Atlantic City, New Jersey
Helby Haines walks with her grandchildren Cienna Haines, left, and Claudia Haines, right, after Cyclone Yasi hit Tully, Australia, on Feb. 3, 2011
After ten years of drought and the worst floods in 50 years,Queensland had earned a breather. But by the start of February, residents of the eastern Australian state had been duly warned that yet another natural disaster was on its way, and people once again braced for the worst.
On Thursday, Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 cyclone the size of Italy, rippedits way through coastal towns in northeast Australia in early dawn. Itslammed into Mission Beach at speeds of roughly 186 mph (300 kph),ripping out trees, peeling back roofs, smashing through windowsand flattening caravans. Evacuation centres were already overwhelmed with 6,000 people fleeing theirhomes the day before the storm landed. Late arrivals were turned back and told to seek shelterelsewhere. As evening fell in Queensland, 177,000 properties were still without power throughout in the region, and Queensland’s Premier Anna Bligh has said that thousands will be left homeless. (See pictures of the Queensland floods.)
Though Yasi was stronger than Hurricane Katrina, noserious injuries or deaths were reported as of Thursday evening local time. Bligh, however, hasn’t ruled out potential fatalities as small towns in Yasi’s path are still inaccessible.The physical and economic devastation will take time to assess. In aerial images of the area, the destruction looks relatively tame, with only 43 homes majorlydamaged in the towns of Mission Beach, Tully Heads and Cardwell. Queensland Emergency ServicesMinister Neil Roberts, however, was reserving his optimism. “Until we get people onthe ground making assessments property by property, they arepreliminary assessments,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Indeed, people on the ground have already described a more catastrophic scenario. “Telegraphpoles have been knocked over and the wires are running on the ground,”says Bill Shannon, the mayor of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, who was drivingback to his home on Mission Beach when he spoke to Time. “Trees havejust been uplifted. I’ve just seen banana plantations that arecompletely flattened. Everything is getting worse and worse thefurther south I drive.”
Though it will be days before the damage is tallied, AustralianPrime Minister Julia Gillard has already announced that thereparations will come out of the federal budget. The unpopular floodlevy of $1.8 billion, introduced last month to help pay for the Queensland floods and which will be funded by taxpayers, will not be raised further. Instead there will be $3.8 billion worth of budget cuts thatwill be deducted from climate-change programs. “We will meet the[Yasi] damages bill from the federal budget, it will require cutbacksin other areas. There is no point sugar-coating that,” Gillard said toreporters in Canberra. The Australian Greens have voiced their discontent with this tactic. “That still continues to make no sense to me, when climate scientists are saying that the effect of climate change is that extreme events are going to happen more often and are going to be more severe,” Greens’ MP Adam Bandt told reporters.
The longer-term costs are equally hard to estimate. Fruit and vegetable prices, which have already risen by 12% since January,are expected to increase even more as banana and sugar plantations along the Queensland coastwere decimated. Australia is the third largest sugar exporter in the world; raw sugar futures are now trading at a thirty-yearhigh in the U.S. following predictions that Cyclone Yasi would destroyAustralia’s crop. “[The cyclone] has impacted a very large area,”said Steve Greenwood, the CEO of Canegrowers Australia, a representative body forAustralian sugarcane growers. “We are looking at costs of over half abillion dollars.” Banana prices in Australia are also expected to rise dramatically, as 75% of the country’s supply is likely to be affected. “We are looking at price jump more than 400 to 500%,” says LukeMathews the Commodity Strategist at Commonwealth Bank Australia.
Queensland is not unfamiliar with cyclones wreaking havoc on its coasts. Every summer, north Queensland enters a cyclone season, and unlike the January floods, the state is usually prepared. Since Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin in 1974, building regulations have changed and evacuation schemes have been set in place for those living in cyclone-prone areas. It’s a testament to those preparations that a storm like Yasi — the strongest cyclone on record to hit Australia — did not take a human toll. “We have satellites and better prediction systems than we did in the ’70s,” says Kevin Walsh, an associate professor at the School of Earth Sciences at theUniversity of Melbourne. “If this happened 50 years ago the damagewould have been much greater.”
Walsh says Queenslanders were fortunate to escape unscathed.”It feels a bit funny referring to Queensland as lucky after they hada deluge of floods and a Category 5 cyclone, but I think if thecyclone had hit a more populated area things would have been muchworse.”
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KANSAS CITY, Missouri | Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:54am EDT
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Widespread contamination of U.S. corn, soybeans and other crops by genetically engineered varieties is threatening the purity of organic and natural food products and driving purveyors of such specialty products to new efforts to protect their markets, industry leaders said this week.
A range of players, from dairy farmers to natural food retailers, are behind an effort to introduce testing requirements and standards for certification aimed at keeping contamination at bay. That goal is rapidly becoming harder, however, as planting of biotech corn, soybeans, and other crops expands across the United States.
"Now there is a real shortage of organic grain for animal husbandry and dairy operations," said Organic Consumers Association national director Ronnie Cummins. "People are having to be real careful."
Proponents of the plan are rolling it out this week at an industry meeting in Anaheim, California, seeking to get the entire organic and natural foods industry to agree on testing and standard certifications. Companies that get certified will be allowed to use a seal designating as much on their products.
