Month: June 2007

Brazil proposes G5 summit

interesting news that India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa decide that they no longer need to be invited to the (not so) G(r)8 meeting to talk to each other. This is a welcome development in many ways, may they keep talking.

The Hindu : Front Page : Brazil proposes G5 summit

Though largely overshadowed by the brief “pull aside” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with U.S. President George W. Bush, the most significant aspect of last week’s G8 meetings was the new dialectic that emerged among the five countries which were invited to Germany as “outreach” partners.

At a meeting of the five — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva took the lead in proposing that the group consider getting together again at a forum other than that of the G8 so that its own meetings are no longer incidental to the meetings and agenda of the eight most industrialised countries.

The proposal was welcomed by the other leaders, say Indian officials familiar with the June 7 deliberations of the “outreach,” or O-5, in Berlin. China’s President Hu Jintao noted that the five countries together accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s population and Dr. Singh quoted an old statement of Jawaharlal Nehru that developing countries were partners and not petitioners before the chanceries of the world.

Potentially Incompatible Goals at F.D.A. – New York Times

The New York Times has an article on the FDA’s competing needs of safety and speed in drug approval.

Potentially Incompatible Goals at F.D.A. – New York Times

Safety and speed are the yin and yang of drug regulation. Patients want immediate access to breakthrough medicines but also want to believe the drugs are safe.

These goals can be incompatible. Race a drug to market and much is likely to remain unknown when patients take it. Test a drug thoroughly to assess all possible risks and its release may be delayed by years.

A series of drug-safety scandals has led many on Capitol Hill to question whether the Food and Drug Administration has failed to strike the right balance between speed and safety. A clear sign of this imbalance, these critics say, is the increasing number of F.D.A. drug-safety officers who say they have been punished or ignored after uncovering dangers of popular medicines.

Safety and speed may be mutually incompatible. The biggest culprit is the Prescription Drug User Fees Act (PDUFA) which stipulated that in exchange for fees paid by pharma to the FDA for speedy approval, pharma would get a say in how that money was used. They used this say to cut down on post approval monitoring, weaken post approval data analysis and generally hide unfavorable results.

Do patients always benefit from speed? Again, you have to make distinctions between acute life threatening conditions and chronic, life management conditions. A delay in the approval of a cancer drug may result in the immediate death of the people affected with the cancer. But, a serious safety issue overlooked in this hasty approval would not hurt a healthy person. Yes, it would affect the cancer patient, but they would accept that risk. Something like Vioxx, or Avandia, on the other hand is a drug potentially consumed by millions of people to treat chronic conditions that can be managed in other ways. Since safety issues affecting these drugs could adversely affect otherwise healthy people, the approval process needs to be much more deliberate, involving more patients, and has to include lengthy post-approval monitoring, adverse event reporting, the availability of all data for meta-analysis, etc.

So why does this not happen? Because pharma makes much more money on that blockbuster “lifestyle” drugs taken by millions of otherwise healthy people. The pool of healthy people is much bigger than the pool of cancer victims. It is in their best interest to get a speedy approval.

The answer I guess is to make a clear distinction between these two different types of drugs and have completely different standards, somehow, I don’t think that will happen.

Organic, Schmorganic, who cares!

That’s what the USDA is saying, anyway.

USDA may relax standards for organic foods – Los Angeles Times

With the “USDA organic” seal stamped on its label, Anheuser-Busch calls its Wild Hop Lager “the perfect organic experience.” “In today’s world of artificial flavors, preservatives and factory farming, knowing what goes into what you eat and drink can just about drive you crazy,” the Wild Hop website says. “That’s why we have decided to go back to basics and do things the way they were meant to be … naturally.” But many beer drinkers may not know that Anheuser-Busch has the organic blessing from federal regulators even though Wild Hop Lager uses hops grown with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides. A deadline of midnight Friday to come up with a new list of nonorganic ingredients allowed in USDA-certified organic products passed without action from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, leaving uncertain whether some foods currently labeled “USDA organic” would continue to be produced.

Whatever you think about the virtues of organic food, this amounts to dilution of the label, misleading labeling, almost amounting to adulteration favoring the big boys at Anheuser-Busch and General Mills, ADM, etc. Knowing fully well that the average consumer has no time to read every frigging label behind every food item, knowing that they would see the “organic” label and assume that the whole thing is organic.

The USDA rules come with what appears to be an important consumer
protection: Manufacturers can use nonorganic ingredients only if
organic versions are not “commercially available.”

