Pet owners on the rise in China to 73 mln, spending up 27% to reach USD 24 bln
 
China Knowledge Online
Sep 11, 2018
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Sep 11, 2018 (China Knowledge) - In recent years there has been a surge in pet ownership in China. Currently, there are an estimated 73.55 million pet owners, and spent RMB 5,016 annually on each pet on average, up by 15% from last year. Spending on pets is expected to rise by 27% this year to RMB 170.8 bln.

To cope with the rising demand, China has seen an increase in variety of pet food available. Pet owners in China are increasingly well-informed of their pet’s health and even look for prescription foods. Other expenses include grooming, vaccination and medical treatment.

The growing popularity of pets is turning China into a magnet for local and global pet companies due to huge growth potential. For example, Beijing has seen a surge in the number of pet-related stores such as pet-themed restaurants, cafes and retail stores which target the middle-income pet owners.

From August 22 to 26, Shanghai hosted the Pet Fair Asia which sets the benchmarks and trendsetters on pet supplies in Asia-Pacific for more than 1,300 exhibitors.

This has also hit the e-commerce market, with Taobao and JD.com both setting up pet categories on their websites. Alibaba’s e-commerce website Taobao alone recorded USD 1 bln of sales for cats’ food and cat-related items in 2017.

 
 
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7 Key Disruptions that Will Change the Way You Work
 
Sep 09, 2018
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"It's been estimated that 57% of all jobs are at risk of being automated within the next 5 years" Here are 7 key disruptions that most likely will change the way people work in the future.

Technological and social forces are transforming how work gets done, who does it, and even what work looks like. And while technology can make workers more productive, there will be significant turbulence as organizations grapple with the complexity and unpredictability of a changing workforce.

Research by Deloitte Consulting shows that there are seven powerful disruptors reshaping work as we know it. In order to address these disruptors, business leaders need to engage in transformative thinking that will not only re-design but re-imagine the way work gets done in their organizations. They need to think big, start small, become more agile, and—ultimately—move faster than the new realities of work.

Are organizations ready for Industry 4.0?

Deloitte’s Readiness Report explores senior executives’ views on the impact of Industry 4.0, that is, the industrial change associated with automation and digital technologies. According to the report, business leaders are uncertain they have the right talent to be successful in this new era of technological advancement. Only 25% are highly confident that their workforce has the skill sets needed for the future. Only 14% are highly confident in their ability to harness the changes associated with Industry 4.0. Yet 86% of business leaders think they are doing all they can to build the right workforce. Even more surprising, less than 20% of business leaders regard talent and HR issues as a high priority. In a nutshell, leaders don’t seem to think radical change is needed to get them where they need to go.

But radical change is needed. Consider the impact of automation. It’s been estimated that 57% of all jobs are at risk of being automated within the next 5 years. Emerging economies in the ASEAN region (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are the most vulnerable to job automation. But developed economies will be impacted as well. In Singapore, for example, workplace automation is expected to double in the next three years.

To be sure, the likelihood of an entire profession disappearing due to automation is low. It is far more likely that parts of an occupation will be replaced by technology. Human talent will be working alongside artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing—or anything that can replace tasks in a business process and make them quicker, more accurate, and less costly. In this scenario, the most suitable resource, be it technological or human, can now be matched to deliver the most productive outcome.

Naturally, this has implications for the workforce and completely disrupts traditional talent models. Organizations will have to find the right balance of humans and machines to complement each other, re-designing roles to maximize talent and potential.

Augmentation also challenges current talent structures and practices by making them more flexible. Workforces will become more and more contingent, with off-balance sheet workers (freelancers, contractors, and gig workers) increasingly utilized by businesses who want to capitalize on access to the smartest people to solve complex business problems. In fact, in the United States, more than 90% of net new jobs in the past five years were performed by off-balance sheet workers. Respondents to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2018 report indicate that only 42% of their workforce is made up of salaried employees.

From the workers’ perspective, such augmentation through technology means people can now decide where best to work, whether it’s from an office or at home, in a satellite space, or in shared workspace. This fits the Millennial and Gen Z value of flexibility in the workplace—a key finding from the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018. For these workers, the gig economy’s increased income potential and flexibility hold great appeal. According to the survey, a clear majority have already taken on such roles or would consider doing so.

