Oil Prices Continue to Plummet

So far 1998 is turning into OPEC’s worst nightmare. On June 11, crude
oil set a 10-year low when it fell to $12.75 a barrel. A week later it promptly
set a 12-year low by plummeting to an average price of $10.11 per barrel —
half of the official OPEC target of $21. Adjust that selling price for inflation
and oil is near its low for the 20th century.

This after OPEC nations pledge in March to cut production by 1.72 million
barrels. The precipitous fall induced OPEC nations to pledge once again to cut
oil production, though most analysts again doubt whether OPEC has the ability
or will to do so.

The situation is not likely to brighten for OPEC nations anytime soon. The
United Nations clearly seems on a path of removing economic sanctions from Iraq,
perhaps as early as October, which is likely to flood the world market with
even more oil. Meanwhile demand from Asia is likely to remain depressed as the
economic crisis there continues.

As one trader in a Reuters story was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t
look very good. It might go lower. There s nothing supporting the market right
now. Unless we get some bullish news, this is going to continue to drop.”

Despite the drop in oil prices, however, gasoline prices in the United States
were up slightly to $1.14 a gallon nationwide as seasonal demand exerts an effect.

Most analysts agree that about the only thing that could help OPEC now would
be a coordinated drastic cut in oil output. Unfortunately time is working against
the success of such a move. Since so much oil is already in the pipeline, so
to speak, even a cut of 1 million barrels per day might take several months
to register significant price increases.

Sources:

Crude oil futures drop to lowest level in nearly decade. Herbert G. McCann,
Associated Press, June 11, 1998.

OPEC faces uphill battle against worst crude oil market in years. Dirk Beveridge,
Associated Press, June 17, 1998.

Oil prices drop to lowest point since 1986. Reuters News Service, June 15,
1998.

Lundberg: gas prices up, not down. Associated Press, June 15, 1998.

Gulf oil states hesitant on more output cuts. Steven Swindells, Reuters, June
14, 1998.

Oil stagnates at $13. Reuters, June 12, 1998

Dropping crude oil prices hit 12-year lows this week. Andrew Kelly, Reuters,
June 18, 1998.

Worst of North Korean famine may be over

Although many North Koreans are reported to be surviving famine in that country
by eating bark and wild plants, officials with the World Food Program suggest
the worst of the famine may be over.

According to Abigail Spring, a WFP official, “I think it’s possible
that we’ve prevented a famine.” Spring noted that although children
she saw on a recent visit are in poor health they no longer seemed to be extraordinarily
thin.

Not to say North Korea might not slip into famine at any moment. Much will
depend on how much rain the country gets in the next few months.

Over the long term, however, the latest famine may be finally getting through
to North Korea’s dictators that their stranglehold on the nation’s
economy is counterproductive. In an agreement with the U.N. Development Program,
North Korea agreed to allow small farmers to sell their crops on the open market
in exchange for up to $300 million in foreign aid.

Other reforms include allowing agricultural cooperatives to trade among themselves.
Christian Lemaire, a UN representative in North Korea believes the concessions
are significant.

“It’s a different picture which is emerging,” Lemaire said.
“They acknowledge changes they have to make.”

And it only took them 40 years and millions of deaths to figure it out.

Sources:

North Koreans living on bark, wild plants, aid officials say. Associated Press,
June 21, 1998.

North Korea takes steps toward market economy. Robert H. Reid, Associated
Press, June 4, 1998.

Regional Food Security Seminar gets underway in Zimbabwe while WFP release emergency report on Africa

Zimbabwe hosted a two-day regional conference on food security in June sponsored
by the Dutch Institute for Advocacy on Development Policy and Christian Care
Zimbabwe to look at ways to increase food supply and security in the region.
John De Waard, a representative from the Dutch embassy, urged African nations
to learn from Europe’s agricultural policies in setting their own.

Meanwhile the World Food Projected released a report outlining current food
emergencies in Africa. Among the nations facing food problems are:

Sudan – two WFP officials were killed and four injured in an attack in Sudan.
Although air drops of food to southern Sudan began in early June, hunger is
now spreading to communities who a few months ago did not need it.

Angola – cereal production for 1998 is forecasted to increase 38 percent
from last year, but continued problems with transportation mean international
aid will need to continue at least through 1999. Daily attacks by what’s
left of UNITA continue

Uganda – increased fighting has kept aid work to a minimum.

Burundi – WFP dropped major food shipments in Karuzi and Kirundu provinces.

Sources:

National Food Security Seminar Begins. Panafrican News Agency, June 17, 1998.

WFP Emergency Report No. 24 – Africa. June 12, 1998.

Dr. Spock, AntiDairy Coalition take aim at milk

In the latest (posthumous) edition
of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the famous pediatrician
attacks meat and milk arguing that, “children can get plenty of protein
and iron from vegetables, beans and other plant foods that avoid the fat
and cholesterol that are in animal products.” Meanwhile a newly formed
group called the AntiDairy Coalition made its debut in June decrying “the
health and nutritional risks of consuming dairy products.”

