Thursday, October 26, 2006


Australians travelling to the US can breathe easy. So can the 100,000 or so Australian expatriates living in America. The US Government today dismissed media reports it had banned Vegemite. "There is no ban on Vegemite," US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman Mike Herndon said.

Media reports at the weekend claimed American border officials were confiscating Vegemite from Australians as they entered the US. The FDA, charged with policing America's food supply, has not issued an "import alert" to border officials to halt the import of Vegemite. Mr Herndon said the FDA was surprised by the media reports.

The controversy centres on folate, an ingredient in Vegemite. Under US regulations, folate can be added only to breads and cereals. "One of the Vitamin B components (in Vegemite) is folate," Mr Herndon said. "In and of itself, it's not a violation. If they're adding folate to it, boosting it up, technically it would be a violation. "But the FDA has not targeted it and I don't think we intend to target Vegemite simply because of that."

Joanna Scott, spokesperson for Vegemite's maker, Kraft, reportedly has said, "The Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow the import of Vegemite simply because the recipe does have the addition of folic acid". But Mr Herndon said, "Nobody at the FDA has told them (Kraft) there is a ban". To eradicate any grey areas or potential regulation breaches, Mr Herndon said, Kraft could petition the FDA, something other food manufacturers have done.

While many Aussies living in the US rely on visiting Australian relatives and friends to bring them a jar or two of Vegemite from Australia, the product is available in some US supermarkets. The price slapped on Vegemite, however, is tough to swallow. A tiny, four ounce jar of Vegemite sells for around $US4.80 ($6.33) in US supermarkets.


Long wait for a little girl in pain

A 10-Year-old girl with chronic tonsilitis has been told she has to wait more than a year for surgery to relieve her constant pain. Bindy Fuller, of Warren in central western NSW, is in pain and requires constant medication. Her mother, Karon Fuller, said today that when she heard the NSW government claim there were only 50 people waiting longer than a year for surgery, she was hopeful her daughter would not have to wait long for her tonsils to be removed.

But after contacting Dubbo Base Hospital in May, Mrs Fuller said she had since been told Bindy would have to wait until November 2007.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the operation would only take 30 minutes. "Here's a little girl who has suffered tonsilitis all her life and has now been told she has to wait to November 2007 to have treatment," Ms Skinner said. "I can only imagine how difficult it is for a mum, hearing a premier boasting about few people waiting for surgery, to be told that you now have to wait longer than ever."

A spokesman for NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos said it was unlikely Bindy would have to wait until November next year for surgery. He said she had been assessed as a category three patient and would therefore be scheduled for surgery within 12 months. This meant she was not due to receive surgery until May 2007 and it was unlikely the hospital would contact her before January.


Ignore the doomsday prophets

Environmental alarmist Paul Ehrlich has been wrong before and he'll be wrong again, writes economics editor Alan Wood

Australia's Treasurer has made it on to the cover and into the pages of a journal in which the world's finance ministers rarely, if ever, feature. Peter Costello loves to say demography is destiny, and it was demography that did the trick. It was Costello urging families to have "one for Australia" that made the cover of New Scientist and it is environmentalist Paul Ehrlich he has to thank. Ehrlich is well known to demographers and economists for his spectacularly wrong predictions on world population growth and its consequences, including famine, economic catastrophe and the end of industrial society.

Some of the most spectacular were in his 1968 book The Population Bomb. As it happens, the book was the result of an article Ehrlich wrote for New Scientist in 1967. Now he is back again, undaunted, with another article, written with his wife Anne.

Before we get to this, it is worth recalling a few Ehrlich gems. Perhaps most often quoted is this one from The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." In fact, the final quarter of the 20th century was more remarkable for the increase in food production from the Green Revolution and the reduction in famine deaths and poverty.

Another prediction was that the US would see life expectancy drop to 42 years by 1990 due to pesticide usage, and its population fall to 22.6 million by 1999. According to the US Census Bureau, life expectancy in the US in 2005 was 77.7 years and, as of yesterday, its population was 300 million and growing.

In 1969 he was prepared to take an even-money bet that England would not exist in 2000. He regularly said population growth would overtake the world's food supplies and mineral resources. Economic growth is another scourge of humanity. "We already have too much economic growth in the US," he said in the late '80s. "Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure."

So has Ehrlich changed his tune in his recent New Scientist article? Not much. He is now taking world governments to task for their concern with population ageing and shrinking populations, and their measures to try to slow or reverse these trends. Which is where Costello comes in. Not only has he instigated a baby bonus of "almost 900 pounds sterling" (actually nearly twice that), he has urged young women to have one child for themselves, one for their husband and one for Australia.

