Aussie gardeners win at Hampton

A team of Australian gardeners have created history by claiming Best in Show honours at the prestigious Hampton Court Flower Show in London.

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The Essence of Australia display which features more than 50 native plants was also awarded a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society event.

Its designer, Chelsea Flower Show veteran, Melbourne’s Jim Fogarty was humbled my the win.

“I’m genuinely surprised. It’s a very Australian garden and I wasn’t sure whether the British would take to it or whether it would be too confronting,” he told AAP on Monday.

Tying in the garden landscapes of Victoria and the Northern Territory, the exhibit is peppered with red gravel and eucalyptus, while a timber-clad structure at the back of the garden echoes iconic rock formations such as Uluru.

A winding serpent-shaped deck inspired by the Aboriginal Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent is a favourite for the designer.

“The story of the serpent was closely linked to horticulture,” he said.

“When the serpent was angry it rained, and when it rained there were new plants.

“I think our history and culture is fascinating, and I wanted to use a style of contemporary gardening that tells the story of our own indigenous culture,” he said.

Sustainability was also a key feature of the display presented by the Royal Botanics Gardens Melbourne.

“Not one thing was shipped here, every plant was sourced from Europe and everything will be resourced and donated at the end,” Mr Fogarty said.

It’s now the second time an Australian has taken out top honours at a prestigious gardening event in the UK after Wes Fleming’s team won Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show last year.

The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show opens to the public on Tuesday.

Meats: a health hierarchy

By James Hamblin

This article was originally published by The Atlantic ahead of US Independence Day.

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In case you’ve not yet purchased your weekend meat, here is a pretty harrowing/empowering case for choosing chicken instead of beef when you can.

About a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. First, here’s the hierarchy of meats (well, proteins) in terms of impact on the environment:

Bringing lamb into human mouths involves a superfluity of greenhouse gas. Lamb isn’t a major player in U.S. meat markets, but the runner-up, beef, is huge.

Farming cattle produces about four times as much greenhouse gas as does poultry or fish. If livestock are basically just converters of grain to meat, cattle and their four stomachs might be the work of Rube Goldberg—cool, but not every light switch needs to involve dominoes. Here’s how beef compares to chicken:

 

July is the pinnacle of the U.S. meat obsession, because of the cookouts, with all the burgers, steaks, meat fights, meat helmets, etc. Americans lead the world in meat consumption at 260 pounds per year (Europeans eat 190 pounds, and world-wide the average is more like 93 pounds). It feels normal to just have meat around all the time everywhere, but for most of history, meat has been incredibly hard to get; precious and prohibitively expensive. But when was the last time you even thought to call your meat precious?

Diane Rehm hosted a patriotically apropos discussion on her radio show this week, in which experts called for the U.S. to be global leaders in assuaging climate change—with our meat choices. Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (which conducted the studies that created these charts), said, “If every American stopped eating beef tomorrow—which I don’t expect—and started eating chicken instead, that would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road.”

“If every American stopped eating beef tomorrow and ate chicken instead, that would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road.”

Even if their projection is off by a few million, that’s a lot of cars. It’s also probably more manageable for people to substitute chicken for beef than it is to, say, change how they power their homes or how they get to work. Those just feel like bigger concessions. At the current rate, Faber said, meat and milk production are forecast to double by 2050. 

More than half the water and grain consumed in the U.S. are consumed by the beef industry. “If we took half the land that we’re now using to produce corn and beans to feed animals, and instead dedicated that to produce food for people right now,” Faber said, “we could feed an additional 2 billion people.”

“If China chooses to eat meat at the rates we do,” said Michael Pollan, professor of science and environmental journalism at Berkeley, during the same discussion, “we’re going to have an enormous problem because the resources that it takes are just too great.”

Pollan and Faber say American meat-heavy diets are spreading around the world. By 2050 there will be 9.6 billion humans. At current rates, there will be 3 billion more meat eaters—double what we have now. Massive expanses of forests will need to be cleared to create pastures to raise the animals, and to grow the grain to feed them. Managing their waste will become an even bigger problem, with methane emanating from “waste lagoons” and nitrous oxide from fertilizer.

“I think meat has always been an important part of the human diet. The problem is we eat too much of it.”

So, in celebrating Independence Day, nothing could be less American than eating beef. Or, well, that’s overstatement. If you think Americans are generally wasteful and inconsiderate, maybe eating beef is the most American thing you can do. I just want there to be a superlative in there.

