the world beyond four walls


We could end famine if we cut food waste by a quarter – so why don’t we?

By Jonathan Kent/The Guardian

As Miss Piggy once sagely advised: “Never eat more than you can lift.” The trouble is that we seem to buy food as though we intend to do just this and as a result a huge amount goes to waste.

According to the UN, developed countries throw away around 30-40% of all food purchased. And if food waste was cut by a quarter, world famine could be solved. Here in the UK, of the 41m tonnes of food that is bought each year, 15m is wasted.

Supermarkets have an interest in avoiding waste because margins on fresh produce tend to be quite tight. If you make 25p for every £1 of broccoli sold you have to sell three pieces to make up for the loss from one gone bad. So if you have noticed fewer items with reduced stickers, it’s because they’re getting a grip. What waste remains is at least partly driven by consumers expecting fresh food items to be constantly available and stacked in attractive displays – both factors pushing food retailers to order more than they can sell.

The biggest contributor to our food-waste shame is household rubbish, which accounts for almost half the food thrown away in the UK. Of course many of us make bad decisions about food, especially when we’re hungry, over-ordering in restaurants and over-buying in shops. The most primitive parts of our brains, faced with feast, react as though famine were just around the corner.

And yet the game seems to be stacked against consumers. Supermarkets may strive to eliminate spoilage while food is in their supply chain, but once you’ve paid for something it’s not their problem. They’d argue, not unfairly, that they have tried to ensure the food you buy is as fresh as possible to give you the best possible chance to consume it before it goes bad. Back in 2010 Tesco even briefly experimented with a “buy one, get one free later” scheme to help reduce waste. But for the most part, food retail is structured and incentivised to get us to buy as much as possible, regardless of whether we actually need it.

In the developing world only 6-15% of food gets thrown out despite poorer infrastructure, less reliable logistics, hotter climates and inferior refrigeration. Indeed weight for weight, in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and south and south-east Asia, people waste only around a tenth of what we do. The overwhelming differentiator seems to be the value that we attach to food. Having a full fridge to cater to our every whim and those of our families seems more important than not having a full bin.

Until we truly know what it is like not to have enough (and while too many people in this wealthy country of ours have been finding out, few of us really know what it’s like to go without) we’ll continue to throw away food in obscene quantities. And neither technology nor the sight of people leaving lands of not enough for places of plenty is likely to change that.


Coordinated support for vulnerable groups among MSF priorities: Tan Chuan-Jin


All about food security

This is for those who have been researching on the issue of food security:


Government reviewing benefits for unwed mothers

By Kok XIng Hui/The Straits Times/280715

SINGAPORE – Unwed mothers could, in the future, have the same benefits as married mums.

The Government is reviewing some of the discrepancies in benefits, such as how unwed mothers are given eight weeks of paid maternity leave, instead of the 16 weeks received by married mothers.

This was disclosed by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview on Monday (July 27).

 Mr Tan said he had asked his colleagues to review the policies when he joined the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in April, and that he hopes to make announcements on it before the Budget next year.

“I’ve a great deal of sympathy for single unwed mothers,” he said. “Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it? So that’s being reviewed.”

Unwed mothers also do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and have to wait till they are 35 years old to buy a HDB flat under the singles scheme.

While these differences have been raised many times, including in Parliament, the answer has always been that the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to.

Just in March, then Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said that Singapore needs to find a balance between supporting unwed mothers as well as the policy to support parenthood within marriages.

When asked if he thought Singapore society is now prepared to change its stance, Mr Tan said: “My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single unwed mothers.”

He added that there is more support available for unwed mothers than maternity leave and baby bonuses. “It’s about healthcare availability, it’s about education opportunities and the support that comes with it.”

When probed about how extensive the review will be, he said the issues – such as housing, education, health, employment – are being discussed from a “whole-of-government perspective”.


More patients choosing C-class wards for subsidies

By Salma Khalik/The Straits Times/18th July 2015

atients are increasingly turning to C-class wards, which offer the highest subsidy levels of 65 to 80 per cent of the hospitalisation bill.

In 2000, 26 per cent of all public hospital patients opted for C class. Last year, 46 per cent did so.

Combined with B2 class, the proportion of public hospital patients choosing subsidised care went up from 70 per cent of the total number in 2000, or 194,000 patients, to 80 per cent last year, or 272,000 patients.

Mr Lo Chun Meng, 84, who was admitted to Changi General Hospital when he fainted while shopping in Bedok, said he opted for C class because it was the cheapest. He added: “The place is very nice.”

The high demand for subsidised care comes despite most people having insurance for treatment in private wards or hospitals.

Health economist Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “Many Singaporeans are risk-averse – kiasu – and buy more insurance than necessary, for peace of mind.

Read More


Singapore not ready for same-sex marriage as society is still conservative: PM Lee

The Straits Times/June 5 2015/By Wong Siew Ying

SINGAPORE – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong does not think Singapore is ready for same-sex marriage because the society is still conservative although it is changing gradually.

