News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 6th July 2016

Ireland secures improved access to US beef market

Improved trading agreement access between Ireland and Washington set up by Government


US decision will allow Irish exporters ship mince used in burgers and other products to the world’s largest beef market opens up.

The Irish Government has secured improved access to the US beef market, paving the way for exports of manufacturing beef or mince, long regarded as the more lucrative end of the trade.

In a timely boost for the sector, which is heavily exposed to the current uncertainty hanging over the UK, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said US authorities had agreed to recognise the Republic’s raw meat control system as equivalent to their own.

This will allow Irish exporters ship mince used in burgers and other products to the world’s largest beef market, he said.

Up to now, the trade agreement between Dublin and Washington only extended to high-value steak cuts, such as fillet, rib-eye and sirloin, which are a hard sell in the US where most consumers view domestic beef as superior to imported brands.

As a result, the Republic’s beef exports to the US since the lifting of the BSE-inspired embargo early last year have been relatively small, worth about €14 million on an annual basis.

Mince for the burger industry, however, acounts for the bulk of US imports, which totalled one million tonnes last year.

Even a small slice of this trade would be a significant boost for the sector here, which exports more than 50 per cent of its output to the UK.

Minister Creed said the decision by the US, which centred on bridging different hygiene protocols related to E.coli, represented a huge endorsement of Irish beef as well as the industy’s production and regulatory systems.

“As we know, this US market is a potentially huge prize given the size of the market and the demand we know exists there for premium grass-fed beef,” he said.

“We already have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first EU member state to gain entry, which we have been exploiting through various marketing initiatives and this decision now creates an opportunity for industry to become involved in the export of manufacturing beef to the US,” Mr Creed said.

Ireland, the fourth largest beef exporter in the world, remains the only European state with access to the US market.

The US decision clears the way for the Department of Agriculture to approve individual beef plants wishing to export mince to the US.

There are currently six Irish plants approved to export premium beef cuts to the US.

Welcoming the announcement, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy said: “It is very important that real delivery is made on accessing new markets for Irish beef, particularly in light of the recent Brexit outcome.”

“A lot more work needs to be done in getting more beef plants approved for export to the US,” he added.

Meat Industry Ireland, the Ibec group which represents processors, also welcomed the move,claiming it was an endorsement of the processing, quality and control standards in Ireland.

“Maximising full market access for Irish beef and other meats in international markets has been at the forefront of our agenda. It is critical to optimising market return, to underpinning the growth ambition of the meat sector and is all the more relevant in the context of the uncertainty around Brexit,” the group said.

Just three bidders shortlisted for Ireland’s national broadband plan


Rural broadband network to be rolled out from 2017.

Three bidders have been shortlisted by the government for the National Broadband Plan contract to provide state subsidised rural broadband for up to 927,000 Irish homes and businesses.

Eir, Enet and Siro, which is a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, have been told by the Department of Communications that they will proceed to the next stage of bidding for the lucrative 25-year contract.

Two consortia, Imagine and Gigabit Ethernet, have been told they were unsuccessful in their applications to make the shortlist.

The bidders will now compete for a state contract estimated to be worth up to €500m in one or more geographical lots.

Today, the government said that the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan is to be expanded to over 900,000 rural homes and businesses.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that it had “emerged” that 170,000 homes previously considered to be adequately covered actually have broadband connections of lower than 30Mbs, the standard set by the government for future connectivity.

They will now join the 757,000 rural homes and businesses earmarked for the taxpayer-funded scheme.

The rural rollout is due to start in the summer of 2017 and is expected to take up to five years to complete.

Broadband is an economic necessity for rural businesses.

The government also said today that it has chosen to privatise the National Broadband Plan network once the initial 25-year state contract is over. The move means that whoever wins the upcoming tender to serve high speed broadband to rural premises will also get to keep the state-funded network.

Mr Naughten said that the privatised model was being pursued as it would lower the cost of the broadband rollout. He also said it would prevent further delays in signing contracts, which have already seen setbacks in the last 12 months.

Mr Naughten said that his Department had commissioned “detailed costings down to every individual home” in the affected poor broadband areas.

If the government continued with a public ownership model, it would “reduce the Exchequer’s Capital Funding Envelope by €500m to €600m over the next 6 years”, he said.

