Category Archives: Environment

Secret State 22: Mega farms – Owners? Directors? Donations?

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Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.

Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?

Why are there no official records held by DEFRA  on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations  say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:

-an industrial facility,
-manufacturing facility
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory

Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?

A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian

Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.

The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.

Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.

Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by  Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.

A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…

“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 18: captured by corporate interests?

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George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.

But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.

Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.

Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)

Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.

So what is to be done?

Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.

He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.

Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.

George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.

He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP

His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.

If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.

Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?

  • support them,
  • oppose them
  • or suggest better ideas.

He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 17: Government agencies regularly fail to pay farmers for work done

Natural England – sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – is responsible for ensuring that England’s natural environment, including its land, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved.

The Farmers Guardian reported that in 2016 Natural England’s payment record was rated even worse than that of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as it also failed to deliver the required Countryside Stewardship payments for work already done.

Its performance did not improve in 2016; farmers were kept waiting for their first Countryside Stewardship payment. Though Natural England had pledged to make advance payments to 2016 mid-tier and higher-tier scheme holders between November 2016 and January 2017, with final payments due between January and June 2017, the NFU said exasperated members were calling the union demanding to know why their payments had not arrived. Farmers Weekly understood that ongoing delays in processing payments were because of problems with IT systems and processes at Defra.

A spokeswoman for Natural England declined to comment on the number of 2016 scheme payments already made.

FW added that farmers are yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments for work done. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was scathing in its criticism of the RPA’s failure to distribute basic farm subsidies whilst requiring prompt applications from farmers (below left).

The extent of the Rural Payments Agency’s failure to pay farmers in England on time and in full is now clear. The RPA paid only 38% of farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme on 1 December 2015—first day of the payment window—compared with over 90% in previous years.

By the end of January this had risen to 76%, but at the end of March 2016 there were still 14,300 farmers (16%) who had not received any payment.

Government agencies should honour their own injunction: don’t leave it too late.

Over 10,000 farmers who had received a payment had not been paid in full. Two thirds of the additional payments made to these farmers were in excess of €1,000 and were first paid in September 2016, over 9 months after the first payment should have been received.

Farmers Weekly reported in February this year that the RPA boss was ‘blasted’ over farm payment delays and mapping.

At a NFU council meeting on 30th January at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, farmers took RPA’s chief executive Paul Caldwell to task over BPS payment delays. More than one in 10 farmers are still waiting, according to an NFU survey (see “Survey uncovers extent of delays” right) – although the RPA’s own statistics suggests that figure is nearer to one in five. NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “When you look at current payment performance and the levels of outstanding issues from previous years you could describe the RPA as ‘just about managing’.

In March 2017, having received what Miles King described as a ‘verbal beating’ (Countryside Stewardship in front of the EFRA committee) Guy Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, left Natural England and now works for Wessex Water.

Natural England announced in the autumn that it would increase first tranche payments, traditionally paid in the autumn, from 50% to 75%, with the remaining 25% following later, reflecting payment reductions or penalties.

Missing payments have reduced cashflow, leading some to take out bank loans

According to farm leaders, many claimants are still waiting for that first payment, with some now being forced to take out bank loans because of their resulting cashflow difficulties. Max Sealy, NFU county delegate for Wiltshire and a consultant with the Farm Consultancy Group, said some farms were waiting for substantial sums of money for work which they had already completed.

“What we need is clarity on the situation and better communication,” he said. But a Natural England spokesperson declined to clarify how many payments were still outstanding and when farmers could expect to see them.

Farmers who have signed up to Countryside Stewardship, or still have an old Higher-Level or Entry-Level Stewardship agreement, have yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments. Farmers Weekly reports that farmers want to know when they can expect to receive their agri-environment scheme payments, with ongoing delays leading to budgeting problems and growing resentment about the way the schemes are being managed.

The Farmers Guardian then reported that Defra is to transfer delivery of the Countryside (agri-environment) Stewardship scheme from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – more confusion?

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith (right) said:

“The Countryside Stewardship scheme has been plagued by poor delivery from its launch in 2015 and the NFU has been raising these concerns from day one. It seems almost every day we have complaints from members about the muddled application process, wrong maps, moving goalposts, late start dates and delayed payments. All this has undermined farmer confidence in the schemes leading to very poor uptake. Plans to improve delivery have to be welcomed but until we see improved delivery we will withhold judgement.

“I know many farmers will not be reassured that delivery is moving from NE to the RPA, which is notorious among farmers as the organisation which comprehensively screwed up the payment of the as then new Basic Payment Scheme back in 2014. A highly complex new IT system was commissioned to enable farm payments to be moved online. 7 years later the system is still not working properly.

Conservationist Miles King went further, calling for the abolition of the Rural Payments Agency before the introduction of the government’s England Agriculture Policy which is expected to be published this spring: “We need a publicly-funded independent champion for nature (as Natural England was intended to be when it was set up) and a new body which will deliver the public goods for public money”.

 

 

 

 

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Alert: people working in all sectors should scrutinise the National Planning Policy Framework

In particular, readers who have a degree of interest in environmental issues, whether narrowly focussed or holistic, are advised to scrutinise the government’s NPPF draft consultation document.

