Bioterrorism very real threat

March 31, 2009

The vulnerability of agricultural assets between farm and fork  is concerning Terry Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and head of Dairy & Animal Science at Pennsylvania University.

Agriculture in the U.S. is remarkably robust from a standpoint of productivity and efficiency in the food distribution chain but dangerously fragile because of countless vulnerabilities that could be exploited. There are few events that would cause more economic damage than a widespread attack on the agriculture infrastructure in the U.S .

He looks at threats from nature, foreign animal diseases and asymetric biolgical attacks and gives a close to home example in the latter category:

A recent example of an asymmetric attack occurred in New Zealand where a small group of farmers intentionally introduced a virulent rabbit pathogen (rabbit calicivirus disease) as a strategy to control the population of wild rabbits. This introduction was so effective that the disease is epizootic in New Zealand and threatens to spread beyond Oceana. The significance of this event is that a group of motivated individuals without much scientific training managed to research, acquire a source of the pathogen, and penetrate one of the best biosecurity systems in the world to unleash a hemorrhagic disease virus on the rabbit population in New Zealand.

While I appreciated the frustration farmers felt at inaction on the rabbit plague, the illegal introduction of RCD set a dangerous precedent and also showed that in spite of tough bio security controls, we are vulnerable to accidental or deliberate attacks.

Etherton concludes:

It is not easy to answer the questions of how bad an agricultural bioterrorist event would be in the U.S. However, the preponderance of evidence is that it would be potentially devastating to agribusiness and likely challenging to national security. A huge challenge will be to find ways to reduce the likelihood of an attack and the subsequent impact on society.

If the impact of agricultural bioterroism poses that much of a threat to the USA, the danger is even greater in New Zealand where a much greater proportion of our economy is dependent on agriculture.

HAT TIP: Farming Show


Once is a mistake

March 31, 2009

In the days when rugby was just a game, All Black coach Charlie Saxton encouraged players to think for themselves and said he didn’t mind them making mistakes if they learned from them.

But he said while doing something wrong once was a mistake, failing to learn and repeating it was a cock-up and while he accepted mistakes, he hated cock-ups.

John Key is taking a similar line with his ministers:

Mr Key made it clear when he named his ministers that he wanted “outcomes, results and accountability”. Yesterday, he said if anyone in government “needed a bollocking” it would come from him.

And, unlike the previous Prime Minister who showed unusual tolerance when Winston Peters breached the Cabinet Manual, Key has warned his patience is limited.

It doesn’t matter that Richard Worth was paying for his trip to India himself, acting in a private capactiy and made no personal gain, there was a perceived conflict of interest because he’s a minister and he ought to have realised that.

However, it was a mistake rather than a cock-up and I’m pleased it’s been accepted as that by the Prime Minsiter because Worth has brought a long over due and welcome improvement to the relationship between LINZ and farmers as Minister of Lands.

The previous incumbent had neither understanding of nor sympathy for high country farmers. Worth has done more good in his four months as minister by working to heal the rift in the high country  than the former minister did in the whole of his term.


Last bastions of communism

March 31, 2009

Communist farming practices are usually associated with North Korea and Cuba.

European Union MP Daniel Hannan who excited international interest with his attack on Gordon Brown’s policies, has found another bastion of agricultural communism: the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy:

Price fixing, storeage and destruction of food stocks for which their are no markets, wanton passing on of costs and suffering to the third world which is deprived of markets, people penalised by high prices and high taxes . . .

Those are the costs, who gets the benefits?

As Hannan says on his blog:

Who does best out of the system? EU bureaucrats, natch. . .

And it doesn’t matter where it is, the bureacrats get the benefits from subsidies and tariffs and everyone else pays the costs .

Hat Tip: Taxpayers’ Alliance


Jamie Oliveoil’s recipe for EU Ag Fudge

March 31, 2009

Jamie Oliveoil  is having a boil up to campaign against Britain’s membership of the European Union.

I’ll leave that issue aside because this video is also a compelling argument against subsidies and for ensuring politicians and bureaucrats don’t interfere with the relationship between producers and consumers.

Agricultural Fudge, Subsidy Stew, Tariff Tortellini . . . however you cook them up they cause economic indigestion.

They cost taxpayers and consumers, they threaten food supplies, lead to gluts and shortages and they distort markets.

The people they hurt the most are the poor who can’t afford to pay more for their food and face unfair competition when they sell their produce.

Hat Tip: Fairfacts Media Show & Taxpayers’ Alliance


A $1b interview

March 31, 2009

The Wall Street Journel interview with John Key  generated a bit of interest in New Zealand, but mostly by way of the isn’t-it-good-the-world-notices-us reporting.

Bernard Hickey reckons it was worth much more than that and explains how John Key secured a US1bln loan for New Zealand with a newspaper interview.

