A big win for Asian bears and a big loss for bear farmers

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

For thousands of years, cultures in southern and eastern Asia have reached for bear bile to combat a whole range of aliments. Today, science has shown this wasn’t just superstition: bears are the only mammal to churn out large qualities of an acid shown to help the treatment of liver and kidney disease, as well as severe eye problems.

But in the modern age, the potential medicinal effects of bear bile have led to a rapacious underground of “bear farms” where the animals are basically squeezed like lemons for juice – only here, the process involves invasive, unregulated surgeries where bears are repeatedly tapped for their bile while captive in terrible conditions.

On Wednesday, however, opponents of the bear bile industry notched a significant win in Vietnam, one of the currents centers for farming. In Hanoi, representatives of the country’s Administration of Forestry signed a memorandum of understanding with Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization. Per the fine print, the government and organization agreed to work together to rescue and relocate the 1,000 bears believed to be living on bear farms across the country. The agreement comes after years of campaigning by Animals Asia.

“Crucially, the government has agreed to close the loophole that has allowed bile farming to persist for the last decade,” Tuan Bendixsen, the group’s Vietnam director, said in a statement. With the accord, “they have agreed that there can be no bears kept on farms, because as long as they are there, they will suffer extraction.”

But problems remain, including how a cash-poor country like Vietnam can enforce regulation and also care for the rescued bears. This, coupled with a legal and profitable bear bile industry just over the border in China, could upset any full-court press to eradicate the industry.

Two species, the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear, are indigenous to the region. According to 2002’s “The Bear Bile Business: The Global Trade in Bear Products from China to Asia and Beyond,” medical texts reaching back 3,000 years to the Chinese Ming Dynasty first mention Asiatic Black bears as a species with curative properties. Studies would later tie these medicinal effects to the bear liver’s unique amount of ursodeoxycholic acid, a metabolic byproduct of bacteria in the intestine. In traditional medicine, however, the bile – which is sold both pure in small vials as well as an ingredient in other products – has been labeled a cure-all for everything from cancer to hangovers, National Geographic reports.

Traditional medical beliefs haven’t disappeared from the region due to a helping hand from the state. For the last 30 years, the governments in both China and Vietnam have invested in and encouraged traditional medicine as a parallel health system to the modern approach. The trend continues today: “The number of traditional medicine hospitals at provincial level in Viet Nam has expanded from 53 in 2010 to 58 in 2015,” a 2016 study on the bear industry conducted animal rights group TRAFFIC noted. “In 2015, 92.7 percent general hospitals in the country has traditional medicine department which has increased 3.2 percent in comparison with 2010.”

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham
A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Bear farms reportedly first cropped up in the mid-1980s in China and quickly hopped the Red River south into Vietnam. The practice technically became illegal in the later country in 1992, according to Animals Asia, when the government passed a law requiring state approval to keep bears. A loophole, however, allowed people to have bears as household pets.

The legal gray area, coupled with the state’s inability to enforce the laws, led to a proliferation of bears in captivity on farms. Animals Asia determined that between 1999 and 2005 the number of bears on farms in Vietnam jumped from 400 to 4,000. In 2005, the government again passed legislation, this time outlawing bile extraction. But the agreement again allowed farmers to keep the bears they already had, and the industry continued.

The 2016 TRAFFIC report estimated there were still 13,000 bears in farms across Asia, with 10,000 in China, where the trade is legal. Around 1,000 bears are believed to be still on farms in Vietnam. Anti-bear-bile activists cite the conditions and treatment of animals as ammunition for their arguments. The bile extraction process is ugly stuff. Farmers conduct surgery on the animals to extract the bile, draining the liquid with a catheter or cutting passageways to the gallbladder.

In 2015, when Vice News visited a bear farm in the northern Vietnam “bears sat hunched over in cramped, rusty cages, panting from the heat and humidity. Their excrement sat in piles below each of their cages. The bears were thin and some were missing patches of hair.” A year earlier, Animals Asia toured a facility in Halong City, they found 20 percent of the bears emaciate, many severely malnourished, 20 percent missing a limb, 100 percent suffering from paw injuries from standing on bars.