This is of particular importance in Asia, where almost 60% of the working population is 28 years old, compared to 40% globally. With the vastly different career expectations of this age group, organizations need to adjust talent models to attract and retain the workers that will take their business into the future.

Remaining relevant in the future of work

The half-life of a skill has dropped from 30 years to an average of 6 years. This holds true even for fresh university graduates. This means that the model of “learn at school” and “do at work” is no longer sustainable and constant reskilling and lifelong learning will be a way of life at work. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, reskilling is the top priority for organizations looking at their future workforce strategy. And with working lives getting longer, reskilling is important for all workers, not just the young.

Individuals, companies, and educational institutions must find collective and elegant solutions that work for everyone and must push for smart ways to promote fairness and progressive thinking at work. Governments and policy makers can play a role in this new paradigm by showing bolder leadership in education and labor market regulations and by developing standards that enable and accelerate future of work opportunities. A collective response will create the platforms that enable and empower individuals to reinvent themselves to embark on new pathways and progress their careers.

Business leaders can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital. They need to put talent development and workforce strategy front and center in their growth plans. This requires a new mindset to understand the challenges workers face and evolve talent programmes and models that unlock their potential.

By Philip Yuen
Edited by Shawn Chou

 
 
Sinking Bangkok Among Cities To Be Hardest Hit By Climate Change
 
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Sep 09, 2018
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As Bangkok prepares to host climate change talks, the Global Warming and Climate Change Conference from October 4-5, experts once again remind that unchecked urbanisation and eroding shorelines will leave the city itself and its residents in a critical situation in the not so distant future.

The sprawling metropolis of more than ten million people is itself under siege from the environment, with dire forecasts warning it could be partially submerged in just over a decade.

Bangkok, built on once-marshy land about 1.5 meters above sea level, is projected to be one of the world’s hardest hit urban areas, alongside fellow Southeast Asian behemoths Jakarta and Manila.

“Nearly 40 per cent” of Bangkok will be inundated by as early as 2030 due to extreme rainfall and changes in weather patterns, according to a World Bank report.

Currently, the capital “is sinking one to two centimeters a year and there is a risk of massive flooding in the near future,” said Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

In turn, the sea levels in the nearby Gulf of Thailand are rising by four millimeters a year, above the global average.

The city “is already largely under sea level”, said Buakamsri.

In 2011, when the monsoon season brought the worst floods in decades, a fifth of the city was under water. The business district was spared thanks to hastily constructed dykes. But the rest of Thailand was not so fortunate and the death toll passed 500 by the end of the season.

Experts say unchecked urbanisation and eroding shorelines will leave Bangkok and its residents in a critical situation. With the weight of skyscrapers contributing to the city’s gradual descent into water, Bangkok has become a victim of its own frenetic development.

Making things worse, the canals which used to traverse the city have now been replaced by intricate road networks, said Suppakorn Chinvanno, a climate expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

“They had contributed to a natural drainage system,” he said, adding that the water pathways earned the city the nickname ‘Venice of the East’.

Today, the government is scrambling to mitigate the effects of climate change, constructing a municipal canal network of up to 2,600 kilometers with pumping stations and eight underground tunnels to evacuate water in case disaster strikes.

 
 
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Setting Ambitious Standards for Corporate Social Responsibility
 
Sep 04, 2018
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Compared with previous years, Taiwanese enterprises made greater progress on the CSR front this time. In 2017 alone, companies poured NT$8.2 billion into charitable donations. The companies that made it into the top 100 corporate citizens employ a total of 460,000 people, accounting for only four percent of Taiwan’s employed workforce. However, these companies generate annual revenue in excess of NT$14 trillion, or 80 percent of the island’s GDP.

Under cloudy skies, the winners of the CommonWealth Magazine Corporate Citizen Awards, now in their 12th year, were announced the afternoon of August 29. With vast parts of southern Taiwan deluged after weeks of torrential rains, Environment Minister Lee Ying-yuan noted as he addressed the awards ceremony that the flooding is clear evidence of ongoing climate change and bemoaned the fact that the fight against global warming has suffered a setback in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

“The law provides the lowest ethical standards; requirements for corporate citizens must be higher. Enterprises must not only look after themselves but also take care of others,” stated Lee, appealing to companies to take responsibility for their actions.