Hickey’s post explains how ANZ  National secured a $1b bond issue in the USA, it’s worth reading in full so I’ll leave it with this:

It turns out the interview was a crucial factor in the success of the bond issue, the first long term issue by a New Zealand bank since July last year. It is likely to set the tone for more.

Thank you John.


Life’s fatal

March 31, 2009

Too much red meat will kill you – study

I didn’t realise that was news because I’ve been reading reports recommending eating only moderate portions of red meat two or three times a week for years.

But I was interested in this:

Red meat was defined as beef, pork, bacon, ham, hamburger, hot dogs, liver, pork sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, stews, and lasagna.

No mention of lamb.

Does that mean lamb doesn’t count as cancer and heart disease causing red meat?

Or does it just mean that lamb is such a small part of the average diet in the USA the study didn’t think it rated a mention?


How green is my bottle?

March 30, 2009

The label proudly proclaimed this was an eco-bottle because the plastic was made from plants, in contrast to most other plastics which are made from oil.

It didn’t say whether the total impact on the environment of producing the bottle was greater or less because of that but as it was the only bottle available and I had left home without water to take on a walk I bought it.

I drank the water but kept the bottle to re-use it, thinking that would be the right thing to do with an eco-bottle.

But alas, look what happened when the plastic met hot water:

march-09-018

It’s called Charlie’s Honest Water, but is it being honest about the eco-bottle? The PR  says it’s good, but how good is it if it can’t be reused?

I know that it’s better to use tap water in a reusable bottle, but for those occasions when that’s not available should I opt for a one-use eco-bottle or a plastic-from-oil one which doesn’t collapse when it’s washed?

Or is it true that the ones that don’t collapse leach nasties into the water so shouldn’t be reused anyway?

Kermit was right, it’s not easy being green – especially when you don’t know whether what you are doing is good for your health and that of the planet and what’s simply greenwash.


Who said what about whom?

March 30, 2009

When I studied English literature it overwhelmingly meant poetry and prose by English, or at least British, people.

I’ve broadened my reading since then, but not enough to be able to win the chocolate fish which Art & My Life has offered to the first person to identify who or by whom three quotes were made.

You have until this evening to give her the answers.

While on matters literary:

 Quote Unquote  has a reminisence of Frank Sargeson by Kevin Ireland.

Mary McCallum  reviews The First Touch of Light,  by Ruth Pettis which was published after the author’s death and Vanda Symon  posts on the book’s launch.


Bin that idea, Nick

March 30, 2009

Please bin the idea to charge shoppers 5c for every plastic shopping  bag they use, Nick.

It’s bad politics and it’s not necessarily good for the environment.

The negative fall out from following the previous government’s example of wasting time and energy trying to explain the relatively small benefits isn’t worth it.

There are far more important issues to act on and far bigger environmental problems than plastic bags.

Far better to leave this one to businesses and individuals.

But if you choose to go down the resuable route yourself, I have just the bags for you:

books-001

(You can tell by their crumpled state I do use them).

Politically stupid and environmentally questionable it might be but The Visible Hand reckons it stacks up economically.

P.S. – I’m not against people paying the true cost, it’s the government intervening in this way which I object to.


Who benefits from protection?

March 30, 2009

Subsidies are just a transfer of funds from taxpayers to producers and as taxpayers are also consumers they end up paying more twice  – first through their taxes and then through higher prices.

The subsidies also blind producers to market signals so they produce more than the market requires.

The other weapon in the protectionists armour is tariffs. They are also a tax which costs both producers and consumers because goods subject to tariffs cost more.

So who benefits from protection?

In the short term inefficient producers and politicians. In the long term no-one because protection stunts economic growth.

The global recession could provide an opportunity to reduce protectionist policies because it costs too much, but the signs aren’t promising as the Inquiring Mind notes in a post on the rising tide of protectionism.

Anti-Dismal   illustrates the problem of protection with this:


Much easier to find employees

March 30, 2009

A year ago dairy farm workers were in short supply because of the sharp increase in the number of conversions and advertisements were lucky to result in a trickle of responses.

This year people advertising for staff are receiving a flood of replies.

Among these are managers who have been told that farm owners are taking over again because banks are putting pressure on them to reduce their costs and doing the work themselves rather than employing others to do it results in substantial savings.

The fall in the milk payout is also having an impact on the wider economy and the ODT reports that there will be considerably less flowing from dairy farms into the New Zealand economy this season compared with last year.

After two years of unprecedented growth, lower international prices this year are predicted to remove more the $3 billion from the incomes of the country’s 11,400 dairy farmers.

The final payout will be announced later, but it appears farmers will receive $5.10 a kg of milk solids (kg/ms), compared to $7.66kg/ms last season.