Jude Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant in Bozeman, Montana, who rounded out the discussion with some industry perspective. Capper noted that, pound for pound, chickens and pigs actually use more human-edible feed than cows.

“We looked at the life-cycle impacts of beef, chicken, turkey, all of these meats,” Faber countered, “and the feed impacts, the methane emissions—it’s very clear that beef is far worse for the climate then many of the other alternatives.”

 

And then there’s the question of hormones. Capper said, “As a mother of a baby, obviously, I’m incredibly concerned about my daughter’s upbringing and growth and health. But if we look at one individual eight-ounce steak that’s from an animal given hormones—that does absolutely have estrogen in it—but the average female would have to eat over 3,000 pounds of beef every single day to get the same amount of estrogen as she does in one teeny tiny birth control pill.” 

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about hormones,” Capper said, “We should all be concerned about everything in our food. But we have to put it into context. Whether it’s an apple, tofu, cabbage, or beef. It all contains hormones.”

“I agree we should be concerned with hormones in the food supply and in plastics and everything else,” Pollan said. “But why add to the burden? There are hormones in lots of things and we have this mystery on our hands, which is why girls enter puberty now at a much younger age than they once did. Here is the case of a completely unnecessary addition of hormones, however small, to the food supply.”

Pollan’s long-standing argument has been that truly sustainable agriculture will involve animals, but in small numbers and on farms, not feed lots. Plants feed the animals, animals fertilize the plants, and it’s a closed nutrient loop.

Also, a whole other concern (Emergency? That’s probably legit) inseparable from any discussion of the health effects industrial farming: 80 percent of antibiotics are being used in animals, cattle and chicken alike.

“I don’t argue for a vegetarian utopia,” Pollan said later. “I think meat has always been an important part of the human diet, and it’s very nutritious food. I think the problem is we eat too much of it.”

I argue against even the pairing of the words vegetarian and utopia. Choosing chicken instead of beef whenever you’re on the fence, though, feels less draconian than trying to give up meat altogether, or convincing 50 neighbors to install solar panels, or growing in-vitro meat in your lab.

This article was originally published on The Atlantic. Click here to view the original. © All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Yes, there is "wood pulp" in your food. No, you shouldn’t worry about it.

On June 30, Quartz’s Devin Cohen alerted the world that “There is a secret ingredient in your burger: wood pulp.

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” Having perused the ingredients lists of McDonald’s, Burger King’s, and other fast food chains’ menu items, Cohen noticed that many of them contained cellulose, a dietary fiber that is sometimes derived from wood. Cohen called cellulose’s spread on fast-food menus “stealthy” and described the fiber as “difficult to avoid.” Why you should want to avoid cellulose, on the other hand, Cohen didn’t say, other than to note that cellulose has “no nutritional value” and that “some studies suggest that microcrystalline cellulose may have adverse effects on cholesterol.”

Very quickly, the story spread. “Is there wood pulp in your burger or taco?” asked the L.A. Times’ Jenn Harris. “McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell And More Have Wood Pulp In Food,” announced the International Business Times. Upworthy imitatorRYOT took things to the next level by asking readers to take action, declaring, “Fast food loaded with wood sucks, especially since it’s part of the reason one in three American children are obese.”

This media meme, catching on like wildfire burning up so much delicious wood pulp, is not only alarmist but 100 percent misleading. The causes of childhood obesity are multiple and complex, but I’m pretty sure cellulose isn’t one of them: It’s pure fiber, so it contains no calories. Cellulose is a natural component of all plants’ cell walls and is therefore in contained in every fruit or vegetable you might care to eat.* As Refinery 29’s Sara Coughlin put it in a rare sane response to the “wood pulp” hysteria, “Made up of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon, cellulose is actually the most abundant organic compound on earth.”

It’s certainly possible that unusually high doses of isolated cellulose, like those given to rats in the study Cohen links to, could have adverse effects, but there is no reason to think that the small amount of cellulose contained in a McDonald’s hamburger is any worse for you than the small amount of cellulose contained in a carrot. In fact, given the fact that it’s a non-caloric plant-based fiber, it’s probably much better for you than most of the other ingredients in a Big Mac. After all, one of the things that almost certainly does increase cholesterol is more well known: hamburgers.