Delta Electronics Inc. Wins Large Enterprise Crown for Third Year in a Row

Amid the award-winners at the three-hour-long event were many “familiar faces”, enterprises that, inspired by the CommonWealth Magazine Corporate Citizen Awards, have built their corporate social responsibility (CSR) portfolios over the years. Delta Electronics Inc. won the top spot in the large-scale enterprise category for the third year in a row, whereas BASF Taiwan, the local subsidiary of the German chemical giant, managed to make it into the top five foreign enterprises for the fourth successive year. Leading organic haircare maker Hair O’right International Corp. again clinched the crown in the “little giants” category. (Read: Delta Electronics Inc.: 'The Time is Always Right to Do the Right Thing')

As many awardees took the stage, they thanked CommonWealth Magazine for hosting the Corporate Citizen Awards for the past twelve years, and pointed out that this opportunity to compare notes and be evaluated regarding CSR approaches helped them figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how to adjust the direction of their efforts.

Jimmy Hsiung, supervisor of the CommonWealth Magazine Survey Center, noted that this year’s jury members concurred that, compared with previous years, Taiwanese enterprises made greater progress on the CSR front this time. In 2017 alone, companies poured NT$8.2 billion into charitable donations. The companies that made it into the top 100 corporate citizens employ a total of 460,000 people, accounting for only four percent of Taiwan’s employed workforce. However, these companies generate annual revenue in excess of NT$14 trillion, or 80 percent of the island’s GDP.

“They represent only a small group of people, but the change they bring about for Taiwan is enormous,” remarked Hsiung, pointing out that setting ambitious CSR standards through long-term commitment and by embedding CSR in corporate culture and each employee’s DNA, forms a vital element of corporate competitiveness.

As a longtime champion of the environment and energy conservation, Delta Electronics late last year became the first company in Taiwan or China to have its science-based targets for reducing greenhouse gases validated and approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative. Guo Shan-shan, the company’s chief brand officer and executive director of Delta Electronics Foundation, noted that Delta Electronics began to collaborate with the Central Weather Bureau this year, providing architects with the micro climate data of nearly 30 areas across Taiwan as reference so that people would be able to live in comfortable housing that is adapted to the local climate conditions.

The world’s largest chip foundry, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), won second place this year in the large enterprise category, with Chairman Mark Liu accepting the award in the wake of the retirement of longtime Chairman Morris Chang. Liu said that it is TSMC’s vision to become a force that can lead Taiwan’s society to a higher plane. Through volunteer activities, TSMC fosters its employees’ volunteering spirit, encouraging them to not only do good deeds but also contribute to Taiwan’s economic development with integrity.

Jonney Shih, chairman of Asustek Computer Inc. (Asus), stated that Asus successfully used 100 percent recycled parts and components for its recycled computers last year. This March, Asus won Circularity Facts Program Validation status, which means that the company implements the “cradle to cradle” concept for a sustainable economy.

Developing ambitious CSR goals is not just a privilege of companies in the large enterprise category. Transnational consumer goods company Unilever launched a sustainable live agenda in 2010, promoting sustainable lifestyle brands such as Dove, Lipton and Knorr. For the Lipton green tea series, the company cooperates with Taiwanese tea plantations, becoming the first tea bag brand in Taiwan with Rainforest Alliance certification.

Small giant O’right has shown through its plastic and emission reduction measures and development of sustainable green products that a Taiwanese company can be a global leader in CSR. Ko Li-li, O’right’s deputy general manager, noted that the haircare maker promotes a circular economy through innovations such as using coffee husks from Gukeng in Yunlin County and golden goji berry root from Kuanyin in Taoyuan City in its products.