Some bankers have estimated 40% of farmers will make a loss this year, as many had budgeted on Fonterra’s forecast milk price for this season – $6.60kg/ms – and committed expenditure and investment accordingly.

Had this price been achieved, the southern economy would have been $280 million better off.

Neal Wallace writes that a 500 cow farm will have a potential income drop of $300,000 this season.

Southland farm consultant Alastair Gibson said he made his $300,000 calculation based on a typical 500- to 550-cow farm producing 200,000kg, and on the difference in income from $6.60 a kilo forecast by Fonterra in September and the present forecast payout of $5.10 a kilo.

. . . The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry estimated farm working expenses last year were $3.31 a kilo, but Mr Gibson said he knew of some farms at $4.40 a kilo, which included some capital expenditure.

For some farms, a break-even point could be $4.70 a kilo, allowing for debt servicing of $1.58 a kilo and working expenses of $2.80 a kilo, and then additional costs such as personal drawings and tax.

When income drops the sensible response is to reduce costs but even small economies on lots of farms will result in a lot less flowing into the wider economy.


Patient travel & accommodation aid increased

March 30, 2009

The centralisation of specialist health services may be supported by sound clinical and financial reasons but it does increase the costs for people who live outside the main centres.

Health Minister Tony Ryall has recognised that by increasing the amount patients can claim under the National Travel Assistance scheme for the first time in 20 years.

The eight cent increase takes the assistance up to 28 cents a kilometre and the accommodation rate has also been increased to $100 a night.

 

No-one is pretending this will fully cover travel and accommodation costs for patients.

 

The NTA support has always been a help rather than a reimbursement. But in tough financial times every bit extra will help, especially for people who have health issues that are not easy to manage close to home,” Mr Ryall said.

 

When you choose to live in the country or a small town you accept that you won’t get the same level of health services which are available in cities but long distance or frequent travel and accommodation can be expensive and add to the stress of illness.

 

Most referrals to specialists will be from GPs rather than other specialists so won’t qualify for the assistance so the increase in assistance isn’t a miracle cure, but it will provide some relief.

 

Information on who is eligible and how to claim is available on the Ministry of Health website.


Spot the irony and omissions

March 29, 2009

I thought I’d finished with earth hour until I read this:

It starts with:

New Zealand’s power consumption dropped by 3.5 percent last night, as a record number of candle-wielding kiwis flicked the switch for Earth Hour.

But fails to draw the link between candles and carbon.

Continues with:

Most major New Zealand cities backed the event, with free concerts and entertainment helping to pull in the crowds.

Without questioning the fuel used to get people to these concerts and the power used in the sound systems.

Then concludes with:

And while Transpower says the warmer weather could have contributed to the drop-off in power usage, there is no doubt that that Earth Hour had an effect.

But it fails to ask if there was any change in power usage either side of earth hour which might indicate people used more electricity before and after it as Andrew Landeryou   (Hat Tip: Not PC) showed:

Don’t they teach journalists to ask questions any more?

Better to reuse than recycle

March 29, 2009

Nelson’s cafes and takeaway outlets are taking BYO to a new level by asking customers to bring their own mugs.

They are part of the city’s new Bring Your Own Container (BYOC) scheme aimed at reducing the mountain of waste dumped into the landfill each year.

The mugs will need to be washe, but the tiny amount of hot water and detergent needed for that ought to have a fraction of the impact on the environment that recycling does and will reduce the amount of single-use plastic and paper cups that get binned.

This is a very sensible green initiative – notwithstanding the opportunity for the health police to warn us of the dangers which lurk in mugs subjected to improper washing.


Blue cheese blues

March 29, 2009

Fonterra’s has made a blue  and from all acounts it – Kapiti Kikorangi – is a very nice blue. But it’s not as the company claims the blue which has won the most cheese awards.

Fonterra has based its claim on based on results from the Cuisine Champions of Cheese Awards, started in 2004 by the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association but Whitestone Cheese isn’t swallowing that because:

Bob Berry, Whitestone Cheese founder, says Fonterra has a short memory. While the awards are only a few years old, a national competition has been in place since 1994.

“I think it’s quite simple. What they’re saying is let’s forget the first half and start again. But good things take time and good cheeses have long memories.”

My votes with Whitestone and not just for its Windsor Blue  but also for Moeraki Bay Blue  and Highland Blue.

They are delicious on their own, with oat crackers or bread and promote the humble asapragus roll to a gourment delight.

While it’s best with fresh asparagus , when that’s not available you can use tinned:

Cut the crusts of thin sliced wholemeal bread, top with one or two asparagus spears and a generous amount of grated blue cheese.