But the fact that “wood pulp” is benign and possibly even beneficial as a dietary additive isn’t the only thing that makes the recent scourge of articles odd. Cohen and his many aggregators make it sound as though powdered cellulose is another one of those gross ingredients that fast-food chains sneak into their menu items, like pink slime. But cellulose isn’t just in fast food—it’s in a huge proportion of packaged foods. Manufacturers put it in ice cream, bread, cheese, and salad dressing, among aisles full of other grocery store items. And the reasons for this are not so nefarious: Cellulose has the ability to thicken foods, prevent clumping, and improve creaminess without affecting flavor much. It seems weird to focus solely on fast-food chains as a culprit of sneaking it into our diets when most Americans probably get more dietary cellulose from Stop & Shop than Taco Bell.

This is not to say that fast food chains shouldn’t be more transparent about the additives and fillers they put in their food, as Taco Bell recently was when it postedan FAQ on its website about the ingredients in its taco meat. Nor is it to say that concern about food additives is never warranted. But if anything McDonald’s shouldn’t be using less plant-based fillers in its burgers—it should use more.

This article was orginally published by Slate © 2014.

Trio cleared of Vic vampire gigolo murder

Three men have been acquitted of murdering self-professed vampire prostitute Shane Chartres-Abbott, who was gunned down outside his Melbourne home.

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Mr Chartres-Abbott, 28, was shot dead in front of his pregnant girlfriend in 2003 while on trial for the alleged rape of a female client.

The woman’s former boyfriend Mark Adrian Perry, 46, and two other men, Warren Shea, 42, and Evangelos Goussis, 46, pleaded not guilty to his murder.

A Victorian Supreme Court jury returned not guilty verdicts for all three men on Tuesday following their two-month trial.

During the trial the jury heard Mr Chartres-Abbott told his alleged victim he was a vampire who needed to drink blood to survive, and he was “older than the city of Melbourne”.

The woman he allegedly raped was found unconscious in a hotel room with cuts and bite marks covering her body and part of her tongue missing.

Mr Chartres-Abbott was heading to his rape trial with his pregnant partner and her father when he was killed outside his Reservoir home in June 2003.

In the trial’s key piece of evidence, jurors heard from a man who cannot be named, who claimed he shot Mr Chartres-Abbott to even the score for the alleged rape.

The man said Shea came to him and told him of Mr Chartres-Abbott’s alleged crime and that he subsequently shot the sex worker for Shea.

Prosecutor Andrew Tinney SC told the trial Perry was enraged about the attack on his ex-girlfriend and set the hit in motion by contacting his friend Shea.

“The murder was carried out for perhaps the oldest and most powerful reason – vengeance,” he said.

Mr Tinney argued that even though none of Perry, Shea or Goussis pulled the trigger, they were part of a joint criminal enterprise that led to Mr Chartres-Abbott’s death.

“Each is as guilty of the murder of Shane Chartres-Abbott as the man who pulled the trigger,” he said.

Barristers for each of Perry, Shea and Goussis said the man who cannot be named was a liar, and their clients had nothing to do with the death.

Supporters of the men cheered as the verdicts were delivered and applauded the jury members as they left the court room.

The trio was found not guilty of both murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter.

Goussis wept and mouthed his thanks to the jury while holding his hand over his heart.

He is serving a minimum 30-year prison sentence for the murders of gangland figures Lewis Moran and Lewis Caine, but the verdicts left Perry and Shea free to walk from court.

Both men tried to avoid the waiting media outside court and made no comments to reporters.

Perry was arrested in Perth last year and extradited to Melbourne after disappearing in 2007 when he learned he was being investigated for the killing of the male prostitute.

Swiss national anthem contest gets more than 200 entries

Lukas Niederberger, director of the Swiss Society for Public Good, said that 215 entries had submitted to replace “The Swiss Psalm”, which critics liken to a weather forecast crossed with a religious hymn, given its repeated references to God and Alpine vistas.

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The song has only been the country’s official anthem since 1981, when it replaced another anthem set, rather confusingly, to the tune of Britain’s “God Save The Queen”.

   

Niederberger said a total of 129 entries for a new anthem were received in German — the majority language in the nation of eight million people — and 69 in its second tongue, French.

   

Italian-speakers, the third-largest group in Switzerland, submitted seven, while 10 were written in the country’s fourth official langue, Rumantsch, used by only a few thousand Swiss.

   

A jury made up of politicians, musicians, journalists and members of yodel clubs, choirs and sports associations will be tasked with picking the 10 best entries, which will be posted online next year so that the public can pick their top three.

   

The most popular three will be performed at a national music festival in September 2015, when spectators and television viewers will vote for a winner.

   

That could pave the way for a referendum on the issue in a country renowned for its direct democracy.