Ehrlich doesn't approve of this at all: "If civilisation is to persist on our finite planet, impending resource shortages and the mounting environmental costs of overpopulation make it imperative that we gradually and humanely reduce our numbers." He thinks the planet's optimal human population is about two billion, "an excellent and achievable target to aim for over the long term". As of yesterday, the population of the world was 6.55 billion and, according to the US Census Bureau, will reach nine billion in 2042, although its rate of growth is declining sharply.

Ehrlich sounds his usual warning about the evils of consumption: if the developing countries follow the evil ways of the West we will need at least two more Earths to cope. "Despite the challenges, we see population shrinkage in the industrial nations as a hugely positive trend. It is, after all, the high-consuming rich in these regions who disproportionately damage humanity's life support systems and wield their economic and military power to keep their resource demands satisfied, without regard to the costs for the world's poor and to future generations. The more people there are, the more climate change humanity will face, with a concomitant loss of biodiversity and the crucial ecosystem services it helps provide."

At least Ehrlich is consistent: consistently wrong. One of his most trenchant and effective critics was US economist Julian Simon, who said of Ehrlich and his supporters: "As soon as one predicted disaster doesn't occur, the doomsayers skip to another ... why don't they see that, in the aggregate, things are getting better? Why do they always think we're at a turning point or at the end of the road?"

The point isn't that there are no limits but that there is no reason to believe we are anywhere near them. And there is ample evidence that the economic growth and prosperity Ehrlich rails against are the preconditions for successful environmental action. In his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg demonstrated, using reputable international data sources, that things are generally getting better over a wide range of environmental indicators. Predictably, Ehrlich was one of the gang of four environmental zealots recruited to launch a vindictive but unsuccessful attack on Lomborg in Scientific American. Instead the magazine seriously damaged its own reputation when it attempted to suppress publication of an annotated reply to the articles by Lomborg on his website.

There is a wider moral to this tale. Ehrlich has jumped on the global warming bandwagon, a fertile field for serial doomsayers. When you see he has been joined by a Washington snake oil salesman such as Al Gore, it seems a pretty good reason to be cautious about accepting uncritically their greenhouse scaremongering. Global warming is taking place, but how fast it will proceed, what its causes and consequences are, and what can, or should, be done to attempt to mitigate it are still matters of legitimate debate, not the subject of a phony scientific consensus.


"Ethnic" public broadcaster under scrutiny

Key Howard loyalists are set to launch a scathing attack on multicultural broadcaster SBS and force it to answer accusations of blatant left-wing bias. Influential Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson will lead the assault on SBS and its executives at a special Senate estimates hearing next week. He is expected to be joined by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Alan Eggleston.

Senator Ronaldson, a key player in the Howard Government's long campaign against perceived political bias at the ABC, told The Sunday Age that SBS was "out of control" and needed to be reined in. "I am very concerned about SBS's impartiality and balance."

Just days after the ABC announced new program guidelines enforcing impartiality, Senator Ronaldson said SBS, which receives about $160 million a year from taxpayers, had a lot to learn from Australia's other national broadcaster. "The network has slipped under the radar and compared to the directions that the ABC now seems to be taking, SBS are out on their own," he said. Senator Ronaldson said he had compiled a dossier of numerous examples of political bias in both its domestic and international news coverage. "There are just so many clear examples of inappropriate political bias, which is OK as long as the robustness falls within clear guidelines. The problem is, it doesn't. "Now, in relation to the ABC, no one is looking for a sanitised national broadcaster. What we wanted was a broadcaster that, when it said its core values were impartiality and balance, actually met those core values."

He singled out SBS's coverage of the recent Hezbollah-Israel conflict as one of the most appalling examples of biased reporting he had ever seen. "Their commentary on international events, particularly the conflict between Lebanon and Israel, just displayed a clear lack of impartiality and completely lacked any balance whatsoever," Senator Ronaldson said. "I have also heard a lot of complaints that they have strayed from their charter as a multilingual, multicultural national broadcaster."

The SBS charter states that the broadcaster must "contribute to extending the range of Australian television and radio services, and reflect the changing nature of Australian society by presenting many points of view and using innovative forms of expression". Senator Ronaldson is a staunch ally of Treasurer Peter Costello and has been a passionate friend of Israel


1 comment:

Colin Campbell said...

I think that it is fair to say that Sheik Hillali's comments offend everyone, not just muslim women leaders.