Roll, place on oven tray and cook until bread is toasted; or cook them in a toasted-sandwich maker and call them asparagus flats :)


Dirty water

March 29, 2009

Agriculture Minister David Carter was right when he said, in reference to dairying & clean streams:

The small number of dairy farmers who ignore effluent disposal requirements are damaging the reputation of the dairy industry as a whole.

It is simply unacceptable to pollute. Not only does it antagonise environmental organisations but also wider New Zealand. More importantly, it risks the hard-gained reputation that New Zealand Inc. has established in our international markets.

There is no excuse for wanton pollution of waterways but this isn’t just a country issue.

Earlier this month sewage was visible off the coast of Dunedin and Dave Haywood at Public Address discovered the people of Christchurch might be flushing their loos into the Avon and Heathcote rivers.

Well, frankly, this sucks. And it sucks that I even have to point out how much it sucks. Surely it’s absolutely obvious that you shouldn’t dump raw sewage into a river — any river — let alone a river that runs through a major city. Even if it’s only when the wastewater network becomes ‘overloaded’ (which, incidentally, the council expects will be around twice a year).

While dairy farmers are – quite rightly – being fined if they allow  cattle or effluent , near water ways, whole cities are discharging untreated sewage into rivers and the sea.

That’s what I call a very inconvenient truth.

Hat Tip: Alf Grumble


It pays to be clean

March 29, 2009

The Sunday Times Story of the family who got repeated stomach bugs because their cleaner wiped the loo with their towels is revolting.

But what shocked me most was that the cleaning company charged $50 a hour.

I have nothing against a business making money and realise the hourly rate will cover not just wages but overheads.

But either they do things differently in the city or I’m very out of touch because $50 an hour for cleaning sounds exorbitant to me.

I wonder how much the cleaner got?

If it was half the amount the home owner paid, it would be a little more than twice the sum offered to a graduate journalist in an advertisement spotted by David Cohen:

Starting salary is $25,000.

Interesting. According to the Department of Labour, the minimum wage is $12 an hour, or $24,960 a year, which puts the offered amount here only microscopically higher (not quite 2c an hour before tax) than what an entry-level burger-flipper might expect to command at McDonald’s.

Even if the cleaner got a quarter of the charge-out rate, s/he would be nearly 50 cents an hour better paid than the reporter.


Did you see the light/dark?

March 29, 2009

Did you see the light dark last night?

TV3 showed us the lights on the Sky Tower going out (and also lots of candles burning).

The Herald declared Earth Hour a success but Keeping Stock reckoned that was a Tui truth.

Around other blogs this morning:

Zen Tiger at NZ Conservative has a much better idea for dirt day once a week

Psycho Milt at No Minister had some family learning opportunities

And some I missed last night:

A seven year old speaks sense at M&M

Dave Gee switched on for sanity hour

Roarprawn declared it a crock

Oswald Bastable switched on everything

Mr Dennis lit up too.


If the cap fits public opinion will wear it

March 29, 2009

The Herald asked if public sector jobs should be capped when unemployment is rising?

The response, albeit unscientific, was conclusive: A total of 2867 people voted and 2234, 78% of them said yes with just 633 (22%) saying no.


Edison Hour vs Earth Hour

March 28, 2009

While some people are returning to the dark ages and increasing their carbon emissions by celebrating Earth Hour they’re facing supposedly enlightened competition from Edison Hour.

And me? I’m not deliberately using more or less electricity than usual, but we went out for dinner (Speights Ale House in Wanaka, Morrocan lamb salad, delicious; took the waitress’s advice that the Sheep Shagger pinot noir was for tourists and enjoyed a Mt Difficulty  Roaring Meg instead) and as we were paying the bill at 8.28 the lights dimmed.

We had walked there and walked home, as we usually do, noting that it was pretty dark, but then Wanaka always has the bare minimum of street lights. That’s because most residents prefer it that way because less light pollution lets them appreciate more stars in the sky.

I think that means we observed earth hour by accident and by doing so we burned neither candles nor bonfires, used no batteries and no petrol, so we probably did more for the planet than a lot of people who deliberately turned their lights off but created more carbon with alternative sources of heat and light.

P.S. Thanks to Madeleine who left a comment on the previous post which pointed me to Keith Ng at Public Address who sees the flaws in both earth hour and Edison hour:

I was inspired to write the first part of this after hearing of people who turned off all the lights during Earth Hour, then lit up their fireplaces and burned candles instead. From sixth form chemistry: Burning organic material (like wax and wood) produces CO2. Tell your friends. . .

. . . Going out of your way to waste energy is the antithesis of technological progress and human enterprise, so don’t you dare claim to be on the side of rationality and science.

Lucyna Maria at NZ Conservative  is also neither sacrificing anything to the green god nor joining Edison hour.

And Frenemy has a photo of the dark.


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