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Pandemic alert level raised as swine flu hits Britain

The World Health Organisation has admitted swine flu could not be contained as it raised its pandemic alert level to four, indicating that it is spreading between humans. 

Officials confirmed that the disease has spread to Britain with two people being treated for swine flu in an isolation unit at Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Fears were growing last night that the virus could cause a flu pandemic as a series of countries confirmed cases.
Officials in Mexico – the centre of the outbreak – said there were 1,455 probable cases and 149 confirmed deaths.

Cases have also been confirmed in Spain, Canada, and several states in the USA. More are suspected in New Zealand, Israel and Colombia. Four people in the Irish Republic were being tested for the virus.

Climate change hastens Japan's cherry blossom season

Japan's celebrated cherry blossom, which for millions heralds the start of spring, is under threat from climate change, according to experts, who say warmer weather is causing early flowering.

Cherry blossom season officially began in Tokyo this year on March 21 -- five days ahead of schedule and a full week earlier than the average for the last 30 years of the 20th century.
Far from being a freak occurrence, the phenomenon of early blossoming has been happening for several years, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

Key role of forests 'may be lost'

Forests' role as massive carbon sinks is "at risk of being lost entirely", top forestry scientists have warned.
The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) says forests are under increasing degrees of stress as a result of climate change.
Forests could release vast amounts of carbon if temperatures rise 2.5C (4.5F) above pre-industrial levels, it adds.
The findings will be presented at the UN Forum on Forests, which begins on Monday in New York.
Compiled by 35 leading forestry scientists, the report provides what is described as the first global assessment of the ability of forests to adapt to climate change.
"The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions"
Professor Andreas Fischlin,

Glacier "Bleeds" Proof of Million-Year-Old Life-Forms

Gushing from a glacier, rust-stained Blood Falls contains evidence that microbes have survived in prehistoric seawater deep under ice for perhaps millions of years, a new study says. The colony of microscopic life-forms may have been trapped when Antarctica's then advancing Taylor Glacier reached into the ocean 1.5 to 4 million years ago.

What's more, the tiny organisms' feeding habits apparently give the falls their shocking color.  Photo: Photograph courtesy Benjamin Urmston via Science

Fruit and veg allergies soaring

Cases of oral allergies to fruit and vegetables are rapidly increasing, according to a British specialist.
Dr Pamela Ewan, an allergy consultant at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, said the rise in cases appears to be outstripping even peanut allergies.
Dr Ewan, who sees more than 8,000 people with allergies a year, said most patients with reactions to fruit and vegetables were youngsters.
Symptoms include swelling in the mouth and throat, and breathing difficulties.

ALLERGY OR INTOLERANCE?

  • An allergy is when the immune system reacts to a harmless substance such as a food or pollen, as if it isn't safe
  • A severe allergy can cause a potentially life threatening shock known as anaphylaxis
  • An intolerance does not affect the immune system
  • An intolerance is generally not life threatening and the symptoms less severe
  • An intolerance is being unable to digest certain foods such as lactose in milk

New bird flu cases suggest the danger of pandemic is rising

First the good news: bird flu is becoming less deadly. Now the bad: scientists fear that this is the very thing that could make the virus more able to cause a pandemic that would kill hundreds of millions of people.
This paradox – emerging from Egypt, the most recent epicentre of the disease – threatens to increase the disease's ability to spread from person to person by helping it achieve the crucial mutation in the virus which could turn it into the greatest plague to hit Britain since the Black Death. Last year the Government identified the bird-flu virus, codenamed H5N1, as the biggest threat facing the country – with the potential to kill up to 750,000 Britons.

Diseases 'hurting chocolate crop'

Scientists are warning of a possible chocolate shortage as disease ravages cocoa crops across the world. Some of the world's largest chocolate-producing countries, such as the Ivory Coast, could lose a third of their crop this year, because of the problem. One disease, the cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV), which can kill the trees, is affecting crops in west Africa. Around 70 per cent of the world's chocolate comes from west Africa. In Brazil, another major producer of chocolate, crops are being affected by a fungus called witches' broom. Research has uncovered cacao varieties in Africa which are partially resistant to the disease and scientists are trying to breed more hardy versions.

Not a welcome weather change for Valsad mango farmers

INDIA - MANGOES - Mango farmers of Gundlav and other villages in Valsad district are a worried lot due to extreme changes in the weather. Late flowering this season had not left them with much hope of a good harvest. Fierce storms in last two days have just added to their misery. Many mango growers are not interested in harvesting as their orchards do not have a significant yield left. The constant change in weather is likely to have an impact on mango production this year, sources say. The fogginess and heat could also affect the quality of the produce. "We expect mango production this year to be around 10 to 15 per cent of what it was last year. Constant change in weather and late flowering have taken their toll on the crop." High temperature is also affecting mango production. South Gujarat has been experiencing about 42 degree Celsius temperature for last few days. "Because of the high temperature, mangoes turn yellowish and fall off early."

Fears of food shortages as Angola floods worsen

Aid agencies warned on Friday that devastating floods that have hit 220 000 people in Angola could cause food shortages in a country where farming remains poor after decades of war.

In Cunene, 130 000 ha of farmland have been destroyed and as many as 300 000 cattle are at risk because they are cut off from grazing areas.

Local media have also reported that distressed elephants are tearing up flooded fields, and the UN report said all provinces are concerned about limited food reserves and increased malnutrition.

"Food security is always an issue in Cunene. It is very dry and arid most the year but then when the rains come, they come with such force they wash away a lot of crops which makes things worse," said Juan Sheenan, head of the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) in Angola.

Drought threatens Calif. agriculture business

Three years of drought are threatening to destroy California farmers, and the state's multi-billion dollar agriculture industry. News of a smaller snowpack than usual doesn't improve the dry situation in the usually fertile Central Valley. That means farmers can't expect to see more water for their crops. It's heartbreaking to see the area that supplies 40% of the nation's food supply vanishing, with farmers refusing to plant or just ripping up their crops. Without more water, California's $37 billion dollar agricultural industry is on the line. Empty fields have cost thousands of jobs, with the unemployed pressuring Sacramento to solve the problem. Consumers will feel it next. "It's going to dramatically impact the supply of food, the cost of food and the availability of food." 

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