The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 has exposed numerous structural weaknesses in how the nations of the world provide food, energy, water, and consumer goods for their people. In the main, these supply chain disruptions are tightly correlated to the manufacturing and export capacity of a single nation – the People’s Republic of China. In the United States, this is especially true for amino acids, specifically of the type used in animal feed. Though little-known amongst the general population, synthetic amino acids such as lysine and threonine play a crucial role in managing animal health and growth. Relatedly, as the use of soybean meal for a primary protein source has increased in feed rations, amino acids become even more important.
These products, generally produced from corn (though cassava root and sugarcane may also be used), require substantial investment into a complex manufacturing process built around fermentation of the corn’s starch. It is also energy intensive, requiring high heat to produce and dry the product. Given the constant attention paid to its food security, China leads the world in research, subsidies, and investment into manufacturing these critical components in the food supply chain, with control of up to 65% of global market share in lysine, perhaps the most widely-used and critical of the amino acid complex.
As many in the feed industry are aware, the most recent bio-fermentation plant proposed in the US is to be built and controlled by Fufeng Group, one of China’s dominant players in the amino acid sector. In the recent past, Fufeng Group has looked at opening production facilities for their bio-fermented products (MSG, xanthan gum, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, isoleucine) in Ukraine, India, and several other countries – as of yet, with no success. These countries are attractive for their generally low energy costs and abundance of starchy raw material. And given the exploding transportation costs for energy and grain commodities worldwide, the need is greater than ever for a manufacturer to locate close to supplies of both. After these failed attempts, it seems Fufeng has now found fertile soil in the city council of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the state’s governor Doug Burgum.
Initially reassured by positive signals received in 2020 from Governor Burgum – who has been featured in Chinese media outlet China Daily crowing about North Dakota’s egg exports to China in 2018, and who is rated as “Friendly” towards China as of November 2021 by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front propaganda arm - Fufeng hired an American by the name of Eric Chutorash in March of 2020 to assess the viability of opening a full-scale amino acid plant in the United States. In the intervening months, Fufeng has settled on Grand Forks, North Dakota to open their new plant.
The new plant is estimated to consume 25,000,000 bushels of corn for less than one hundred jobs - 250,000 bushels (or 14,000,000 pounds) of American corn per year, per job. Moreover, the Grand Forks City Council and CCP-favorite Governor Burgum are promising to build and subsidize a $150 million natural gas pipeline, and will spend an additional tens of millions of dollars to subsidize construction of Fufeng’s new plant. Fufeng Group will also be offered a “temporary” tax break for years (or decades) to come. Rather than boosting the local economy, the plant will be leeching from it.
One might wonder if Fufeng Group’s founder and chairman, Li Xuechun, shared with the North Dakota luminaries his intention to convert most of the plant’s production to export sales no later than 2025, only a few months after anticipated conclusion of the plant’s buildout? American-made amino acids being sent at the lowest profitable cost possible to feed the swine, beef, and poultry industries of Mexico, Canada, and Brazil, all of whom are much friendlier to China with regard to finished meat exports than the United States is. It’s a canny strategic maneuver, and as is unfortunately typical of our political leadership, the short-term promise of profits, fundraising, and (perhaps) future jobs is a leash with which Chinese companies manipulate their American running dogs.
The bad news continues. Chinese Communist Party personnel overlap with management in Fufeng Group. Founder and Chairman of the Board, Li Xuechun, served as deputy to the Shandong Province 12th People’s Congress starting in 2003 (see page 80) while also being named as the “Model Labour” of the province in the same year. Fufeng itself further exists as a vector of CCP policy. In remarks delivered to the 16th People’s Congress of Qiqihar on 26 December 2017, Mayor Li Yugang emphasized the Party’s role in building and operationalizing Fufeng’s wet corn mill in less than a year, while reinforcing the Party’s commitment to “accelerate” Fufeng’s plans to expand production capacity of amino acids at the plant to consumer more than 3 million metric tons per year of corn. In his annual report issued on 7 January 2020, Mayor Li reiterated that Fufeng is a “national key leading enterprise” in ensuring food security for China.
