Thursday, 25 June 2009

Booze boosts British food & drink exports

British “booze cruises” to pick up cheap alcohol from continental Europe may be on the wane with the collapse of the pound against the Euro, but alcoholic drinks are a mainstay of the UK’s food and drink exports. A study by Leatherhead Food International for the Food and Drink Federation, UK Food and Drink Export Performance 2008 shows an enormous rise in the value of UK food and drink exports, partly attributed to rising commodity prices and the devaluation of the pound against the Euro and other currencies. Food and drink exports were worth £9.23.billion, but when alcoholic drinks are included, exports totalled £13.6 billion. So, alcoholic drinks make up almost one-third of the value of the UK’s food and drink exports, at over £4.3 billion.

Some of the other product categories noted as strong export performers are notable for the key ingredients being imported; tea exports are up by over 14 per cent, and chocolate by nearly 11 per cent. In 2007 chocolate exports totalled nearly £316 million. The value of UK tea exports was almost as high as the value of exports at over £159 million. The value of coffee exports was even higher at over £180 million. Exports of these high value products made with imported ingredients makes the UK look even less self-sufficient in food than the widening food trade deficit would indicate. Defra statistics show that in 2007 food and drink exports were £6.56 billion, with imports more than three times the value at almost £20 billion.

The UK food trade deficit is particularly acute with fruit and vegetables. By 2007, the value of exports was more than six times that of exports at £6 billion. The growing popularity of allotment and garden growing (like these peas in the photo) may be in the news, but in reality it can be difficult to follow heath guidance to eat more fruit and veg, whilst reducing food miles by eating local produce. Bizarrely, the UK’s fruit exports include produce which did not originate here, so banana exports were valued at over £21 million, about 50 per cent more than apple exports at £13 million. As usual, the supply chain for our food is more convoluted than it appears.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Airport's biometric ID scheme glitches

Manchester Airport is at the vanguard of biometric ID trials for schemes that are planned for rolling out across the country. The programmes have been beset with technical hitches and staff opposition. The airport trialled the UK’s first biometric access control portal for staff, using iris recognition to monitor and control access to restricted areas. The biometric identity cards, called the Critical Worker Identity Card (CWIC) scheme, were to be compulsory for all staff at Manchester and London City Airports. Pilots warned that they would not co-operate with the trial. The ID scheme was quietly scaled down earlier this month, abandoned for existing employees, with only new staff expected to apply for an ID card.

Biometric face recognition for passengers, with five machines at Terminal 1 targeting so called ‘high risk’ passengers, have also been beset with problems. Initially, the kit was set so that an 80 per cent likeness with passengers’ digital passports. In the Times, David Leppard reported that leaked information from a member of staff claimed the machines were throwing up so many false negatives, a 70 per cent error rate, that long queues were developing, so the machines were recalibrated to a 30 per cent likeness. Ron Jenkins of Glasgow University, a leading expert was of the opinion that this would render the machines so ineffective as to be unable to distinguish between UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and actor Mel Gibson, or between Osama Bin Laden and actor Winona Ryder. So the enhanced security was actually laxer, and slowed down passenger flow through the airport instead of speeding it up. The UK Border Agency categorically denied that the machines had been recalibrated.

It could be worse, in the US, 10 airports including Dallas Fort-Worth and McCarran, are trialling ‘whole body imaging’ machines that reveal what is underneath passengers’ clothes. After being criticised for being too revealing apparently a ’modesty filter’ has been fitted, and passengers, who are randomly selected for the procedure, can opt for a ‘good old-fashioned pat down’ by security staff instead.

Its all too intrusive and technology driven, and forgetting that human observation and intervention is vital to averting genuine security risks, such as the failed car bomb attempt at Glasgow Airport and the so called ‘shoe bomber’ who was subdued and restrained by passengers.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Air cargo firms deliver aid and arms

Originally uploaded by RoseBridger
SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,have published a report Air transport and destabilising commodity flows, which reveals that 90 per cent of air cargo companies identified in arms trafficking reports to conflict zones in Africa have been contracted to transport humanitarian aid and in peacekeeping operations by the UN, EU, NATO member states, defence contractors and NGOs. Many of these air cargo carriers are also involved in transportation of conflict sensitive goods such as illegal narcotics, cocaine, diamonds, fossil fuels, valuable metals and minerals such as coltan, which is used in electronic products. In some instances, air cargo companies are delivering aid and weapons to the same conflict zones.

The report covers Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan, although ‘war economies’, conflicts driven by economic and political gain and rooted in control of resources, operate across states and regions. Air transportation links between groups in different states can be stronger than within individual states. Conflict zones may be geographically isolated, but are dependent on connections to global markets and reliant on external support and supplies. Air cargo firms have a central role in these destabilising commodity flows, as there is a reliance on air transport for essential commodities over dangerous land routes. Carriers are identified as ‘facilitators of war economies’ through transportation of small arms and light weapons, and less directly through movement of valuable raw materials and supplying extractive industries with equipment, spare parts and fuel.

SIPRI recommends two key actions that could be taken at the EU level. Aircraft have to be registered, which means that air cargo firms are the only non-state actors in the commodity flows which are relatively easy to trace. This means that a combination of training, coordinated information and field research would enable policy makers to undertake systematic monitoring of air transport firms involvement in illicit or destabilising commodity flows. ‘Ethical transportation’ clauses could be added to peace, humanitarian aid and defence logistics supply chain contracts. Secondly, refinement of the established EU air safety mechanisms to target air cargo companies with poor safety records the would effectively target several of the air cargo firms involved in the destabilising commodity flows, as they have a poor safety record. These measures would help to make companies choose between transporting aid or transporting arms, and put ‘hard core arms dealers’ out of business.

The lamentable air cargo safety record in Africa continues. Eleven people were killed on 9th March, when a cargo plane chartered by Dyncorp carrying tents and water purification treatment to Somalia crashed after taking off from Entebbe Airport into nearby Lake Victoria. Then, on 30th April a Boeing 737 cargo plane crashed near Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, shortly after taking off from Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.

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