Returning Nigerian refugees could create new crisis as rainy season starts: UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nigerian refugees who fled Islamist militants are returning from Cameroon into a country that is still not equipped to support them, and they risk creating a new humanitarian crisis, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said on Wednesday.

The UNHCR issued a similar warning last month when about 12,000 refugees returned to the border town of Banki in Borno state, which was already housing 45,000 displaced Nigerians.

Another 889 refugees, mostly children, arrived in Banki on June 17 from Minawao camp in Cameroon, Grandi said.

“The new arrivals – and we hear reports of more refugees seeking to return – put a strain on the few existing services, he said in a statement. “A new emergency, just as the rainy season is starting, has to be avoided at all costs.”

“It is my firm view that returns are not sustainable at this time.”

Banki, once a thriving town, was razed to the ground by the time the Nigerian army retook it from Boko Haram insurgents in September 2015.

Grandi said the severely overcrowded town could not provide adequate shelter or aid and its water supply and sanitation were “wholly inadequate”, creating the risk of disease.

Although Boko Haram attacks have been fewer in recent months, more people are on the move and there are 1.9 million Nigerians displaced across the northeast, the World Food Program (WFP) said in a report last week.

“Insecurity persists in parts of Northeast Nigeria, disrupting food supplies, seriously hindering access to basic services, and limiting agricultural activities, worsening an already dire food security situation,” it said.

More than 5 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in northeastern Nigeria have no secure food supply, WFP said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Exclusive: Vomitoxin makes nasty appearance for U.S. farm sector

FILE PHOTO -- Cobs of corn are held at a corn field in in La Paloma city, Canindeyu, about 348km (216 miles) northeast of Asuncion August 7, 2012. Corn export is second only to soybean export in Paraguay. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno/File Photo

By P.J. Huffstutter and Michael Hirtzer

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A fungus that causes “vomitoxin” has been found in some U.S. corn harvested last year, forcing poultry and pork farmers to test their grain, and giving headaches to grain growers already wrestling with massive supplies and low prices.

The plant toxin sickens livestock and can also make humans and pets fall ill.

The appearance of vomitoxin and other toxins produced by fungi is affecting ethanol markets and prompting grain processors to seek alternative sources of feed supplies.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture first isolated the toxin in 1973 after an unusually wet winter in the Midwest. The compound was given what researchers described as the “trivial name” vomitoxin because pigs were refusing to eat the infected corn or vomiting after consuming it. The U.S. Corn Belt had earlier outbreaks of infection from the toxin in 1966 and 1928.

A vessel carrying a shipment of corn from Paraguay is due next month at a North Carolina port used by Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL], the world’s largest pork producer.

The spread of vomitoxin is concentrated in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and parts of Iowa and Michigan, and its full impact is not yet known, according to state officials and data gathered by food testing firm Neogen Corp.

In Indiana, 40 of 92 counties had at least one load of corn harvested last fall that has tested positive for vomitoxin, according to the Office of Indiana State Chemist’s county survey. In 2015 and 2014, no more than four counties saw grain affected by the fungus.

And in a “considerable” share of corn crops tested in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana since last fall’s harvest, the vomitoxin levels have tested high enough to be considered too toxic for humans, pets, hogs, chickens and dairy cattle, according to public and private data compiled by Neogen. The company did not state what percent of each state’s corn crop was tested.

Smithfield would not confirm it had ordered the corn from Paraguay, but two independent grain trading sources said Smithfield was the likely buyer. A company source said corn Smithfield has brought in from Indiana and Ohio, to feed pigs in North Carolina, has been “horrible quality” due to the presence of mycotoxins.

TOXIN LEVELS

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows vomitoxin levels of up to 1 part per million (ppm) in human and pet foods and recommends levels under 5 ppm in grain for hogs, 10 ppm for chickens and dairy cattle. Beef cattle can withstand toxin levels up to 30 ppm.

Alltech Inc, a Kentucky-based feed supplement company, said 73 percent of feed samples it has tested this year have vomitoxin. The company analyzed samples sent by farmers whose animals have fallen ill.

“We know there is lots of bad corn out there, because corn byproducts keep getting worse,” said Max Hawkins, a nutritionist with Alltech.

Neogen, which sells grain testing supplies, reported a 29 percent jump in global sales for toxin tests – with strong demand for vomitoxin tests – in their fiscal third quarter, ending Feb. 28.

