Judge dismisses Pennsylvania woman's lawsuit against Bill Cosby

A U.S. federal judge on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania woman against Bill Cosby, which contended the comedian smeared her character when he accused her of lying in claiming he had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.Renita Hill, 48, had claimed she was defamed her when the comedian and his representatives called her a liar and extortionist as he defended himself after she went public in 2014 with allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct.Hill, a Pittsburgh resident, sued in October over three comments made by Cosby and his representatives. The three statements in question "do not support a claim for defamation as defined by Pennsylvania law," U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said in his dismissal ruling, court documents showed.Hill's attorneys have said Cosby mentored her when she was a young woman, and paid for her education at Temple University and Spelman College. They said he also arranged meetings in Atlantic City, New York and Denver, where he sexually assaulted her. Hill's first public accusation of sexual assault came in a 2014 interview with a Pittsburgh TV station. Her lawsuit concerned statements Cosby and his representatives made in response to that interview. Schwab said the remarks were protected under free speech rights, and that Hill did not prove the comments harmed her. More than 50 women have come forward to accuse Cosby, 78, of sexual assault. The allegations date back as far as the 1960s, making most of them too old for criminal prosecution. Hill and several other women have sued Cosby.Cosby's attorneys welcomed the judge's decision in a statement and said they hoped it would influence the outcome of other pending lawsuits. "The Court found opinionated speech by a defendant's attorney is protected and not actionable as defamatory," the attorneys said. "It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions with similar matters will respond in like manner."The drumbeat of accusations has toppled Cosby from his cultural status as one of America's most-admired comedians. He built his career on family-friendly humor and was best known as the loving but often befuddled father in the 1980s television hit, "The Cosby Show."The only criminal charges against Cosby were filed last month, over the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004.Cosby, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, is free on $1 million bail. His lawyer has said he is not guilty and will not consider a plea bargain. (Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)

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India may decide on GM food as China makes big leap with Syngenta buy

NEW DELHI Officials may decide on Friday whether to allow what could be India's first genetically modified (GM) food crop, mustard, spurred by food security concerns and as China makes a big bet on the technology with a $43 billion bid for seed firm Syngenta.Permitting GM food crops is a big call for a country that spends tens of billions of dollars importing edible oils and other food items every year.Farmers are stuck with old technology, yields are at a fraction of global levels, cultivable land is shrinking and weather patterns have become less predictable.Two straight droughts for the first time in three decades have made India a net importer of some food products for the first time in years.If a commercial launch of GM mustard is allowed, it could pave the way for other food crops such as corn varieties developed by Monsanto, in one of the world's biggest farm markets."I see this as a test case and I am hopeful," said Deepak Pental, the lead scientist who used government grants to conduct tests on the oilseed crop over the past decade."How can we keep on running so scared when there is so much need for improving agricultural production?"But even winning the panel's approval is no guarantee that the GM crop would be introduced.Political and public opposition to lab-altered food remains strong amid fears they could compromise food safety and biodiversity. There is also suspicion among farmers that their introduction would give foreign seed suppliers too much control."Why is the government imposing its decision on farmers on an unsafe and unproven technology, despite the availability of good varieties of mustard in our country?" Manish Sisodia, Delhi's deputy chief minister, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter this week."We pray to you not to compromise our agriculture, citizens' health and the environment under pressure from a handful of foreign companies." PRESSURE BUILDING?Friday's meeting, the third held to evaluate field trial data on GM mustard, is an indication of how serious Modi's government is about pushing technology to lift food production after an impasse under the previous government halted research on transgenic crops.A member of the GM approval committee comprising government and independent experts said they had already discussed the mustard in the past two meetings this year, and the next gathering would be crucial to deciding its future.He declined to be named and did not give more details. Ashok Gulati, a farm economist who advised the last government, said that China's takeover of Swiss GM seed developer Syngenta should push the government into taking quick action."It should come as ... a wakeup call for India, which has to feed more than a billion mouths," said Gulati. "India now doesn't have the luxury to sit on the issue of GM. It just needs to take this bold and decisive step."India placed a moratorium on GM aubergine in 2010, fearing the effect on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock after that.However, Modi, who was instrumental in making Gujarat state the leading user of GM cotton in India when he was chief minister, cleared several field trials soon after taking office in New Delhi in 2014.Some grassroots groups associated with Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have opposed GM crops because of the reliance on seeds patented by multinationals like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta.But New Delhi-based Pental said the mustard variety was developed by Indian scientists, and local firms could easily supply farmers with cheap seeds. TESTS REVEAL NO PROBLEMSThe government's chief scientific adviser, R. Chidambaram, has also asked Modi for a quick decision on the issue.A senior environment ministry official, who is a member of the GM approval committee, had said earlier that studies found no ill effects from GM foods.Pental's mustard makes use of three genes already incorporated in rapeseed hybrids in Canada, the United States and Australia and extensive biosafety tests have revealed no cause for concern, according to a copy of the field trial report submitted to the government and seen by Reuters.Additionally, oil derived from its seeds does not contain proteins linked to the three genes used, Pental said.The mustard's yield is up to 38 percent higher than normal varieties, which would help Modi slash an annual bill for vegetable oil imports of more than $10 billion.A farm ministry official said they were keen to roll out any innovation that can help farmers produce more, as long as concerns of human and soil health are addressed. (Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Japanese ward off evil spirits at bean-throwing festival

