REALLY Down Under

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All the depressing news concerning Australia rounded up in one place. Open up a can of Foster's and follow along that way you can be really down about the news from Down Under, too.

Item: Rumors are circulating among Australian ex-pats living in the US that the Customs Service is suddenly looking for Vegemite at the border. Vegemite is not allowed in under USDA regulations because it uses a vitamin that is not approved for use in the type of product Vegemite is.

The Australian Embassy in Washington said on Monday it was looking into Australian media reports that customs officials were checking people for the salty brown spread.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long prohibited imports of Vegemite because it contains folate, a B vitamin approved as an additive for just a few foods, including breakfast cereals.

But until recently there was no difficulty bringing in a few jars for personal use. Nearly 100,000 Australians and New Zealanders live in the United States.

Like a similar British favorite called Marmite, it is usually spread on toast with butter or cheese.

"Vegemite made me the man I am today," said Brad Blanks, a reporter with a New York breakfast radio show. "In Australia the slogan is that Vegemite puts a rose in every cheek; but today America has slapped the cheek of every Australian."

Weekend reports from Australian and New Zealand media said some people had been searched or asked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents if they were carrying Vegemite.

How long will it be until the Vegemite-leggers pop up?

Item: Tasmanian Devils sent to Denmark to celebrate the birth of that nation's future king may have been exposed to a mysterious and very deadly disease that is laying waste to the native population of Tasmanian Devils back home. The captive program in Denmark had been disease-free until this potential disaster.

Two breeding pairs of the feisty marsupials arrived at the Copenhagen Zoo in April as part of a series of gifts from the island state of Tasmania, the original home of the baby prince's Australian mother, Crown Princess Mary.

However the Danish zoo's hopes of successfully breeding the animals were in doubt after tests found "devil facial tumour disease" in animals at Northern Tasmania's Trowunna Wildlife Park, which supplied Denmark with its devils.

The Tasmanian devil population — found only on the south Australian island — has been slashed by up to 70 percent in some areas by the mystery cancer-like disease whose malignant facial tumours spread between animals during fights.

It is the first time the disease has been found in a wildlife park and tests are being carried out on more than 30 other devils at Trowunna.

Wildlife Institute of Tasmania president Bruce Englefield said the news was devastating after all the hard work done to protect disease-free populations.

"All along we'd hoped that the wildlife parks would be the last bastion for the devil in a situation (where) the disease covered the state," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Trowunna Wildlife Park is Tasmania's major devil breeding centre and has helped manage the disease-free devil population being held on Maria Island.

Nothing to joke about here. This really is bad news.

Item: The last bastion of unlimited driving speed appears to be about to enact speed limits. Australia's Northern Territories have been suffering much higher rates of fatal road accidents. Politicians are focusing putting a limit on the wide-open speed limits. Of course there may be something else at work here:

Casualties from road accidents in the Northern Territory are three times higher than anywhere else in the country, where speed limits are set at around 110 kilometres (68 miles) an hour, a state government report said Tuesday.

"We as territorians drink and drive, travel very fast, we take risks when we travel and we run red lights," said Chief Minister Clare Martin.

Launching the report's "appalling and shocking" findings, she said that despite community opposition the government needed to make "tough decisions" such as imposing a speed limit similar to those in other states.

The sparsley-populated territory, where roads stretch straight and seemingly endlessly between settlements, sees one person killed and nine seriously injured every week.

The report by the road safety taskforce said one in every 42 Northern Territory drivers was found to be over the legal alcohol limit.

One in 42? Put that Foster's down this instant.

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