New Interior head lifts lead ammunition ban in nod to hunters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday issued an order overturning an Obama administration ban on the controversial use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on federal lands and waters, in a nod to hunters and fishermen on his first day on the job.

Taxes Trimmed Mexican Soda Consumption For Two Years

(Reuters Health) – A soda tax has continued to help reduce Mexico’s consumption of unhealthy beverages, researchers say.

Purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages were down nearly 10 percent in the second year of the tax, a new study shows.

“The tax is working” toward its objective, senior author Shu Wen Ng said in a phone interview.

Ng, a health economist and a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and her team estimated that Mexicans bought 9.7 percent less sugary drinks in 2015 than they would have before the tax took effect.

In an effort to wean consumers off sugary drinks and reduce the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, Mexico imposed a peso-per-liter excise tax at the beginning of 2014.

Mexicans cut their purchases of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages by 5.5 percent the first year that the tax was imposed, the study calculated.

Researchers used Nielsen survey data on store purchases for nearly 6,650 urban Mexican households and estimated beverage purchases after adjusting for inflation, population growth and seasonal differences.

The poorest households showed the biggest drops in purchases of taxed sugary beverages, an average decrease of nearly 12 percent over two years.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has also been studying the public health effects of Mexico’s soda tax.

She described the new study as “encouraging for many cities and countries around the world which are exploring ways to shift the rising tide of diabetes.”

Similar taxes have been levied in countries around the globe – from Colombia to France and South Africa, and in American cities, from Berkeley, California, to Philadelphia.

A 2016 study found that low-income Berkeley neighborhoods slashed sugar-sweetened beverage consumption by more than one-fifth after the Northern California city enacted the nation’s first soda tax.

“We thought the tax might be an important public health measure, and it turns out it is likely to be,” Bibbins-Domingo said in a phone interview after reviewing the new findings.

They contradict industry reports of a drop in the effect of the tax in its second year.

The International Council of Beverages Associations, which represents the soda industry, disputed the new study’s results in a prepared statement. “First and foremost, this study does not show any impact from the tax on the obesity rates in Mexico,” the statement says.

Ng responded: “The current obesity rates crept up over time. Trying to slow that down and reversing the trend also will take time.”

“To expect that one policy alone is going to be successful in one or two years is ludicrous,” she said.

“If the beverage industry doesn’t think the tax is actually working in terms of reducing consumption, why are they fighting it so much?” she asked.

An October report from the World Health Organization recommended taxing sugary drinks to lower consumption and to reduce obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Previous studies showed that 70 percent of Mexican adults and 30 percent of Mexican children were overweight or obese in 2012.

Mexicans get one-fifth of their calories from sugary drinks, and 14 percent of them have diabetes, according to a 2016 study conducted by Bibbins-Domingo.

Mexico’s soda tax is on course to prevent diabetes, heart attacks and strokes in more than 200,000 adults and to save nearly $1 billion in healthcare costs over a decade, her 2016 study found.

SOURCE: Health Affairs, online February 22, 2017.

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Greenpeace admits its attacks on forest products giant were ‘non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion’

Greenpeace, after repeated attacks against Canada’s biggest forest products company for “destroying,” Canada’s boreal forests, now says that it was merely stating an opinion about the logging activity, not a fact.

After years of weathering attacks on its forestry practices, Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products Inc. last year sued Greenpeace in United States District Court in Georgia under racketeering statutes, alleging that Greenpeace’s repeated attacks on Resolute, to raise money for Greenpeace, amount to criminal activity.

In its claim, Resolute noted that Greenpeace has lobbied big Resolute paper customers, such as the Rite-Aid pharmacy chain (which printed its flyers on Resolute newsprint), encouraging them to switch suppliers, because, said Greenpeace, Resolute is a “forest destroyer.”

But now Greenpeace says it never intended people to take its words about Resolute’s logging practices as literal truth.

“The publications’ use of the word “Forest Destroyer,” for example, is obvious rhetoric,” Greenpeace writes in its motion to dismiss the Resolute lawsuit. “Resolute did not literally destroy an entire forest. It is of course arguable that Resolute destroyed portions of the Canadian Boreal Forest without abiding by policies and practices established by the Canadian government and the Forest Stewardship Council, but that is the point: The “Forest Destroyer” statement cannot be proven true or false, it is merely an opinion.”

Greenpeace adds that its attacks on Resolute “are without question non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion and at most non-actionable rhetorical hyperbole.”

None of the allegations by Resolute or Greenpeace has been tested in this case, which remains before the courts.

Richard Garneau, the chief executive of Resolute, who himself hails from the company’s centre of logging operations in the Saguenay region north of Quebec City, seized on Greenpeace’s admissions in an op-ed published Thursday in the conservative U.S. magazine National Review.

