Despite Tough Talk, U.S.-China Trade Negotiations Continue

anastasios pallis

SHANGHAI — The combination on Friday of tough words from President Trump and the cancellation of a planned trip by Chinese agriculture officials to two farm states seemed to cast a cloud over prospects for a trade deal and caused a sell-off in New York stock trading.

But both sides moved on Saturday to indicate that the negotiations continue.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said on Saturday that fairly senior negotiators had “conducted constructive discussions” in Washington in recent days and had “agreed to continue to maintain communication.”

The tone of the Xinhua statement was matched by a separate statement from the United States trade representative in Washington. “These discussions were productive, and the United States looks forward to welcoming a delegation from China for principal-level meetings in October,” the statement said.

Both sides’ trade negotiators have continued to look for a resolution of their differences even as tensions ratcheted ever higher over the summer, several people familiar with the trade talks said. All insisted on anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities in the negotiations.

The delegation of Chinese agriculture officials that had planned to travel to Montana and Nebraska in the coming week didn’t cancel the trip because of any new difficulty in the trade talks, two of these people said. Instead, the trip was canceled out of concern that it would turn into a media circus and give the misimpression that China was trying to meddle in American domestic politics, one of them said.

The Chinese government has long taken the position that countries should not interfere in each other’s domestic affairs, a position developed partly in opposition to foreign criticisms of China’s human rights record.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government and many Chinese internet users have also reacted angrily to calls by American officials for Beijing to show restraint in responding to increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly objected to what it describes as intervention in China’s internal affairs over Hong Kong.

The question now is whether Vice Premier Liu He of China can make any progress when he comes to Washington for high-level talks next month. While the dates for those talks have not been confirmed, they look likely to be scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, said two of the several people familiar with the trade talks.

The biggest obstacle facing negotiators may be agreeing on the scale and ambition of any deal they try to reach. Several people familiar with the trade talks said in interviews over the past two weeks that China wanted to reach a partial deal that would head off President Trump’s planned increases in American tariffs on Chinese goods on Oct. 15 and Dec. 15.

China has become more wary in recent weeks of seeking any comprehensive resolution of the dozens of issues facing the two countries. Chinese negotiators have tried to focus the talks on issues that can be resolved through regulations that the country needs to issue by early January anyway in response to a new law on foreign investments the National People’s Congress approved in March.

At the same time, Chinese trade negotiators have tried this week to exclude issues like data flows, the location of data and the setting of cybersecurity standards. These issues tend to infringe on the turf of China’s feared internal security agencies, which have resisted any limits on their ability to conduct comprehensive surveillance within the country and are wary of allowing in American tech companies.

The United States has tried to persuade Beijing to adopt broad changes to Chinese laws to make the country more open to imports and to limit subsidies for industries, particularly advanced manufacturing industries that compete with American industries.

But President Trump objected on Friday to any partial deal.

“I’m looking for a complete deal, I’m not looking for a partial deal,” Mr. Trump said on Friday during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. “We’re looking for the big deal.”

There have nonetheless been some discussions between the two sides on reducing American tariffs that would only apply to Chinese goods worth $250 billion a year. That would be instead of the current tariffs on goods worth $360 billion a year, which are set to increase even further by mid-December, people familiar with the talks said.

The United States has been pressing China to buy more American food in exchange — food that China may need as an epidemic of African swine fever has killed huge numbers of pigs in China.

The two sides have nonetheless undertaken a series of small, confidence-building trade measures in the past two weeks. Each side has removed tariffs from a series of items, like Christmas tree lighting sets from China and pork from the United States. China has also agreed to purchase some soybeans this autumn.

This article is from NYT – go to source

You Might Not Want to Eat Bugs. But Would You Eat Meat That Ate Bugs?

At an insect farm in Cape Town, the bugs are hungry.

More than 8 billion flies being raised in South Africa by the start-up company AgriProtein gobble 250 metric tons of food and farm waste, like corn stalks, potato peelings and damaged vegetables, every day.

“There’s actually no such thing as waste. It’s just stuff in the wrong place. Our flies think it is wonderful to eat,” the firm’s chief executive, Jason Drew, said on the phone recently from the airport in Johannesburg.

AgriProtein is among a small number of start-ups that are using insect larvae to produce protein-rich ingredients for animal feed. This nascent industry could help feed a growing human population in a way that’s less damaging to the environment.

Currently, most animal feed comes from soybeans and fish meal, and producing it contributes to a range of problems linked to industrial agriculture, including greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, land degradation and overfishing. Animal feed production uses about one-third of the world’s cropland, and it consumes 12 percent of the fish produced, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

Insect farming has long been promoted as the solution to these problems, in large part because bugs are very efficient at turning organic material into digestible proteins. The black soldier fly larvae favored by the “insect protein” industry can become 200 times bigger after eating organic waste for 10 days.

Producers say that breeding larvae requires less water and land than growing soybeans, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

And bugs are nutritious. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization,insect meal could replace from 25 percent to 100 percent of soybean meal or fish meal used in animal feed with no adverse effects.


While convincing people in Western nations to eat wriggly worms instead of juicy steaks would be an enormous challenge, using insect protein to feed animals instead of soy and fish may not be that hard.

Protix opened one of the world’s largest insect farms in June in the Netherlands, while other producers, including Enviroflight, Ynsect and AgriProtein, are building large facilities to turn billions of insects into animal protein every month. Large farming companies like Cargill and Wilbur-Ellis are also investing in this sector.

By breeding insects in vertical farms, these companies can produce large amounts of feed in less space than traditional farms, their proponents say.

“Having these vertical indoor farms is a way to control all parameters and increase overall efficiency. It’s much easier to monitor and control risks in an indoor farm than an outdoor farm,” said Antoine Hubert, the chief executive and co-founder of Ynsect, which breeds mealworm in an automated plant in eastern France.

And these insects are essentially recyclers that can turn huge amounts of organic waste into protein.

“I’ve been to facilities that can digest a hundred tons a day of waste with these insects. That’s a hundred tons of waste that won’t go into a landfill. A hundred tons of waste that won’t produce greenhouse gases. A hundred tons of waste that won’t potentially pollute the soils with pathogens,” said Jeffery Tomberlin, an entomologist at Texas A&M University who has been studying the black soldier fly for over two decades.

The beauty of the industry, Mr. Tomberlin said, is that black soldier fly larvae can also be reared in small farms, allowing agricultural areas to turn their organic waste into a valuable product.

“You can grow these insects anywhere in the world, in developed nations and using robotics, as well as is in second- and third-world locations, using wood scraps and chicken wire from your backyard,” he said.


Proponents say this industry makes sense from a biological standpoint because insects are part of the natural diet of many animals, especially chicken and fish.

“The high-protein ingredient we produce is being targeted toward aquaculture. I think the big end goal of this industry is to try to offset some of the needs for wild-harvested fish to produce fish meal,” said Liz Koutsos, the chief executive of Enviroflight, which opened what it says is the first commercial-scale insect rearing facility in the United States last November.

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food industry, and one that requires large amounts of wild fish. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, from 1995 to 2015, the production of industrial aquaculture feeds increased sixfold, from eight to 48 million metric tons a year.

Despite the possibilities, the insect protein industry faces many challenges.

Regulatory hurdles have hampered its growth in Europe and the United States, where black soldier fly products can be used to feed poultry and some fish species but not other animals, and there is no regulatory approval for the use of other insect species for this purpose.

But companies are confident that regulators in the United States will lift those restrictions soon.