Wednesday’s agreement between Animals Asia and Vietnam is the second major score for the group in as many years. In 2015, the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association promised to stop prescribing bear bile products by 2020. This week’s agreement with the government outlaws the private ownership of bears and calls for the confiscation and resettlement of the 1,000 animals currently living on farms.

The party next must move forward on securing funding for sanctuaries for the rescued bears. Animals Asia does have a location in Vietnam, but the relocation will take more space for the bears. Meanwhile, expert worry the bile market will simply move to nearby Laos or continue to flourish in China.

“This, of course, doesn’t end the work,” Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said in a statement. “Quite the opposite, but it now means we work together with a common goal – to end this cruelty.

The first case of a human contracting the H7N9 strain of avian influenza has been registered in China’s northern province of Shanxi, local media reported Wednesday.

https://sputniknews.com/asia/201705171053685264-china-bird-flu-human/

BEIJING (Sputnik) — A 66-year-old woman from the city of Datong was diagnosed with the avian virus and has since been hospitalized, the Xinhua news agency said, adding that the patient remains in grave but stable condition. Those who were in contact with the woman did not reportedly show any symptoms of infection.The first case of a human contracting avian influenza virus was registered in China in March 2013. In January and February, the outbreaks of the H7N9 strain were recorded in a number of Chinese regions, while in March alone, a total of 47 died and 96 were infected from the disease, the news agency detailed, citing the national health and family planning commission.

According to the World Health organization (WHO), avian influenza H7N9 is a subtype of influenza viruses detected primarily in birds, but human cases have been recorded since 2013. The asymptomatic disease is particularly dangerous because it has the potential to make patients severely ill.

Chinese Chicken Is Headed To America, But It’s Really All About The Beef

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Chicken meat for sale at a market in Anhui province, China.

VCG via Getty Images

Cooked chicken from birds grown and raised in China soon will be headed to America — in a trade deal that’s really about beef.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Thursday night that the U.S. was greenlighting Chinese chicken imports and getting U.S. beef producers access to China’s nearly 1.4 billion consumers. But the deal is raising concerns among critics who point to China’s long history of food-safety scandals.

The Chinese appetite for beef is huge and growing, but American beef producers have been locked out of that market since a case of mad cow disease cropped up in the U.S. in 2003. In response, many countries, including South Korea, Japan, Mexico and China, banned imports of U.S. beef.

China was the only one of those nations to not eventually lift its ban — and that’s a big deal.

“It’s a very big market; it’s at least a $2.5 billion market that’s being opened up for U.S. beef,” Ross said in announcing the trade deal.

Many people long had seen China’s refusal to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports as a negotiating tactic, a tit for tat aimed at allowing Chinese chicken imports into the United States. The negotiations that led to the new trade deal have been going back and forth for more than a decade, stalled at one point by worries in Congress over China’s food-safety practices.

American beef producers are rejoicing that the process has finally resulted in allowing them to send beef to China.

“After being locked out of the world’s largest market for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement. “It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved.”

The U.S. should be cleared to export beef to China by mid-July. That’s also the deadline for the U.S. to finalize rules for the importation of cooked chicken products from China. Why cooked chicken instead of raw?

“For a country to be able to ship meat and poultry products into the U.S., they have to demonstrate that their food-safety inspection system is equivalent to the system here in the U.S.,” explains Brian Ronholm, who served as deputy undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Obama administration.

“The equivalency determination process for China as it relates to processed [cooked] chicken products had been underway, and this deal expedites this process,” he says. “China also is seeking equivalency for their inspection system for slaughter facilities, but that will be a longer process.”

Given the many outbreaks of avian flu China has experienced, there are also worries that if raw Chinese poultry were processed in the U.S., it could potentially contaminate American plants or somehow spread to birds here in the States.

Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist for the food campaign at Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group, has been raising concerns about efforts to open the U.S. market to Chinese chicken imports for years. He questions the Chinese government’s ability to enforce food-safety standards, given its poor track record.