Also troubling is Fufeng’s plausible connections to the use of forced labor in Xinjiang Province. The primary arm of Fufeng in the province is Xinjiang Fufeng Biotechnologies Co. Ltd, with its manufacturing hub located just west of the Urumqi Export Zone. This site is responsible for a reported $21 million in vitamin and amino acid sales directly to the United States for the first six months of 2021, according to a disclosure filed by Fufeng Group on 28 December 2021 in response to President Biden signing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act on 23 December 2021.
Curiously, Fufeng’s production facility in the Toutunhe District sits less than two miles from Toutunhe Facility #2, a Tier-4 detention, forced labor, and re-education camp focused on subjugating the Uyghur population in the area. The approximate location of Fufeng’s manufacturing plant is also very near to where a Ugyhur neighborhood was razed to the ground, including a mosque and other cultural sites. Given the $21 million haul in the first half of 2021, and how demand and prices both spiked throughout the second half of the year, it’s not unlikely that Fufeng likely generated in excess of $40 million in trade with the US from this site in 2021. Per Fufeng’s financial reports, the average profit margin for their products averaged 17% in 2020, or $6.8 million if the same margin held into 2021. However, with prices more than doubling for multiple months in the back half of 2021, it’s plausible that sales to the U.S. from the
Xinjiang site exceeded $9 million in profit.
Lastly, it must be a very curious coincidence indeed that Fufeng Group zeroed in so quickly on Grand Forks, ND. The nearby US Air Force installation, Grand Forks AFB, is a critical component in the USAF’s strategic basing network for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) assets. Further, the base is home to the 10th Space Warning Squadron, a major node in the U.S’ early warning and detection network for ballistic missile threats against North America. It’s also a key element in the USAF Space Surveillance Network, which is tasked with monitoring targets and potential threats in space. Such a short line of sight to the base from Fufeng’s proposed location on the northwest side of Grand Forks makes signal intercept a relatively simply task using low-observable technology mounted unobtrusively to the plant’s superstructure. Perhaps we could consider this a fluke, except another recent high-profile situation would argue that CCP-aligned assets intend to acquire land and infrastructure directly adjacent to important U.S. military installations for purposes potentially ranging from digital snooping to outright sabotage.
It’s frankly astonishing that given the data laid out here, Governor Burgum and the Grand Forks City Council have continued to press ahead with bringing in a CCP-aligned entity to co-opt American resources and families in pursuit of China’s hegemonic goals.
Here, then, is the new Chinese modus operandi: externalize their energy consumption into the US and exploit more readily-available raw materials for China’s benefit. Such a model drives the local prices of energy up long-term, another indirect subsidy paid by North Dakota’s taxpayers, while ensuring that China’s foreign partners have access to exported feed ingredients at the expense of the United States’ meat producers. Even more, the location of Fufeng’s intended site is at best an extremely worrisome coincidence, given many viable alternatives that make more sense from a supply chain standpoint. Taken together, this absolutely follows the playbook of China’s ongoing expansions of the Belt and Road Initiative, and perhaps for the first time, represents a stealth implementation of the project on the United States’ own soil.
All the raw materials needed for repatriated Chinese profits and export of American food and national security.
* * *
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How air pollution is making life tougher for bugs
We’re making life tough for insects – and not just by swatting them away with a newspaper.
Whether you love them or loathe them, we all depend on bugs. Insects help to pollinate three-quarters of the world’s crop varieties, making them a treasured resource.
But we’re making the lives of insects tough – and not just by swatting them away with a newspaper. Insect populations worldwide are in sharp decline as they battle against climate change, habitat loss and pesticides.
Now, we can add air pollution to the list of threats. Our research from 2022 revealed that when exposed to two common air pollutants at concentrations within EU air quality limits, the visits of pollinating insects to flowers plummeted by as much as 90%.
Over a span of two years, we artificially elevated the levels of either ozone or diesel exhaust fumes around plots of flowering black mustard plants, all within fields of non-flowering wheat. We carefully monitored and controlled the release of pollutants using rings constructed around each plot.
This method allowed us to monitor the number of pollinating insects visiting the flowers in polluted plots and draw comparisons with plots devoid of pollutants.
We were surprised by what we found. In the rings where we released ozone or diesel exhaust fumes, the number of pollinating insects decreased by 70% and overall pollination success rates decreased by up to 31%.