Tokyo - Thousands of people threw beans to ward off evil spirits and bring luck at Tokyo's Zojoji temple on Wednesday during a festival to mark the eve of spring according to the lunar calendar.During the ancient, annual festival the roasted soybeans are tossed during ceremonies known as mame maki that are held at shrines and temples throughout the country. "We throw the beans to kick out the demons so the good luck can come in," said Reiko Sasaki, a Buddhist priest at the temple. After the ceremony if people eat the number of beans equal to their age it will bring them good health for the year, according to Japanese tradition.         

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Coming back to a grill near you: Argentine steaks

BUENOS AIRES Argentina could reclaim a strong presence on dining tables worldwide by exporting up to twice as much beef in the next two years, after the new center-right government cut export taxes and quotas on the red meat, industry groups said.Exports of world-famous Argentine steaks have tumbled, largely due to the trade controls imposed by the former left-leaning government which designed to keep local butchers well supplied and suppress prices.A decade ago, Argentina was the world's third biggest beef exporter, with annual shipments of about 771,000 tonnes.Argentina's Meat Industry and Trade Chamber (Ciccra) estimated beef exports will increase to 300,000 tonnes in 2017 from 200,000 tonnes last year, while the Aacrea association of meat producers forecast 350,000 tonnes. Agriculture consultancy group Tonelli & Associates put the figure at 400,000 tons.The groups spoke to Reuters last week."Argentina is returning to the market," Mario Ravettino, president of the Consortium of Meat Exporters ABC, declared. Argentina lifted restrictions on beef in the second week of January, a month after center-right Mauricio Macri took office on a platform to liberalize the spluttering economy. Ricardo Negri, secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries said in a telephone interview that Argentina hoped to start shipping beef to the United States and Canada after both lifted their own restrictions on Argentine beef. It would also increase shipments to established markets such as Russia and China, he said.An increase in exports could prove a boon for foreign meat packers operating in Argentina, including Brazilian firms JBS and Marfrig Global Foods. "There's a change of mood in the industry," said Miguel Schiariti, president of the meat packers Ciccra chamber. "Expectations are running high, prices are improving and producers are betting on increased activity."In South America, Argentina lags behind Brazil and its much smaller neighbors Uruguay and Paraguay in beef exports.Argentina's decline as a meat exporter underlines the impact of former President Cristina Fernandez's protectionist policies since 2008 on the country's external beef trade as farmers switched to cash crops such as soy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in 2016 Argentine beef exports will increase 15 percent to 265,000 tonnes.Victor Tonelli of Tonelli & Associates forecast Argentina's herd would in five years grow to 58 million head of cattle, its highest since 2008, from the current 51.5 million.Meat industry chamber Ciccra said a dip in the number of heifers slaughtered in December from a year earlier could suggest farmers were taking the first steps toward increasing their cattle stock. (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Richard Chang)

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Michigan environmental agency presents Flint water-testing plan

DETROIT Michigan environmental authorities presented a plan to federal officials on Monday to test lead-contaminated water in Flint to determine when the city's water would be safe to drink again, the agency saidThe plan calls for testing in homes, schools, restaurants and the water distribution system, as well as blood testing, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said in a statement.Some portions of the city's water system could be given an all-clear on a rolling basis before mid-April, the Detroit Free Press newspaper reported, citing other state officials.Michigan's governor on Thursday extended a state of emergency in Flint until April 14 to help the cash-strapped city recover from the lead contamination crisis which began after it switched water sources in 2014 to try to save money.“We want to have systems and structures in place that will lead us to better conclusions for the people of Flint,” Michigan DEQ Director Keith Creagh said of the testing plan presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.The plan calls for four rounds of testing, each taking about two weeks, Creagh told the Detroit Free Press. The Michigan city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint River in April 2014.The more corrosive water from the Flint River leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did. Residents complained of various health problems from using the local water after the switch, despite officials' assurances that the water was safe. Flint, which is about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Detroit, returned to using that city's water in October after tests found elevated levels of lead in the water and in the blood of some children. (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrew Hay)

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