That record includes rat meat being sold as lamb, oil recovered from drainage ditches in gutters being sold as cooking oil, and baby formula contaminated with melamine that sickened hundreds of thousands of babies and killed six. In 2014, a Shanghai food-processing factory that supplied international restaurant brands including McDonald’s and KFC was caught selling stale meat, repackaged with new expiration dates.

Corbo points out that last December, China’s own Food and Drug Administration reported it had uncovered as many as a half-million cases of food-safety violations just in the first three quarters of 2016.

That said, the USDA has gone to China to inspect plants that would process the chicken to be shipped to America. But Corbo finds little comfort in that. “You don’t know from moment to moment how China is enforcing food-safety standards,” Corbo says.

In recent months, a team from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has traveled to China to train Chinese officials in meat safety.

One thing Thursday’s trade deal did not address: U.S. poultry exports to China. The U.S. used to send a lot of chicken feet over to China, where they are a delicacy. But China banned U.S. chicken imports in 2015, after an outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest.

China “was a $750 million market just a few years ago, and now it’s essentially zero. It was one of our most important markets,” says Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

But Sumner isn’t worried about the new competition from Chinese chicken in the U.S. In fact, he welcomes it as an important step in reopening the Chinese market to U.S. poultry producers.

“Trade is a two-way street,” he says.

It’s not clear how soon after mid-July we can expect to see cooked chicken products from China in U.S. supermarkets. Sumner says he doesn’t expect the product to overwhelm store shelves, because the economics of raising chickens in China and then shipping them to America still favors U.S. producers.

Maria Godoy is a senior editor with NPR News and host of The Salt. She’s on Twitter: @mgodoyh

Wonkblog Trump, China reach preliminary trade agreements on beef, poultry

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/05/11/trump-china-reach-preliminary-trade-agreements-on-beef-poultry/?utm_term=.3e6d4a4c5835

May 12 at 7:48 AM

The Trump administration has reached new deals with China to ease market access for a variety of industries, including beef and financial services, as the White House makes progress on trying to soften economic barriers between the two sides.

The 10-part agreement, announced by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, comes as part of an ongoing negotiation between the two countries following a meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

“We have some very big news,” Ross told reporters Thursday. “U.S.-China relationships are now hitting a new high, especially in trade. We’re announcing, jointly with the Chinese, the initial results of the 100-day action plan of the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue.”

But experts were less impressed.

“China has made a few modest concessions that cost it very little, in areas strategically picked to maximize the political benefit to Trump,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm in Beijing. “But the substantive impact on US-China trade and investment flows is pretty minimal.”

Still, in a week of chaotic news from the Trump administration, White House officials pitched the agreement as a major breakthrough.

China just agreed that the U.S. will be allowed to sell beef, and other major products, into China once again. This is REAL news!

The new arrangements include an agreement from China to allow imports of U.S. beef, on certain conditions, by July 16. The United States has pressured China for years to allow beef imports, but the process has been constantly delayed.

“It’s at least a $2.5 billion market that’s being opened up for U.S. beef,” Ross said.

The beef industry praised the agreement.

“It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump Administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden said.

Similarly, Washington has agreed to advance a new rule that would allow China to export cooked poultry to the United States. The impact of this change on the U.S. poultry industry is uncertain, but Ross said it would not be severe.

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And there were numerous other parts of the preliminary agreement. This included language that appears to pave the way for U.S. firms to export liquid natural gas to China, the expediting of Chinese safety reviews for U.S. biotechnology applications, and cooperation between Chinese and U.S. regulators over financial transactions.

Other parts of the arrangement would direct China to issue bond underwriting and settlement licenses to “two qualified U.S. financial institutions” by July 17, a date that is significant because it comes 100 days after Trump and Xi met in Florida. And the United States has agreed to allow Chinese entrepreneurs to a Washington summit in June.