Opting for a private-owned network would save up to 50pc in costs for the government, he added.

“While I recognise the potential long-term value in the State owning any network that is built, I am advised that under a [state ownership] model, the entire cost of the project would be placed on the Government’s balance sheet, with serious implications for the available capital funding over the next five to six years,” he said.

“Given that both models will deliver the same services and be governed by an almost identical contract, I cannot justify reducing the amount of money available to Government for other critical priorities such as climate change, housing and health over the next six years.”

Mr Naughten also said that he has already “raised” the question of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for high speed broadband “at EU level”. This would mean that every home has a right to high speed broadband by law.

He said that he is “in discussion” with ComReg about a form of USO in areas “where commercial providers have already built high speed broadband networks, but where issues might arise with new-builds”.

Here’s how effective fertility treatment really is


Women are becoming more and more open about the many processes they undergo in order to become pregnant. But there’s still so much that’s unclear and individual about fertility treatment. Now, new research is helping to take some of the unknown out of that equation, and the results might be more encouraging than you’d think.

The study, presented this week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, followed 19,884 Dutch women who got fertility treatment between 2007 and 2010. The researchers checked in with them for five years after their treatment.

Results showed that the majority of women (57%) gave birth within two years of their treatment. After three years, 65% had given birth. And that rose to 71% after five years. The researchers found that, predictably, participants’ ages had an effect on birth rates: For women under 35, the birth rate was 80%. But that went down to 60.5% for those between 35 and 40, and down to 26% for those over 40. The fertility treatment itself also affected birth rates: Of those who tried in vitro fertilization (IVF) as their first treatment method, 46% conceived. Another 34% had success when trying intrauterine insemination (IUI) first. And, interestingly, 14% of participants conceived “spontaneously” during the study — without the help of treatment.

These kinds of results are important because, for many patients, going through the fertility treatment process is still shrouded in mystery — and it’s expensive. “At this point, couples have no idea how many treatment cycles they will need or have,” said Sara Malchau, MD, first author on the study, in a press release. “So a prognosis based on fixed points in time [i.e. the number of years after treatment] better reflects their prospect of conception and delivery than…different numbers of attempts.”

With more studies like this, those who hope to become pregnant will have a better idea of what to expect before they’re expecting.

A Three decade study confirms saturated fats are bad for health


Saturated fats in butter, lard and red meat raise the risk of early death, but replacing these with fats like olive oil can offer substantial health benefits, a three-decade study has confirmed.

The research involving more than 120,000 people was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

“There has been widespread confusion in the biomedical community and the general public in the last couple of years about the health effects of specific types of fat in the diet,” said lead author Dong Wang, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“This study documents important benefits of unsaturated fats, especially when they replace saturated and trans fats.”

Among the key findings of the study were that people who ate more saturated and trans fats had higher mortality rates than those who consumed the same number of calories from carbohydrates.

It also found that replacing saturated fats like butter, lard, and fat in red meat with unsaturated fats from plant-based foods – such as olive oil, canola oil, and soybean oil – could offer “substantial health benefits and should continue to be a key message in dietary recommendations.”

The findings were based on questionnaires answered by health professionals every two to four years about their diet, lifestyle, and health for up to 32 years.

Trans fats, including partially hydrogenated oil products like margarine, had the most severe impact on health.

The study found that every 2% higher intake of trans fat was associated with a 16% higher chance of dying early.

Every 5% higher increase in consumption of saturated fats was linked to an 8% greater risk of dying.

But eating large amounts of unsaturated fats “was associated with between 11% and 19% lower overall mortality compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrates,” said the study.

These included polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 found in fish oils as well and soy and canola oils.

“People who replaced saturated fats with unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – had significantly lower risk of death overall during the study period, as well as lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and respiratory disease, compared with those who maintained high intakes of saturated fats,” said the study.

While some outside experts noted that the study was observational in nature and relied on surveys, which can introduce bias, the overall result is in line with many other large studies on diet and health.

According to Ian Johnson, emeritus fellow at Britain’s Institute of Food Research, the “findings are consistent with current public health recommendations in the UK and elsewhere, and particularly with the concept of a beneficial Mediterranean-style diet, rich in unsaturated fats from plants, fish and olive oil.”