Companies can more fully fulfill their corporate responsibility by enabling every employee to join in CSR efforts. This year’s award-winners attach growing importance to the joint involvement of their employees. Cathay Financial Holding Co. Ltd. Vice Chairman Chen Tsu-pei remarked that within the company’s core business, banking is linked to the Equator Principles, insurance to sustainable insurance, and asset management to responsible investment, so that CSR becomes part of each employee’s tasks and the long-term business strategy.

One new insight from this year’s Corporate Citizen Awards is that companies in Taiwan are more ambitious in the four areas that were evaluated for the ranking – corporate governance, corporate commitments, social engagement and environmental sustainability – than laws and regulations require. This is particularly obvious with regard to social benefits.

“Since everyone is making an effort, we are witnessing forces that contribute to the progress of Taiwanese society,” observed Labor Minister Hsu Ming-chun, who sat on the jury panel and attended the awards ceremony. Hsu said that, as Taiwan’s top labor policymaker, she is very happy to see that many enterprises are ready to share their profits with their employees through various benefits such as salary raises and creative schemes such as “emotional leave” or allowing employees to take a day off when their children start school. This shows that corporate Taiwan and the government are making a concerted effort to improve the welfare of workers.

“It’s great that Taiwan has you!” declared CommonWealth Magazine President Yin-Chuen Wu at the ceremony. More and more companies are deepening their CSR agenda, internalizing social responsibility in day-to-day business, and implementing CSR while making money is crucial for taking Taiwan to a higher plane.

About the CommonWealth CSR Corporate Citizen Awards Survey

By Elpis Su

The 2018 CommonWealth Magazine Corporate Citizen Awards Survey picked Taiwan’s best corporate citizen using international benchmarks and evaluation methods in the four areas of corporate governance, corporate commitments,social engagement, and environmental sustainability.

The evaluation process, which covers CommonWealth Magazine’s Top 2,000 Enterprises and domestic and foreign-invested companies recommended by experts, is split into four stages. In the first round, companies that have turned a profit for three years in a row are invited to participate in the survey. In round two, an initial evaluation takes place based on the data provided by the responding companies. In the decisive third round, experts from various fields form jury panels that rank the companies in the various categories according to their performance in the four evaluation areas. In round four, Jury head Lin Hsin-yi convenes a grand jury panel that selects the Top 100 Corporate Citizens based on enterprises’ total scores.

This year, companies were grouped into four categories based on annual revenue. Companies with annual revenue above NT$10 billion were categorized as large enterprises, those with annual revenue below NT$10 billion and considerable CSR experience were put in the medium-sized enterprise category, while companies with less than NT$5 billion in annual revenue were designated as “small giants”. Foreign enterprises made up the fourth category.

Survey period: May 3, 2018 to August 9, 2018
Survey execution: Jimmy Hsiung, Elpis Su

Translated by Susanne Ganz
Edited by Sharon Tseng

 
 
Foreign residents allow to invest in China’s USD 7 trillion stock market
 
China Knowledge Online
Aug 18, 2018
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Aug 16, 2018 (China Knowledge) - Foreigners working in China can now invest in China’s A-shares was announced by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) after the market closed yesterday. The breaking news is expected to open the floodgate of some 900,000 foreign residents who are working in the Mainland China to access the country’s USD 7 trillion stock market in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

For three decades since the Shanghai bourse launched in 1990 stock trading to foreigners were closed, and only granted to large funds from 2003 through the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) scheme, which to date, totaled over USD 100 billion from 287 foreign firms. Then came the Stock Connect and Bond Connect in 2016 where foreign institutions could trade domestic stocks and bonds through Hong Kong.

Candidly speaking, allowing approved foreign residents to invest directly would spice up their dining and drinking experience with new topics and sharing circling listed companies’ performance and investment opportunities. Before it was like watching the World Cup but no channel to execute ideas or opinions on the games. At only a quarter of U.S.’s GDP per capita Chinese economy will see ample room for growth for its listed companies, and these should lure more foreign participation.

Other positive news from the financial industry, mainly benefitting the foreign institutions, include the introduction RMB denominated crude oil and rubber futures, easing of trading quota, granting of more fund businesses’ license, allowing foreign M&A on local listed companies, and with many new laws amended this could further facilitate the access to China’s USD 49 trillion markets.

