Archive for: ‘June 2019’

A history of sugar – the food nobody needs, but everyone craves

19/06/2019 Posted by admin

According to the latest data, sugarcane is the world’s third most valuable crop after cereals and rice, and occupies 26,942,686 hectares of land across the globe.

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Its main output – apart from commercial profits – is a global public health crisis, which has been centuries in the making.

The obesity epidemic – along with related diseases including cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes – has spread across every nation where sugar-based carbohydrates have come to dominate to the food economy.

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So at this time, it pays to step back and consider the ancient origins of sugar, to understand how it has grown to present an imminent threat to our landscapes, our societies and our health.

Stepping back

Human physiology evolved on a diet containing very little sugar and virtually no refined carbohydrate. In fact, sugar probably entered into our diets by accident. It is likely that sugarcane was primarily a “fodder” crop, used to fatten pigs, though humans may have chewed on the stalks from time to time.

Nom. from 杭州桑拿,shutterstock杭州桑拿会所,

Evidence from plant remnants and DNA suggests that sugarcane evolved in South East Asia. Researchers are currently hunting for early evidence of sugarcane cultivation at the Kuk Swamp in Papua New Guinea, where the domestication of related crops such as taro and banana dates back to approximately 8,000BC. The crop spread around the Eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans around 3,500 years ago, carried by Austronesian and Polynesian seafarers.

The first chemically refined sugar appeared on the scene in India about 2,500 years ago. From there, the technique spread east towards China, and west towards Persia and the early Islamic worlds, eventually reaching the Mediterranean in the 13th century. Cyprus and Sicily became important centres for sugar production. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was considered a rare and expensive spice, rather than an everyday condiment.

The first place to cultivate sugarcane explicitly for large-scale refinement and trade was the Atlantic island of Madeira, during the late 15th century. Then, it was the Portuguese who realised that new and favourable conditions for sugar plantations existed in Brazil, where a slave-based plantation economy was established. When Brazilian sugarcane was introduced in the Caribbean, shortly before 1647, it led to the growth of the industry which came to feed the sugar craze of Western Europe.

Slave trade

This food – which nobody needed, but everyone craved – drove the formation of the modern of the world. There was a huge demand for labour to cultivate the massive sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. This need was met by a transatlantic slave trade, which resulted in around 12,570,000 human beings being shipped from Africa to the Americas between 1501 and 1867. Mortality rates could reach as high as up to 25% on each voyage, and between 1m and 2m dead must have been thrown overboard.

And of course, goods such as copper and brass, rum, cloth, tobacco and guns were needed to purchase slaves from the African elites. These were secured through the expansion of industrial production, particularly in the English Midlands and South West. Modern-day banking and insurance can trace its origins to the 18th century Atlantic economy.

Slaves driven to work in the cane fields. Mark Horton, Author provided

Meanwhile, the slaves working the plantations suffered miserable lives. When they were finally emancipated in 1834 in the British Empire, it was the slave owners who were fully compensated – not the slaves. Much of this money was used to build Victorian infrastructure, such as railways and factories.

Modern day scourges

In many ways, the story of sugar and tobacco are closely aligned. Both products were initially produced through slave labour, and were originally seen to be beneficial to health. And although both sugar and tobacco have ancient origins, it was their sudden, mass consumption from the mid-17th century onwards that created the health risks we associate with them today.

The idea of “industrial epidemics” of non-communicable diseases, being driven by the profit motives of major corporations, rings true for both. And while tobacco is widely acknowledged to be addictive, sugar can also drive behavioural responses that are indistinguishable from addiction.

But in the 21st century, the grip of sugar is stronger than comparable scourges like tobacco, or even alcohol. Sugar is not only ubiquitous – it is potentially responsible for approximately 20% of the caloric content of modern diets – but also central to the world’s economy and cultural heritage.

Heavy industry. Dirk Kirchner/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Perhaps a better comparison is our reliance on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are not just a vice or bad habit, but central to the way we live, and to the geography and politics of the territories where it is sourced. Likewise, the rise of sugar has been key to global trade and socioeconomic development, slavery and the African Diaspora and modern cultural norms.

The evolutionary and historical origins of sugarcane may hold insights into why sugar dominates modern culture, and what we can do to mitigate its malign influence. Like many great challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change, the science identifying the problem seems clear.