“Regulators from the E.U., the U.S. and Asia are quickly understanding that this is a natural process,” said Mr. Drew, whose company plans to open facilities in California, the Netherlands, Singapore and South Korea. “Regulators tend to support this type of industry rather than hamper it because it has immense environmental benefits.”

But to scale up operations, these companies also need to diversify their product portfolio, optimize production methods and raise large amounts of capital.

Dr. Koutsos said that insect protein companies are like chicken farmers in the 1920s, a time when chicken rearing was mostly a backyard operation and not the large-scale industry it is now.

“The beautiful thing is that with a 50-day life cycle from birth to breeding, which is a very short life cycle, our 1920s model will evolve much more rapidly than with longer-lived animals,” Dr. Koutsos said. “So we will make great strides in this industry and its ability to have an impact on the environment very, very quickly.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

To Feed a Hot Planet, They’re Making More Efficient Plants

Robert Furbank was at home in Canberra, Australia, watching a news segment about climate change with his two teenagers this summer when his daughter quipped, “Geez, Dad, you’ve really stuffed things up for us, haven’t you?”

Sitting there as a proxy for the collective old guard, the plant physiologist faced the prospect that the next generation of Australians would be the first to wind up worse off than their parents.

But as it happens, Dr. Furbank is in a position to help the world get ahead of the looming food shortage crisis stemming from global climate change, as rising temperatures, worsening drought, and changing wind and rainfall patterns threaten agriculture’s capacity to feed the world.

Dr. Furbank is the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, an enterprise that draws on experts from several Australian universities and the national government’s premier research agency. In tandem with scientists in universities and private labs that span the globe, the center has set its sights on an audacious solution to the impending food crisis: making crops more efficient at conducting photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the process, vital to all life on earth, by which plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars and oxygen.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

Crop physiologists project that if they could make plants just 5 percent more efficient at the process, they could boost the yield of most crops by 20 percent.

That would be a big help in feeding the global population, which is expected to rise from 7.5 billion today to perhaps 10 billion in 2050. Scientists say that crop yields will need to soar by an estimated 70 percent or more to keep up with global demand.

If the sheer mathematics of recent history are any guide, there is reason to hope. Between 1960 and 2010, global food production rose by 175 percent, thanks to a suite of agricultural innovations collectively known as the Green Revolution. By cultivating high-yield grains, refining the use of nitrogen fertilizer and improving irrigation techniques, the agricultural sector averted global famine while the world’s population multiplied at a rapid rate.

However, as the Green Revolution’s methods have approached their apparent biological limits in recent years, global crop yields have stalled. At the same time, modern agriculture has had a destructive impact on the planet through greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen fertilizer pollution, soil degradation and the like.

Experts predict that during the coming decades, researchers will need to cultivate crops that can achieve unprecedented bounty in ever harsher and more unpredictable conditions and yet thrive with fewer resources — including land, water and fertilizer — than today’s varieties.

CreditDavid Gray for The New York Times

There’s a lot more than food at stake. Climate change’s impact on agriculture is already contributing to global crises, experts say.

“Food scarcity and crop failures driven by droughts and other causes in the Middle East and Central America have likely contributed to the flooding of refugees into Europe and the United States,” said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute.

In Australia, agricultural scientists are in a strong position to provide the global agricultural community with valuable insights into what it will take to harvest successful crops in an increasingly forbidding climate.

“As the driest continent on earth, Australia is the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” said Nick Austin, an Australian native and the director of agricultural development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, which invests some $400 million annually into agricultural development. “Much of what is learned in Australia will have relevance to other countries as they face hotter and more variable farming conditions.”

The Australian government’s Grains Research & Development Corporation channels a significant portion of its $200 million research budget toward climate-resilient crop development. The corporation derives the majority of its funding from a levy on farmers’ output, which encourages projects that will increase yields.

On the photosynthesis front, Australian scientists are grappling with improving the performance of an enzyme called rubisco that is abundant in plants and critical to the process. Rubisco works at a slothful pace; 20 to 40 percent of the time it picks up oxygen molecules, rather than carbon dioxide molecules, and throws them through the photosynthetic assembly line, wasting water and energy in the process.

In the 1960s, Australian researchers discovered that some plants, including corn and sugar cane, manipulate rubisco into working more efficiently, allowing those crops to thrive in less-forgiving environments. If Dr. Furbank and his many colleagues and counterparts across the globe could engineer high-demand crops like beans, rice, wheat and potatoes to function similarly, the scientists could in theory improve those crops’ yields while reducing fertilizer and water demands.

The research teams from 12 institutions in eight nations, including Australia, that comprise the Gates Foundation-funded C4 Rice Project hope to achieve this task in rice that is ready for field planting by the early 2030s.

CreditDavid Gray for The New York Times

Robert Sharwood, a researcher in Dr. Furbank’s center, is working on corn along with David B. Stern, president of the Boyce Thompson Institute and a plant biologist at Cornell University. They are leading an international research effort that has boasted early success in increasing rubisco levels in corn — and ultimately the crop’s productivity, according to their 2018 paper in Nature Plants.

Wheat, which covers more land than any global crop and provides 20 percent of all calories and protein consumed by people worldwide, is also a major focus of international research into increasing yields.

Australia’s $6 billion wheat industry is the source of about 8 percent of worldwide exports of the grain, making the nation’s harvest an important factor in the stability of global markets.

On a recent visit to the ARC Centre, Dr. Sharwood and Dr. Furbank displayed an array of innovations that allow them to cultivate crops in environments that simulate future climate conditions and devices that closely measure and monitor crop growth.

The rich data those devices collect can help breeders identify the most promising crop varieties and guide farmers’ midseason decision-making — for example, by determining the precise amount of fertilizer, pesticide or irrigation needed.

The phenoMobile replaces manual assessments of crop growth that are time consuming. Video by David Gray for The New York Times

Complementing the photosynthesis research, Surinder Singh and Thomas Vanhercke at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the national government’s premier research agency, are making progress in engineering crops that can produce up to 30 percent of their weight in oil, thus offering a sustainable alternative to the environmentally destructive cultivation of palm oil. Their colleague Craig Wood is among those seeking to cultivate plants capable of converting nitrogen from the air into a usable form, reducing the need for fertilizer.

Addressing the variety of experiments underway in this corner of Australia and around the world, Dr. Furbank said, “I don’t think there’s going to be a single technological solution to any of this. We need to have concerted action across a number of fronts.”

Eliza Berlage contributed reporting from Canberra, Australia.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Where’s the Waste? A ‘Circular’ Food Economy Could Combat Climate Change

A gigantic steel cylinder shines in the afternoon sun outside The Plant, a 93,500-square-foot “living food laboratory” here. To the untrained eye, it looks like a space rocket. But it’s not.

It’s an anaerobic digester.

Bubbly Dynamics, the organization that nine years ago converted this former meatpacking facility into a hub for local food businesses, said that, once completed, this “mechanical stomach” would turn organic waste into compost, biogas and a nutrient-rich liquid in which to grow algae.

The digester is expected to help Bubbly Dynamics implement a circular economy, a model that could help fight climate change by feeding a rapidly growing urban population with food grown locally using organic methods, according to experts. This closed-loop system would create little to no waste because materials would be reused, shared, repaired and refurbished.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global linear production system that relies on chemicals and fuel to produce and transport food over great distances is to blame for between 21 percent and 37 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, proponents of the circular model argue that cooperation among various groups in the food-production system can significantly reduce energy consumption and waste.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

The Plant, which is home to about 20 food businesses — including a kombucha brewery, a coffee roaster, a chocolate maker and a vegan-ice-cream maker — is among the global pioneers of the concept.