Mr Johnson, who was not involved in the study, added: “There is nothing in these results consistent with the notion that ‘butter is back.'”

Galway University Hospital study highlights high rates of lung problems in Irish farmers


A new study carried out by the Galway University Hospitals group shows that farmers are at a high-risk of non-smoking related lung problems.

The Irish Farmers Lung Health Study, which is the first of its kind in Ireland, has been published in a major journal on Respiratory Medicine.

The research was prompted by the high prevalence of respiratory problems in farmers, and recent reports of increasing mortality rates in the agriculture sector.

The study involved 400 farmers, who were asked to complete a questionnaire and undergo lung function testing.

Almost 65% of those surveyed reported one or more chronic breathing-related symptoms.

91% were non-smokers, yet 13% had a pre-existing diagnosis of obstructive lung disease, while a further one in ten demonstrated abnormal lung function.

The study finds that farmers are at significantly increased risk of respiratory issues – but further studies will be required to explain the association.

Why climate change is an education issue


Climate change affects us all, but we still are not acting as quickly as we should to address its causes, mitigate the damage, and adapt to its effects. Many people don’t understand the risks climate change poses to global economic and social structures. And, sadly, many who do understand are dismissive of the far-reaching benefits a global shift to sustainability and clean energy would bring about.

According to a recent Pew study, seven out of ten Americans classified as political independents were not very concerned that climate change would hurt them. Worse still, Yale University researchers recently found that 40% of adults worldwide have never even heard of climate change. In some developing countries, such as India, that figure climbs to 65%.

These figures are discouraging, but they can be improved. The Yale study concluded that, “educational attainment tends to be the single strongest predictor of public awareness of climate change.” By investing in quality education, we can set the next generation on the right path to addressing this global problem.

Education and climate action work together in three ways. For starters, education fills knowledge gaps. Understanding how climate change is already having an impact on one’s life can have practical benefits. This is especially true for poor populations that are most vulnerable to crop failures and natural disasters, such as landslides and floods, caused by climate change. Populations that must rebuild from scratch after each new catastrophe miss out on opportunities for rapid development. By understanding that their world is changing – and that the likelihood of future disasters is increasing – these populations can build resilience and learn to adapt to the sudden and slow stresses of a changing climate.

Second, education challenges apathy. Knowing the measures available to address climate change can open up vast opportunities for economic growth. Global investors should be made to understand that sustainable solutions can increase wellbeing and create additional economic opportunities. To take one example, in Niger, education and improved farming techniques helped double real farm incomes for more than one million people, while restoring huge tracts of severely degraded land. In the US, as of 2014, there were more jobs that depended on solar energy than on coal mining.

Still, many people insist that implementing measures to mitigate the effects of climate change is too costly to our current way of life. According to the Pew study, almost seven out of ten people believe that, given the limitations of technology, they would have to make major lifestyle changes. This does not have to be the case, and education can challenge the kind of scepticism that forecloses opportunities for climate-smart living.

Finally, education furnishes the technical knowledge needed to build a better future through innovation – one that includes clean and safe energy, sustainable agriculture, and smarter cities. Broadening access to education would lead to more home grown innovation – entrepreneurs spotting opportunities to address local problems. Globally, we cannot rely on knowledge centers such as Silicon Valley or Oxford to develop a silver bullet to the climate problem. Solutions may come from tech hubs, but they will also come from villages and developing cities, from farmers and manufactures with vastly different perspectives on the world around them. And this will create a virtuous cycle. It is easier for educated people to migrate and integrate into new societies, sharing the knowledge they’ve brought with them.

Fortunately, younger generations today are better educated and more committed to reducing their own carbon footprint than previous generations were. They are leading the way and forcing us all to reconsider our own actions. But we must broaden the availability of education worldwide to ensure that their efforts are not in vain.

In recognition of education’s importance, the government of Norway, under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Erna Solberg, has established the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, of which I am a member. We will meet this week in Oslo, and it is my hope that we will confront the challenges of our time and act on the knowledge that education is the best problem-solving asset we possess.

Addressing the dangers of climate change is not only an existential imperative; it is also an opportunity to move toward a cleaner, more productive, and fairer path of development. Only an educated global society can take the decisive action needed to get us there.


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