“A funny thing happened when Greenpeace and allies were forced to account for their claims in court,” Garneau wrote. “They started changing their tune. Their condemnations of our forestry practices ‘do not hew to strict literalism or scientific precision,’ as they concede in their latest legal filings. These are sober admissions after years of irresponsible attacks.”  

Garneau, in Toronto Thursday, said Greenpeace’s attacks have hurt many across northern Quebec and Ontario.

“It is sad that we have to do all this to straighten out the record on misinformation,” he said. “It is sad that all Greenpeace’s allegations are against people who cannot defend themselves against organizations who blackmail customers to raise money.”

Resolute has faced criticism over its logging practices in the boreal forests of Ontario and Quebec from people other than Greenpeace. Forest product companies pay the German-based Forest Stewardship Council to review their logging operations and ensure they are sustainable. The FSC logo emblazons products across Canada as responsibly sourced — such as the envelopes used by Canada’s five biggest banks to send out customers’ account statements. FSC in 2014 revoked its seal of approval for logging operations that comprise about half of the forests where Resolute operates in Canada.

FSC said that Resolute wasn’t doing enough to protect caribou habitat, and failed to get permission from First Nations to log certain forests.

But Resolute has trained its legal firepower squarely on Greenpeace. In 2013 Resolute extracted an apology from Greenpeace for falsely alleging that Resolute had cut trees in an area it promised to spare. That same year, Resolute sued Greenpeace for libel in Thunder Bay, Ont., alleging that the global environmental group was spreading lies about the forest harvesting operations.

Greenpeace was not immediately available for comment.

Financial Post

Big Six banks profits top $10.5B for first quarter after strong results from TD

Strong results from Toronto-Dominion Bank on Thursday helped push the Big Six banks’ collective profit to more than $10.5-billion for the fiscal first quarter, as all enjoyed double-digit increases in earnings over the year-ago period.

While it was a blockbuster start to the year, helped by better than expected credit quality and prudent cost control, some profit drivers, such as the surge in market activity after the surprise election of U.S. President Donald Trump, may not stick around.

“It’s unlikely that we’re going to see the same level of interest rate and equity market volatility that drove (trading) revenues,” said James Shanahan, an analyst with Edward Jones based in St. Louis, who noted that, “overall, it was a very good quarter.”

For the three month ended Jan. 31, Canada’s biggest banks posted profit increases between 10 and 30 per cent compared to a year ago — with Bank of Montreal leading the way with a 30 per cent gain in adjusted net income.

Toronto-Dominion Bank was the last of the group to report its earnings and, like those before it, results surpassed market expectations with adjusted net income of $2.56-billion, up nearly 14 per cent from the year earlier period.

Canada’s second-largest bank by market capitalization reported adjusted diluted earnings of $1.33, beating the $1.27 analysts had expected, according to those surveyed by Bloomberg.

TD also hiked its dividend by 5 cents for the quarter ending in April, more than what analysts had expected. It also announced it was seeking regulatory approval for a normal course issuer bid to repurchase for cancellation up to 15 million of its common shares.

“(I’m) very happy with how the quarter has turned out and the momentum we’re building,” said Bharat Masrani, TD’s group president and chief executive officer on a call with analysts.

Still, compared to the stellar earnings of some of its competitors, TD’s performance lagged, said Doug Young, an analyst at Desjardins Capital Markets.

“While it beat … we believe the market has been expecting all the banks to beat, and the margin at TD was the second lowest of its peers,” he said in a note Thursday.

Many of the banks benefited from big gains in capital markets and wealth management, both helped in part by the surge in trading volumes.

On the downside, loan growth was relatively weak and Canadian banks continue to face low interest rates, said Shanahan.

However, the banks did an “exceptionally” good job in controlling expenses, said John Aiken, an analyst with Barclays in Toronto.

“We are not in a hugely strong revenue environment, (yet) we’re seeing better earnings because the banks are doing a very good job of containing costs,” he said.

Credit quality was also resilient this quarter, with not as many losses as the market had been expecting, Aiken added.

“In general, I think that bank earnings showed that there is still a lot to be positive about when it comes to the Canadian banks,” said Meny Grauman, an analyst at Cormark Securities, in an email. “Expense management appears to be a particularly consistent contributor to the big earnings beats that we saw this bank earnings season, and we would expect that trend to continue.”


Fernando Torres: Atletico Madrid striker ‘stable & conscious’ after head injury

Striker Fernando Torres is “conscious and stable” in hospital after suffering a serious head injury in Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Deportivo.

Central American gang members charged with three New York murders

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement authorities on Thursday charged alleged members of the Central American-based MS-13 gang with the brutal murders of three Long Island high school students last year, as authorities press their campaign against a gang they describe as a criminal enterprise.