The indoor farms are irrigated with rainwater, and some of the energy is generated from solar panels. The spent grain from the Whiner Beer Company, the building’s largest tenant, is mixed with wood chips and horse manure to produce roughly 20,000 pounds of compost a month, and some of the carbon dioxide from the fermenting process is used to stimulate the growth of plants and algae.

The wastewater from Just Ice, an artisanal ice company in the basement, is channeled to a wetland in the lobby that has a vertical garden, or living wall, fishes and turtles.

CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

“At its heart, The Plant is primarily a tool to fight climate change,” said John Edel, founder and director of Bubbly Dynamics. By reusing organic waste instead of letting it rot in a landfill, this facility keeps methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, away from the atmosphere.

“It has many other benefits to pass around, like providing economies of scale to small businesses so that they can compete with larger ones,” he said. “If the money stays local that helps everybody.”

Some of the collaborations that have allowed The Plant’s low environmental footprint have been encouraged by Plant Chicago, a nonprofit that promotes circular economy practices.

“It’s about collective action, that’s the next frontier. We need to get the Chicago food community to work collectively toward shared goals,” said Jonathan Pereira, executive director of Plant Chicago.

But The Plant, a gigantic food laboratory, is also about science and technological innovation. Researchers at the mycology lab are trying to grow mushrooms in the spent grain from the microbrewery, and Backyard Fresh Farms is developing robots controlled by artificial intelligence to tend to its plants.

Back of the Yards Algae Sciences wants to use algae to produce protein-rich food as an alternative to meat.

CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

In many ways, meat production and climate change are entwined. Worldwide, livestock accounts for from 14.5 percent to 18 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and, each year, the amount of forested land that is cleared — in part to create pasture land for cattle — releases emissions equivalent to driving 600 million cars.

But Back of the Yards Algae Sciences, The Plant’s newest tenant, said that algae could be the bedrock of a sustainable, largely plant-based food industry.

“I mean, what really excites me in this building is that it was operating for almost a hundred years,” Leonard Lerer, founder of Back of the Yards Algae Sciences, said. “The meat of hundreds of millions of pigs was probably processed in here. And soon we will be able to make a burger that is 100 percent algae-based and cruelty-free.”

And urban farming is growing in places like New York, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore and Tel Aviv, for good reason.

A 2018 study suggested that urban farming could ameliorate some environmental problems in cities by increasing vegetation cover, removing atmospheric carbon dioxide and offering a habitat for bees and other pollinators. It could also help increase food security and reduce food waste, said Matei Georgescu, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at the University of Arizona.

“Because society largely depends on food grown elsewhere, the ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality has led to nonsensical quantities of food waste” he said. “Reconnecting people to the food they eat is likely to lead to decreased waste.”

CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

Take Lufa Farms in Montreal, for instance. Since it opened a commercial rooftop farm in 2011, it has been doubling the amount of food it produces every two years. It now grows about 50 varieties of veggies in three hydroponic rooftop farms that generate “virtually no waste.”

That’s in part because it only harvests by order and sells products only in Montreal. In addition, Lufa saves energy by warming its farms with the excess heat emanating from the buildings below, captures rainw for irrigation, packages products in compostable plastic and relies on 25 electric cars to deliver some of the 17,000 baskets it sells every week via its online farmers market.

Where Lufa got “very nerdy,” said co-founder Lauren Rathmell, was with so-called biocontrols, which use living organisms to fight pests.

“We were really naïve to think that there wouldn’t be that many insects in this area of the city. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we’ve had everything you could probably have in a farm or a garden, and learned to deal with it, incredibly effectively, using not a single synthetic pesticide,” said Ms. Rathmell, a trained biochemist.

Lufa turned its greenhouses into high-tech living ecosystems that host dozens of insect species including “good bugs” like parasitic wasps, ladybugs and predatory mites to keep pests under control.

CreditGaraldine Woessner/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As a result, Ms. Rathmell said, Lufa demonstrated a commercially viable way to supply urbanites with greens grown sustainably in rooftop greenhouses — a system that is particularly suitable for cold-weather cities with short growing seasons.

Lufa estimates that by converting 19 rooftops of average-sized shopping centers it would be able to supply all of Montreal — which has a population of about 1.8 million — with sustainably grown veggies. While Lufa has considered spreading to the Northeast United States, it, like other companies in the circular economy sphere, says it believes that “slow growth” is the best way to be faithful to its principles.

“What we’re trying to build is something that can last. Something that can have an impact on access to quality, fresh produce in cities, where more and more people are. Montreal is the test bed but we see this as a multigenerational endeavor,” Ms. Rathmell said.

Produce grown using regenerative farming practices can often be out of reach to low-income consumers. But some argue that circular economy practices can be used to actually democratize access to healthy food.

That’s the tenet of Saladorama, which works with six farms to produce and distribute healthy meals to low-income communities in three Brazilian cities.

Saladorama reduced costs by reaching consumers directly, without the “six to eight” intermediaries that often make healthy food prohibitively expensive, said Hamilton Henrique, Saladorama’s founder. The company also saves on transportation because it grows food within urban areas and delivers its meals by bike.

“The main challenge was this social construct that healthy food is only for the elites,” Mr. Henrique said through an interpreter.

Can the circular economy model that is being pioneered by these organizations help fight climate change?

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British charity that promotes the circular economy, a large-scale circular food economy would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of taking one billion cars off the road.

Its argument is that it makes sense to grow more food near urban areas because 80 percent of the world’s food will be consumed by cities in 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. About 40 percent of the world’s cropland already exists on or near cities.

The foundation is working with six major food companies, including Nestlé and Danone, and with three cities — London, New York and São Paulo, Brazil — to lay the foundations of a “holistically healthy food system,” said Emma Chow, who leads the foundation’s Cities and Circular Economy for Food initiative.

“Our goal is that every meal and every piece of food, that the very act of eating, help solve rather than contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss,” she said.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Is the New Meat Any Better Than the Old Meat?

The Impossible Whopper sold at Burger King — with the tagline “100% Whopper, 0% beef” — looks just like a juicy beef burger.

It is made of 21 ingredients, according to its website, including genetically modified soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil and other items most people have never heard of, such as cultured dextrose, soy protein isolate and zinc gluconate.

Plant-based meat doesn’t come from a cow or a pig. But it’s not your old-fashioned skinny veggie burger, either.

Beyond Meat, one of the major companies competing in the plant-based meat business, said its products are made by layering in plant-based fats, binders, fruit and vegetable-based colors and flavors using a process of heating, cooling and pressure to create the fibrous texture of meat.

The word “meat” is a point of contention. For example, Missouri passed a law this year saying companies can’t represent a product as meat if it isn’t produced from livestock or poultry. Four organizations are challenging the law on behalf of plant-based meat companies.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. Cattle (raised for beef and milk) alone produce 65 percent of livestock emissions.

This happens because carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, is released into the atmosphere when forests are cleared to make room for animal feed production and livestock grazing. Animals also release methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, through burps and flatulence when digesting their food. Animal manure and rice paddies are also huge sources of methane.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

Agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gases varies by country, depending on how animals are bred, herded and fed, but some experts say the overall number is much higher than 14.5 percent. Jeff Anhang, environmental and social specialist with the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, estimates that livestock production accounts for at least half of human-caused greenhouse gases.