But food makers have found a way around this barrier, in part because
the USDA doesn’t enforce the rule directly. Instead, it depends on its
certifying agents — 96 licensed organizations in the U.S. and overseas
— to decide for themselves what it means for a product to be available
in organic form.

Despite years of discussion, the USDA has yet to provide certifiers with standardized guidelines for enforcing this rule.

Ah, good old ill-defined “voluntary enforcement” mechanisms, we all know how that works!
Why not have a second label “mostly organic”!! How about “I can’t believe this is organic!!”.

I think “mostly organic” food is still better than conventional factory food, but it should be labeled as such so the consumer can understand why General Mills “organic cereal” is 2 bucks  less expensive than your average small organic manufacturer’s cereal. Absent honesty in labeling, the average customer is apt to assume that the factory approach is always superior because it produces the same goods at lower prices, instead of coming to the correct conclusion that the factory producers constantly rig the game to their benefit.

India drastically reduces AIDs incidence

India’s efforts at combating AIDs through the use of superior statistics and survey techniques (yes, we are geeky like that only!) pays off as the number of AIDs cases is slashed from 5.7 million to close to 3 million.

Study: Fewer Indians with HIV seen – Yahoo News

The number of Indians infected with HIV is far smaller than previously believed, according to new data that appears to vindicate critics who said earlier U.N. assessments of the country’s epidemic were vastly overestimated.

Experts say the still-unreleased survey is likely to show that India’s number of HIV cases, which last year was said to be the highest in the world at 5.7 million, is actually well below that mark.

“The actual number we’ve come up with in aggregate is likely to be lower, and perhaps substantially lower,” said Ashok Alexander, director of the Avahan, the Indian program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the study.

Now, if we can only make the other 3 million cases go away. Unfortunately, math is not going to get us there. But this is good news, I guess, for the 2.7 million people who we thought had AIDs, but actually did not. Were these poor people clued in?

The real reason this is good news is that if money was budgeted to take care of 5.7 million cases, then it will go a little further now! Happy Friday, takes away from all the other crap going on in my world that I am too jaded and cynical to blog about.

People way ahead of politicians on smoking

Dear state politicians, if you can’t lead, can you at least follow?? If you have not been following this issue, click here. North Carolina recently failed to pass a smoking ban in bars and restaurants. | Poll finds support for tobacco ban

More than two-thirds of North Carolina adults favor a statewide ban on smoking in public enclosed areas, such as restaurants, stadiums and shopping centers, according to a new poll by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Duke Energy wants your money to pollute you

Charlotte Observer | 06/06/2007 | Green groups lose effort to block Duke plant


How’s that for a bumper sticker?

The N.C. Utilities Commission upheld its March decision to allow Duke to build one 800-megawatt unit. The commission in March had rejected Duke’s request to build two units. Environmentalists subsequently asked the regulators to reconsider their decision allowing one unit.

The commission’s ruling shifts the battle over Duke’s proposed Cliffside project to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the agency that is considering an air quality permit for the proposed power plant. When the draft permit is issued later this year, the organizations will likely contend that the Cliffside project is not using the cleanest technology available and is falling short of federal air quality standards.

“We’re using all available legal tools to stop a dirty power plant from being built,” said Michael Shore, a senior air policy analyst at N.C. Environmental Defense. “Everything is an attempt to delay and hopefully prevent construction.”

In their appeal to the utilities commission, the environmentalists contended that the Cliffside project is not the most economical choice, but rather the “worst-cost” option. Last year, the capital cost of two Cliffside units was estimated at $2 billion, but this year Duke revised the costs, saying that building one unit would cost $1.8 billion.

The cost of building, financing, maintaining and operating power plants is paid by utility customers through electric rates.

Note that this project at the enormous cost of 2 billion dollars is funded entirely by increases in NC utility bills. So, not only are they shafting us thoroughly, they’re using our money to do it, the temerity. I am pissed off, and I have no choice to buy power from anyone other than the morons at Duke Energy where I live. it’s Duke, or candlelight for me!

The battle shifts to the NC-DENR, which will need to issue an air quality permit. It’s time for all groups involved to delay this project until NC comes up with a viable climate change mitigation policy that wil make plants like these completely unviable. It’s a good thing that this is the exact strategy they’re going for! Maybe our legislators and regulators should take the time to read their local paper.

On some days, stretches of Nags Head have no dry beach, and visitors have to sit under the front-row houses at high tide. The resort that once thrived by the sea is being swallowed by it.