Its commitment to reducing emissions was set out in the original NPPF document March 12(page 2, cover right) and in the draft consultation document (page 5):


However, one planner drew attention to an environmentally undesirable omission in the transport sector. Readers with a different focus may well find other causes for concern in this draft document and wish to take part in the consultation.  

Local authorities encouraging the use of freight by water, using suitable canals and rivers, have noted an omission in the revised Mineral Planning Policy. The original para. 143 of the NPPF:

The new Para 200 e):

This is significantly different from the original para 143 which puts more emphasis on sustainable transport modes for minerals.

Local Mineral Planning Authorities in areas such as Leeds and Manchester, who are safeguarding existing wharves and approving new ones, ensuring sustainable modes of bulk transport for minerals, and those involved with the waterway freight industry will recommend that the original wording is reinstated.

 

 

 

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Francesca Martinez: a word on the latest Corbyn ‘mural’ outrage

While we’re all debating whether Corbyn’s a spy or a Putin stooge, or an anti-semite, people are dying in NHS corridors, disabled people are starving to death, our public services are being cut, our assets are being privatised, our wages are being driven down, our environment is plundered and polluted, and wealth and power remain in the hands of the 1%.

Francesca writes:

This is, as always, about politics. If anyone needs convincing, please read about other socialist leaders around the world. They are routinely called commies, anti-semitic, insane etc. It is an age-old tactic.

Corbyn can’t be touched on policy so they have to manufacture shit-storms.
He is a life-long anti-racist campaigner with a thirty year record of standing against racism in all its forms.

He is one of only 8% of MPs to have signed the five UK parliamentary motions that condemned antisemitism.

No other MP has such a record of commitment to fighting racism and anti-semitism.

While we’re all debating whether Corbyn’s a spy or a Putin stooge, or an anti-semite, people are dying in NHS corridors, disabled people are starving to death, our public services are being cut, our assets are being privatised, our wages are being driven down, our environment is plundered and polluted, and wealth and power remain in the hands of the 1%.

Make no mistake, this is a war.

If Corbyn goes, we, the 99%, all lose.

 

We will never achieve a more equal, democratic, humane and peaceful society, if we allow the elite to destroy anyone who stands up against them.

 

 

 

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Labour Party infiltration? Have agents – yet again – been ‘planted’ to protect vested interests?

As Simon Jenkins wrote last year: “the rats have gone to work . . .”   

Mainstream media and careerist politicians are continuing to use those whom Jenkins described as “the Blairite retreads in his own party” to discredit the Labour leader whom many view as the country best, indeed – at the moment – only hope.

Today the Murdoch Times has its usual set of articles smearing Corbyn, who would not promote vested interests if elected. A peacemaker with concern for the least fortunate is so bad for business.

But has it gone further? Are the individual party members who make misogynistic, racial or anti-semitic remarks, infiltrators?

The use of arms-length agents is on record and further information about their activities continues to emerge. As many, including Dominic Casciani, the BBC’s Home affairs correspondent have reported, during the 40-year history of the Special Demonstration Squad – the unit at the heart of many of the allegations – police officers used 106 “covert identities”.  Environmental and anti-war protestors were filmed, their mail and phone calls intercepted and undercover police officers (left) deployed to infiltrate protest movements.

Casciani confirmed that official reports had revealed the existence of some of these undercover officers – such as the one who was in a campaign group close to the family of Stephen Lawrence – who helped a senior officer to prepare Scotland Yard for the public inquiry into the London teenager’s murder.

He reported on the legal position adopted by the police and other security agencies in cases involving protection of undercover officers or sensitive sources: “Neither Confirm Nor Deny”.

In the Financial Times, Robert Wright reports Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to meet representatives of the Jewish community to rebuild confidence in Labour, saying. “We recognise that anti-semitism has happened within pockets within the Labour party … I am sincerely sorry for the hurt and pain which has been caused.”

And on Twitter,  he speaks for himself: “I have written to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism. In this fight, I am an ally and always will be. Labour is an anti-racist party and I utterly condemn antisemitism, which is why as leader of the Labour Party I want to be clear that I will not tolerate any form of antisemitism that exists in and around our movement”.

Will this man’s integrity shine through the miasma of accusation and – as has happened to date – will he emerge all the stronger? Many fervently hope so.

 

 

 

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Fracking companies use the law to strong-arm local authorities and landowners

As a report in the Blackpool Gazette showed a drone photograph of Cuadrilla’s well pad near Blackpool under inches of water this week, which could lead to fields and watercourses being contaminated with fracking chemicals and drilling muds, there is news of planned incursions elsewhere.

Ineos, Britain’s biggest fracking company, wants to survey sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

Clumber Park estate (below) in Nottinghamshire, is now owned by the National Trust which opposes fracking. As the trust has refused to allow Ineos to carry out tests for shale gas on this land, the company is to use legal powers under the Mines Act 1966. It has now applied to the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for access to conduct seismic surveys on the 3,800-acre estate in order to gauge the best sites for drilling.