Trump spent months on the campaign trail berating China for its trade practices, but he has softened his approach since winning office. He has initiated reviews of China’s support of its steel and aluminum industries and its impact on U.S. trade, but the outcome of those reviews is unclear. He has shown a willingness to back away from trade-related threats after consulting with aides and foreign leaders, and he has recently heaped praise on Xi and what he perceives as China’s willingness to negotiate.

Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen in China, said Trump had created leverage with his “undiplomatic statements” on the campaign trail.

“However, the importance of this deals shouldn’t be overstated,” he added. “These are largely long standing issues that China was either legally obligated to address or had every reason in its own incentives to address.

Nevertheless, Balding said the agreement could provide the basis for further cooperation and market opening agreements for American firms in China.

At a news conference in Beijing, China’s Vice Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said the trade deficit between the two countries had been “overestimated” and was not a priority during this round of talks.

But he added China was open-minded about discussing it in further rounds, calling the U.S. government’s attitude “positive and pragmatic.”

“The wisdom and ability of the two countries to control differences and properly handle bilateral relations is beyond the imagination of many people,” Yu said.

In Washington, Ross said this announcement covered 10 items, but was a step in the right direction.

“As you can appreciate, this addresses 10 items,” Ross said of the initial agreements. “There are probably 500 items that you could potentially discuss; maybe more than 500.” Ross said they would continue working and then “see if we can reach agreement” on other matters.

Illegal trade of parrots rampant in China

http://www.ecns.cn/cns-wire/2017/05-10/256844.shtml

 

2017-05-10

Scarlet macaws in an exposition park. (Photo/Beijing News)

Scarlet macaws in an exposition park. (Photo/Beijing News)

(ECNS) — The illegal trade of parrots is rampant in China, with the price of highly popular rare species exceeding 1,000 yuan ($145), Beijing News reports.

Chinese law only allows for the purchase of parrots by zoos or the exchange of the birds between breeding bases and forbids any other form of transaction, so it is illegal to sell parrots to customers, said an industry insider.

In 2009, the sun conure or sun parakeet was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCU) as one of the most endangered species globally, being under second class state protection in China. China doesn’t allow artificial breeding of sun conures, not to mention trade of the bird on the market.

However, it is hugely popular among Chinese bird keepers.

Many Taobao vendors sell sun conures at a price of around 50 yuan, while the bird is usually sold for between 300 and 500 yuan on other e-commerce platforms and via online flea markets, the paper said.

In a market near Beijing’s 3rd Ring Road, a vendor suggested an underground trade of sun conures, because “the bird isn’t allowed to be traded here in the market”.

It usually took the vendor a week to source the bird, at a price of 2,000 yuan a pair. “Because transport costs are high and supervision has now been beefed up, prices will naturally be higher,” said the vendor.

Zou Chuangqi, general manager of a parrot-breeding company in South China’s Fujian Province said parrots for exhibition or appreciation need frequent disinfection by spraying liquid medicine on their beaks and noses to prevent bird flu.

Li Li, head of Beijing Heibao Wildlife Protection Station, said poor disinfection or epidemic protection could cause the spread of bird flu as cases are increasing.

 

How the Trump budget undercuts security risks posed by pandemics

http://theconversation.com/how-the-trump-budget-undercuts-security-risks-posed-by-pandemics-75281

April 4, 2017 9.09pm EDT
Women in rural Malawi, outside an AIDS hospital. AIDS was the first of the ‘new’ pandemic threats, after bird flu. Author provided. , Author provided

President Trump proposed a US$54 billion military budget increase to solidify the security of our nation. However, the government also recognizes pandemic threats as an issue of national security – one that knows no borders.

In the last four years, we have faced the Ebola epidemic – contained after significant loss of life – and Zika, which is still not contained. Collectively, we will feel these effects for a generation, while children born with Zika-related defects and their families will feel the effects every day of their lives.

The U.S. is a leading member of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a growing international partnership created to respond to infectious disease threats. Yet the Trump budget slashes funding for the very agencies mandated to prevent pandemics. Take, for example, the 37 percent cut to the $50 billion State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) budget, more than one-third of which targets global health security. As a global health researcher, I think this reveals a grave lack of understanding of the nuances and complexity of this national security issue.