“We’re polling our customers and continually talking to them about the levels they’re seeing. Those levels are not going down,” said Pat Frasco, director of sales for Neogen’s milling, grain and pet food business.

The problem, stemming from heavy rain before and during the 2016 harvest, prompted farmers to store wet grain, said farmers, ethanol makers and grain inspectors.

The issue was compounded by farmers and grain elevators storing corn on the ground and other improvised spaces, sometimes covering the grain piles with plastic tarps. Grain buyers say they will have a clearer picture of the problem later this spring, as more farm-stored grain is moved to market.

Iowa State University grain quality expert Charles Hurburgh said the sheer size of the harvest in 2016 – the largest in U.S. history – complicates the job of managing toxins in grain, especially in the core Midwest.

“Mycotoxins are very hard to handle in high volume,” he said. “You can’t test every truckload, or if you do, you are only going to unload 20 trucks in a day.” By comparison, corn processors in Iowa unload 400 or more trucks a day.

BIOFUEL IMPACTS

Ethanol makers already are feeling the impact. Turning corn into ethanol creates a byproduct called distillers dried grains (DDGs), which is sold as animal feed. With fuel prices low, the DDGs can boost profitability.

But the refining process triples the concentration of mycotoxins, making the feed byproduct less attractive. DDG prices in Indiana fell to $92.50 per ton in February, the lowest since 2009, and now are selling for $97.50 per ton, according to USDA.

Many ethanol plants are testing nearly every load of corn they receive for the presence of vomitoxin, said Indiana grain inspector Doug Titus, whose company has labs at The Andersons Inc, a grain handler, and energy company Valero Energy sites.

The Andersons in a February call with analysts said vomitoxin has hurt results at three of its refineries in the eastern U.S. “That will be with us for some time,” Andersons’ chief executive Pat Bowe said.

Missouri grain farmer Doug Roth, who put grain into storage after last year’s wet harvest, has seen a few loads of corn rejected by clients who make pet food after the grain tested positive for low levels of fumonisin, a type of mycotoxin.

Roth said he paid to reroute the grain to livestock producers in Arkansas, who planned to blend it with unaffected grain in order to mitigate the effect of the toxins.

“As long as this doesn’t become a widespread problem, we’re all fine,” said Roth, who said toxins have shown up in less than 1 percent of the grain loads he has sold.

U.S. farmers with clean corn are reaping a price bump. A Cardinal Ethanol plant in Union City, Indiana, is offering grain sellers a 10-cent per bushel premium for corn with less than one-part-per-million (ppm) or less of vomitoxin in it, according to the company’s website.

(Additional reporting by Karl Plume and Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Charities slam Calais ban that could halt food aid for migrants

An aid worker provides assistance near a group of migrants claiming to be minors who use blankets to protect themselves from the cold as they prepare to spend the night after the dismantlement of the "Jungle" camp in Calais, France, October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Charities expressed outrage on Friday as the mayor of French port Calais, which has symbolized Europe’s refugee crisis, signed a ban on gatherings that could stop aid groups distributing meals to migrants and refugees.

A decree published on Thursday said the Calais authority believed that handing out meals at the site of the former “jungle” migrant camp was one reason for a rise in ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants.

The decree, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.

It did not expressly ban food distribution, but said it was “necessary to ban all gatherings” at the site and banned people from entering it. The decree said gatherings tended to take place “after the distribution of meals to migrants”.

Migrants have been streaming into Calais for much of the last decade, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the railway tunnel under the English Channel.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, a member of conservative party The Republicans who signed the decree, defended her decision on the grounds of public safety and the damage to the local Calais economy caused by the refugee problem.

In a statement, Bouchart said it was also up to the national government to deal with the problem, and that she had always sought to act with “humanity” towards the refugees.

But human rights groups criticized the move, with some saying they would still hand out food to migrants and refugees.

“You’re talking about young people and children. You just can’t deprive them of food,” said Gael Manzi, who works for local aid association Utopia 56.

Manzi said Utopia 56 would continue to distribute food, but at a new site elsewhere in Calais.

Last month, non-government associations said hundreds of migrant children had been returning to Calais, despite the dismantling of the “jungle” camp late last year.

The influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa is a key issue in France’s upcoming presidential election, with many voters concerned about competition for scarce jobs, security, and the risk of further terror attacks.

Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area where the “jungle” camp stood.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Andrew Callus and Catherine Evans)