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Decimated rainforests in Indonesia, being cleared for palm oil plantations.

© Will Rose / Greenpeace

Reuters reported that Unilever has told dealers not to source palm oil from the Indonesian planter Duta Palma, due to concerns over rainforest destruction, an Indonesian industry official said yesterday. Duta Palma has been blacklisted - although it has not previously been a supplier of Unilever, following a BBC documentary which showed Duta Palma staff clearing rainforests for palm oil estates. In November Unilever also announced it was terminating its business relationship with palm oil and paper pulp company PT SMART due to a Greenpeace report which highlighted their involvement in forest destruction. Bustar Maiter of Greenpeace in Indonesia was quoted saying "we are pleased with these commitments, but we now expect action." Meanwhile, AFP reported in Swiss news, the Indonesian Minister for Agriculture Gatot Irianto has called for environmental groups to "stop demonizing palm oil," speaking at an international conference this week on palm oil and the environment. Irianto said the oilseed provides jobs, despite the widespread perception that it represents an "ecological disaster that contributes to global warming."

China's GE rice ready in 3 years, says expert

AP reported (in The Boston Globe) that GE rice in China may be "market-ready" by 2013 - just 3 years from now, a biotechnology researcher said Wednesday. Huang Dafang (director of the Biotechnology Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) said the GE rice and phytase maize are "as safe" as non-GE varieties. "They are safe to consume but of course we need to do more public education work and reach more of the population to educate them about this." However, among other concerns, GE varieties also critically threaten biodiversity, by contaminating and out-competing native varieties. This can put the country's staple food supply at high risk from disease, where usually the natural genetic diversity provides a buffer and better food security. Yesterday it was reported a survey conducted by the official People's Daily website in China last month polling 50,000 Web users found 84.3 percent said they wouldn't buy GE foods.

Lorena Luo of Greenpeace China was quoted in response saying "we are very concerned about the situation of GE rice and corn in China, particularly rice because it's eaten by nearly every single person in China, including babies who eat it as cereal," Luo said. "There's not enough evidence to prove it's safe."

Also in GE news, Deutsch Press Agency reported in German news on the annual report of the International Association of Biotechnology - ISAAA, which stated that there are now 14 million farmers worldwide growing GE crops, on 134 million hectares of land - nearly four times the size of Germany. The US ranked number one producer of GE (64 million ha), followed by Brazil (21.4m ha), Argentina (21.3m ha), India (8.4m ha), Canada (8.2m ha), and China (3.7m ha). However, Greenpeace is cited saying the ISAAA figures are "misleading"; in Europe GE cultivation dropped around 11 percent last year. "Despite efforts by the most massive genetic engineering industry worldwide to get GE over 90 percent of arable land, 99 percent of all farmers work without genetic engineering," said Greenpeace agriculture expert Martin Hofstetter.

No cap on CO2 yet, says China

An AFP story in Asian and Spanish news reported that China's top climate change negotiator has said the country has no intention of capping greenhouse gas emissions for the time being, in stark contrast to the tone of Hu Jintao's message in news yesterday, saying China was committed to tackling this urgent issue. China "could not and should not" set an upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions at the current stage, Mr Su told a meeting on climate change policy in Beijing Wednesday. Instead, he said, China should focus on making its economy more energy-efficient.

A Reuters piece in The Straits Times addressed the "disgreement" between China and the US over climate change negotiations, with the US saying in a 5-page document released yesterday that the Copenhagen climate accord should be a blueprint for a stronger 2010 deal. On the other hand, China and other developing countries have stressed they do not want the accord to replace the 1992 Climate Convention agreed at the Rio Earth Summit.

In the UK, The Independent reported that the whole of the world's instrumental temperature record – millions of observations dating back more than 150 years – is to be re-analysed in an attempt to remove doubts about the reality of global warming. The new analysis, an enormous task which will be carried out by several groups of scientists working independently in different countries, has been proposed by the UK Met Office in the wake of recent controversies over climate science, such as the "climategate" email affair at the University of East Anglia and revelations that the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained some inaccuracies.

Photo: Forest destruction for plantations on the Kampar Peninsula emits huge quantities of CO2 and has led Indonesia to become the world’s third largest climate polluter.

© Will Rose / Greenpeace