Tech Flash Vol. 4 No. 17

November 25, 2008
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Speculation contributes to global food crisis

Excessive speculation in agriculture commodity markets has played a key role in the rapid rise and fall in global food prices, contributing to a massive increase in undernourished people and commodity market instability, says a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

The IATP report, Commodities Market Speculation: The Risk to Food Security and Agriculture, concludes that US government deregulatory steps opened the door for large financial services speculators to destabilize the structure of agriculture commodity markets. According to the United Nations, global food prices rose an estimated 85% between April 2007 and April 2008. Prices rose for wheat (60%), corn (30%) and soybeans (40%) beyond what could be explained by supply, demand and other fundamental factors, says the report.

Commercial speculation in agriculture has traditionally been used by traders and processors to protect against short-term price volatility, acts as price insurance and helps set a benchmark price in the cash market. But the elimination of speculative position limits for financial speculators and the rise of the commodity index funds undermined traditional price risk management. According to the report, these funds create a constant upward pressure on commodity prices, alleviated abruptly only when fund contracts are rolled over to take profits.

To read the full report, visit www.iatp.org.


CEOs grapple with the enterprise of the future

Today’s midmarket CEOs (companies with fewer than 1,000 employees) must focus on a broad range of challenges. Market factors remain a top priority, but access to people with the skills they need, regulatory compliance, technological factors and globalization also weigh heavily on the CEOs’ minds, says a study from IBM entitled, The Enterprise of the Future.

Midmarket CEOs recognize that the most effective way to compete against larger manufacturers is through innovation, skills, customer insight and flexibility. In interviews with 136 midmarket chief executives, IBM found these CEOs foresee significant change ahead, but they’re not confident about their ability to manage it.

The study found the gap between those who think their companies will need to make substantial changes over the next three years and those who say they have previously succeeded in managing change is even bigger in midsize organizations (29%) than it is in IBM’s overall sample of more than 1,000 companies (22%).

The study found that CEOs will grapple with the enterprise of the future, which IBM defines as:

  • Hungry for change
  • Innovative beyond customer imagination
  • Globally integrated
  • Disruptive by nature
  • Genuine, not just generous.

These issues are connected, says the study. Any manufacturer who wants to capitalize on the trend toward globalization and expand into new markets must understand the potential opportunities and risks. It also must recruit people with the expertise-be it industrial, technical or managerial-to operate in an increasingly complex, geographically diversified environment. A manufacturer will have to contend with different regulations in different jurisdictions and build a technological platform capable of supporting its key business processes on a multinational basis. Many midsize organizations, however, lack sufficient in-house skills to manage change in multiple countries, especially regulations in markets that are new to them.

Globalization creates many more challenges. Midmarket CEOs must now cover a wider front and cope with much greater uncertainty. They must master complexity, for everything is important and change can come from anywhere.

For more information, visit www.ibm.com.


LEED updates certification criteria

LEED 2009, an update to the internationally recognized LEED green building certification program, has passed member ballot, and will be introduced in 2009 as the next major evolution of the existing LEED rating systems for commercial buildings. It includes a series of major technical advances focused on improving energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and addressing other environmental and human health outcomes.LEED 2009 will also incorporate regional credits: extra points that have been identified as priorities with a project’s given environmental zone. LEED has undergone a scientifically grounded re-weighting of credits, changing allocation of points among LEED credits to reflect climate change and energy efficiency as urgent priorities. This will be one of the most significant changes to the rating system, and it will increase the importance of green building as a means of contributing immediate and measurable solutions toward energy independence, climate change mitigation and other global priorities.


Automation News



Attacking inefficiencies in warehousing

With increasing levels of uncertainty and the inability to predict supply and demand fluctuations because of global economic pressures, today’s logistics executives find themselves scratching their heads to find balance in the supply chain. According to a recent study from the Aberdeen Group, entitled Warehouse Automation: How to Implement Tomorrow’s Order Fulfillment System Today, executives’ first reaction may be to continue to tighten the belt to ride out the uncertainty and maintain as much status quo as possible.

However, says the report, today’s best-in-class executives are taking this as an opportunity to continue to attack inefficiencies inside the distribution center and identify areas to improve performance to create agility and flexibility and drive value to the bottom line.

Findings in the study say best-in-class companies pick 99.2% of orders accurately, ship 99.3% of orders with accurate items and quantities and saw a year-over-year reduction of more than 3% in labor costs.

For more information, visit www.aberdeen.com.


A new era in manufacturing and production

At the recent Automation Fair held in Nashville, TN, Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch said, “Companies need to increase the performance, innovation and sustainability of their enterprises to remain competitive.” Nosbusch and executives from world-leading brands and industry organizations had further comments about manufacturing.