The way the military protects America’s welfare is straightforward. The way that other U.S. agencies prevent pandemics is less understood. That it’s complicated shouldn’t stop our commitment to it.

Threats are closer than we realize

There are imminent threats that aren’t in the realm of hypothetical. Here’s an example: In January of this year, the government issued a travel warning in response to an active outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in China.

This strain of avian flu is worrisome because a few small mutations would allow it to spread from person to person. This could be the next pandemic to sweep the globe.

Historically speaking, we are overdue for a bird flu disaster. They have been documented over the past two centuries and appear every 40 years on average; the last one was in 1969.

Officials in southwest France ordered the slaughter of more than 600,000 ducks in February 2017 after an outbreak of bird flu. Bob Edme/AP

While preventing pandemics is expensive, it’s infinitely cheaper than the costs of actual pandemics. A report by the World Bank found a bird flu pandemic comparable to those from the last century could trigger a major global recession, with a fall in global GDP between 0.7 percent and 4.8 percent. While that might not sound like much, it represents $833 billion to $5.7 trillion.

Billions have already been spent on pandemics this century. As an epidemiologist who worked for one U.S. pandemic prevention initiative sponsored by USAID, I don’t question the amounts being spent. What I do question is the return on investment using current unproven strategies that do nothing to address the urgency of the situation right now.

National security, science and public health

Since the 1970s, when USAID recognized that improved population health was integral to development goals, the number of infectious disease outbreaks has tripled. In response, USAID created the Emerging Pandemic Threats program, which focuses on discovering new animal viruses that may pose threats to human health.

However, it’s a big jump to identifying an animal virus with pathogenic potential to one that actually “spills over” and infects human populations. Instead of being an applied public health program with immediate potential to prevent pandemics, virus discovery is traditional scientific research. This research also does not address other pathogens that already pose pandemic threat, such as Zika, which is mosquito-borne, or superbugs (i.e., multidrug resistant bacteria). It turns out that the real problem to preventing pandemics is people.

Limited knowledge of human practices that increase risk of infection and of the diseases that pose the greatest risk represent the fundamental challenges to prevention. In 2015, the World Health Organization developed a list of emerging diseases likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future: Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg, Lassa fever, MERS and SARS coronavirus diseases, Nipah and Rift Valley fever. Three “serious” backup diseases didn’t make the final cut: chikungunya, severe fever with thrombocytopaenia syndrome and Zika (avian flu is treated separately). As history has shown us with Zika, we have a pretty good sense of what we’re up against in terms of disease.

Is there a better way to prevent pandemics?

Tools exist to determine which high-risk diseases are already circulating in human populations. Ebola provides a useful example. Decades before an outbreak was reported, a study found that Liberians had been exposed to Ebola – and survived.

Although there are few studies like this, Liberia is not a unique example. Scientists in Gabon documented Ebola exposure years prior to its first reported outbreak. Disease exposure may predict countries at highest risk for future outbreaks, but provides no information about how people are infected.

That has changed. New tools exist which measure both the diseases that are circulating and the behaviors that put people at risk of catching them. In fact, this approach, which integrates biological and behavioral surveillance, is already familiar to other successful USAID programs.

The closer we come to identifying where an outbreak will occur and which disease will be the likely culprit, the faster we can prioritize areas of highest risk. Targeted prevention strategies include developing diagnostics and vaccines in enough quantity to inoculate the population at immediate risk.

Since outbreaks often happen in remote areas with limited health infrastructure, the ability to vaccinate and detect disease will involve health systems strengthening – again beginning with regions at highest risk of known outbreak potential.

On March 3, the government stated increased concern regarding upgraded H7N9 bird flu. Even if this is not the next pandemic, there is always another threat waiting in the wings. We have the tools to provide a formidable, cost-effective first pass at pandemic prevention. It’s time to get the most bang for the buck we still have left – and to protect our national security on all fronts.

Man charged with selling bear paws, gall bladders in Cache Creek area

November 15, 2016 – 8:00 PM

KAMLOOPS – Nine charges have been laid against a man who is accused of trafficking parts of a dead bear in B.C.’s Interior and Cariboo regions.