What’s lacking is the public and political will to address it, in ways such as the proposed sugar tax and prominently displayed health warnings. With sugar still deeply part of our food system – in 2013, sugar crops made up 6.2% of world’s agricultural yield and 9.4% of its total monetary value – such bold socio-economic measures are needed to make the necessary changes possible.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

UN urges Australia to step up aid to countries vulnerable to natural disasters

19/06/2019 Posted by admin

The United Nations chief representative for the Asia-Pacific says Australia should play a greater role in assisting vulnerable nations in the region as the costs of natural disasters are forecast to escalate by 2030.

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UN Under-Secretary-General for the Asia-Pacific Shamshad Akhtar says Australia is one of the few nations in the region with the economic resilience to withstand natural disasters.

But Australia is also ranked among the top 10 countries with the highest forecast annual losses from disasters, led by Japan, the USA and China.

“My appeal to Australia and other countries that have the resources is to work more closely with us to deploy the necessary funds to get this work done to get the capacity building programs out there,” Ms Akhtar told AAP.

Under the government of former prime minister Tony Abbott Australia significantly restructured its foreign aid program.

In a just released report, Disasters without Borders, the UN says the costs are escalating from natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific, with the region reporting some 50 per cent of the world’s disasters.

In the decade to 2014 there were 1625 reported disaster events claiming over 500,000 lives.

Over the same period the damage to property, crops, and livestock increased to over $US523 billion ($A739 billion).

The UN forecasts annual costs from natural disasters to rise by 2030 to an average $US160 billion ($A226 billion) a year.

Fiji’s Minister responsible for national disaster management, Inia Batikoto Seruiratu, said Australia and New Zealand had the capacity to assist vulnerable island nations in distress.

After a cyclone that hit Vanuatu this year “only Australia and New Zealand can afford to give us the assistance so we hope that they will continue to do so,” Mr Seruiratu told AAP at a conference to mark the release of the UN report.

Whitlock steals spotlight on day of records

19/06/2019 Posted by admin

Fan Yilin, Viktoriia Komova, Daria Spiridonova and Madison Kocian shared an unprecedented four gold medals when the judges could not decide between their asymmetric bars routines — leaving them all deadlocked on the same score.

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The sudden and unexpected formation of the ‘15.366 gang’ caused shock and amusement in equal measure among the four champions who jostled for space on a crowded top platform of the winner’s podium, while the two lower levels remained empty.

A prolonged medals ceremony featured three national anthems — China, Russia and the United States — being played. Organisers also had to abandon the flag-raising ceremony as there was no room for three flags on the same horizontal pole.

American Kocian described it as “super crazy”, China’s Fan found it “hilarious” while Russia’s Spiridonova said: “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this. I didn’t think anything like this would even be possible. It’s great that we are in this together and we will share the victory.”

Her compatriot Komova added: “It was hard to deal with the nerves after they started to announce the results. I am personally shocked. It’s the first time the judges had such a hard time deciding who the champion was.” 

NARROW MARGIN

There were no such problems in the pommel horse final when the judges declared Whitlock had edged out team mate Louis Smith by the narrowest of margins.

Smith produced a flawless display and sat on top of the standings with 16.033 until Whitlock, the final competitor on the horse, leapfrogged the Olympic silver medallist by 0.1 of a point with a more dynamic programme that sparked jubilant celebrations among the hollering crowd at the Hydro Arena.

The British duo stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they waited for Whitlock’s score and when it flashed up as 16.133 on the giant screen, Smith grabbed a Union Jack to begin the double celebration.

“I had dreamed of this moment but never felt I would get emotional,” said Whitlock, who also earned a silver behind Japan’s floor exercise supremo Kenzo Shirai earlier in the day.

“I can’t believe it. I trained in the gym thousands and thousands of routines building up to this moment, so when you go clean like I did today, you can’t express what you feel. I’m over the moon. It’s been an amazing journey.”

SHIRAI SHINES

On the floor, Shirai capped his programme full of daring and high-flying acrobatics with a quadruple twisting somersault at the end, securing a second world title in three years.

A slight side step following his third tumbling pass took little away from Shirai’s routine as the Japanese was the only competitor to break the 16-point barrier with a score of 16.233.

“As I experienced defeat last year, I know the importance to keep improving. This time I was able to surprise everyone with my difficulty,” he said.

Russia’s Maria Paseka upstaged favourite Simone Biles and North Korea’s defending champion Hong Un-jong with two soaring leaps to capture the vault gold.