They described the business drivers for manufacturing convergence, how it affects manufacturing operations and customers, and how cross-organization cultural challenges are being addressed and resolved. “We’re in a new era of manufacturing and production,” said Nosbusch. He said suppliers like Rockwell Automation must continue to invest in new technologies and applications and form alliances with other technology leaders to help bring together information technology and manufacturing practices for customers which improve business efficiencies, agility and competitive advantage.

Rockwell customers shared how sustainable production supports their key corporate objectives, including improving energy conservation and efficiency; assuring environmental responsibility and resource management; and providing increased safety for workers, machinery and products.

North American and Asian manufacturing and engineering experts offered solutions to the global talent shortage of engineers, manufacturing and technical workers.

The founder of India’s telecommunications industry explained how India differentiates itself in the global economy by using technology, engineering and technical talent to grow its emerging high-technology manufacturing sector.


Celebration for automation careers

This year’s ISA EXPO celebrated the inaugural Automation Career Week, an event endorsed by ISA and the Automation Federation and supported by Governor Rick Perry (TX). Automation Career Week honored automation professionals’ contributions and celebrated the future of tomorrow’s workforce. It included several events targeting young automation professionals and aspiring young students with events taking place throughout the week of ISA EXPO, held at the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas, 14-16 October.Student teams from Russia, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Colombia and the US competed and demonstrated their skills while having an opportunity to network and meet other students who share their passion for automation and engineering. The competition provided an opportunity for ISA student members worldwide to further their knowledge of automation and control technologies.


Food Safety News



Summer's Salmonella summons scrutiny

Weaknesses in food safety policy, organization and communications were all displayed during summer’s outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul, according to a report released by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University.

The report, Breakdown: Lessons to be Learned from the 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak, reviews the public record of last summer’s Salmonella outbreak that caused more than 1,400 people to become sick across the US.

Congressional leaders and produce industry representatives called for public health officials to analyze the public health system’s response to the outbreak. The report frames questions such a review should consider. In particular, the report focuses on food safety policy; the public health system’s organization, capacity and effectiveness in the outbreak response; and risk communications with the media and public.

Highlights and recommendations include:

  • The need for FDA to use its existing statutory authorities to establish mandatory and enforceable safety standards for fresh produce. While FDA officials said the outbreak showed the need for these standards, they said Congress needs to pass legislation to grant FDA explicit authority to do so.
  • The need for organizational reforms throughout the public health system for a more coordinated outbreak response. The report raises questions about how timely and effectively data was shared between public health agencies and how it contributed to a delayed identification of jalapeño and Serrano peppers as a vehicle for Salmonella Saintpaul.
  • The need to have established and unified risk communication plans in place before an outbreak. The report documents dueling public health messages from various agencies announcing the outbreak and questions why CDC changed its presentation of data numerous times in the middle of the outbreak.

“Many of these problems have been identified for years by expert body after expert body,” said Jim O’Hara, director of PSP. “If we pass up this opportunity to learn from this most recent outbreak, we will keep repeating the same costly mistakes-for public health and industry alike.”

For more information online, visit www.producesafetyproject.org.


Asia Pacific group launches food safety training

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) applauded the leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum for launching the APEC Partnership Training Institute Network for food safety (PTIN). The APEC PTIN represents a new and innovative initiative, designed to unite public and private sector representatives, as well as scientific experts, around a common purpose: improving food safety in the Asia Pacific region by increasing regulatory capacity.

“Food safety is a key concern for GMA and its member companies, and we are pleased to see that APEC has taken such a constructive and practical approach to the issue,” said GMA Senior Vice President and Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Officer Robert E. Brackett, Ph.D.

The APEC PTIN is critically important as concerns about food safety in the Asia Pacific region have risen sharply in recent months and years, a fact reinforced by the initiative’s high-level endorsement by APEC heads of government. This multi-year initiative will provide assistance to APEC member economies to improve regulator and manufacturer technical competence and understanding of food safety management, and thus will substantially improve food safety in the APEC community and beyond.

The APEC PTIN is not intended to be an actual “bricks and mortar” facility, but instead will serve as a focal point for coordinating the many food-safety training institutes across the Asia Pacific region. In this context, the APEC PTIN will design and implement various training programs every year, develop a core curriculum for food safety training for use across APEC and assist APEC member economies in developing food safety strategies.


Listeria test results the next day

Two new PCR assays from DuPont Qualicon have received AFNOR certification as alternative methods for detecting Listeria and Listeria monocytogenes. These assays, developed in collaboration with Oxoid, Ltd., use optimized enrichment media to provide next-day test results from food and environmental samples.AFNOR Certification is an internationally recognized European system that validates food testing methods according to the EN ISO 16140 protocol. The AFNOR validation mark certifies that a multi-phase validation study by approved expert laboratories demonstrated equivalent results between the alternative test method and the traditional standardized method. This certification meets all the requirements of European regulation 2073/2005 relating to microbiological criteria applicable to food.

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