Archive for July 13, 2008

Source: By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor The Independent

The world trade in ivory, banned 19 years ago to save the African elephant from extinction, is about to take off again, with the emergence of China as a major ivory buyer.


Alarmed conservationists are warning of a new wave of elephant killing across both Africa and Asia if China is allowed to become a legal importer, as looks likely at a meeting in Geneva next week.

The unleashing of a massive Chinese demand for ivory, in the form of trinkets, name seals, expensive carvings and polished ivory tusks, is likely to give an enormous boost to the illegal trade, which is entirely poaching-based, conservationists say.

“This is going to mean a return to the bad old days where elephants are being shot into extinction,” said Allan Thornton, of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the group which provided much of the evidence on which the original ivory ban was based in 1989.

The ban succeeded in halting a headlong decline of African elephants at the hands of poachers, especially in east African countries such as Kenya. Elephant numbers across the continent were estimated to have crashed from 1.3 million in 1980 to 625,000 in 1989.

It was intended to be complete and worldwide but in 1997 four southern Africa countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, persuaded other Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) member states to let them opt out, on the basis that their elephant populations were stable or increasing, and they would only sell tusks of elephants that had died naturally or been shot as rogues. Their campaign was led by Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe.

As a result, Cites sanctioned an auction of just under 50 tonnes of ivory from the four countries in 1999, but opened it only to “approved buyers” – countries whose enforcement provisions against illegal trading were deemed sufficiently rigorous. Japan was the only country approved.

Now, however, a second auction of 108 tonnes from the same four countries is being planned, and the Chinese, who were excluded from the first sale, are seeking “approved buyer” status, claiming they are much more active now in combating illegal trading activities.

Their application will be heard at the Geneva meeting next week of the Cites Standing Committee, which will also consider allowing the second ivory auction. Both proposals are likely to get the green light as the Cites secretariat is making a favourable recommendation in each case.

John Sellar, Cites’ senior anti-smuggling and fraud official, said yesterday that China had made considerable improvements to its enforcement regime against illicit trading, and the country’s score out of 100 for efficiency on the organisation’s complex Elephant Trade Information System had risen from 5.6 in 2002 to 63 today. The recommendation would be that they should become an official ivory trading partner, said Mr Sellar.

Environmentalists fiercely dispute the effectiveness of China’s crackdown and raise the larger issue of the huge ivory demand that is about to be unleashed from an increasingly affluent country with 10 times the population of Japan.

“In a country of 1.3 billion people, demand for ivory from just a fraction of one per cent of the population is colossal,” said Allan Thornton of the EIA. “If these new legal imports go ahead, they will provide a gigantic cover for illegal ivory to be sucked in.”

He went on: “Right now across central Africa, elephant populations are being destroyed in countries like Chad, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to satisfy illegal demand in countries such as China. The current estimate is that 23,000 African elephants are killed a year by poachers – which is totally unsustainable. If China becomes an approved trading partner, these figures will skyrocket.”

Last year the EIA produced a detailed report on what it said was China’s failure to address its illegal ivory trade. Mr Thornton said last night: “There is no evidence that the Chinese government has broken up or taken effective action against criminal syndicates behind the illegal flow of ivory into the country.”

The EIA released an internal Chinese government document yesterday which, it said, showed that, over 12 years, officials had lost track of 121 tonnes of ivory from the country’s official stockpile – equivalent to the tusks of 11,000 elephants. “We have not been able to account for the shortfall through the sale of legal ivory by the selected selling sites,” Chinese officials reported in the document to Cites in 2003. “This suggests a large amount of illegal sale of the ivory stockpile has taken place.”

Asked about the document, officials from China’s Foreign Ministry said they had no information on the subject.

The question of China’s trading partner status comes up at the standing committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Britain has a representative on the committee, Trevor Salmon, a senior civil servant who is head of the Cites policy unit at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Asked how Britain would vote on the sale and on the Chinese application, a Defra spokeswoman said: “The UK will only support this limited sale if all internationally agreed conditions – including that the proceeds of the sale are used exclusively for elephant and community conservation and development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range – have been met.

“Before allowing China to become a trading partner in a one-off sale of stockpiled ivory, the Cites Standing Committee will consider all evidence on measures China has in place to prevent this sale from having a negative impact on the illegal killing of elephants.

“Decisions are taken based on information about the sustainability of elephant populations in the countries and the security of their existing stockpiles of legally acquired ivory.”