"We think we can keep the contamination from getting worse by putting safeguards in place so people who want to choose to eat organic products free of genetic contamination can do so," said Michael Funk, CEO of United Natural Foods, which is backing the initiative. "The longer we delay.. the more challenging it is going to be."
Biotech crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton and canola, have genes that have been manipulated to express specific traits, most commonly a resistance to herbicide, which helps farmers. Biotech developers such as Monsanto Co patent the crop technology and tightly control use of the seed.
But mixing of biotech crops and conventional crops can occur during many phases of harvest, storage and shipment of grain, and drifting pollen and other natural forces can also contaminate crops while they are still in the fields.
Indeed, contamination of conventional crops by biotech crops has been reported around the world. There were 39 cases of crop contamination in 23 countries in 2007, and more than 200 in 57 countries over the last 10 years, according to biotech critic Greenpeace International.
Contamination of corn is the biggest concern for those trying to sell biotech-free food. Corn is not only used in human food but is also used to feed livestock, meaning organic beef and dairy farmers must ensure their animals are fed corn that is free of contamination.
That has become more difficult as biotech corn acres have expanded in the United States. In 2007, an estimated 73 percent of the 92.9 million acres of U.S. corn planted were biotech, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA has a set of national standards for foods labeled “organic” as part of its marketing service, but the industry players seeking independent testing said the USDA has not gone far enough to require organic and natural foods are free from biotech contamination.
Organic dairy farmer Albert Straus, who started testing corn fed to his 300-head dairy herd more than a year ago, and found about one-third had been contaminated, now tests every lot of grain he buys.
"I started to test our products to see if there was an issue or not. It turned out there was an issue," said Straus. He is now adding a label to his dairy products to alert consumers to the extra level of caution. "There is so much contamination," he said.
(Editing by John Picinich)
The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, found that shared environmental factors – experiences and exposures common to both twin individuals – accounted for 55 percent of strict autism and 58 percent of more broadly defined autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Genetic heritability accounted for 37 percent of autism and 38 percent of ASD. Random environmental factors not shared among twins play a much smaller role.
Earlier twin studies had estimated the genetic heritability of autism to be as high as 90 percent, due to much lower estimates of concordance – both members of a twin pair having the disorder – in fraternal twins. The new study found such concordance to be four to five times higher.
"High fraternal twin concordance relative to identical twin concordance underscores the importance of both the environment and moderate genetic heritability in predisposing for autism," explained Joachim Hallmayer, M.D., of Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. a grantee of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. "Both types of twin pairs are more often concordant than what would be expected from the frequency of autism in the general population. However, the high concordance among individuals who share only half their genes relative to those who share all of their genes implies a bigger role for shared environmental factors."
Hallmayer, senior co-investigator Neil Risch, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues report on findings of the California Autism Twins Study (CATS) in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry .
"These new findings are in line with other recent observations supporting both environmental and genetic contributions to ASD, with the environmental factors likely prenatal and the genetic factors highly complex and sometimes not inherited," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Studies are underway to determine if autism may be traceable, in part, to environmental exposures early during pregnancy.
The new study is the first to analyze a large sample of twins drawn from the general population; previous twin studies have been based on more limited samples, such as patients in treatment. It is also the first to employ the latest standard in diagnosing autism, which requires structured clinical assessments based on interviews with the parents as well as direct observation of the child.
Drawing upon state records, the researchers initially identified 1,156 twin pairs, with at least one member affected by an ASD, born to California mothers between 1987 and 2004. The children were all at least 4 years old, an age when autism can be reliably diagnosed. Ultimately, this group was winnowed to 192 twin pairs – 54 identical and 138 fraternal – for genetic analysis. Since autism disproportionately affects males, males outnumbered females by four to five times, with 80 of the pairs including both sexes.
Concordance for ASD was 77 percent among identical male pairs, and 31 percent among fraternal male pairs. In females, concordance for ASD was more closely spaced – 50% for identical and 36% for fraternal pairs. By contrast, previous studies had found concordance rates for fraternal twins that were much lower, ranging only in the single digits.
"Spectrum disorders traditionally thought to have less genetic loading turn out to stem from a similar mix of environmental and genetic heritability as narrowly defined autism," noted Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., chief of the NIMH Genomics Research Branch.
Yet, there can also be genetic influences that are not inherited from parents. New evidence emerged last month that rare, spontaneous mutations occur at abnormally high rates in autism.
"Such non-inherited genetic changes were proposed as a major mechanism of autism susceptibility, based on the very low concordance among fraternal twins found in earlier studies and evidence of increased risk associated with older parental age," explained Risch. "In light of the high fraternal twin concordance observed in our study, such new mutations may play a more limited role, since they would primarily occur in only one member of a fraternal pair, which would not lead to concordance."
More information: Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin pairs with autism. Hallmayer J, Cleveland S, Torres A, Phillips J, Cohen B, Torigoe T, Miller J, Fedele A, Collins J, Smith K, Lotspeich L, Croen LA, Ozonoff S, Lajonchere C, Grether JK, Risch N. Archives of General Psychiatry . July 2011. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.76
Autism Spectrum Disorders: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders/index.shtml
Provided by National Institutes of Health
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