Most studies focus on emissions, “so they miss the fact that food causes almost all of our environmental issues,” said Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford who was the co-author of a 2018 journal article examining the impact of food production, from deforestation to retail. “Avoiding meat and dairy, for the large majority of people, including Americans, is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact, not just on greenhouse gas emissions, but on land use, biodiversity loss, water pollution, pesticide use, antibiotic use and a range of other issues,” he said. He has also outlined his findings in a YouTube video.

The transportation and processing of plant-based products like the Impossible Whooper do have an environmental impact, but it’s insignificant compared with the transportation and processing of meat, Mr. Poore said. “No other change in your lifestyle can have such a dramatically positive and crosscutting benefit.”

Technology, taste and timing. Although meatless burgers, chicken nuggets and sausages have existed for years, they’ve largely been marketed toward vegetarians. This new plant-based meat is aimed at, well, meat eaters.

“It’s clear the American palate has been trained on a diet of animal foods,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade organization. “For the average person, it will be difficult to trade hamburgers for salad, and this next generation of companies is trying to reach the hard-core meat eaters.”

Paul Shapiro, chief executive of the Better Meat Company, which makes plant-based ingredients for companies to add to their poultry or meat, said it was the success of soy milk that pushed the plant-based meat movement into the mainstream.

“Plant-based milk has grown from 1 percent of the fluid dairy market to 13 percent in the United States, whether that be soy, almond or coconut,” he said. Plant-based meat, which is about 1 percent of the meat market now, is following the same pattern, he added.

And although most people aren’t typically aware of the connection between food and climate change, Ms. Simon said, understanding has ratcheted up in recent years — especially among younger consumers, making meatless food that much more appealing.

CreditRobyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A number of companies are active in making plant-based products. Ms. Simon said her trade association, which started in 2016 with 22 members, now has 157.

But the two major disrupters are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Impossible Foods is privately held, but Beyond Meat went public in May with the best-performing public option in recent history.

Both companies are looking far past the supermarket aisle to meet consumers where they eat: fast food outlets. Burger King, KFC, Carl’s Jr., White Castle and others are serving burgers and other products made by either Impossible or Beyond.

None of these places would be swapping meat for meatless if it weren’t good business. The Beyond Famous Star was one of Carl’s Jr.’s most successful burger launches of the past two years, a company spokeswoman said. A&W Canada introduced its Beyond Meat Burger last summer and sold out in a matter of weeks, said Susan Senecal, the company’s chief executive. It has since become one of its most popular burgers, and customers can also chow down on Beyond Meat Sausage & Eggers.

In Britain, the chain bakery Greggs saw its profits rise by 58 percent after the introduction of a new vegan sausage role.

Over the past year, established companies such as Tyson and Perdue have jumped into the field; Perdue just started offering its Chicken Plus, which combines poultry with plant-based meat to create burgers, meatballs and chicken.

“This movement is being led by industry, not consumers, but that’s the norm,” Mr. Anhang said. “There’s not a single example of a food product being introduced — except at the margins — because of consumer demand.”

There is no doubt that moving away from livestock and poultry would reduce greenhouse gases, although estimates vary. A much-cited 2018 report commissioned by Beyond Meat and conducted by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan compared the environmental impact of making a 4-ounce Beyond Meat burger with a similar beef product in the United States. The findings: Beyond Burger generated 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, required 46 percent less energy and had far less impact on water and land use than the beef burger.

“My view is that replacing animal products with better alternatives may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change,” said Mr. Anhang with the World Bank.

But Ricardo San Martin, research director and industry fellow for the Alternative Meats Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, said he would like to see more independent studies and more information about how the factories that process plant-based meat affect the environment to get a fuller picture.

It depends on what you’re eating. It is not typically as healthy as eating unprocessed vegetables and beans, and if it’s produced for fast-food outlets, it can be downright unhealthy. The plant-based Beyond Famous Star burger with cheese at Carl’s Jr.’s is 710 calories, 40 grams of fat and 30 grams of protein. The Famous Star burger with cheese is 670 calories, 37 grams of fat and 28 grams of protein. For those watching their salt intake, the Beyond Famous Star is worse, with 1,550 grams of salt compared with 1,210 for its meat brethren.

It’s too soon to say. Just as global warming knows no borders, neither can solutions. To have an impact, plant-based meat would have to become a staple across the world, replacing beef, goat, pork and chicken.

That especially means making inroads in the Asian market, where demand for meat is skyrocketing, leading to record exports of beef from the United States last year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“Unfortunately, the consumption of meat is still increasing worldwide,” said Michael Siegrist, a professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Environmental Decisions, who added that it’s not clear whether plant-based proteins are replacing meat or if consumers are eating them in addition to meat.

“The hype of plant protein is certainly welcome,” he said, “but we are, in my view, far away from having an environmental impact.”

Much of that depends on whether Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other companies can play the same disruptive role that Apple and Microsoft did when substantially replacing mainframe computers with personal computers over a single decade.

The companies that make the products are optimistic, naturally, and say they are on the brink of worldwide growth.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are now available in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore; Beyond Meat also has markets in 50 countries around the world, including Taiwan and Korea and 14 European countries.

“We’re adding new customers almost every month,” a Beyond Meat spokeswoman said. One of the company’s European distribution partners, Zandbergen, is building a Beyond Meat facility anticipated to start production in 2020.

Patrick Brown, founder of Impossible Foods, said in an email that his company’s long-term plan is “to produce a full range of meats and dairy products for every region in the world to completely replace the need for animals in the food system, full stop. This is not a fad, but a necessity.”

He added that if plant-based meat continues to be available, relatively inexpensive and tasty, consumers “will continue to seek it out as a replacement to beef, and old-fashioned, red-blooded capitalism will take care of the rest.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

In a Race Against the Sun, Growers Try to Outsmart Climate Change

It was a long, hot summer, like most in the San Joaquin Valley. The pistachio trees planted in orderly rows — and the growers who nurture them — are accustomed to harsh conditions. With their deep roots and tough, gnarly branches, pistachio trees are hardy, tolerant of salty soils and brutal heat waves. Some can live for centuries.

But while sweltering summers are the norm in this part of central California, there’s a new, existential threat to these trees, one that scientists warn could spell the end of the pistachio harvest: warmer winters. Many crops are facing similar threats as agricultural regions across the world experience previously unseen extremes in heat, rain and drought.

Chilly winters are critical to nut and fruit trees, particularly pistachios. To break their slumber and spread their pollen, pistachios need to spend about 850 hours, or five weeks, at temperatures below 45 degrees.

So as the San Joaquin Valley warms and its cooling fogs retreat, growers have found their orchards out of sync: Many male trees are no longer producing pollen when the females need it.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

After suffering a billion-dollar loss from a recent warm winter, California pistachio growers don’t need much convincing that their livelihoods are endangered by climate change. Heeding warnings that the industry may not survive past the middle of the century, they are among the world’s earliest adapters. Scientists are wrangling and crossing genes to breed trees that can survive a warmer world, and growers are hedging their bets by planting experimental trees that need fewer chilly days.

“There’s a lot to be said about traditional knowledge. But this is new territory,” said Rebecca Carter of the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research group that is working with growers around the world to adapt to the threats of climate change, including warmer winters, dried-up aquifers and record-breaking heat waves.

