Monday Briefing

Rising ocean temperatures may be increasing the risk of fires in the western Amazon rainforest. Scientists used to think the rainforest, especially in the western Amazon, was too wet to burn. But major fire seasons in 2005 and 2010 made them reconsider. New findings suggest rising ocean temperatures off the northern coast of Brazil are drawing moisture away from the forest, priming the region for bigger fires. “We are reaching a tipping point in terms of drought, beyond which these forests can catch fire,” said an environmental research institute director in Brazil. The Daily Climate 

Washington State leading the way in pushing doctors to curb prescriptions for opioid painkillers. The state’s lawmakers last year imposed requirements on doctors to refer patients taking high dosages of opioids — including hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone and oxycodone — for evaluation by a pain specialist if the underlying condition is not improving. The law reflects a growing effort to prevent overuse of the painkillers. Over the last decade, prescriptions for the strongest opioids have increased nearly fourfold, with only limited evidence of their long-term effectiveness or risks. Separately, U.S. authorities disclosed a widening investigation into Florida pharmacies selling large amounts of oxycodone. The New York Times, Reuters

Tobacco industry builds war chest to defeat California ballot measure. The corporate parents of Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco reported contributing nearly $9 million to a campaign to defeat Proposition 29, a June ballot measure that would hike cigarette taxes in California by $1 a pack. Overall, the latest contributions give tobacco companies more than $23.5 million to fight the measure. By comparison, supporters of the cigarette tax, including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Cancer Society, have raised $2.9 million. The proposition is intended to raise more than $850 million a year to aid cancer research and anti-smoking programs. Los Angeles Times

Despite concerns, Mexico’s state oil company prepares to begin drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Plans call for Pemex to deploy two platforms next month in an area just south of the maritime boundary with the U.S. The wells will go deeper than Pemex ever has drilled before. Mexico’s oil regulator is warning that the state oil concern is unprepared for a serious deepwater accident, and critics say Pemex has sharply cut corners on insurance. Mexico’s plans come two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The explosion at the BP operation killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil in the nearly three months it took to stop the spill. McClatchy Newspapers

Beijing proposes lifetime industry bans for people convicted of food-safety crimes. Authorities in China’s capital, in a package of rules to toughen food safety enforcement, are moving to prohibit criminal violators from ever again investing in, or operating, food businesses. Beijing also is proposing new regulations cracking down on illegal food additives and improper labeling. The rules reflect efforts to combat China’s chronic problems with tainted food. In the most notorious incident, melamine-tainted milk in 2008 sickened about 300,000 infants and killed at least six. Bloomberg, China Daily USA

Recalls: Ford Focus cars, Planters Cocktail PeanutsSteamed BBQ Flavored Pork Buns, Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal & RiceKwik Trip  doughnuts

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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