There are also other opportunities but little known to foreigners here include the access to the country’s trust products, mutual funds and other licensed bank’s wealth products. Just the size of high-yield collateralized loans in the trust industry exceeds the total of all the world’s hedge funds combined, at over USD 4 trillion. The high annual returns of these trust products of between 5% and 14% could by itself attract a plethora of salivating investors from across the globe. China’s USD 1.6 trillion mutual funds is another option made available through most local banks.

If U.S. is the standard gauge to apply the foreign ownership of American equities and bonds of one-third that proportion could translate into several trillions of dollars investments from overseas entering China. Recent months of strong buying from foreign institutional funds in the domestic stocks and bonds have seen billions of dollars a day of investments, and to quote from the China HK bond connect program’s official, daily buying of bonds will increase 4 folds by 2020 from current USD 1 billion a day.

The stock market access is a major move to open up China entirely, and it is foreseeable the Chinese currency will be completely free float and become a major global currency within a decade, or even faster.

 
 
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Vietnam's Economic Miracle Unabated – New Tiger Is Born, Report Says
 
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Aug 12, 2018
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A latest commentary by Qatar National Bank (QNB) on Asian economies stated that Vietnam has become one of Asia’s, as well as the world’s fastest growing economies and can been seen as Asia’s latest “tiger” nation in the tradition of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and the so-called “tiger cub” economies of the following generation, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and, more recently, India.

QNB names a range of indicators for Vietnam’s booming economy. GDP growth was 7.1 per cent in the first six months of 2018 as compared to the first half of 2017, which makes it the fastest growth since 2011. The manufacturing sector is leading with output up 13.1 per cent in the period, while construction is also playing a strong supporting role with output in that sector up 7.9 per cent.

According to QNB analysts, Vietnam’s manufacturing boom brings surging exports. Monthly trade statistics can be highly volatile but the latest data show goods exports up over 20 per cent in the first half of the year, following growth of over 17 per cent in 2017 as a whole.

Manufacturing and export success has been driven by Vietnam’s ability to attract large foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into sectors such as clothing, footwear and, above all, electronics. It is now estimated for example that one in ten smartphones worldwide are now made in Vietnam. Latest data show FDI inflows also booming. These were worth an estimated $13 billion in the first half of 2018 with an 11-per cent year-on-year growth. To put these FDI inflows in context, Vietnam’s GDP in 2017 was worth around $220 billion, according to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund.

The foundation of Vietnam’s success is obvious: favourable demographics and low wage rates. Political stability also helps as does the country’s geographical location. Vietnam is also close to major global supply chains, particularly in electronics, which have emerged over the last decade or so.

But these factors are far from specific to Vietnam and so only explain a portion of its success. Recent research from the Brookings Institute think tank in the US highlights that it has been the ability to build on these solid foundations through good policies is what really sets Vietnam apart.

Three factors in particular have been critical. First, while many in the West are questioning the benefits of free trade, Vietnam has zealously pursued trade liberalisation on both a multilateral and bilateral basis. Vietnam, for example, has recently concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union which eliminates nearly all tariffs between the two. Trade agreements have dramatically lowered the external tariffs its exports face, helping integrate Vietnam into the global economy and further accelerating FDI investments.

Second, Vietnam’s investments in human capital, i.e. education, have been impressive, helping the country maximise its demographic potential. A stand out is that the OECD’s latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests high school students in mathematics, science and other subjects, ranked Vietnam an impressive 8th out of 72 participating countries; ahead of many leading OECD economies, let alone of many of its Southeast Asian peers.

Third, investments in human capital have been supported by progress in improving the country’s business climate. Vietnam has steadily moved up in both the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index and also the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey. Investments in physical infrastructure such as power generation, roads and bridges and container port capacity have been vital in supporting Vietnam’s rich human capital.

 
 
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China's BAT companies ramp up competition in streaming sports content
 
China Knowledge Online
Aug 08, 2018
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Aug 07, 2018 (China Knowledge) - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are recognized as China's top three tech giants—the so-called "BAT". Baidu-backed online video portal Iqiyi announced on Monday that it had inked a deal with Super Sports Media Inc. to set up a joint venture specialized in sports streaming, kicking off even fiercer competition among BATs for dominant market shares in sports businesses.