“We are losing the town,” Cahoon said. “As sea level rises, our tax base goes away.”

Other, more subtle changes are under way along the coast, not just on the fragile barrier islands. As salt water pushes farther upriver, some rivers are widening into estuaries, tidal bodies of water where fresh and salt water mix. Freshwater swamps are changing to salt marsh.

U.S. adopts limits on clean water law enforcement

Where the US government pretends that water does not flow. So, if you pollute a stream, the pollution will not reach the lake the stream flows into.

U.S. adopts limits on clean water law enforcement | U.S. | Reuters

The landmark U.S. law to fight water pollution will now apply only to bodies of water large enough for boats to use, and their adjacent wetlands, and will not automatically protect streams, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.

Environmental groups said they fear the new policy will muddy the purpose of the federal Clean Water Act and put many smaller bodies of water at risk. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation mandating protection of creeks, estuaries and other watersheds.

This is the right approach, the word “navigable” needs to struck from the legislation. Pollution control has nothing to do with navigation, it is about watershed protection.

Tuesdays with Turtles – Hatcheries

A little old, but turns out that the WWF is establishing a hatchery for Olive Ridley sea turtles in Orissa.

WWF-India comes with artificial hatchery for Olive Ridley eggs –

Large-scale destruction of Olive Ridley eggs at nesting sites in the State’s coast has prompted WWF-India to come with an artificial hatchery. It would also double up as a hatching protection centre. The artificial hatchery has been established near mouth of Rushikulya river where WWF-India staff have stored a large number of Olive Ridley eggs along with the arrangements for safe hatching. Last month alone, 116 nests were safeguarded and around 13,000 Olive Ridley eggs were stored in the artificial hatchery. Till end of the week, more than 2,000 eggs have hatched, chairman of WWF-India, Orissa State Committee Saroj Kumar Patnaik said.

Hatcheries become necessary when the natural habitat can no longer be protected. The biggest advantage of a hatchery is the fact that once the eggs are relocated, they are now safe from poaching/predation. But, there are some disadvantages including the resources needed, the possible overcrowding effects if the hatcheries are not well designed, etc. Luckily, there are good resources available for building and managing a good hatchery. With the WWF’s funding and experience, I am sure it will be a very well managed hatchery.

Rapture watch – Extremely weird weather edition

Via the grist blog. Apparently, there has never been a cyclone in recent memory in this area.

What if Hurricane Katrina had hit the Persian Gulf coast? | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

Well, we might find out, according to an exclusive from The Oil Drum and Chuck Watson of KAC/UCF, also using a weather blog, where Margie Kieper writes:

An unusual event is happening over the next 48 hours, as the first tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds, and major hurricane-force winds at that, is approaching the Gulf of Oman, to strike the eastern coast of Oman, curve northward, and make landfall on the coast of Iran. In the tropical cyclone best tracks and the modern era of weather satellites, there is no record of such an occurrence.
As the Oil Drum writer comments:

Why might [Cyclone] Gonu matter? Well, that answer begins with the fact that the world production of petroleum plateauing around 85 mbbl/day, any slight blip in supply or exporting could be quite noticeable on the world markets. A sizable portion of the world’s petroleum exports go through the Gulf of Oman.
Hmm … could global warming have something to do with it? Will global warming lead to higher oil prices and scarcer gasoline?

Statutory Disclaimer: I do not actually believe in the concept of the rapture!

India announces Panel to "study" global warming

The Hindu News Update Service

Warning that the threat of climate change was real, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said future of people will be at peril if they do not change their lifestyles.

Singh’s warning came on a day when he constituted a high level advisory group to help the government take pro-active measures to deal with global warming.

“The threat of climate change is real and unless we alter our lifestyles and pursue a sustainable model of development, our future will be at peril”, he said in a message on the occasion of World Environment Day.

So, what exactly is the Indian position on climate change, something that threatens its coastlines, will put entire villages under water in the Ganga delta, screw around with the monsoon, and accelerate glacier melting in the Himalayas (among many other effects?)

Here’s India’s position from the talks with Brazil last week…

“We are willing to work in partnership in this process to cut emissions but we cannot accept equal responsibility (for the global mess caused by the industrialised nations),” an Indian official said.

The country’s top environmental official, Pradipto Ghosh, said yesterday that “legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse effects on the GDP growth of developing countries, including India”.

Yes, obviously. The world is in desperate need of a framework to make development and poverty alleviation happen without burning too much coal. But, as long as the leader of the free world vacillates, obfuscates and procrastinates, not much will happen.