H/T Popi & Tom


An aside note: Consider the following while reading this piece. Less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows are currently tested for Mad Cow disease is the US. The Bush Administration via Federal appeals court in May 08, has tried to stop meatpackers from further testing all their animals for Mad Cow disease. Their rationale for the appeal thus less testing for Mad Cow Disease? The USDA argues that more widespread testing does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers. For your consideration: 

Source: Gavan McCormack – Foreign Policy In Focus   

 Just months after taking office, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s popularity plunged below 20%. People poured into the streets in unprecedented numbers – in the largest demonstrations in Korean history – to protest against him and his government. His cabinet offered to resign en masse, and he had to sack all seven members of the Blue House senior secretariat. He was forced to abandon key policies such as his plan to build a canal across the full length of the country. And he felt compelled to apologize, twice, for his policy blunders and “lack of communication skills.”

Having staked much on his visit to Washington in April, and having pledged to reinvigorate and upgrade the alliance with the United States, Lee exposed it instead to greater risk than his predecessor and was reduced to pleading with Washington to help him find a way out of his domestic problems. Instead of advancing his goal of a Free Trade Agreement, he stirred the opposition, including labor and religious groups, to anger, thus making his goal less, rather than more likely. By June, the lion of December had become, according to word on the street in Seoul, an “early duck” (an early bird turned lame duck).

And it all began with beef.

Moos and Boos

The connection between Mad Cow disease in animals and the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans has been known since around 2000. Three cattle in the United States have tested positive for Mad Cow disease since 2003. South Korea first banned imports at that time, as did many countries. When the second case, in 2005, was covered up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for seven months before being made public, consumer confidence further sank. Japan took to testing every single animal, to the great annoyance of the U.S. government. Korea, under intense U.S. pressure, adopted a “voluntary” system of restriction that banned the import of meat from animals older than 30 months as well as animal parts such as bones and internal organs. However, the first three shipments that followed these new restrictions supposedly contained these parts, so the “voluntary” system was plainly unsatisfactory.  

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Note to the NBAF cheerleaders: With the incident record the CDC is building, it is time you back off the CDC  comparison. Most people didn’t fall for the “look how safe the CDC is” comparison the first time but with this latest in a string of incidents a case is being build for just how risky these labs are. Moreover, the comparison is moot, since the NBAF is the first of its kind there is no precedent for comparison. These incidents at the CDC prove there is just cause to be concerned about these facilities operations. Thankfully, Atlanta has media with some backbone.

A laboratory building that contains a deadly strain of avian flu and other germs is among four that lost power for more than an hour Friday when a backup generator system failed again at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outage affected air flow systems in labs that help contain such germs as the H5N1 flu virus, which some experts fear could cause a pandemic. But there were no exposures to infectious agents, and neither workers nor the public were at any risk, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

The outage is the latest in a string of mechanical and construction incidents at labs on the agency’s Clifton Road campus, many in new buildings that are part of a $1 billion construction plan.

Other notible incidents according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution are as follows

May 18, 2007: Blasting of granite by a CDC construction contractor sent rock flying, shattering two exterior windows in Building 15, including one on a floor 150 feet away from a maximum-containment Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) lab that work with deadly germs such as Ebola. Rocks also damaged windows at Building 17, about 50 feet away from a high-containment Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) lab.

May 25, 2007: Nine workers were tested for possible exposure to Q fever, a bioterror agent, after a ventilation system in Building 18 malfunctioned and pulled potentially contaminated air into a “clean” corridor. Nobody was infected. Duct tape now seals the Q fever BSL-3 lab door in what CDC says is an added precaution until a new door is installed.

June 15, 2007: A lightning strike knocked out power for an hour at Building 18; backup generators did not come on. Nearby construction work had damaged a key component of the building’s grounding system.

Dec. 8, 2007: During a planned evacuation drill of Building 18’s labs that was designed to simulate a power outage, emergency lights initially came on but failed after 10 minutes when a technician inadvertently shut off a back-up power system, according to a CDC after-action report obtained by the AJC.

Dec. 18, 2007: Building 18 had a real evacuation after its new medical waste incinerator was started for a test and vented smoke into the high-containment lab area. Excessive heat caused the incinerator’s bypass stack to tear away from its anchor bolts, internal records show.

Friday: A bird caused a Georgia Power transformer to fail, knocking out power to part of the CDC campus for about 1 hour 15 minutes. Then CDC’s backup generators failed to keep power on at four buildings: the infectious disease lab Building 17, and offices in Buildings 1, 3.

Anyone want to put money on the fact this story never makes it to mainstream NC news? 

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