But the gay community have the space to live their lives in Singapore, he added. “We do not harass them or discriminate against them,” he said when replying to a Filipino journalist who was interviewing him with other visiting Asean journalists on Thursday.

Mr Lee noted that same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance in some developed countries such as Britain and some states in the United States.

But, he added: “Even in America, there is very strong pushback from conservative groups.”

Similarly, the range of views on gays in Singapore include those of “religious groups who push back”, he added. “And it is completely understandable.”

His comments reflect the government position expressed in the past several years. In the 2011 book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, said he believed homosexuality is in a person’s genes: “Some people are that way and just leave them be.”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had also said homosexuality will eventually be accepted. “It’s already accepted in China. It’s a matter of time before it’s accepted here.”

On Thursday, PM Lee told the Asean journalists: “Where we are I think is not a bad place to be.”

He also said that if asked, most Singaporeans would not want the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community to set the tone for Singapore society.

“There is space for the gay community but they should not push the agenda too hard because if they push the agenda too hard, there will be a very strong pushback,” Mr Lee said.

“And this is not an issue where there is a possibility that the two sides can discuss and eventually come to a consensus. Now, these are very entrenched views and the more you discuss, the angrier people get,” he added.



Man who killed himself at Dignitas explains decision in film

Thanks to Zhiyan for sharing this report with me so that i can share this with all of you!

The Guardian/26 May 2015

A businessman with an inoperable tumour has killed himself at an assisted dying clinic in Switzerland – after spending his last seven days making a film for his widow and three children.

Jeffrey Spector died on Monday, six years after he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour that was growing near his spinal column.

Doctors had warned him the condition would eventually lead to paralysis and death and so Spector said he decided he wanted to be in control of the final stages of his life.

When his illness began to get worse he decided that he had no option but to travel to Switzerland due to UK law. He said: “Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK sHe added that he decided it was time when his symptoms increased in severity. “I put one date off so that my daughter could do her exams – but I was going downhill and was finding it hard to use my hands. I had no pressure in my fingers.

“I felt the illness had crossed the red line and I was getting worse. Rather than go late, I am jumping the gun. I call it the least worst option, which is best for my family in the long term.”

Spector, who was the director of a number of advertising and internet firms in Blackpool, Lancashire, chose to be joined by a film crew for the last week of his life. His decision to be filmed has echoes of the death of Guernsey-based hotelier Peter Smedley, whose assisted death in 2011 was screened in a documentary by the late Sir Terry Pratchett for the BBC.

Spector, whose family joined him at the Zurich clinic, described his condition as “a walking timebomb” as he could be struck with neck-down paralysis at any moment.

In an interview released by Dignitas, Spector said he was not scared of death and added: “Never judge someone until you have worn their shoes.

“I know I am going too early. My family disagree, but I believe this is in their best interests.” Stating he wanted to be “in control of the final stages of my life”, he said: “I was a fit and healthy person and my life has been turned upside down.

“What started as backache in 2008 developed into an illness that led me to having to make this most awful decision. Friends, and most of all my family, have urged me not to go through with it.”

Spector first discovered he was ill when he complained of having a sore back and stiff neck. He collapsed at a hotel after attending a friend’s retirement party and sought medical advice. He said: “I thought I had overdone things. My legs went in the hotel room. I got back home and booked in for an MRI scan.

“The phone call from the clinic asked me to go for another scan, which revealed a large tumour high up in my spine in and around the spinal cord.

“My surgeon was confident he could remove the tumour but tests revealed it would be too dangerous. I woke up thinking it would be out, but he told me he could not even take a biopsy.”

Instead, surgeons removed bones elsewhere in his back to relieve pressure caused by the tumour, but it continued to grow.

Spector added: “Had it been lower down the spine, and I lost the use of my legs, I would have been distraught but I could cope. Where it was meant total paralysis from my neck down.”

As the tumour grew, Spector visited the Dignitas clinic and decided that he would kill himself before the tumour’s advance meant he would be unable to do so.

He said: “I know I am going too early but I had consistent thoughts without peer pressure. It had to be a settled decision by a sound mind. If I am paralysed and cannot speak, then what hope is there? I am a proud person – a dignified person, independent and self motivated. It is me who is doing this.”

In the UK, anyone convicted of assisting a suicide can face a 14-year jail term. Pressure group Dignity In Dying, which counted Pratchett as one of its patrons, have long campaigned to change the law.

Labour peer Lord Falconer proposed a bill stating that if someone has a prognosis of less than six months to live, they should be allowed to have an assisted death subject to a number of safeguards and checks. His private member’s bill was debated in the House of Lords in June 2014 and reached the committee stage in parliament in January. However, due to opponents delaying its progress, the bill did not reach the Commons before parliament was dissolved ahead of the general election.

“Some people will criticise me, but do not judge me,” said Spector. “I believe in my human right to dignity. I want the ability to have a cup of tea and hold a phone – I want to be able to do those things myself.