Ineos is also seeking to bypass local councils by using powers created in 2015 to fast-track plans to drill for shale gas in the Midlands without their planning approval. These enable companies to request intervention from ministers to get permission for delayed infrastructure projects deemed to be of national importance. Councils that ’unreasonably delay planning decisions’ can be overruled by Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, via the planning inspectorate.

Ineos plans to apply formally to Mr Javid within days for intervention on two delayed projects in Derbyshire and near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

As David Powell (NEF) asks “How long can the government push clean and dirty energy at the same time?” He ends with a comment:

“If the Government bows to INEOS’s bolshie demands, it wouldn’t just be an affront to the very concept of democracy. It would also be proof – in a decarbonising, climate-changing world, even as it talks big on a ‘clean’ industrial strategy – that it retains a very misguided sense of which horse to back”.

 

 

 

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Will the EC impose glyphosate weedkiller, disregarding Article 191’s precautionary principle?

The European Commission’s seventh attempt to get glyphosate’s licence renewed for five years was unsuccessful.

A GM Watch emessage quotes from  a Greenpeace article which points out that the rejection of this latest bid for a 5-year renewal was an even worse result for the Commission than the vote on its previous 10-year proposal.

That bid had the backing of 16 countries but only fourteen voted in favour of the 5-year renewal, with as many either voting against, or, like Germany, abstaining from voting.

The breakdown of the vote reveals that the governments not backing the renewal represent far more of the EU’s population:

  • 14 Member States (representing 36.95% of EU population voted in favour.
  • 9 Member States (32.26% of EU population) opposed relicensing
  • 5 Member States (30.79% of EU population) abstained.

The qualified majority necessary to grant a new EU licence requires support from countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population, but the countries that voted for renewal represent less than 37% of the population.

The UK, which is one of the most committed glyphosate supporters, is preparing to leave the EU. As it has nearly 13% of the EU’s population, with the UK out of the equation post-Brexit, the states currently voting for glyphosate renewal would represent less than a quarter of the EU’s population.

News 24 reports that Luxembourg environment minister Carole Dieschbourg (right) welcomed the outcome when she became one of the first to tweet the result. “Luxembourg voted against renewal and prolongation. Good outcome for our health and environment,” she said.

On 24 October MEPs at the European Parliament voted to restrict its use from 2018 and impose a full ban by 2022.There were 355 votes in favour of banning glyphosate, 204 against and 111 abstentions. MEPs,

The EU Commission will next take its proposal for a 5-year renewal licence for glyphosate to an appeals committee but it is expected to fail to gain enough support in the appeals committee.

However, the Commission has the power to adopt its own proposal without the backing of European governments. Will the EC disregard the precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU), which aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk and covers consumer policy, European legislation concerning food and human, animal and plant health.

Sources:

https://www.news24.com/Green/News/fresh-eu-bid-fails-to-renew-controversial-weedkiller-20171109

http://www.gmwatch.org/en/

http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/en/News/2017/EU-governments-reject-Commission-push-for-glyphosate/

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/precautionary_principle.html

 

 

 

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Follow India’s lead: increase waterway freight, reduce emissions and accidents

As Anil Sasi (Indian Express) notes: “Inland waterways are a far more efficient mode of transportation than either road or rail, considering that just a single mid-sized barge has the dry-cargo capacity equivalent to 50 trucks or over 10 railcars. As a consequence, transportation of cargo over inland waterways offers the advantage of both lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing the rate of road accidents, where India has the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the world”. 

The Indian government passed The National Waterways Bill in March. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received far less investment than roads and railways. Large rivers and canals across the country have been designated as national waterways, to be developed to enable more movement of goods and passengers.

Britain’s Commercial Boat Operators’ Association (CBOA) agrees with its statement recommending the carriage of bulk goods on waterways. Goods in India travel by congested road and rail networks, which increases the costs of trade logistics by as much as 18% of the country’s GDP.  The government statement continues: “Although it is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting them by road or rail, India has yet to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation”. (Read on here: CHS-Sachetan)

In April the World Bank announced a $375 million loan to help the Inland Waterways Authority of India to put in place the  infrastructure and navigation services needed to develop National Waterway 1 as an efficient ‘logistics artery’ for northern India. The loan will enable the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.

Section 3 of its 322 page 2016 report: Consolidated Environmental Impact Assessment Report of National Waterways includes an assessment of inland waterway transport’s impact on climate change, concluding that this is the most efficient and environmental friendly mode of transportation, involving least CO2 generation when compared with rail & road. An estimate of the CO2 emissions from different modes of transportation for the same quantity of cargo for a similar distance is that CO2 would be reduced and a net saving of 4.54 million tonnes realised over a period of 30 years (till 2045).

A gradual expansion of waterway freight transport would reduce transport costs, road accidents and urban air pollution.

In both countries manufacturers, the construction industry and agricultural producers would be enabled to use waterway transport to reach markets at home and abroad.

 

 

 

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Mumbai and Sheffield: human health, well-being and climate suffer as trees are felled

The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.

As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”

Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.

Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.

Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.

‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:

‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’ 

 

Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.

 

 

 

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