Paseka hit her landing with both her vaults, an Amanar and a Cheng, to earn an average total of 15.666. Hong took silver while three-times all-around champion Biles secured bronze.

Paseka’s victory sparked a gold rush for Russia who entered the penultimate day of the championships with none but ended it with three thanks to Paseka, Komova and Spiridonova.

Greek muscle man Eleftherios Petrounias showed off his bulging biceps to win the rings title ahead of Chinese duo You Hao and 2014 winner Liu Yang.

Petrounias added the title to the European gold he won earlier in the season with a score of 15.800.

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)

Rosberg beats Hamilton to pole in Mexico

19/06/2019 Posted by admin

German Rosberg will hope Sunday’s race breaks a bitter sequence after converting only two of his last 10 poles into victory.

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Triple world champion Hamilton has won the last three from second place.

The Briton, who clinched his third championship in Texas last weekend, will again start alongside on the front row with every intention of winning in front of what promises to be a huge and lively crowd.

“It’s a good start for sure, starting on pole,” said Rosberg. “It’s going to be a long run down to turn one so it’s going to be an exciting battle and then I’m sure we have a good race car.”

Asked whether the pole was ‘Angry Nico’ fighting back, he shook his head: “Definitely not. There’s no difference, it’s attack like always.

“It’s three more races to go, great to be here in Mexico, great track, I really enjoy driving here so business as usual.”

The pair banged wheels into the first corner in Austin, with Rosberg losing out, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was clearly hoping for more fireworks at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

“Can you make sure you take both of you out so I can go through?”, joked Vettel, who qualified third, to a stony silence from the Mercedes duo.

The Ferrari driver is second in the championship, after winning three races this season, but is only four points ahead of Rosberg who now has 20 career poles.

“In the end they were just a sniff too quick but who knows what happens tomorrow?,” said Vettel.

SMALL MISTAKES

Hamilton, who has failed to qualify fastest in his last five races after previously racking up 11 out of 12, had hoped to take his 50th career pole but some small mistakes when it mattered ruled that out.

“We have quite a bit of a different set-up this weekend so perhaps the avenue I went might not be the perfect one for qualifying but it’ll be good for the race,” said the Briton whose team have already retained their constructors’ title.

Hamilton is also gunning to equal Vettel’s record of 13 wins in a season, having won 10 so far.

The passionate crowd will be reserving their biggest cheers for Mexican Sergio Perez who will start his country’s first grand prix since 1992 in ninth place for Force India with every chance of scoring points.

Russian Daniil Kvyat joined Vettel on the second row for Red Bull, with Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo fifth and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas sixth in a Williams.

Teenage Dutch rookie Max Verstappen, fourth in Austin, qualified an impressive eighth for Toro Rosso.

At the back, McLaren’s Jenson Button failed to take part in qualifying due to engine problems that are likely to increase his already meaningless 50-place penalty on a grid of just 20 cars.

Team mate Fernando Alonso will join him at the back after qualifying 16th but having a 10-place penalty. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen has a five-place drop from 15th.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Wallabies too slow out of blocks: Foley

19/06/2019 Posted by admin

Five-eighth Bernard Foley admits the Wallabies’ disappointing first half left them with too much to do against the All Blacks in Saturday’s World Cup final defeat at Twickenham.

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“I’m absolutely gutted, the team’s efforts for the last five weeks has been tremendous, and we’ve put everything into it,” said Foley, who enjoyed a flawless day with the boot, kicking two conversions and a penalty in the 34-17 loss.

“We probably just missed the jump a little bit. Playing catch up footy on a game like this is always tough.

“We have so much belief in this side, so much desire and everyone had worked so hard for each other, so it’s shattering to be here.”

Thanks to the red-hot boot of Dan Carter and Nehe Milner-Skudder’s try on the stroke of halftime, Australia trailed 16-3 at the break – the biggest deficit in final history.

A Ma’a Nonu five-pointer shortly after the restart blew the score out to 21-3 only for Michael Cheika’s side to stage a brilliant fightback with tries from David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani to close the gap to 21-17.

However, a Carter field goal and penalty followed by a last-gasp breakaway try from Beauden Barrett broke the Wallabies’ stubborn resistance.

Foley conceded the All Blacks’ strong opening wasn’t a surprise and it was something the team had worked on preventing in training.

“We were expecting that for sure, they are a quality side with a number of quality players … it was going to be a good night for them.

“But we were aware of that .. we came so close and we gave all we’ve got at the end, but it just wasn’t to be.”