Scientists in 2013 urged “immediate adaptation” by farmers to ensure that they can feed the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050. They warned in a study that world hunger would worsen as crop yields declined, pests and diseases increased, water demand skyrocketed and highly vulnerable crops vanished. “The whole food system needs to change,” according to the report published in the journal Science.

Coping, Dr. Carter said, would “require fundamental changes in how food is produced, how land is used, who lives where and what economic activities occur in specific areas.”

Those changes are already happening worldwide. After growing coffee for generations, farmers in parts of Costa Rica are switching to oranges. Kenyan herders, facing intense droughts, are raising camels instead of cattle. Farmers in the Midwestern United States are planting corn several weeks early so their crops can pollinate before the hotter summers.

CreditThilo Thielke/picture alliance, via Getty Images
CreditSam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In China’s drought-prone Fujian province, farmers who grew wheat and corn have switched to apples. In India, some farmers have replaced rice with millet, an ancient grain that thrives in parched, infertile soils. And as seawater swamps Bangladesh, some rice fields have been transformed into shrimp farms.

Yet adaptation is a gradual, decades-long process. Whether it’s California or China, transforming a society and an economy takes research, patience, guts — and money. California growers with lucrative, specialized crops have the income and savvy to test new climate-smart varieties, while in Costa Rica, Kenya and India, growers have been forced to abandon their long-held traditions and livelihoods.

“The poorest farmers, the most vulnerable farmers, are the ones who are least able to make these changes. They’re going to need help to make them,” Dr. Carter said.

A single county in the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, produces and sells more agricultural products than 25 states, and over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown in California. So if the state’s growers fail to adapt to climate change, it would cause nationwide food shortages and have a severe economic impact, according to a University of California study published last year.

“We can’t continue to do the exact same thing we are doing now,” said Katherine Jarvis-Shean, a University of California researcher who advises orchardists on how to cope with climate change. “There are a lot of solutions to the anticipated problems. We just have to get on top of them, testing them and making them available to growers.”

Among the most threatened crops in California are cherries, pistachios and walnuts, which need a large number of chilly winter days, and wine grapes, which cannot tolerate extreme heat waves.

Melons and broccoli, though, might thrive in a warming world, according to a 2017 study by the Department of Agriculture. But consumers are unlikely to rush to buy them to replace their favorite stone fruits and nuts.

“For the most part, the world gets fed by row crops,” said Pat J. Brown, an associate professor at the University of California-Davis, referring to wheat, corn and other staples. “But a lot of the stuff that makes life really worth living comes from trees. Think of the world without chocolate or wine or coffee.”

That’s the world farmers and scientists are now actively working to avoid.

CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

For pistachios, the clear warning came in the winter of 2014-15, the warmest on record in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Historically, orchards there, about 125 miles north of Los Angeles, enjoy cool, rainy winters and dense fog. But statewide, average temperatures have increased more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century.

In particular, the valley’s wintertime lows have risen four times faster than its summertime highs. Making matters worse, the famous Tule fogs that cool the valley have dissipated by 46 percent.

In the winter of 2014-15, the southern valley experienced only about half the chill hours that the pistachios needed and not a single day of fog. The industry had its lowest yield in more than 20 years.

Cherries had a similar dismal year in 2014. Production dipped 63 percent, to the smallest crop since 1998. Then, last winter, a cold snap killed walnut trees up and down the valley.

“Walnut growers had never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Brown, who breeds walnuts and pistachios. “In this case, it didn’t just destroy a year’s crop. It killed mature trees.”

Farmers couldn’t help but be alarmed by the wild temperature swings. “Farming in general is like gambling in Vegas,” said Rob Yraceburu, the president of Wonderful Orchards, the largest producer of pistachios in the United States. “We’ve always had uncertainty. But now there’s even more uncertainty.”

The first warnings came in 2009, when a team of scientists reported that chilling hours in some parts of California had already dropped by 30 percent between 1950 and 2000, and that the decrease would reach 80 percent by the end of this century.

“For some crops, production might no longer be possible,” the scientists wrote. “Areas where safe winter chill exists for growing walnuts, pistachios, peaches, apricots, plums and cherries are likely to almost completely disappear by the end of the 21st century.”

Expanding their scope, the scientists warned that all growing regions — the southeastern United States, South America, Africa, China, Australia — “will experience severe declines in safe winter chill.”

After the dismal 2015 harvest, California growers decided that they needed pistachio trees designed for warmer winters. But it takes some 20 years to breed, test, grow and harvest a new variety of nut tree, so experiments undertaken now won’t have quick results.

“We have a saying: You don’t plant pistachios for yourself, you plant them for your children and your grandchildren,” said Bob Klein, manager of the California Pistachio Research Board. “Now perhaps it’s not so much for your kids and your grandchildren” as the future climate has become so uncertain, he said.

Wonderful Orchards took the stopgap step of planting some experimental male trees that shed pollen at various times, hoping their cycles would match more females.

The company is still waiting to see if any of its efforts will work.

“It’s a challenge for all permanent crops, because it takes so long,” Mr. Yraceburu said. “Others like carrots or lettuce are 90-day or 120-day crops, so you can try something and know right away if it works. For trees, you don’t even get any results until four to eight years down the road. You don’t know if your experiment works for a long time.”

For some crops, scientists are going back to their origins, searching, for instance, for old varieties of nuts grown in the Middle East. “All of the things we grow in California have a wild relative or a variety on the market elsewhere that does O.K. with warmer winters,” Dr. Jarvis-Shean said.

The Agriculture Department has repositories that store genetic material from every type of tree on earth. Dan Parfitt, a now-retired University of California-Davis plant geneticist, started breeding pistachios using tissue from those repositories more than 30 years ago in an effort to help growers economize their harvest.

As the climate changed, Dr. Parfitt got the idea to plant a few hundred of the trees in the California desert. “The Coachella Valley is the closest to the warmer winters and drier conditions that we will see in the San Joaquin Valley in 20 to 30 years,” he said.

These new breeds go by an array of odd names: Gumdrop, Tejon, Lost Hills, Famoso. Many growers have already planted some in their orchards. Dr. Parfitt is confident that the pistachios of the future will be dominated by trees bred for climate change.

CreditCarlos Vásquez Hernández

A similar adaptation effort is underway in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where coffee has been grown for two centuries. But instead of waiting for climate-smart beans, Javier Zeledón Jimenez is growing something else.

About 20 years ago, as coffee was becoming less profitable, he switched to oranges, a crop that also happens to cope better with dry conditions. He is now doing much better financially, and other Guanacaste growers, seeing his success, have joined him.

The unpredictability of climate change is raising the cost of harvesting coffee just as prices for the product are dropping, said Carlos Luis Vásquez Hernández, the general manager of Coope Pilangosta, a coffee cooperative in Guanacaste. As a result, he said, about 40 percent of the coffee farmers in his co-op have switched to oranges.

Coffee is temperature sensitive; highs and lows must fall within a certain range, and it needs a long dry period, then a gradual start to the rainy season, to thrive. Rising temperatures and erratic shifts in rainfall have devastated Guanacaste’s coffee growers. Almost half the crop was lost in the 2015-16 season because of drought, Mr. Vásquez Hernández said.

“With climate change, something we’ve heard over and over from farmers is that the climate is becoming really irregular and unpredictable,” said Stefanie Tye of the World Resources Institute, who is advising Costa Rican growers. “It’s incredibly difficult to be a coffee producer right now. A lot of the farmers are heavily in debt.”

It will get worse. By 2050, Costa Rica’s average temperatures are projected to rise 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, rendering some regions incapable of growing Arabica beans. That will mean fundamental changes to a culture that has had a rich history of coffee growing.