Iqiyi is expected to grab streaming rights for 2018/2019 English Premier League soccer with the founding of new joint venture. Increasing costs for purchasing copyrights of series and entertainment TV shows, and attempt to absorb new subscribers are two dominant drivers for Iqiyi to shift focus to sports streaming business.

According to a recent report by Iqiyi, it has spent nearly RMB 4.7 billion (USD 690 million) on content in Q2, up 47% YoY, accounting for 77% of total costs. Against the backdrop of across-the-board rising content spends, the once unacceptable prices of sports copyrights seem less forbidding.

Sports streaming will also help absorb new subscribers, especially male users. Statistics provided by QuestMobile shows that Youku's daily active users (DAV) hit record 100 million in June thanks in part to its digital broadcast of the 2018 World Cup.

Major streaming sites have pumped an increasing amount of money to win sports streaming rights since 2014. Ahead of Iqiyi's move to tap into sports streaming market, Alibaba-owned Youku won Chinese digital streaming rights to the 2018 World Cup. Tencent, the first mover of BAT to provide exclusive sports broadcast services, has held the rights to live stream NBA and CBA game series.

 
 
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Time to Say Goodbye to Plastic Straws, but What's the Best Alternative
 
Aug 06, 2018
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Companies in Taiwan and the world are phasing out the use of plastic straws in the name of protecting the environment and marine life. How much impact could banning plastic straws really make? What is the best replacement for plastic straws?

The once ubiquitous and popular item has become a symbol of our throw-away culture and the proliferation of non-recyclable materials. In the US and UK alone, 550 million plastic straws are thrown away every day, according to Plastic Oceans Foundation.

Along with single-use carrier bags and disposable cups, the plastic straw’s fall from grace has gone hand-in-hand with an increasing awareness of the damage they are causing, particularly to marine life. Around 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans each year, according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.

After the BBC television programme Blue Planet 2 underscored the devastating effects plastic can have on sea creatures, and millions of people watched a video of researchers extracting a straw from the nostril of a sea turtle, companies and governments have started to take action.

Starbucks is one example. The global coffee chain said it plans to phase out the 1 billion plastic straws it uses each year by 2020. Demand for straws had been increasing alongside the popularity of cold drinks, it said, with cold beverages making up half of all sales in 2017, up from 37% five years ago. Soon, when you visit Starbucks for a cold drink, you’ll be offered a recyclable lid you can sip through.

The company joins other high-profile brands moving away from straws. McDonald’s is replacing plastic straws with paper ones in all its restaurants in the UK and Ireland and plans to start testing alternatives the US, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia.

IKEA will ban plastic straws in the UK and Ireland later this year and plans to remove single-use plastics from its global product range by the end of the decade. And Hyatt Hotels Corporation said that from September plastic straws and drink picks will be offered “on request only and eco-friendly alternatives will be provided where available.” Even the Queen of England has turned anti-straw.

But not everyone is happy about the straw’s demise, since they are helpful for people that can’t raise a cup to their mouth to drink. And while Starbucks has responded to these concerns, saying anyone who needs a straw can request one made of “alternative materials,” the benefits may prove difficult to match.

Others have questioned how much banning plastic straws will actually help. Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist estimates that straws make up a relatively small proportion of all plastic waste in the oceans and argues that clamping down in other areas, for example reducing how much old fishing gear is dumped and lessening company waste, would be more effective than banning straws.

For disabled people and the elderly, plastic straws are flexible and can withstand the temperature of hot coffee, tea or soup, making them useful for eating and drinking. And campaigners say the alternatives -- which include paper, glass or stainless steel -- are unsuitable for use because they either disintegrate or conduct heat.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are more than 600 million people with disability in the world, and while not all of those will need to use straws to eat and drink, it does give some idea of the scale of the issue.

In Seattle, where a ban came into effect on 1 July, the law says companies can make exceptions for people who require plastic straws. Even so, disability rights groups said firms don’t fully understand that they can still offer straws to those that need them, and the alternatives offered aren’t adequate replacements.

