U.S. rice farmers want class action against Bayer

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 23 (Reuters) – Germany’s Bayer AG (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) is battling to keep thousands of U.S. rice farmers from becoming part of a massive class-action lawsuit over the contamination of commercial rice supplies by a Bayer biotech rice not approved for human consumption.

In hearings this week in federal court in St. Louis, Missouri, lawyers representing rice farmers said about 7,000 long-grain producers in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas should be allowed to seek unspecified damages against Bayer for contamination that was uncovered in August 2006.

Farmers suffered extensive losses, both from a plunge in rice prices, and in a drop in export business as Japan and the European Union moved to restrict U.S. rice from crossing their borders.

Many farmers also were not able to plant a crop the following year because of seed shortages tied to the contamination, and had to undertake costly clean-up efforts, according to plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Bayer is fighting the class-action move, and both sides are now awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry .

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How Japan Helped Ease the Rice Crisis

Prices quickly fell on Tokyo’s call to tap into its huge reserves. But how did the stash get so big, and why does rice-rich Japan import the staple?

With prices now falling, the global rice crisis seems to be subsiding. That’s thanks in part to a policy announcement by a Japanese bureaucrat. On May 19, Japan’s Deputy Agriculture Minister, Toshiro Shirasu, said that Tokyo would release some of its massive stockpile of rice to the Philippines, selling 50,000 tons “as soon as possible” and releasing another 200,000 tons as food aid. The first shipment could reach the Philippines by late summer. Shirasu also left open the possibility of using more of its reserves to help other countries in need.

To understand Japan’s role in deflating the rice market, it helps to visit the warehouses rimming Tokyo Bay. It’s here in temperature-controlled buildings that Japan keeps millions of 30-kilogram vinyl bags of rice that it imports every year. Tokyo doesn’t need rice from the outside world: The country’s heavily subsidized farmers produce more than enough to feed the country’s 127 million people. Yet every year since 1995, Tokyo has bought hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice from the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Australia.

A Rice Imbalance

Why does Japan buy rice it doesn’t need or want? In order to follow World Trade Organization rules, which date to 1995 and are aimed at opening the country’s rice market. The U.S. fought for years to end Japanese rice protectionism, and getting Tokyo to agree to import rice from the U.S. and elsewhere was long a goal of American trade policy. But while the Japanese have been buying rice from farms in China and California for more than a decade, almost no imports ever end up on dinner plates in Japan. Instead the imported rice is sent as food aid to North Korea, added to beer and rice cakes, or mixed with other grains to feed pigs and chickens. Or it just sits in storage for years. As of last October, Japan’s warehouses were bulging with 2.6 million tons of surplus rice, including 1.5 million tons of imported rice, 900,000 tons of it American medium-grain rice.

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Myanmar – Official: Storm toll could be 100,000


Officials say corpses are floating in the water as Myanmar disaster grows
YANGON, Myanmar – Bodies floated in flood waters and survivors tried to reach dry ground on boats using blankets as sails, while the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar said Wednesday that up to 100,000 people may have died in the devastating cyclone.

Hungry crowds stormed the few shops that opened in the country’s stricken Irrawaddy delta, sparking fist fights, according to Paul Risley, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program in neighboring Thailand.

Shari Villarosa, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, said food and water are running short in the delta area and called the situation there “increasingly horrendous.”

“There is a very real risk of disease outbreaks as long as this continues,” Villarosa told reporters. Some 1 million people were homeless in the Southeast Asian country, the U.N. said.

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Japan’s Hunger Becomes a Dire Warning for Other Nations

MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare.

“I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn’t believe it – this is the first time in my life I’ve wanted to try baking cakes and I can’t get any butter,” said the frustrated cook.

Japan’s acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term – perhaps permanent – reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest – a 30% increase this month – has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.

“This was the first time the Government has had to take such drastic action since the war,” said Akio Shibata, an expert on food imports, who warned the Agriculture Ministry two years ago that Japan would have to cut back drastically on its sophisticated diet if it did not become more self-sufficient.In the wake of the decision this week by Kazakhstan, the world’s fifth biggest wheat exporter, to join Russia, Ukraine and Argentina in stopping exports to satisfy domestic demand, the situation in Japan is expected to worsen.

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Bush under fire at Paris climate meeting

Leading players in talks to forge a pact for tackling climate change took the lash on Thursday to President George W. Bush’s new blueprint for global warming, with Germany mocking it as “Neanderthal.”

At a ministerial-level meeting of major carbon emitters, South Africa blasted the Bush proposal as a disastrous retreat by the planet’s number-one polluter and a slap to poor countries.

The European Union — which had challenged the United States to follow its lead on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 — also voiced disappointment.

His proposals “will not contribute to the fight against climate change,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told AFP, adding he hoped the US would “reconsider its options and policies.”

“Time is running out and we have the duty to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009,” said Dimas.

Germany accused Bush of turning back the clock to before last December’s UN climate talks in Bali and even to before last July’s G8 summit.

In a statement entitled “Bush’s Neanderthal speech,” German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: “His speech showed not leadership but losership. We are glad that there are also other voices in the United States.”

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China: One of the strongest typhoons in history

BEIJING (Reuters) – Fifty-six Chinese fishermen were missing on Friday as a typhoon bore down on the southern resort island of Hainan which state media said was the earliest to threaten the region in decades and may well be the strongest.

The fishermen were taking shelter near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and had not been heard from since Thursday evening, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Hainan and the neighboring province of Guangdong are braced for Typhoon Neoguri, the first of the year, with almost 22,000 fishing boats having been called back to harbor as the storm skirted Vietnam.

“Neoguri will be the earliest typhoon of the season to affect the south China region since the founding of new China in 1949,” Chen Lei, deputy commander of the State Headquarters of Flood Control and Drought Relief, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

The storm was expected to be “one of the strongest in history” to hit the region, Xinhua said.

Typhoon tracker Tropical Storm Risk labeled the storm as category two in a scale up to five, with maximum sustained winds of 96-110 miles per hour.

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Nations to establish independent new world order – Ahmadinejad

Stressing that era for the US Government to consider itself the owner of the entire world is over, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said here, “Resorting to countless capabilities, world nations would establish an independent new world order, if hegemonic powers would keep on exerting pressure over them.” President Ahmadinejad made the comment in an interview with Japan’s Kyodo news agency, adding, “Today is beginning of an era for the domineering of the world nations who will soon impose their will, like many governments that are fed up with the status quo of the unjust international relations and willing to alter them, and this is an event that would definitely take place.”

OPPRESSIVE POWERS HAVE BECOME ISOLATED
The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran pointed out that the oppressive powers of the world had assumed they could isolate the Iranian nation, but the reverse has happened today, since Iran enjoys excellent and friendly ties with most world nations based on mutual respect.

President Ahmadinejad further reiterated, “On the contrary, the US government is suffering from having achieved the worst international status today. They had assumed if they would sit at the UN Security Council and decide over a matter it would be done for sure, while they had better realize if such decisions remain unheeded it means that they need to harmonize with world nations.”
He added, “It is to their own benefit to do so, since otherwise they would be fully isolated in the long run.”
Ahmadinejad added, “Today no nation, including the Japanese nation, likes the politicians of the oppressive powers, such as the US president, and I can assure you that even the Americans do not like their own president.”

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