What’s going on here? I tend
to agree with one of Spock’s friends, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton,
who described Spock’s recommendations as “absolutely insane.”
Much the same applies to the AntiDairy Coalition.

Lets tackle Spock first. According
to Spock’s co-author, Steven J. Parker (who also believes Spock’s
dietary advice is too extreme), the famous pediatrician believed his conversion
to vegetarianism helped extend his life. But Spock didn’t become
a vegetarian until he was 87 years old. Clearly his meat and dairy eating
did not interfere with his longevity in any meaningful way.

Second, as Brazelton told the New
York Times
, “Meat is an excellent source of the iron and protein
children need, and to take away milk from children, I think that’s
really dangerous. Milk is needed for calcium and vitamin D.”

As junk science debunker Steve Milloy noted, after becoming
a vegetarian Spock lost 50 pounds (a phenomenon which most vegetarians
claim to be a beneficial result from a vegetarian diet), but for children
the most important dietary need is ensuring steady weight gain.

Besides, ever try to get a toddler
to eat kale?

As for the AntiDairy Coalition,
this group merely repeated the same old unsubstantiated conjectures about
milk that have become articles of faith among animal rights activists.

For example, take the AntiDairy
Coalition’s claims about milk’s ability to cause allergies.
According to the Coalition, since milk is full of protein and proteins
can trigger allergies, the large increase in asthma over the last 20 years
or so must be caused by protein in milk. Can someone say post hoc?

Similarly the Coalition notes that women in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden both a) consume
lots of milk and b) have high rates of breast cancer. Milk consumption, therefore,
must cause breast cancer. Again, this is classic post hoc reasoning that
is unsupported by any evidence. Readers should want and expect the ADC
to present serious epidemiological studies documenting these effect.

Certainly a diet excessively high
in dairy products may be harmful and some people do suffer from lactose
intolerance. In its attempts at scare mongering, however, the ADC vastly
exaggerates the problem — moderate milk and dairy consumption can be
part of a healthy lifestyle.

Future promises more genetically engineered animals

As animal rights activists point
out ad nauseum, animal models are not completely analogous to human beings.
Substances which cause cancer in rats sometime fail to cause cancer in
human beings and vice versa. But what if researchers genetically engineered mice and rats to suffer from the same illnesses human beings suffer from?
Well now they can, which is creating an enormous debate about the ethics
of such animal research.

Until recently, scientists relied on
finding mutant strains of mice which suffered from diseases or symptoms
similar to those experienced by human beings. Mice commonly used to test
cancer treatments, for example, are specially bred to be highly prone
to developing cancer.

Advances in biotechnology take
that one step further and allow scientists to alter the genes in mice
embryos so they are born with specific defects such as cystic fibrosis
or arthritis. As National Institutes of Health immunologist Ronald Schwartz
recently told the Washington Post, such animal models should be incredibly
powerful.

John Sharp, superintendent of induced
mutant resource at the Jackson Laboratory, put it bluntly. “More and
more research is moving toward the use of these mice. It’s where
the future of research is headed.”

And it is not just mice. Researchers
at laboratories around the world are genetically altering pigs, goats
and sheep to do everything from produce more easily transplantable organs
to providing delivery mechanisms for medicine in their milk.

As genetic engineering of animals
spreads, so does the opposition movements aimed at limiting or banning it. Those
opposed to such genetic engineering complain it is wrong to design animals
to suffer.

“There really is something
primordially horrible about replicating animals that will suffer endlessly,”
|Bernard Rollin|, a Colorado State University physiologist, told the Washington Post. Other attack genetic engineering as challenging our notions of life
as inherently sacred.

The biggest opposition in recent
years came in Switzerland, where 112,000 Swiss citizens signed a petition
to put a ban on research on genetically altered animals on the ballot.

Failing to use these genetically
engineered animals, however, will mean ignoring an excellent source of
medical information. Genetically engineered mice have already yielded
important information about deadly human illnesses such as |Huntington’s| disease. When scientists removed a gene in mice which corresponds to the
defective human gene that causes Huntington’s, researchers noticed
small protein deposits in the brains of the mice; something that had not
been observed in Huntington’s patients. Upon reexamining the brains
of Huntington’s victims, however, researchers indeed found the protein
deposits, which are now suspected as one of the primary causes of the
diseases’ symptoms.

Source:

Rick Weiss, “Creation of flawed animals raises new ethics issues,”
Washington Post, June 7, 1998.

Switzerland overwhelmingly rejects ban on genetic engineering of animals, plants

Opponents of Genetic Engineering
of animals and plants had been cautiously optimistic about the chances
of Switzerland becoming the first nation to pass a referendum banning
genetic engineering. Instead more than 65 percent of Swiss citizens voted
no on the proposed constitutional change, sending it down to a huge defeat.

Switzerland is home to close to
200 firms that conduct genetic research, including pharmaceutical giants
Novartis and Roche who aggressively opposed the proposed ban.

Source:

“Swiss oppose ban on genetic research and production,” Nando.net,
June 7, 1998.

“Swiss voters reject curbs on genetic engineering,” CNN, June 7, 1998.