   

Ditching one anthem in favour of another usually only happens after revolutions or other major social upheavals, none of which applies to peaceful, stable Switzerland.

   

The current anthem was penned in 1841, setting a poem on piety and Alpine beauty to music composed by a priest.

   

It was written in German, with versions reflecting cultural differences later added in French, Italian, and Rumantsch.

   

The competition rules required the current tune to be respected, albeit with room for artistic licence.

   

Songwriters had to draw on the preamble to Switzerland’s updated constitution — approved by the public in a 1999 referendum — which refers to freedom, democracy, solidarity, openness to the world and responsibility towards future generations.

How hip hop united Sunni and Shia rappers in Lebanon

 

Watch Dateline tonight at 9.

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30pm on SBS ONEJoin the conversation with #DatelineSBS

Growing up in Tripoli isn’t easy.

It’s a city divided by religion, where neighbour is pitted against neighbour.

The hilltop district of Jabal Mohsen and Bab el Tabbaneh is one of the most volatile sectarian fault lines in Lebanon, where conflict is handed down from generation to generation.

Children are often drawn into the fighting. Some even use weapons in street battles and many have been killed. 

“We show people wherever they are the art of Tripoli, the art that’s never been a bullet, killing, blood or war. Art is art.”

Abrahim Abdul-Aal, or Bob, lives in the Bab el Tabbaneh region. He’s Sunni and has only known violence; he was born into it.

“People who die they have nothing to do with weapons or wars or killing. We are worried yes we are worried, from one minute to the next,” he told SBS Dateline reporter Yaara Bou Melhem.

Just a few hundred metres away in the rival Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen, lives Youssef Ibrahim, or Asso as he is also known. 

It’s hard for these boys to escape the conflict, but they’re part of a new generation fighting against the sectarian violence and negative perceptions of their home city.

Listen to one of Asso’s songs

The two boys, Bob and Asso, are part of ‘Cross Arts’ an anti-sectarian youth performing arts crew with members of all religions and ethnicities. 

And their mutual love of hip hop and music has led them to form an unlikely friendship. 

“We show people wherever they are the art of Tripoli, the art that’s never been a bullet, killing, blood or war. Art is art,” said Bob.

But not everyone is supportive.

“Many people don’t accept these ideas and it depends on their views. They were not brought up with such a thing, they don’t like it,” said Asso, who is Shia.

It’s this divisive view that Asso finds problematic, and it takes centre stage in much of his music.

In one of his songs, Asso raps: “There’s nothing in Tripoli that shows you what is right. Our children carrying weapons… This is wrong.  We are showing them what is wrong.  That is the only reason we are passing this message through Tripoli Hip Hop Revolution.  This is our message.”

On tonight’s Dateline, reporter Yaara Bou Melhem tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two boys from warring neighbourhoods in Lebanon’s troubled north. Catch the full story at 9.30pm on SBS ONE. 

 

 

 

Senior US diplomat asked to leave Bahrain

Bahrain has told a senior US diplomat, who has met with representatives of the country’s opposition, that he is “unwelcome” in the kingdom and should “leave immediately”.

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The foreign ministry accused US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Tom Malinowski, of meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs, in a statement published by the official BNA state news agency.

The ministry said Malinowski met “with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors”, an apparent reference to the Shi’ite-led opposition in Sunni-ruled Bahrain.

The ministry added that Malinowski “is unwelcome and should immediately leave the country, due to his interference in its internal affairs”, the statement said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Malinowski “remains in Bahrain”.

“He is on a visit to reaffirm and strengthen our bilateral ties and to support his royal majesty King Hamad’s reform and reconciliation efforts at an important time, particularly given events elsewhere in the region,” she said.

She said Malinowski’s visit “had been co-ordinated far in advance and warmly welcomed and encouraged by the government of Bahrain, which is well-aware that US government officials routinely meet with all officially-recognised political societies.

“Contrary to our longstanding bilateral relationship and in violation of international diplomatic protocol, the government insisted – without advance warning and after his visit had already commenced – to have a foreign ministry representative present at all of Assistant Secretary Malinowski’s private meetings with individuals and groups representing a broad spectrum of Bahraini society, including those held at the US embassy.”

She added: “These actions are not consistent with the strong partnership between the United States and Bahrain.”

Malinowski met leaders of the opposition, including cleric Ali Salman, the head of the main Shi’ite opposition movement Al-Wefaq, which is an authorised political association, according to the group.

Al-Wefaq posted a picture of the meeting on its official Twitter account, showing Salman seated next to Malinowski and two other men with a flag of Al-Wefaq and a flag of Bahrain in the background.