Some campaigners complain that companies and governments are acting in response to their concerns -- changing policies after they’ve been implemented -- rather than proactively considering disability needs when shaping legislation. Scotland’s government wants to outlaw plastic straws by the end of 2019 and has appointed a disability adviser to its expert panel to help make sure “the actions taken do not disproportionately affect disabled people.”

Putting the onus on disabled people to remember their own straws or wash a reusable alternative isn’t a viable or fair solution, campaigners say, as in many cases they may not be able to do so and if they forget to carry a straw with them the consequences of dehydration could be severe.

In a blog post on Greenpeace’s web site, Jamie Szymkowiak, the co-Founder of disability rights group, One in Five, called on manufacturers to produce an environmentally friendly flexible non-plastic straw that is suitable for hot and cold drinks.

Paper is unsuitable because it becomes soggy and a choking risk, he says. Silicone alternatives are not flexible enough and metal, glass and bamboo present dangers for people who have difficulty controlling their bite.

While in their current form, plastic straws can take between 100 and 1,000 years to decompose, biodegradable plastics may offer a viable alternative, since they can break down in as little as 12 weeks under the right conditions. Shunned so far because they cost more than double traditional plastic and because they can’t be easily distinguished from their non-biodegradable cousins, they may yet become part of the way forward.

“We must all work together to demand an environmentally friendly solution that meets all our needs, including those of disabled people,” Szymkowiak says.

“As we move to ridding our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics, disabled people shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat by large corporations, or governments, unwilling to push suppliers and manufacturers to produce a better solution.”

By Emma Charlton

Edited by Shawn Chou

 
 
iFlytek AI Hospital is Ongoing in Anhui and Beyond
 
Aug 03, 2018
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In the outpatient hall of Anhui Provincial Hospital of China, an artificial intelligent (AI) robot named “Xiao yi” is wandering around to assist doctors with making initial diagnosis for patients.

Artificial Intelligence Aided Diagnosis and Treatment Center, which is established jointly by Anhui Provincial Hospital of China and iFlytek, has been operated for almost a year since August 20, 2017. “Xiao yi” is one example of the AI programs applied in the hospital to help with medical cases.

LU Xiaoliang, deputy general manager of iFlytek, said, “I’m glad we chose to research on application of AI in the medical sector rather than medical informatization or internet-based medical treatment. We believe it can improve both efficiency and ability of the doctor.”

iFlytek has multiple advantages of high technology, such as voice technology, image recognition and natural language processing. Moreover, they recognized that medical problems root in the lack of high-quality medical resources which can be settled by AI through empowering doctors.

“Yun Yisheng”, meaning cloud doctor, is another clinical application of iFlytek in the form of APP. It integrates several systems including medical advice entry, image data examining and medical record writing to improve physician’s productivity.

QI Yinbao, a doctor from neurosurgery department, said, “ Yun Yisheng not only makes us more efficient by reducing medical record writing time, but also provides us a platform to learn by ourselves through reading latest research and comparing our diagnosis with intelligent diagnosis. Besides, it has high security level to prevent data from divulging.”

Image diagnosis cloud platform also enables Doctor QI to help rural practitioners remotely, and this is vital for speeding up diagnosis and preventing misdiagnosis in diseases concerning lung and breast.

The number of “Yun Yisheng” views by clinicians increased from 1500 in 2017 to 2260 in first half year of 2018 alone, in other words, there is an average increase from 1.15 to 1.5 per day, indicating that more and more clinicians are using this APP.

Challenges do occur as YAN Guang, the vice president of the hospital, put it, “It is difficult to establish a standard for Intelligent Hospital, but we are trying to make it according to the development of hospital and its classification. Furthermore, administrative obstacles should be overcome for the sake of the patients.”

LU Xiaoliang shared similar view, for iFlytek needs to develop related technologies as well as build up a business mode. “Government’s support is crucial for promoting the program”, he said, “AI medical treatment first needs to pass the audit standards, such as the standard set by CFDA, then it should be industrialized through a certain business mode, such as putting AI project into medical insurance.”

Challenges come along with opportunities. Since the establishment of Intelligent Hospital, the government has invested 3.8 million yuan and a team is formed special for AI application developing.