“If we lose the coffee crop, job opportunities in the rural areas will decrease,” Mr. Vásquez Hernández said. “Immigration from the rural areas will be a fact, without a doubt. People will try to find jobs opportunities in bigger cities because coffee won’t be a good opportunity.”

For farmers around the world, “these are hard conversations to have,” Dr. Carter said. “Agriculture hasn’t changed a whole heck of a lot. But they are willing to change if it makes sense to them, if there is a market, if they can do it gradually, rather than when they’re backed into a corner.

“What we hope to avoid,” she said, “is farmers in crisis.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

The Future of Wine: Very, Very Dry

MITZPE RAMON, Israel — In the Negev Desert, the sun beats down on a parched landscape of brown, undulating hills. But on a parcel of land here in southern Israel, trees grow in green rows, and fat bunches of grapes dangle amid lush leaves.

This is not a desert apparition. It is a research vineyard, where scientists are studying how grapes can best grow in this harsh environment.

The Negev is a far cry from the temperate climates of many wine-growing regions. Yet about 20 wineries have sprouted here over the past 15 years, along with a budding wine tourism business.

The researchers are focusing on this harsh environment for a reason: to study how wine grapes can grow in the desert conditions that dominate Israel. That knowledge will become even more valuable in a world with more frequent droughts and heat waves.

“Climate is becoming more and more unpredictable,” said Aaron Fait, a biochemistry professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “The desert model is a way to study how climate change will affect wine worldwide.”

The techniques being tested here on 30 varieties of grapes include the use of nets that provide shade, trellises that coax vines to grow in formations that limit sun exposure, sensors that measure soil humidity and thermal cameras that track how much sunlight grapes and leaves absorb.

CreditHeidi Levine for The New York Times

The work is gaining increased interest from European winemakers as summer heat waves and other climate shifts affect their vines. In July, temperatures hit 106 degrees in the French wine-growing region of Bordeaux — the hottest day on record. Heat records were broken elsewhere on the Continent, including in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In recent years, scientists and vineyard owners from France, Italy, Slovenia and other parts of Europe have visited the researchers in the Negev. Experts hope Israel’s desert agriculture can provide valuable lessons about adapting crops to extreme and unpredictable weather.

Climate change was seen as a future threat. Now, it is a reality of the present.

To study innovations in winemaking, Dr. Fait works with several Negev wineries, as well as European researchers like Enrico Peterlunger, a professor of viticulture at the University of Udine in northern Italy. The effort started in 2014 with the Israeli irrigation company Netafim and support from the Italian and Israeli governments.

“Growers are concerned about climate change” in Europe, Professor Peterlunger said. In his region, he said: “It rained a lot in May, which caused some problems during flowering and fruit set. June, July and August were really hot, and that is not optimal for grapevines.”

Naftali Lazarovitch, a soil scientist at the Blaustein Institutes of Desert Research in the Negev, also studies desert viticulture at the research vineyard. Europeans “are looking at Israel and the way we are dealing with harsh conditions and trying to learn from it,” he said. “We produce more with less, that’s our objective.”

More than 40 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface is made up of drylands, including tropical dry forests, savannas and deserts, that are home to roughly 2.5 billion people. These regions are already threatened by resource overuse and desertification and more vulnerable to extreme weather, including droughts, heat waves and dust storms, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Most of Israel is arid; the Negev spans more than half of the country. Out of necessity, Israel has honed desert agriculture to yield bountiful crops. In the 1940s, the Polish-Israeli inventor Simcha Blass pioneered modern drip-irrigation systems that now are used around the world.

Desert agriculture has existed in the region since ancient times. The Nabateans, nomadic Arab peoples dating to the fourth century B.C., used runoff and built small stone dams to divert water to irrigate crops and grow wine grapes.

Today in the Negev, farmers can control water with precise drip irrigation, unlike parts of the world that are at the mercy of rainfall. “Desert viticulture, where we can control a large number of variables like nowhere in a traditional vineyard, is of immense importance to test certain climate scenarios,” Dr. Fait said.

CreditHeidi Levine for The New York Times

For his tests, he works with Negev wineries like Nana Estate, whose owner, Eran Raz, left a career in film production. Mr. Raz moved to the Negev to start a vineyard “because no great story ever began with salad,” he joked.

Water piped from a local aqueduct nourishes Nana Estate’s grapes, which produce chardonnay and chenin blanc wines.

“I have total control over water,” Mr. Raz said. “I control how big the grapes will be.”

He closely monitors his vines to ensure that grapes grow — not the leaves — and checks sugar levels of the fruit. An optimal yield for one vine is four kilograms, or almost nine pounds. If there are too many grape clusters, it strains the plant, so Mr. Raz discards them.

In the Negev, days can reach 97 degrees and nights can drop to freezing in the winter. With its dry climate, Negev vintners might spray fungicide twice a season, whereas some European counterparts spray every week.

In addition to viticulture, Israeli researchers are studying a range of techniques to grow other crops. The Ramat Negev Agro-Research Center has about 15 hectares — or 37 acres — of research plots and greenhouses where scientists cultivate wine grapes, date palms, olives and jojoba.

In large greenhouses, researchers cultivate cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and other vegetables, like an edible, crunchy grass called sarcocornia that thrives in saline conditions. Even strawberries are grown in long, suspended planters.

Mr. Lazarovitch and other scientists are testing innovations including cameras that monitor plant roots and sensors that monitor carbon dioxide, fertilizer and salinity levels. Mulching techniques can reduce water use by 20 percent. Covering plant roots with plastic also prevents evaporation.

CreditHeidi Levine for The New York Times

These innovations “will be more and more relevant to many countries as a result of global warming,” said Ofer Guy, an agricultural researcher at the Ramat Negev center. “Issues of saline soil and water, extreme hot weather and lack of water are going to be big problems in the global future as agriculture is forced into marginal soils,” he added.

“Today agriculture, and food consumption, is based on a small variety of plants that are relatively sensitive to salinity,” Mr. Guy said. “This poses a great challenge to humanity.”

In a region that gets about 300 days of sun each year, scientists closely study how crops are affected by shade, assessing the color, density and material of various kinds of canopies and netting. For example, when grapes ripen, researchers cover them with nets to shield them from the sun. This reduces temperature, but increases humidity and the potential to draw insects.

The Ramat Negev center works with local farmers, many of whom are not from farming backgrounds. This helps bolster an industry whose numbers are dwindling. In the 1950s, more than 70 percent of Israel’s population worked in agriculture, compared with less than 2 percent today.

“It’s difficult to be a farmer,” Mr. Guy said. “You’re like a gambler. You don’t have any guarantees. It’s a very big risk. In 10 to 20 years, if no one promotes farms, less and less people will want to be farmers. There’s a lot of potential and cooperation. There’s a lot to learn from us, and a lot for us to learn still.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

Beep. Ding. Vroom. Electric Cars Need to Make Noise for Safety, but What Kind?

anastasios pallis

Two years ago, Nissan hired the studio Man Made Music for what seemed like a straightforward task: Design a sound that its quiet electric vehicles could play to announce themselves on the road.

The automaker wasn’t just splurging on a flashy feature. It was preparing for a federal regulation set to take effect next year that would require all hybrid and electric vehicles, which are quieter than their gas-guzzling ancestors, to emit noise at certain speeds for pedestrian safety.