Malinowski was the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, a vocal critic of Manama’s crackdown on protests, until April when he became assistant secretary of state.

Shi’ite-led protests erupted in Bahrain – home base of the US Fifth Fleet – in February 2011, taking their cue from uprisings elsewhere in the region and demanding democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy.

Security forces boosted by Saudi-led troops ended the protests a month later, but smaller demonstrations frequently take place in Shi’ite villages, triggering clashes with police.

The US has been repeatedly criticised by rights group for not taking a strong stance on Bahrain’s crackdown on protests.

The opposition has campaigned for the establishment of a genuine constitutional monarchy in Bahrain.

The king launched a national dialogue to end the political impasse in the tiny kingdom.

But the opposition quit after two rounds of negotiations, complaining that authorities were not prepared to make enough concessions.

The statement carried by BNA did not say who Malinowski met but stressed that his meetings were “contrary to diplomatic norms and relations between states”.

The foreign ministry said, however, that relations between Manama and Washington will not be affected.

Missing asylum seeker’s relative issues desperate plea ahead of High Court hearing

 

Extended coverage: Transfer of Sri Lankan asylum seekers challenged in High Court

The High Court issued an interim injunction overnight, temporarily barring the return of 153 asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities.

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The court will hear the case against the return of the asylum seekers today, following the earlier transfer of 41 asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities. Some of the first boatload of returned asylum seekers are reportedly facing court, charged under the Immigrants and Emigrants Act.

The Australian government has released no information regarding the most recent boat, prompting pleas from family of passengers, believed to include nine children.

A relative of one of the passengers, three-year-old Febrina, told the Tamil Refugee Council he had not heard from his family aboard the boat for more than week.

Speaking anonymously, he pleaded for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for information, the Tamil Refugee Council said in a statement.

“I am desperate to know where my family is,” he said.

“I want to plead with the Australian minister to stop our pain and let us know what he has done with all the kids and families on the boat. I ask him to be kind to these people. They are all very frightened.”

The relative, who himself fled Sri Lanka after allegedly being tortured, said his family will be tortured again “and even killed” if they are handed over to authorities.

His three-year-old relative is among the nine children aboard the boat, including a 10-month-old baby, according to the Tamil Refugee Council.

Council spokesman Trevor Grant said the government’s action on asylum seekers had “reached a new low”.

“We have become a country that disappears people to suit political objectives,” he said.

“It is a shameful state of affairs.”

Disrupting policy ‘in Labor DNA’

The Prime Minister has also responded to the actions of the High Court.

Speaking to Channel Seven this morning, Tony Abbott dismissed the action lodged by a “former Labor candidate”, George Newhouse.

“The Labor party and its activists, the Greens and their activists, they will try to disrupt the government’s policy,” he said.

“They will try and do things that start the boats up again because that’s in Labor DNA.”

Mr Abbott said he would not comment on “what may or may not be happening on the water”.

“What I’m focussed on is stopping the boats, that is what we’re absolutely and constantly focussed on,” he said.

“Because as the boats keep coming we will keep having deaths at sea so the most decent, humane and compassionate thing you can do is to stop the boats.”

High Court hearing ‘very, very important’

Mr Abbott’s comments are in contrast to those made by President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs, who said the Australian government appeared to be in breach of its international obligations.

Speaking on ABC television this morning, Professor Triggs said the government cannot “return an asylum seeker to the place where they have subject to persecution”.

“The High Court hearing is a very, very important opportunity for our most senior judges to examine exactly what is going on and in a way to call the minister and the Department for Immigration to account,” she said.

Professor Triggs also criticised the screening process believed to be carried out by Australian authorities.

“It sounds as though three, four or five questions are being asked by video conference,” she said.

“Snap judgements are being made and they’re simply being returned. There is an obligation to have a proper process.”

Professor Donald Rothwell from the Australian National University also criticised the so-called “enhanced processing procedures”, which he said were in violation with procedures detailed by the United Nations.

“Those procedures don’t contemplate claims being assessed at seas,” he said.

“They certainly don’t contemplate claims being assessed via videolink… and they certainly do not contemplate a relatively rapid assessment process with quite possibly a handful of questions being asked of people being asked of persons claiming asylum.

“Rather it envisages a much more rigorous, detailed process whereby asylum seekers do have legal assistance.”

The UN has also weighed in on the issue, saying it is “deeply concerned” over the government’s actions.

