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BUTTER

The European Union plans to artificially boost prices by buying up to 139,00 tonnes of dairy products at a cost to the public purse of over US$475-million. From March to the end of August the EU will become the owner of 30,000 tonnes of butter and 109,000 tonnes of skimmed powder milk paid for above market cost to support the dairy industry. Export subsidies and EU food stocks were last used in 2007 and last year the Commission tried to scrap such payments but the reform was blocked by France and Germany.

TRENDS

The weak economy took its toll on eBay in the last quarter of 2008 as the company reported its first revenue decline in a decade. Net income for the fourth quarter declined 31 per cent to US$367-million, from the same quarter a year earlier. Last year, eBay made considerable changes aimed at reducing the company's dependence on its auction business.

AGE

As of July 2008, the median age of Canada's population was 39.4 years. Almost one Canadian out of seven (13.7 per cent) is aged 65 or over. Although Canada's population has been aging since the end of the baby-boom, it still remains one of the youngest among the members of the Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development. Nova Scotia has the highest proportion of seniors (15.4 per cent) in the country and is the first province to have more seniors than youth.

HEARING

Keen golfers are being warned by doctors that they may be risking their hearing. Players that use a new generation of thin-faced titanium drivers to propel that ball further should consider wearing ear plugs. Ear specialists suspect the "sonic boom" the metal club head makes when it strikes the ball can damage hearing.

DISASTERS

Natural disasters killed over 220,000 people in 2008 making it one of the most devastating years on record. The most deadly was Cyclone Nargis in Burma, which killed more than 135,000 people and left more than one million homeless. The next worst was the earthquake that shook China's Sichuan province leaving 70,000 dead and almost five million homeless. The Sichuan earthquake caused around US$85-billion in damages, the third most expensive on record.

TECHNOLOGY

The world's first watch-shaped mobile video phone has been unveiled and can be worn on the wrist like a watch. South Korean LG Electronics' "3G watch phone" has a touch screen dialling system with a camera and a speaker built in to enable users to make video calls and gain high speed access to the internet. It also recognises voices, transforms text to speech, has a Bluetooth function and works as an MP3 player. The "watch phone" is part of a trend towards multi-tasking gadgets that can perform a host of functions.

DIET

The best choices for fish that are high in heart-healthy omega-3s and are low in contaminants are: farmed Arctic Char, Atlantic Mackerel, farmed Oysters and Alaska black cod. The worst are: Chilean Seabass, Grouper and Orange Roughy all of which are fish high in mercury or PCBs.

GROWTH

Most southern and western U.S. states are no longer growing as fast as they did at the start of the last decade. Much of this is due to the housing crisis that is making it hard for many to move. However, in 2008, Utah was the fastest growing state, knocking Nevada from the top rank. Utah's population grew by 2.5 per cent. It was followed by Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado. Nevada was eighth after being in the top four for 23 years. Only Michigan and Rhode Island lost population last year.

WIND

The wind farm industry in the UK has been forced to admit that the environmental benefit of wind power in reducing carbon emissions is only half as big as it had previously claimed. The British Wind Energy Association has agreed to scale down its calculation for the amount of carbon emission that can be eliminated by using wind turbines instead of burning fossil fuels. The move is seen as a setback for advocates of wind power.

SHREDDING

A London-based design consultant has invented a shredder using hamster power as part of his master thesis in industrial design. The hamster has to run for 45 minutes on its wheel to shred a single sheet of paper but in turn creates its own bedding.

BULBS

Health Canada is testing compact fluorescent bulbs to measure potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation and electromagnetic-field exposure levels. The move follows a warning from British health officials over some types of compact fluorescent bulbs. It is recommended that the bulbs not be used in areas where people spend more than one hour a day within 30 cm of the bare light bulb. The larger long tube strip lighting fluorescent tubes, commonly used in offices can be used safely.

LAPTOPS

In the third quarter of last year, for the first time ever, worldwide notebook computer shipments topped those of desktops. Shipments of notebook PCs surged nearly 40 per cent to 38.6 million units while desktop units fell 1.3 per cent to 38.5 million.

HENS

Major stores in the UK have begun clearing their shelves of eggs from caged birds four years before the introduction of a EU law banning tiny cages. It is estimated that within two years, shoppers could be able to buy only free-range eggs. All products containing egg will also use free-range varieties. In Britain, "enriched cages", which are larger and have a perch, nest and litter, will still be legal but will be banned in Germany.

