strain was so rare in humans the outbreaks were unlikely to have been isolated incidents and both were linked to eating sprouting seeds.

Further investigations have been trying to determine if the source of the infection was contamination at the sites, or if they had been supplied with contaminated seeds.

Shark attacks surfer in Brazil

SAO PAULO – OFFICIALS say a shark has attacked a 21-year-old man who was surfing off the coast of north-eastern Brazil.

The spokesman for the Pernambuco state fire department says the shark took a deep bite from the right thigh of Malisson Lima on Wednesday morning.

Spokesman Valdy Oliveira says the surfer’s injury was not life-threatening and he does not risk losing his leg.

Mr Oliveira says Mr Lima was probably attacked by a bull or tiger shark, which are common in the area.

The attack occurred in an area that is off-limits to swimmers and surfers because of the danger of shark attacks Mr Oliveira says 20 people have been killed in the 53 shark attacks registered in Pernambuco state since 1992. — AP

Shark attacks surfer in Brazil

Canada seeks to breed a better honey bee

OTTAWA – FOLLOWING a massive bee die-off in parts of the world, two Canadian universities on Wednesday launched an effort to breed honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.

Led by the universities of Guelph and Manitoba, the programme will try to breed a better bee through genetic selection.

It will also screen new products for pest and disease control, and try to come up with new ways of managing pollination colonies that face risks that include parasites, bacterial infections and pesticides resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment.

Ottawa is providing US$244,000 (S$300,748) to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association to participate in the project. The goal is to ‘help beekeepers secure sustainable honey harvests and provide essential pollination services to the fruit and vegetable industry’, the government said in a statement.

Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 per cent in Europe, 30 per cent in the United States, and up to 85 per cent in Middle East, according to a United Nations report on the issue released earlier this year.

Honey bees are critical to global agriculture. They pollinate more than 100 different crops, representing up to US$83 billion in crop value world wide each year and roughly one-third of the human diet. — AFP

Canada seeks to breed a better honey bee

Earthjustice files notice of intent to sue county over West Maui injection wells

Attorneys for Earthjustice announced Wednesday they had filed a notice of intent to sue Maui County over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

The notice claims that the county has known for years that treated wastewater injected into the ground at the facility percolates into the ocean nearby, but has not made good on promises to phase out the injection wells or obtained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to allow the discharge.

It also states that, although the wastewater receives some treatment, it still contains bacteria that presents health risks to ocean users, as well as nitrogen and other nutrients that can stimulate reef-smothering algae blooms offshore.

County officials said they were operating the treatment plant under permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health, and had been working cooperatively with state and federal officials to make sure they were in compliance with all their permit conditions.

Part of that cooperation includes conducting tracer and seep studies to determine if a discharge permit is needed for the facility, they said, noting that the EPA had not yet determined if such a permit was required.

The Cowboy Calendar | Coordinating Rodeo & Equine Events in Hawaii

Makawao Rodeo 2011

ANNUAL MAKAWAO RODEO – A very exciting rodeo event presented by the Maui Roping Club – more than 350 paniolos (cowboys) attend the rodeo from all over the world. Oskie Rice Rodeo Arena, Makawao Rodeo, a mile above Makawao town, on Olinda Road at Kaanaolo Ranch on Maui. This Hawaiian style rodeo, with rough stock and roping events, features rodeo clowns. Before and after the rodeo, enjoy live entertainment and country western dancing. For more information call (808) 572-8102.

The Cowboy Calendar | Coordinating Rodeo & Equine Events in Hawaii

How El Paso is beating the worst drought in a generation

When Ed Archuleta first arrived in El Paso to manage the local water authority, the cotton barons and cattle men who run this desert city had a blunt message for him. This is Texas, they told him. We don’t do conservation.

It’s a good thing Archuleta didn’t listen. As a record drought scorched America’s south-west this spring, El Paso went 119 days without rain. The Rio Grande, which forms the border with Mexico, shrunk into its banks. An hour’s drive out of town, ranchers sold off their cattle so they wouldn’t have to watch them die.

Archuleta, in his office overlooking a long seam of strip malls, saw no reason for panic – even though, in his words, the amount of precipitation in the first rain this year was about as much as someone spitting on a water gauge.

“We’re going to be fine this summer,” he said. “We’re basically drought-proof.”

The city will be fine next year too, even if it doesn’t rain, and even if the Rio Grande stays low. “We can handle drought next year. Theoretically, even if we have no water in the river, even if there wasn’t a single drop of water coming from the river, we could make it through the summer,”