”UNHCR’s experience over the years with shipboard processing has generally not been positive,” a statement issued overnight said.

“Such an environment would rarely afford an appropriate venue for a fair procedure.”

Government ‘playing hide and seek’

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young welcomed the High Court injunction, saying it would hold the government to account on its international obligations.

Addressing media this morning, Senator Hanson-Young accused the government of “playing hide and seek with the lives of children”.

“It is only right that the High Court demand answers from the government about exactly what is going on with those they are intercepting and holding in custody,” she said.

George Newhouse, the lawyer who launched the action, said asylum seekers were “entitled to have their claims for protection processed in accordance with Australian law”.

“The asylum-seekers claim that they are fleeing persecution and that they’re at risk of death, torture or significant harm by Sri Lankan authorities,” he told Australian Associated Press.

“The minister cannot simply intercept their vessel in the middle of the night and disappear them.”

A decision on the case, to be heard at 2pm, is expected today.

Comment has been sought from the Sri Lankan High Commissioner.

Wal-Mart back on top of Fortune Global 500

US retail king Wal-Mart has toppled Royal Dutch Shell from top spot on the Fortune Global 500 list of the world’s biggest companies, based on total revenues.

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Wal-Mart Stores reported $US476.3 billion ($A515.34 billion) in revenues for 2013 as it ramped up international business.

Royal Dutch Shell of the Netherlands, which reigned for the prior two years, slipped to second place as revenues fell to $US459.6 billion.

Two Chinese energy companies – Sinopec Group and China National Petroleum – held the third and fourth spots, ahead of US oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.

The United States still had the most companies on the Fortune 500 list “for now”, Fortune said on Monday, but with diminished strength.

There were 128 US companies on the list, reporting a combined $US8.6 trillion in revenues, down from 132 last year.

The number of Chinese companies on the list grew by six to 95, reporting $US5.8 trillion in revenues.

Meanwhile, there were 150 European companies this year, slipping from 151 last year.

“Global business is back,” Fortune said.

“After limping through a worldwide financial crisis and economic slowdown, the 500 largest companies ranked by revenues shattered all sorts of performance records in 2013.”

Their combined revenues rose to $US31.1 trillion, a gain of 2.5 per cent from 2012, while profits skyrocketed 27 per cent to nearly $US2 trillion.

Rounding out the top 10 were energy companies BP of Britain and China’s State Grid, car makers Volkswagen (Germany) and Toyota (Japan), and Switzerland-based commodities company Glencore.

Banks dominated the list with 55 companies, followed by energy companies (40) and car makers (33).

The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, was the highest-ranked bank as revenues surged 11.3 per cent to $US148.8 billion.

In the technology sector, South Korea’s Samsung was the largest, holding the 13th spot, ahead of US rival Apple, which moved up four places to 15.

Fortune said there were a record 17 women as chief executives of Fortune Global 500 companies. Making the list for the first time were Mary Barra of General Motors, Nishi Vasudeva (Hindustan Petroleum), Arundhati Bhattacharya (State Bank of India) and Lynn Good (Duke Energy).

Asylum requests shoot up in Europe

Almost half a million people requested asylum in Europe last year, 30 per cent more than in 2012 and the highest number yet registered, official figures show.

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“We have in our immediate neighbourhood a very worrying situation,” said the EU’s home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on Monday as data showed a 19 per cent rise already in the first five months of 2013.

Syria, where war is raging into a fourth deadly year, followed by Russia and Kosovo, accounted for the biggest increases, said the European Asylum Support Office.

Syrians accounted for around 50,000 of the 435,760 applications registered in 2013.

There has also been a significant rise in the number of Ukrainians applying for asylum, with 2000 requests registered from March to May this year compared to an average of 100 per month in the last two decades.

The main receiving countries in 2013 were Germany, France, Sweden, Britain and Italy, which is being swamped by boat-people – 2600 were rescued last weekend alone – and took the fifth place from Belgium.

Helping Italy will be at the centre of European Union talks in Milan on Tuesday.

With less than 100,000 Syrian refugees currently in Europe compared to the more than three million sheltered in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, EU ministers will also discuss resettling those fleeing Syria.

Resettlement provides an alternative to the perilous journeys by boat or container that feed human trafficking networks. It enables the legal transfer of refugees to Europe with the help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

But only around half of the EU countries have agreed to resettle refugees, Malmstroem said.

“I think all 28 countries should,” she said at a news conference. If all European nations joined the resettlement drive, she said “we might perhaps offer shelter to 150,000 Syrians”.