BRANDS

Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. is the top retail brand in Canada with a brand value of C$3.1-billion. Next is Canadian Tire Corp. with a value of $1.8-billion followed by Rona Inc, valued at $485-million, Sobeys Inc, $368-million and Lululemon Athletica Inc. whose brand is valued at $352-million. In the United States, the top five brands are Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target and CVS Pharmacy.

CLIMATE

Rivers that connect the Great Lakes have dried up completely through climate warming in the fairly recent past and it could happen again this century. The Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie, and the St. Clair, which drains Lake Huron, and other rivers that connect the lakes are major economic arteries for Canada and the U.S., carrying shipments of everything from iron ore to grain to auto parts. Around 7,000 years ago, a warm period caused the lake levels to drop by some 20 metres, leaving all these rivers high and dry.

ONLINE

Last December saw more than one billion people log on to the world wide web, the first time this number have ever been online in a single month. The actual number is probably higher as this figure was based only on the number of internet users aged 15 or above working from home or on work computers. There are now more Chinese internet users than in the U.S., with 178 million Chinese compared to 163 million Americans.

GROWTH

New data shows that China passed another milestone as it leapfrogged Germany in 2007 to become the world's third largest economy, behind the U.S. and Japan. The revised figures raised the value of China's gross domestic product to US$3.5-trillion at 2007 exchange rates.

BEER

According to the brewers of the country's national drink, by the end of 2008 the average German drank 2.2 litres less beer than in 2007. However, Germans are still drinking an average of 109.5 litres a year. This figure is an all-time low in a country where Germans used to drink 150 litres of beer annually. The drop is believed related to the result of smoking bans in pubs and restaurants as well as different drinking habits of younger consumers.

COCOA

London cocoa futures hit a 23-year high last year as cocoa turned out to be the most lucrative global commodity. At its highest in 2008, cocoa traded at US$3,640 per tonne, the highest price since 1985.

ORGANIC

Recent research indicates that organic foods still have to gain mainstream acceptance by U.S. consumers. Less than 40 per cent of those surveyed have purchased anything from the major organic categories. While organic fresh fruit is a big winner in the organic category, frozen organic products like vegetables and ice cream have not been popular with consumers.

HONEY

The U.S. is grappling with a new type of smuggling aimed at exploiting America's high demand for imported honey. So-called "honey laundering" involves elaborate schemes in which cheap, diluted or contaminated honey from China is brought in after being "laundered" in another country to disguise its origin and evade tariffs and health inspections. Shipments of tainted honey have arrived in the U.S. after being repackaged in Russia. Other shipments have come via India, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and even Poland.

LIVABILITY

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Vancouver, Canada, is the world's best place to live. The EIU ranked 127 cities in terms of personal risk, infrastructure and the availability of goods and services. All the cities that fell into the top "livability" bracket were based in Canada, Australia and Western Europe. The worst places were in Algiers in Algeria and Port Morsby in Papua New Guinea. London was ranked tenth, as was Dublin and Los Angeles.

COLOUR

Three European companies involved in the auto refinishing business have found a way to match car paint perfectly. They ended up creating a hand-held device that can analyze the paint on a car and determine exactly how to reproduce it. Up to now, many body shops have had to revert to trial and error to achieve a perfect match. The device, called a BYK-mac, uses digital imaging to analyze the colour and characteristics of a painted surface, such as sparkle or graininess from many angles and in different levels of light.

HUNTING

The sport of hunting in the U.S. appears to be in decline. In Vermont the number of hunting licences sold has dropped 12 per cent over the past ten years. In New Hampshire, where 60,000 resident and visiting hunters contribute US$83-million annually to the state economy, the decline is even steeper, a 23 per cent drop in licences since 1996. Only Maine has seen the popularity of hunting remain steady. Hunting fees are used to help pay for wildlife management.

VALUE

For the fourth straight year, the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association are the most valuable team, valued by Forbes at US$613-million. The Los Angeles Lakers are second, valued by Forbes at $584-million. Rounding out the top five are: the Chicago Bulls, $504-million, the Detroit Pistons at $480-million and the Cleveland Cavaliers, $477-million. The Toronto Raptors placed 11th at $400-million, a seven per cent increase over 2007. In football, the highest value franchise are the Dallas Cowboys at $1.6-billion.

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