Hong Hui Xie, who’s in his 40s, faces charges including trafficking in bear gall bladders, trafficking in bear paws and unlawful possession of dead wildlife.

“Nine counts have… been laid against a 100 Mile House resident for alleged offences that occurred in 100 Mile House and Cache Creek between October 2015 and September 2016,” the B.C. Conservation Officer Service says on its Facebook page.

Court documents show from Oct. 27, 2015 to Jan. 21, 2016, Xie allegedly trafficked in a bear gall bladder, trafficked in bear paws separate from the carcass and trafficked in deer meat while in the 100 Mile House area.

On Sept. 7, 2016, Xie allegedly trafficked in bear paws and gall bladders while in the Cache Creek area.

Xie is not being held in custody and his first court appearance is expected to be in Kamloops Provincial Court later this month.


 

http://infotel.ca/newsitem/man-charged-with-selling-bear-paws-gall-bladders-in-cache-creek-area/it36788#.WOJfPMUSHbE.facebook

Elephants Get a Reprieve as Price of Ivory Falls

Demand for Ivory Drops, and Elephants Benefit

The price of ivory has dropped by more than half in the past three years. This decline may be good news for elephants that have been targeted for their tusks.

NAIROBI, Kenya — Finally, there’s some good news for elephants.

The price of ivory in China, the world’s biggest market for elephant tusks, has fallen sharply, which may spell a reprieve from the intense poaching of the past decade.

According to a report released on Wednesday by Save the Elephants, a respected wildlife group in Kenya, the price of ivory is less than half of what it was just three years ago, showing that demand is plummeting.

Tougher economic times, a sustained advocacy campaign and China’s apparent commitment to shutting down its domestic ivory trade this year were the drivers of the change, elephant experts said.

“We must give credit to China for having done the right thing,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, president and founder of Save the Elephants. “There is still a long way to go to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory, but there is now greater hope for the species.”

Elephants have been slaughtered by the thousands in recent years in what appeared to be an insatiable quest for ivory. Employing a wide range of tools, including helicopters, military-grade weaponry and poisoned pumpkins, poachers have brought down herd after herd. The poachers have also killed scores of wildlife rangers.

The tusks have been spirited out through a network of African gangs and corrupt government officials. A vast majority of ivory ends up in China, where a rapidly growing middle class has coveted it for bracelets, combs, statuettes and other status symbols. That demand has pushed the price of ivory so high that the tusks from a single elephant could be worth more than $100,000. That, in turn, encouraged many hunters and traders in Africa to ruthlessly pursue more elephants.

This may be a sign of how a sustained global advocacy campaign can actually work. For several years, celebrities, political leaders and passionate wildlife advocates around the world have been urging China to put a stop to its ivory trade. In China, there are officially registered shops selling ivory and a thriving black market doing the same. Last December, China responded, announcing it was shutting down all ivory commerce by the end of 2017. It seems the price of ivory has dropped in anticipation of the ban; many analysts believe it will soon drop further.

Researchers for Save the Elephants said the Chinese ivory business seemed depressed, with vendors pessimistic about their future. Many are replacing ivory jewelry and trinkets with items made from alternative materials, like clamshell. According to the report, China plans to shut ivory factories at the end of this month and close all retail outlets by the end of the year.

But there still seem to be some high rollers out there who want their ivory.

In one store in Nanjing, researchers saw “a 38-layered magic ball,” made from ivory, selling for $248,810.

Lobster-crazy China sets record for US crustacean imports

FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, live lobsters are packed and weighed for overseas shipment at the Maine Lobster Outlet in York, Maine. The expanding market for lobsters in China is continuing to grow, with the country setting a new record for the value of its imports of the crustaceans from the United States. Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP

FILE – In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, live lobsters are packed and weighed for overseas shipment at the Maine Lobster Outlet in York, Maine. The expanding market for lobsters in China is continuing to grow, with the country setting a new record for the value of its imports of the crustaceans from the United States.