This week, the agency that oversees the rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, proposed changing it to let automakers offer drivers a suite of sounds. For now, though, Nissan plans to include just one with its electric Leaf next year: “Canto,” a resonant hum created by Man Made Music whose pitch rises as the car accelerates.

Designing such sounds is a complex undertaking, according to Joel Beckerman, the founder of Man Made Music. With Canto, the team had to address safety and maintain a brand identity, all in a three-second loop that is distinctive yet doesn’t stand out.

“If we do our job in this kind of situation, then you don’t notice what we did at all,” Mr. Beckerman said. “It just becomes natural, it’s just a part of your life, it’s a part of your environment. When you get it wrong, that’s when people notice.”

The team at Man Made Music, which is used to developing audio for TV, movies and radio, spent nearly half of 2017 working on the sound, a layering of sampled wind and string instruments, and analog and digital synth sounds.

“A surprising element we found ourselves relying on were pure ‘sine waves’ from analog synthesizers,” Danni Venne, the studio’s creative director on the Nissan project, said in an email. “We also found that adding bits of ‘white noise’ to the mix gave us a lot of control to shape and color the sound. It’s almost like we built ‘Canto’ from fundamental building blocks of sound.”

While the advent of quieter hybrid and electric vehicles presents an opportunity to build such sounds from scratch, there is a long history of sound design in the automotive industry. Muscle cars have their distinctive throaty growl. Harley Davidson motorcycles have that syncopated “potato-potato-potato” chug. (That’s really what they’ve called it.)

There is also a history of maintaining zombie sounds long after technology has made them obsolete. On smartphones, for example, the actions of locking the device or taking photos are often accompanied by the noises of a mechanical lock or camera shutter. In financial apps, transactions are often accompanied by the sound of jingling coins or a cash register.

In the case of hybrid and electric vehicles, though, the need for sound is about more than the user experience: It’s about safety. About a decade ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hybrid electric vehicles were 35 percent more likely than those with internal combustion engines to be involved in a pedestrian accident. Hybrids were also 57 percent more likely to be involved in accidents involving bicycles.

In 2010, Congress passed a law to enhance pedestrian safety, instructing the agency to craft a rule mandating that hybrid and electric vehicles emit noise. The rule was finalized in 2016 and requires that such noises be produced when the car is driving at speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour. Above that, tire, wind and other noises were warning enough, it deemed. The move was celebrated by the blind community.

Automakers requested a few changes, though, including allowing owners to choose from a range of sounds rather than just one. On Tuesday, the agency proposed making that tweak, and said that it would accept input on the move until November.

Regulators around the world have been imposing or weighing such requirements. In the European Union, for example, one such rule just took effect in July.

As a result, major carmakers have been working on crafting sounds to meet those requirements. Jaguar, for example, said it worked for four years on the futuristic noise for its I-PACE SUV. For the 2020 model of the Chevrolet Bolt, General Motors designed the vehicle’s sound in-house, using a quiet electric whirring as a starting point, according to Todd Bruder, the engineer who led development of the sound.

“It wants to be purposeful, it wants to be pleasing, but also have the ability to warn people that there’s something coming,” he said.

For Nissan, Man Made Music sought to develop a sound that was both functional and emotional — something that represented the aesthetic of the consumer.

“If you’re buying an electric vehicle and you’re interested in clean energy, you probably want that car to feel frictionless,” Mr. Beckerman said.

At the same time, the car needed to represent Nissan, too.

“It will be by far the highest-frequency contact that people will ever have with that brand or that vehicle,” he said. “It really reinforces the brand.”

Read more about the sounds in our everyday world

This article is from NYT – go to source

From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying

TIRUPUR, India — When Alan Greenspan ran a consulting firm and wanted to know where the economy was headed, he would often look at sales of men’s underwear as a guide.

Mr. Greenspan, who later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, believed that when times were tough, men would stop replacing worn-out underwear, which no one could see, before cutting other purchases.

By that measure, India is in a serious slump.

“Sales are down 50 percent,” said Jeffrin Moses, gesturing toward the boxes of cotton briefs and tank tops bulging from the shelves of the Tantex undergarment emporium in Tirupur, the southern city where most of the country’s knitwear is made.

It’s not just underwear. Car sales plunged 32 percent in August, the largest drop in two decades, and carmakers are warning of one million layoffs as shoppers balk at rising prices and struggle to get loans from skittish lenders. Macrotech, a big real estate developer that has teamed up with President Trump on a residential tower in Mumbai, just laid off 400 employees as demand for new housing sinks.

Families are even skimping on the 7-cent packets of Parle biscuits that are a staple of India’s morning milk and tea. They are turning instead to even cheaper snacks made by local food vendors, according to Mayank Shah, a Parle executive. Biscuit sales are down about 8 percent, he said, and if current trends continue, the company may cut as many as 10,000 jobs.

Further darkening India’s outlook is the global economic slowdown, the recent spike in oil prices and the impact of Mr. Trump’s trade battles — including one with India.

On Friday, the Indian government, which spent months playing down evidence of a slowdown, finally acknowledged the depth of the problem, announcing a surprise cut in income taxes for all companies and additional incentives for manufacturers.

And this weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is traveling to Houston to meet with Mr. Trump and try to resolve some of their trade disputes.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Until last year, India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, was the world’s fastest-growing large economy, routinely clocking growth of 8 percent or more. Now the government pegs the country’s growth at 5 percent. And the layoff notices are piling up, with unemployment at 8.4 percent and rising, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.

India’s reversal of fortunes, partly driven by domestic problems like neglected farmers, is ominous for other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are trying to navigate both the weakening global economy and Mr. Trump’s fusillade of trade conflicts.

“India is potentially a bellwether,” said Per Hammarlund, the chief emerging markets strategist at SEB, a Swedish bank. “It’s a sign of the global economic trend right now: Growth has slowed further this year than last year.”

As skittish global investors have flocked to the safety of the dollar, India’s rupee and other emerging-market currencies have plunged in value. That has made vital imports of energy, electronics and factory equipment more expensive. Last weekend’s attack on two Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which sent the global price of oil soaring, underscored just how vulnerable India and other developing countries are to external factors beyond their control.

Like China and Indonesia, India is grappling with the fallout from years of excessive lending encouraged by the state. In India’s case, the overhang of bad bank loans, coupled with recent defaults by nonbank financial firms, has curbed lending to consumers and businesses.

Policy decisions by India’s central and state governments have worsened the country’s downturn, according to economists and business leaders.

Auto manufacturers, for example, were hit by a triple whammy: New safety and emissions standards increased the cost of vehicles, nine states raised taxes on car sales, and the banks and finance companies that fund dealers and 80 percent of consumer car purchases were paralyzed by the credit crunch.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

“All of that coming in one year resulted in a normal cyclical recession becoming a deep depression in the auto sector,” said R.C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest automaker.

Some manufacturers are now begging the government to cut taxes on new car purchases or get old gas guzzlers off the road through a cash-for-clunkers program.

Mr. Modi was criticized in his first term for ignoring early evidence of a slowdown. After he won a sweeping re-election victory in May, many economists expected him to pass a short-term stimulus package and tackle longstanding issues like farm poverty and land reform.

Instead, he dealt the economy a blow with an unexpected tax increase on foreign investors, prompting them to dump Indian stocks and bonds. The rupee reeled.

More recently, the Modi administration has acknowledged the need for action. In addition to the tax cuts on Friday, the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently promised that the government would step in to help automakers and speed infrastructure spending, and she has directed government-owned banks to make more loans. The government also reversed the new taxes on investors.