It wasn’t just bees and butterflies that were affected. Ground-dwelling insects suffered too, with exposure to these pollutants causing their numbers to decrease by as much as 36%.
Why air pollution makes life so hard
Many insects rely on their sense of smell to locate flowers. When they feed on nectar, they quickly connect the flower’s scent with its sugary reward. Consequently, when they come across the same scent later on, they track its trail in pursuit of another tasty treat.
Thus, flowers serve a dual purpose. They are not just pretty to look at but also function as beacons that release a specific blend of fragrant chemicals designed to attract pollinators.
But these signals are under threat. Air pollutants like ozone are highly reactive and can degrade the signals by destroying the chemicals that make up a flower’s scent.
In our more recent research, we simulated a floral scent in a 20-metre long wind tunnel and then mapped out how the levels of each of the chemicals that made up the scent changed in response to increasing ozone pollution. We found that ozone quickly ate away at the edges of the plume, reducing both its width and length.
Essentially, the chemical signal could travel only a shorter distance, which limited the number of insects it could reach.
Adding ozone also changes the smell of each of the chemicals that make up a flower’s scent. By observing these changes in a wind tunnel, we could measure the speed at which these chemical changes occur.
Some chemicals degraded within seconds, whereas others were not affected at all. How far away you are from the scent’s source appears to change how the scent smells.
To understand how changes to the floral scent might affect pollinators, we taught honeybees to recognise the same floral scent that we released into the wind tunnel. Much like Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of a dinner bell, bees stick out their proboscis (tube-like tongue) when they sniff an odour they have learned to associate with a sugary reward. This allowed us to see how many bees could still recognise the floral scent once it had been exposed to ozone pollution.
We first tested the honeybees with scent blends replicating those observed at the plume centre when ozone levels were elevated. At a distance of six metres from the flower, 52% of bees recognised the scent. This fell to only 38% at a distance of 12 metres.
We then tested the response of honeybees to the more degraded plume edges. Only 32% of the bees responded at six metres, falling to just 10% at 12 metres.
These results help to explain the significant decline in the number and diversity of insect visits and pollination rates observed in our field trials. Put simply, ozone pollution limits the reach of chemical signals and changes their meaning, leaving insects confused.
But this is unlikely to be the full story. Although we replicated the effects of ozone pollution on floral scents, we never exposed the bees directly to ozone. Separate research carried out in France suggests that direct exposure to ozone might also impair the ability of bees to detect floral scents.
The full extent to which air pollution is impacting the insects we all depend on is only just beginning to be revealed. So, the next time you lift your newspaper to swat a bug, take a second and ask yourself – don’t they have it tough enough already?
Ben Langford receives funding from the Natural Environmental Research Council
James Ryalls has received funding from The Leverhulme Trust and The Royal Society to conduct research on this topic.
Robbie Girling has received funding to conduct research on this topic from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust and the Gerald Kerkut Charitable Trust.france eu
Fast fashion’s waste problem could be solved by recycled textiles but brands need to help boost production
Brands like Zara and H&amp;M are teaming up with recycled textile producers but more collaboration is needed.
Earlier this year, fast fashion retailer Zara released its first womenswear collection made of recycled poly-cotton textile waste. The collection is available for sale in 11 countries, helping clothing made of blended textile waste reach the mass market.
The collection came about after Zara’s parent company Inditex invested in textile recycler Circ. This follows a €100 million (£87 million) deal between Inditex and Finnish textile recycler Infinited Fiber Company for 30% of its recycled output. Zara’s fast fashion rival H&M has also entered a five-year contract with Swedish textile recycler Renewcell to acquire 9,072 tonnes of recycled fibre – equivalent to 50 million T-shirts.
There is a growing appetite among some fashion retailers to turn old clothes into high-quality fibres, and then into new clothes. But even though well-known brands are developing lines using recycled textiles, this movement has not yet reached the scale needed to have a truly global impact.
Before this recent growth in interest in textile recycling, fast fashion’s efforts to tackle throwaway attitudes towards affordable clothing often simply added to the global textile waste mountain – especially in developing countries, say campaigners like Greenpeace.