Besides Anhui Provincial Hospital of China, iFlytek is also cooperating with more than 100 third class hospitals nationwide,and looking for more in the future.

(Written by Mairebaha, Edited by GUO Jianjian, USTC News Center)

SOURCE / University of Science and Technology of China

 
 
Kimchi, a well-known traditional fermented Korean food, has proven effective against influenza virus
 
Jul 26, 2018
Category:

- Lactic acid bacteria, green onion and ginger in kimchi serve as natural antiviral agents, highly effective in preventing influenza.
- Kimchi has the greatest antiviral effect when it is the most delicious (best fermentation periods).
- When the SARS epidemic swept China, some argued that kimchi had safeguarded Koreans against the epidemic.
- A joint research team from the Korea Food Research Institute and the World Institute of Kimchi proved kimchi's effectiveness against flu for the first time in the world.

SEOUL, South Korea, July 26, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Kimchi, a well-known traditional fermented Korean food, is highly effective in preventing influenza virus in winter, according to the results of cell·animal experiments.

A joint research team from the Korea Food Research Institute and the World Institute of Kimchi recently announced that lactic acid bacteria and fermentation metabolites in kimchi inhibit the growth of influenza virus -- proving kimchi's effectiveness against flu for the first time in the world, along with the genetic information of strains(metagenome), fermentation metabolites, and bioactive mechanism.

Flu viruses are pathogens that cause acute respiratory conditions in winter. Swine flu (influenza A), which struck the world in 2009, and avian influenza (AI), which recently infected poultry in some countries, are two strains of influenza viruses. Due to mutation of virus, the prevention of flu from these kinds of viruses is so difficult, and infections caused by them are difficult to treat as well.

The research team, which consists of Dr. Kim, In-Ho (Korea Food Research Institute), Dr. Choi, Hak-Jong (World Institute of Kimchi), Korea University College of Medicine, and Dr. Ryu, Byung Hee (Daesang Corp., one of the leading food producers in Korea), collected kimchi samples at each fermentation stage (less-fermented, well-fermented, and over-fermented) and injected them into flu virus-infected cells and animals.

In this study, extracts from the kimchi sample at the 'well-fermented' stage (about 3-7 days after kimchi is made, when kimchi tastes best) were administered to cells infected with the influenza virus (H1N1) and the avian influenza virus (H7N9). In all of the cells, plaque formation significantly reduced, which means that the growth of the flu virus had been inhibited.

In the animal experiment where flu virus-infected mice were fed kimchi extracts, the rate of suffering from weight loss due to the flu also declined. In addition, the survival rate of the mice who consumed kimchi extracts was 30% higher than those who did not.

Dr. Kim, In-Ho of Korea Food Research Institute said, "Lactobacillus plantarum, which is produced in large quantities during the fermentation of kimchi, and its sub-ingredients such as green onion and ginger are thought to hinder the growth of influenza virus. We concluded that bioactive compounds from lactic acid bacteria produced by kimchi fermentation serve as antiviral agents by affecting the virus membrane surface or promptly activating immune cells mobilization." He added, "Our study is the world's first that scientifically verified kimchi's effectiveness against influenza viruses such as swine flu and AI viruses.

In addition, we succeeded in isolating useful and safe lactic acid bacteria from kimchi, contributing to broadening its industrial applications. In other words, this can be applied not only to fermented foods including kimchi, paste, and liquors but also to animal feeds, and food and drug materials. It can also lay the milestone for the development of fermented foods and strains optimized for the constitution of Koreans, through analysis of microbial genome and metabolites in fermented foods as well as mechanism. As such, we have launched new food products in partnership with Daesang corp, aiming to contribute to safeguarding Koreans against virus threats of modern society and to strengthening Korea's competitiveness as the birthplace of kimchi."

In 2003, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was pandemic in many parts of the world including Hong Kong and mainland China, except for Korea where very few people were infected with the virus. Regarding this, some argued that kimchi has an antiviral effect. The results of the study (Effects of heat-killed Lactobacillus plantarum against influenza viruses in mice) were published in the February 2018 issue of the Journal of Microbiology.

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

Source: World Institute of Kimchi

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