ROCKPORT, Maine (AP) — The expanding market for lobsters in China is continuing to grow, with the country setting a new record for the value of its imports of the crustaceans from the United States.

American lobster was almost unheard of in most of China until 2010, when the value of imports grew 250 percent to about $7.4 million. Last year, China imported more than $108 million in lobsters from America, surpassing the previous high of about $90.2 million in 2014.

“We’ve opened new markets in Asia, which is booming,” said Dave Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “Everything is clicking now.”

Chinese importers took in more than 14 million pounds of U.S. lobsters last year, which was also a record. The previous high was about 13.1 million pounds the previous year.

Interest in American lobster has grown in other countries in Asia as well, such as South Korea, which grew from less than $5 million in 2010 to nearly $28 million last year. Vietnam’s imports grew from $142,940 to more than $31 million in that time.

One of the factors spurring the growth of lobsters in China appears to be the growth of the country’s middle class, said Stephanie Nadeau, owner of The Lobster Company, in Arundel, Maine, which is a key player in the export business. American lobsters tend to be less expensive in China than other live seafood, such as spiny lobsters and geoduck clams, she said.

“It’s kind of an affordable luxury,” Nadeau said. “One of my customers said our lobsters are one of the cheapest things in the live tanks.”

The uptick came in a record year for lobster catch in Maine, where most of America’s lobster catch comes ashore. Fishermen caught more than 130 million pounds of lobster in Maine last year, an all-time record and more than double the 2007 total. Atlantic Canada also has a large lobster fishery and sends the same species of lobster to China.

“The Asian market is a key component,” said Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Lobster sales to China do not appear to be slowing down in the new year. America exported more than 1.7 million pounds and $14 million in lobsters to the country in the first month of the year.

UN body urges China to act as bird flu deaths spike

https://phys.org/news/2017-03-body-urges-china-bird-flu.html

March 17, 2017

The UN’s food agency on Friday urged China to step up efforts to contain and eliminate a strain of bird flu which has killed scores of people this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that countries neighbouring China were at “” of exposure to the H7N9 strain, which has recently mutated to become far more deadly for chicken than it had been.

The agency also warned that wild birds could carry the strain of the virus to Europe and the Americas, adding that it was baffled as to why China’s efforts to contain the outbreak had not worked as well as anticipated.

The FAO’s statement came after China reported last month that 79 people had died in January alone, the deadliest H7N9 outbreak since the strain first appeared in humans in 2013.

Nearly one in three people who contract H7N9 die from it.

FAO said the recent surge in cases in eastern and southern parts of China meant the virus had caused more reported human cases than all other types of avian influenza viruses, such as H5N1 and H5N6, combined.

Vincent Martin, the FAO’s representative in China, said efforts to contain the outbreak needed to focus on eliminating the strain at its source.

“Targeted surveillance to detect the disease and clean infected farms and live bird markets, intervening at critical points along the poultry value chain—from farm to table—is required,” he said.

“There should be incentives for everybody involved in poultry production and marketing to enforce disease control.”

The agency recognised that China had invested heavily in surveillance of live bird markets and poultry farms while noting that monitoring has “proven particularly challenging as until recently (the strain) has shown no or few signs of disease in chickens.”

The organisation said new evidence from Guangdong in southern China pointed to H7N9 having mutated to become much deadlier for chickens while retaining its capacity to make humans severely ill.

This could make it easier to spot outbreaks, as infected chickens are typically dying within 48 hours of infection, but it also underscores the potentially huge economic implications of the mutation, FAO said.

The FAO emphasised that there was no risk of humans catching the potentially deadly influenza strain by eating chicken.

China has suspended trade in live poultry in several cities, urged consumers to switch to frozen chicken, enforced stricter hygiene standards in fresh food markets, and culled affected flocks.

“With all the efforts taken by China and partners, there is a pressing need to understand why these measures have not worked as well as expected,” the FAO said.

Explore further: Some China cities close poultry markets amid bird flu fears

 © 2017 AFP

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-03-body-urges-china-bird-flu.html#jCp