ITALY: Aspartame Controversy
MILAN - The European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA) upheld the safety of the artificial
sweetener aspartame after evaluating the study by
the European Ramazzini Foundation based in the Italian
city of Bologna, which concluded that the widely used
substance could have carcinogenic effects.
EFSA announced on May 5 that, based on the available
data, it would not be necessary to re-evaluate the
safety of aspartame (used in hundreds of sugar-free
products, including the popular diet versions of Coca
Cola and Pepsi) or to revise the daily intake approved
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- 50 mg
per kilogram of the consumer's body weight.
In response to EFSA's statement, the Ramazzini Foundation
defended its results, and its scientific director
Morando Soffritti said the research would continue,
"not only of aspartame, but also other chemical sweeteners
used in foods, beverages and pharmaceutical products."
VENEZUELA: Parakeets Endangered
on Margarita Island
CARACAS - Fewer than 20 blue-crowned
parakeets (Aratinga acuticaudata neoxena) survive
in the mangroves of La Restinga Park, on Venezuela's
Margarita Island, in the Caribbean. The species is
in grave danger of extinction, biologist Marialejandra
Faría, of the environmental group Provita, told Tierramérica.
This is due to "the degradation of its habitat, the
growth of neighboring populations, but also to poaching
of the birds for pets," said Faría. "We could try
a program to hatch eggs in captivity, but we don't
have the resources," she said.
Provita has launched a program for young biologists
involving 17 environmental organizations and 400 schoolchildren
on Margarita, seeking to raise awareness about preserving
the habitat of the blue-crowned parakeet and the yellow-shouldered
Amazon parrot, whose population has grown from 750
to 1,900 in the past 17 years.
BRAZIL: Youths to Live
an Amazon Adventure
SAO PAULO - Some 45 students
from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru,
Suriname, Venezuela and French Guiana will retrace
the same route followed by Spanish explorer Francisco
de Orellana along the Amazon River in 1541 and 1542.
The expedition, designed by the Organizations of the
Amazonian Cooperation Treaty (OTCA), will depart from
Quito on June 24 and is scheduled to arrive in Brasilia
on July 27.
"The main objective is to encourage the kids to love
and protect the Amazon. The important thing is that
they are from different countries and speak different
languages, which ensure the project's multiplier effect,"
OTCA secretary general Rosalía Arteaga told Tierramérica.
The students will be accompanied by 27 teachers and
professionals from various fields, and will take part
in cultural and scientific activities.
Halt Forestry Law
TEGUCIGALPA - Honduran lawmakers
are resisting approval of a new forestry law, and
have agreed to start a new dialogue that overrules
the one initiated more than eight years ago by civil
society groups, politicians, labor unions and business
Legislative deputy Paola Castro, president of the
commission that would draft the new law, told Tierramérica
that "today we have new legislators and we believe
it's best to start from zero."
But environmental leader Juan Almendares, of the Madre
Tierra group, said in a Tierramérica interview that
the lawmakers "are delaying the issue because they
don't want a good law that favors the forests."
The bill proposes the creation of a Forest Ministry,
national and municipal commissioner's offices, as
well as the post of forestry regent, which would oversee
logging opertations, and penalties for those who illegally
cut and transport forest products. The law also calls
for punishments of 6 to 12 years in prison for violators.
CHILE: No to Pulp Mill
Waste in the Sea
SANTIAGO - Environmentalists,
artisanal fisherfolk, community leaders and marine
sport enthusiasts have told the Chilean government
that the pulp mill plants must improve their technology
and prevent discharge of their industrial waste into
rivers, lakes and the Pacific Ocean.
"The authorities mast have the will to make technological
change a reality in this type of industry, so that
they don't contaminate water with waste that is toxic
to human health," Antonia Fortt, environmental engineer
with the Oceana organization, told Tierramérica.
The pulp mill firms Celulosa Aracuo and Constitución
(Celco), which in 2003 caused a massive die-off of
swans and other species in the Rio Cruces nature sanctuary,
are planning to build a pipeline to discharge their
liquid waste into the Pacific Ocean.
BRAZIL: Demands for Better
Control of Chemical Spills
RIO DE JANEIRO - An inter-ministerial
committee in Brazil has proposed a system that would
obligate companies, ports and entities that handle
chemical products to notify authorities about spills,
given their serious threats to local populations.
The environmental legislation would require immediate
notification, and would punish inaction, but in many
cases the gasoline stations -- the main source of
such accidents -- discover the spills when they are
already serious and have contaminated underground
water sources, for example, says geologist Kátia Duarte,
who investigated the issue in Brasilia while researching
her doctoral thesis, completed in 2003.
From 1978 to 2005, in Sao Paulo, the only Brazilian
state to systematically monitor chemical spills, there
were 6,303 such accidents recorded -- one-third involved
An obligatory reporting system for spills is crucial
for the effectiveness of the national plan adopted
in 2004 to prevent environmental emergencies involving
GUATEMALA: Forest Fire
GUATEMALA CITY - Guatemala declared
an "orange alert" due to 18 fires in the northern
department of El Petén, which threaten the archeological
sites of Tikal and Piedras Negras, as well as the
protected area Laguna del Tigre.
Army spokesman Jorge Ortega told Tierramérica that
the armed forces are coordinating plans to fight the
forest fires. Last Sunday, six trips were made by
helicopters carrying thousands of liters of water
to douse the flames.
According to Sipecif, the national forest fire prevention
system, so far this year there have been about 200
incidents, which have claimed some 800 hectares of
An estimated 173,000 hectares of forest are destroyed
in Guatemala each year, of which 28,500 hectares are
in protected areas.