The textile industry, which employs about 45 million people and is India’s second-largest employer after agriculture, is emblematic of the country’s distress.

On an afternoon in early September, Tirupur’s market for wholesale, overstock and slightly defective clothing was deserted. Mr. Moses said that store owners and distributors typically traveled across India to place bulk orders for shirts, pants, dresses and fabric before the country’s September-to-November festival season.

“Now, people do not come,” he said.

The region’s spinning mills, which twirl cotton into yarn, are cutting production. Although the world price of cotton has plunged because of the increased American tariffs on Chinese textiles, owners say that yarn prices have also fallen, making it difficult for mills to profit.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

At Dollar Industries, which has made men’s underwear for nearly half a century, a 4 percent decline in sales last quarter was a shock.

“I haven’t seen a slowdown like this,” said Gaurav Gupta, a son of one of Dollar’s founders, as he walked through the company’s plants. “For a customer who used to buy six pairs of garments, now he has come down to probably four.”

Still, Dollar’s Italian-made cutting machines continue to slice colorful sheets of fabric for undershirts and underpants, six days a week. About 100 workers sort the pieces and tie them into bales, ready for contractors who will sew them into finished garments.

Dollar has not laid off anyone yet, although it has cut work hours — and paychecks — by 10 to 20 percent. Mr. Gupta said his factories were switching to making thermal underwear for northern India’s chilly winters, and he hoped that the festival season would mark the beginning of a turnaround in sales.

Sambhu Karwar, a 22-year-old employee who smooths the fabric before it is cut, said the job was better than working in his family’s bakery in eastern India. Dollar pays him a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees, or about $167, and provides lodging and some subsidized food.

“It’s good living here,” said Mr. Karwar, whose brother also works at the factory.

The outlook is bleaker at Siva Exports, a contractor that stitches some of Dollar’s underwear.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Most of the sewing machines in the two-story factory sit idle. Siva’s owner, V. Murugesan, said he had to lay off about three-quarters of his tailors over the last six months after he lost his two biggest clients — clothing brands in Italy and France. He said he could not match the prices they could get in Bangladesh, where wages are far lower.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Mr. Murugesan said. “Orders are very slow.” He urged the government to help small exporters like him with subsidies or other support.

Dollar said its distributors and retailers were having trouble borrowing money to finance inventory. The government’s lengthy delays in paying tax refunds to small businesses are increasing the cash crunch.

So Dollar is trying to step into the gap, allowing its partners to buy a few weeks’ worth of stock at a time instead of requiring them to buy three months of inventory as it did previously.

“We are trying to work in a different manner,” said Shashi Agarwal, Dollar’s senior vice president of corporate strategy.

With the cheaper rupee and the higher American tariffs on imported Chinese textiles that began Sept. 1, India has an opportunity to export more garments to the United States.

CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

That’s the theory, at least.

But C. Anand, director of RTW Renaissance Asia, a Tirupur garment maker that focuses on exports to the United States, said that India could not compete on price alone against exports from Bangladesh or Vietnam or free-trade zones like Jordan or Haiti.

“You have to bring innovation to the market,” he said. For example, he said, his company has devised a way to process the cotton yarn and fabric for an American company’s work uniforms so that they can withstand at least 50 washings without significant wear.

Innovation may not be enough, however.

Vijay Varthanan, who was once a quality control manager at a garment factory and now runs a small grocery store in Tirupur, predicted that times would get worse before they got better.

Sales are down by about 50 percent in his shop, he said, and a lot of people are buying food on credit. Mr. Varthanan said that many workers would head back to their home villages next month for Diwali, India’s biggest holiday — and not come back.

“Everything is totally down,” he said. “People are just waiting for their Diwali bonuses.”

Ayesha Venkataraman contributed research from Mumbai, India.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Congress Asks More than 80 Companies for Big Tech Complaints

SAN FRANCISCO — House lawmakers have asked more than 80 companies for information about how their businesses may have been harmed by Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, according to four people familiar with the requests.

The House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the influence of the tech giants, sent formal requests for information to the companies on Sept. 13.

They were asked about their own businesses and how the four tech companies may have engaged in anticompetitive behavior, according to the people who have seen the requests and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the lawmakers asked to keep the letters private.

The bipartisan requests from the committee indicated the increasing scope of the congressional investigation into Silicon Valley’s power and offered more insight to the pressure Big Tech faces in the coming months. Similar inquiries are underway at the Justice Department, at the Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan collection of attorneys general from dozens of states.

Lawmakers sent the requests on the same day they asked for scores of documents and personal emails from top executives at the four tech companies, according to the people. All of the companies have until mid-October to respond.

The additional letters to more than 80 companies show the breadth of the offensive forming against Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The recipients of the requests range from smaller firms in retail and advertising to large corporations in entertainment, software and social media, the people said.

A range of companies, including News Corp., Oracle, Spotify, TripAdvisor and Yelp, have complained about the behavior of the four big tech companies and were likely to have received the requests. It was unclear how the queries to the more than 80 companies are split among the four tech giants.

One person familiar with the requests said lawmakers decided against publicizing the requests to protect the complaining companies from potential retribution from the four tech firms — though those firms have said they do not retaliate against critics.

Companies have protested Silicon Valley’s growing size and influence for years, but regulators and lawmakers in Washington have sharply increased their focus on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in recent months.

The House investigation is largely centered on the market power and alleged anticompetitive practices by the four companies. The committee is examining accusations that the big companies favor their own products over rivals, buy smaller firms to head off competition and leverage their size to further cement their dominance.

Lawmakers are also scrutinizing how the companies avoid taxes, are used to spread disinformation and handle people’s personal information.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have said in the past that they face ample competition and do not engage in anticompetitive practices. When asked on Friday about the letter sent to the more than 80 companies, none of the companies offered additional comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that House lawmakers had sent requests to some of the tech companies’ rivals.

The various investigations are just beginning in earnest. How far they will go, what they will uncover and whether any allegations will stand up in court are all uncertain.

It is also not clear how the tech companies will defend themselves. On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, met with President Trump and held discussions on Capitol Hill about election security, privacy and other issues.

Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said on Thursday that it was time for the companies to be more upfront with the public.

“We’ve had a lot of talk from Facebook, and we have a troubling pattern, when they’re up on the Hill, of them saying things that turn out to be either very misleading or at the end of the day it’s just not true or they just don’t follow through on it,” Mr. Hawley said.

The Department of Justice sent Google a formal request for information earlier this year, and Facebook has acknowledged it is the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. When the agencies divided up responsibility for handling competition questions about Silicon Valley earlier this year, the Justice Department also took Apple and the F.T.C. got Amazon.

State attorneys general around the country have also banded together to start separate investigations into Google and Facebook.

The House Judiciary committee has held multiple public hearings on the subject of the tech companies’ market power as part of its inquiry. It escalated last week when it sent the formal requests to the tech companies and their critics.

CreditPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

In a statement last week, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the subcommittee on antitrust, which is leading the Judiciary Committee’s investigation, called the document requests “an important milestone” in the fact-gathering stage.

Separately on Friday, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, and Mr. Cicilline met with Mr. Zuckerberg, who left the meeting without offering a comment.

Mr. Cicilline said afterward that Mr. Zuckerberg had offered an “ongoing commitment to cooperate in the investigation, and that’s a whole range of things, obviously document requests, requests for information, participation in a number of different ways.”

“And I take him at his word,” he said.

This article is from NYT – go to source