For example, a skirt deposited at a London chain store under a take-back scheme was reportedly found in a landfill in Bamako, Mali. This is not an isolated incident, it’s a sector-wide problem that sees old clothes being collected but not disposed of properly. An estimated 15 million used clothing items are shipped to Ghana each week from around the world and many end up in the country’s landfills. This is often referred to as waste colonialism.
The fast fashion industry needs greater access to recycled textiles to address this problem. But this means having the means to track “thrown-away” garments to collect those suitable for recycling. The industry also needs facilities that are big enough to turn this waste into new materials for clothing at the scale needed to meet mass market demand.
This is particularly important as these firms prepare for an EU crackdown on the region’s own waste mountain. Following the EU strategy for Sustainable and Circular textiles 2022, the European Commission is drafting new legislation over the next five years to make the fashion industry pay for the cost of processing discarded clothing.
Under the new EU rules, companies will be expected to collect waste equivalent to a certain percentage of their production. While the exact amount has not yet been confirmed yet, European commissioner for the environment Virginijus Sinkevičius has said it will “definitely” be more than 5% of production. Companies may have to pay a fee (reportedly equivalent to €0.12 per T-shirt) towards local authorities’ waste collection work.
But fast fashion brands must ensure that this doesn’t just dump the problem of textile waste into other countries’ landfills. Instead, developing lines out of recycled textiles could give these old clothes a new lease of life.
A Fashion Pact signed by more than 160 brands (a third of the sector by volume) commits companies to ensure that, by 2025, 25% of the raw materials such as textiles that they use have a low impact on the environment – recycled fibre is considered a low-impact material. Some brands have set more ambitious targets, including Adidas, which has committed to using 100% recycled plastics by 2024, and Zara-owner Inditex, which pledged to source 40% of its fibres from recycling processes by 2030.
These impending deadlines, plus the EU legislation, should motivate brands to use more recycled fibres. While the supply of such material is currently limited, an influx of recycling start-ups are finding ways to turn old clothes into new fibres that replicate the look and feel of virgin materials.
Start-ups like Spinnova, Renewcell and Infinited Fibre have developed chemical recycling technologies to create new fibres from cotton-rich clothing. And while cheap low-cost blended materials like poly-cotton are difficult to separate and recycle, firms like Worn Again, Envrnu, and Circ are tackling this problem, too.
Worn Again plans to build a new recycling demo plant in Switzerland, paving the way for 40 licensed plants by 2040, which would be capable of processing 1.8 million tonnes of textile waste per year.
Taking textile recycling from hype to reality
Up to 26% of Europe’s textile waste could be recycled by 2030, according to some estimates, according to a 2022 McKinsey report. This would generate €3.5-€4.5 billion in economic output for the EU, create 15,000 new jobs, and save 3.6 million tonnes of CO². But only 1% of textiles are currently being recycled globally into new clothes – the recycling technology needed for this shift is still in its infancy.
Part of the challenge in scaling up textile recycling to this degree is the lack of information available about what happens to clothes that are thrown away. Sharing data on the volume, locations and compositions of waste generated in the supply chain and collected post-consumption would help evaluate the full potential of textile recycling. Companies like Reverse Resources already provide online databases of information on textile waste – in this case for a global network of 70 recyclers, 44 waste handlers and 1,287 manufacturers in 24 countries.
Increasing textile recycling will require a collaborative approach, as will the development of the technology needed to create high-quality recycled textiles. Brands, investors, suppliers, recyclers, technology providers and local governments must come together to find ways to grow the textile recycling industry. The recent New Cotton Project that involves 12 brands (including H&M group and Adidas), manufacturers, suppliers and research institutes is a first step towards increasing textile recycling.
More money is also needed from all of these groups. To reach the recycling rate of 18%-26% by 2030, it will take billions in infrastructure investment for collecting, sorting and processing textile waste.
Textile recycling is no longer for a few “sustainable” fashion firms – it is quickly becoming a reality that no fast fashion firm can ignore. Shoppers must demand that the brands they love show their commitment to textile recycling beyond marketing campaigns and low-volume fashion collections.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.european europe eu
What would you take with you? Why possessions matter in times of war and displacement
The things that people are able to bring with them often take on a heightened significance, reflective of both their old and new lives.
