China on the move – first steps

The debate is over. After six years of weighing the options, China is now firmly committed to implementing a new growth strategy. At least, that’s the verdict I gleaned from the just-completed annual China Development Forum, long China’s most important dialogue with the outside world.

There were no surprises in the basic thrust of the strategy – a structural shift in China’s investment- and export-led growth model toward a more balanced consumer-based and services-led economy. The transformation reflects both necessity and design.

It is necessary because persistently weak global growth is unlikely to provide the solid external demand for Chinese exports that it once did. But it is also essential, because China’s new leadership seems determined to come to grips with a vast array of internal imbalances that threaten the environment, promote destabilizing income inequality, and exacerbate regional disparities.

The strategic shift is also a deliberate effort by Chinese policymakers to avoid the dreaded “middle-income trap” – a mid-stage slowdown that has ensnared most emerging economies when per capita income nears the $17,000 threshold (in constant international prices). Developing economies that maintain their old growth models for too long fall into it, and China probably will hit the threshold in 3-5 years…

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A traditional earthy flavor in some German beers – Arsenic!

The mystery of how arsenic levels in beer sold in Germany could be higher than in the water or other ingredients used to brew the beer has been solved, scientists announced…at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society…

Mehmet Coelhan…and colleagues said the discovery could be of importance for breweries and other food processors elsewhere that use the same filtering technology implicated in the elevated arsenic levels in some German beers. Coelhan’s team at the Technische Universität in Munich set out to solve that riddle after testing 140 samples of beers sold in Germany as part of a monitoring program. The monitoring checked levels of heavy metals like arsenic and lead, as well as natural toxins that can contaminate grain used in brewing beer, pesticides and other undesirable substances.

Coelhan explained that the World Health Organization uses 10 micrograms per liter of arsenic in drinking water as a limit. However, some beers contained higher arsenic levels. “When arsenic level in beer is higher than in the water used during brewing, this excess arsenic must come from other sources,” Coelhan noted. “That was a mystery to us. As a consequence, we analyzed all materials, including the malt and the hops used during brewing for the presence of arsenic…”

They concluded that the arsenic was released into the beer from a filtering material called kieselguhr, or diatomaceous earth, used to remove yeast, hops and other particles and give the beer a crystal clear appearance. Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae that lived millions of years ago. It finds wide use in filtering beer, wine and is an ingredient in other products….

Coelhan pointed out that beers produced in at least six other countries had higher arsenic amounts than German beers, according to a report published four years ago. He said that breweries, wineries and other food processors that use kieselguhr should be aware that the substance can release arsenic. Substitutes for kieselguhr are available, he noted, and simple measures like washing kieselguhr with water can remove the arsenic before use.

Now, can we rely on the German brewing industry’s marketing folks to pay sufficient attention to this finding? Make certain the breweries of Germany’s “purest beer in the world” live up to that standard and change procedures, prevent the arsenic from leaching into the brew? Or will they need a nudge or two?

Right to Die bill killed in Connecticut legislative committee


Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, testifying in favor of the compassion in dying bill

A bill that would have allowed mentally-competent, terminally-ill patients the right to choose to request a prescription for medication from their doctors to bring about a humane and dignified death died in committee on April 5.

House Bill 6645 ‘An Act Concerning Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients’ would have allowed compassionate aid in dying, supporters say, and given Connecticut residents the freedom to make their own end-of-life choices, rather than placing the burden on others…

Legislators removed it from the agenda on Friday to avoid lengthy discussion or filibuster that could jeopardize other vital bills on the day of the committee’s deadline…

Nearly 100 supporters of the bill packed a public hearing on March 20th, many staying late into the night and early morning hours to deliver testimony.

People who suffer at the end of life need legal and compassionate options,” Reverend Douglas Peary of East Haven, said. “I support this bill because individuals and their families need the freedom to choose what is right.”

The same legislature which moved to take a leading role in the battle against gun violence, unwarranted death and destruction of human life – did not have to confront the question of terminally-ill individuals choosing to end their own lives with the aid of a physician.

Such is modern politics – even in a supposedly enlightened state.

Taping of farm cruelty will become the crime – instead of the abuse

On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act…And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry…”

Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”

In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated the First Amendment…

An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state representative, said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all employers, he added.

Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish whistle-blowers.

Steadily, corporate farms, industrial bigwigs, ranging from meatpackers to gun manufacturers have used their clout in Congress to get laws passed which limits anyone, civilian or otherwise, from recording sleazy practices. They will now be charged as criminals rather than those abusing animals.