“I believe what I am doing is in the best long term interests of my family. They disagree, but they do accept I have my own opinion.”

A family friend said on Monday: “Jeffrey was not for changing his mind. He did not want to be unable to walk or talk.

“From the outside he appeared as normal – chatty, driving his car, but inside he knew he was getting worse. People have tried to talk him out of this, his own family have begged him.

“But if Jeffrey Spector could not be the Jeffrey Spector we all knew, because of this tumour, this was his way out.


Protests against GMO crops and pesticides target Monsanto, international agribusiness giant

From Paris to Ouagadougou, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against the American biotechnology giant Monsanto and its genetically modified crops and pesticides.

The third annual March Against Monsanto was being held in upwards of 400 cities in more than 40 countries.

About 2,500 people staged anti-Monsanto protests in the Swiss cities of Basel and Morgues, where the company has its headquarters for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Up to 3,000 protesters rallied by environmental organisations including Greenpeace and anti-capitalist group Stop Tafta gathered in Paris, with Monsanto’s market-leading herbicide Roundup the main targets of protesters’ anger.

The controversial product’s main ingredient was recently classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organisation.

Organisers said ahead of the marches the multinational biotech giant had claimed that genetically modified crops would actually lead to a decrease in Roundup use.

Coloured powders are thrown during a protest in Mexico City

But they pointed to US Geological Survey data that revealed the use of Roundup’s key component glyphosate had increased 16-fold since the mid-1990s when genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were first introduced.

“Looking for mass suicide? Go for Roundup,” read one placard at a French protest in the western city of Rennes.

In a march in another French city, Toulouse, protesters called for more protection for bees, amid international alarm at recent population declines of the vital pollinator.

Halfway around the planet in Burkina Faso, about 500 people marched against the US giant, which introduced GM cotton into the west African country in 2003.

Demonstrators demanded a 10-year moratorium on the planting of Monsanto seeds so “independent research can be conducted” into the effects of the technology.

Up to 1,000 anti-Monsanto activists gathered in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg as the sun was setting for a minute’s silence “in homage to the existing and future victims poisoned by pesticides”, according to the organisers.

The worldwide March Against Monsanto was begun in 2013 by the Occupy movement and has become an annual event.


As graduate numbers grow, a hard truth: Not all degrees are equal

By Ng Jing Yng/TODAY/23 May 2015

SINGAPORE: After graduating with a second-class upper degree in human resource management, Mr Tan, 30, took some time to land a full-time job and he is currently doing administrative work – buying office supplies and processing claims. “I wished that we were taught more skills in university instead,” he said.

Another graduate, Mr Tang, 27, who has a chemistry degree, has been working in an admin support temporary position for the past 18 months. “Unlike our parents’ time, it seems like there are many people holding a degree now but the fact is there are many jobs out there that do not require a degree holder to do the work.”

On the other hand, there are graduates who have, by their own volition, ventured into careers that have little to do with what they had studied for in university. A PhD holder in biomedical sciences, Dr Christopher Yang, was a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine when he made the switch into the financial sector four years ago.

The 41-year-old said his biomedical career was going well, having received a grant to advance immunology research. But a series of circumstances – including the outlook of the industry, and the birth of his fourth child – led to him making the career switch. “I had to seriously think about my career path and prospects,” said Dr Yang, who is now an accredited financial adviser.

In Asia, Taiwan and South Korea have been experiencing an oversupply of graduates, with double-digit youth unemployment rates. In contrast, Singapore enjoys close to full employment, and more than 80 per cent of graduates from publicly-funded universities and the more-established private institutions are able to find jobs within six months of graduation. Read More


Turkey TV talent show: Woman contestant shot in head

Mutlu Kaya, 19, was in a critical condition after being shot in Diyarbakir province early on Monday.

Diyarbakir is a conservative region in south-east Turkey and Ms Kaya had reportedly received death threats for singing on the show, Sesi Cok Guzel.

One person has reportedly been arrested in connection with the incident.

The gunman was said to have been in the garden and fired through a window into the house.

Sesi Cok Guzel is similar to shows like Britain’s Got Talent. Ms Kaya’s mentor is Sibel Can, one of Turkey’s best-known folk singers.

Ms Can had visited Ms Kaya at the school canteen where she worked in March, in order to make sure she joined her team in the competition.

However, the Posta newspaper reported on Sunday that Ms Kaya had received death threats after appearing on the show.

“I am afraid,” Kaya was quoted as telling the show’s production team.

Ms Kaya’s father, Mehmet Kaya, told local media his daughter had been rehearsing to go back on the show when she was shot at her home in the Ergani district.

“I just want my daughter to be healthy and don’t want anything else,” he said.

“I am expecting help from Sibel Can, she is like a mother to Mutlu.”

“My beautiful girl Mutlu, how could they wound you? I am very sad,” Ms Can wrote on Instagram, Agence France-Presse reported.