In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the second world war. By March of that year, about a quarter of the country’s total population had fled to safer locations in Europe.
The speed with which the war has escalated has seen Ukrainian citizens needing to flee, hurriedly and by any means available – including on foot. As is most often the case for those who find themselves displaced, most Ukrainian refugees could only take with them what they could carry.
The things that people are able to bring with them, therefore, often take on a heightened significance, reflecting their old and new lives following the severe interruption of war. The collection, display and engagement with these objects can transform otherwise unremarkable artefacts into sacred symbols, demonstrative of resistance and survival.
I spoke to Anna, a young Ukrainian currently living and working in Warsaw, Poland. She shared the items that she’d brought from her last visit to her family, who still live in Ukraine:
I have Ukrainian symbols – a magnet that says ‘Ukraine is my home’ and another with a sunken Russian ship as a reminder that the Russian state will go down, like its ship. Everything connected with my country is important to me, because it is my heart and soul.
In 2022, a Ukrainian culture magazine Bird in Flight produced a feature entitled Unnecessary Necessities, which documented the things taken by those evacuating their homes. Similar initiatives have emerged from the Syrian refugee crisis, and Tom Kiefer, who worked as a janitor at Customs and Border Protection, photographed the discarded objects of those attempting to cross from Mexico into the US.
Objects and memory
The notion of objects associated with war and genocide assuming the role of symbols or talismans has been widely researched. For several years, my own research has focused on material memories of the Holocaust. I am deeply moved by the items that survivors or descendants were able to carry or save, recover or reclaim, in order to provide a tangible bridge between the past and the present.
For instance, a gold wedding band unearthed close to the gas chamber area of the former Sobibor death camp in eastern Poland, inscribed with the Hebrew message: “With this ring, you are bound to me.” These items, so significant of the Jewish faith and of the loving relationships that the victims enjoyed before their murders, stand in place of their owners who lay silently in mass graves.
My participation in archaeological excavations at former killing sites also emphasised the importance of objects in restoring memory to the victims of political and historical brutality.
While much attention has been paid to the memorial culture of the second world war, lesser-acknowledged genocides still demand our attention. The crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing campaign throughout areas controlled by the army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War of 1992–95, for example, are often overlooked.
During the invasion of the town of Srebrenica, around 8,000 Muslim men, and boys over 12 years old, were murdered, resulting in one of the largest incidences of genocide in Europe. Over the course of the war, 100,000 people were killed, countless women and girls were raped and more than 2 million people were displaced.
One of those displaced people was Smajo Bešo. He was eight in 1993, and had already lived in the middle of a war zone for over a year. Between June 1992 and March 1993, the Bešo family fled their home village of Barane, moving back and forth between 14 locations in an attempt to stay safe.
As the violence against Muslims progressed towards genocide, Smajo’s father became targeted by Bosnian-Croat soldiers and was arrested. A number of Smajo’s closest relatives were killed, and, after several life-threatening situations, Smajo was eventually reunited with his father, who had survived in a concentration camp.
In 1994, his family arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne as refugees and Smajo has continued to share his story, recently receiving an OBE award for services to genocide education.
As part of my wider research into the material memories of genocide, Smajo informed me:
We didn’t bring many things with us, we pretty much had to leave everything behind. We had one photo album, with some of the most precious photographs, our house key and my mam kept her watch that my father gave her when they got engaged. The home is the most personal part of your life, where you feel safe, so having any trace of that was really important. It’s proof that your previous life was real, especially when there is denial. We existed, and our previous life existed, and it’s part of the healing process too. We left a part of us in Bosnia and this is how I connect to my past, but also how I rebuild myself.
Ultimately, Smajo’s story, in addition to those who suffered during the Holocaust or in the current war on Ukraine, serves as a reminder of why seemingly ordinary things matter in the context of war and displacement.
Not only are objects evidence of an event, but they facilitate activism and contribute towards memory making, both for the people who experienced it and those who seek to learn from them. As Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor and author Primo Levi concluded in his 1959 memoir, If This is a Man: “These things are part of us, almost like limbs of our body.”
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Hannah Wilson receives funding from Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.army gold mexico europe poland czech russia ukraine
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