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Tightening the net

Australia [INTERNET]

Australia may soon be the only western democracy with state-filtered internet. The government is trialling a controversial “clean feed” system that operates on two levels. A mandatory illegal content filter would remove such things as child pornography, sexual violence, and instructions in crime and drug-use, while an opt-out service would block content deemed unfit for children.

Civil libertarians, academics, ISPs and online activists have responded with a No Clean Feed campaign, objecting to censorship. Not to mention the fact it may slow access speeds, already sluggish by international standards.

Election watch

Tonga

Facts:
Date: April/May 2010
Type: Parliamentary
Incumbent: Felete “Fred” Sevele (prime minister)
Challengers: Not yet known

Main issues:
Unemployment, running at 13 per cent, and improved democratisation

What it means for the world:
For the first time, a majority of the seats in Tonga’s parliament will be filled by elected representatives, rather than by hereditary nobles and appointees of King Tupou V. In response to riots in 2006, another monarchy is allowing itself to be phased out.

Gut feeling

Australia [ENVIRONMENT]

Livestock produces 14 per cent of Australia’s methane emissions. As Australia explores every way to reduce its damage to the environment, a new government-funded study at the University of Queensland has come up with some unusual ways to make cows fart less.

Gut bacteria of cattle are poorly adapted to the high-fibre pastures of the tropics and subtropics, where 70 per cent of the world’s beef is farmed.

Fresh-water algae and oil-rich feed ­additives, such as coconut oil, have improved digestion. But the study will trial inoculating cattle with the fibre-digesting bacteria of kangaroos, which produce far less methane. Athol Klieve, lead researcher, says, “We are interested in more experimental approaches for the long-term that could be dramatically effective.”

Pray time

Cook Islands [RELIGION]

The 14,000 islanders of Rarotonga – capital of the Cook Islands – are spoiled for choice on Sundays. Six denominations approved by Rarotonga’s Religious Advisory Council compete for their attendance at church. The latest arrival, the rather fun-sounding evangelical church Celebration on the Rock, has to undergo a five-year probation period before it is fully approved as a religious organisation, after the Cook Islands’ Christian Church (CICC) protested that any more churches on the island would create confusion.

But non-Christian groups receive an uncharacteristically frosty welcome. Last July, RAC chairman Pastor Tutai Pere saw off a group of Scientologists who had pitched a tent on a Rarotongan beach.

Lost in translation

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea may be small (population just over six million) but it has 820 living languages. Of those, 88 look like they may not be around much longer.

#Q&A- Stephen Hopper

Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

With climate change and global food shortages, Hopper believes it is time for a major rethink about what we eat. He recently told the 2009 Sustainability Summit that instead of eating wheat or barley, we should start mass producing plants, such as breadfruit, that thrive in the Pacific Islands.

What crops do you think could replace wheat or barley as staple world foods and why?
Climate change, food shortages and plant diseases mean that we need to look for alternative crops to feed the world. Breadfruit, cowpeas, tamarind or amaranth are all good options, especially when you’re reintroducing local crops into land normally devoted to western agricultural crops. It’s better for the soil and for local biodiversity.

Are these foods any better or worse for people?
Breadfruit, for example, is rich in carbohydrates and vitamins. It’s versatile and can be preserved for a long time – it could become a major contribution to the human food supply. The Department of Agriculture in Perth is working on a small shrub in the carrot family that aborigines have been eating for 45,000 years. It’s one of the tastiest native foods I’ve tried.

Would there be resistance from agri-business?
Any change will cost. My point is simply that the environment is changing, and while excellent research is being done into adapting mainstream crops, in some places – the developing world in particular – it just isn’t going to work. Some alternative will be needed. There are 30,000 edible plant species, and at least a couple of hundred are already sufficiently domesticated to be used.

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