September 25th, 2006
Plastic bottles arent the only frivolous packaging of water available to consumers anymore. Now, you can buy your water in a tray.
These Ice Rocks, or pre-packaged trays (complete with the water already sealed inside!), are currently available to supermarkets and the hotel and tourist trade from the Water Bank of America (WBOA), but soon will become available in family packs.
The Secured Spring Water Ice Cubes actually arent ice at all. Because the water in the trays is delivered in liquid form, WBOA claims you are saving money because the delivery trucks do not need to be refrigerated. Wait, wouldnt you save a lot more money by making your own ice in the first place?
It is the hope of WBOA that Ice Rocks will be, in the future, what bottled water is now , a daily habit for most consumers. However, since weve learned the quality of bottled water is usually no better than that from your tap, we probably cant count on Ice Rocks to be any better. Factor in the production of plastic trays with the cost and question of quality and the output is glaring , one ridiculous product.
September 22nd, 2006
Can you imagine if fishing boat owners and corporations could sell fish theyve never caught? How about if they could sell fish that have not even been born? Believe it or not, this is becoming reality as more and more of our nation‚ fishery managers embrace so-called Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) programs.
IFQ programs give individuals or corporations a percentage of the annual allowable catch of a given species, and allow them to own and sell rights to future catches. Traditionally, the fish in the sea have been treated as a public resource and didnt become private property until they were caught. And most people view the sea and its resources are common to humankind, not private property.
We know from experience that IFQ programs have consolidated profit within the fishing industry, decreased crew pay, harmed coastal economies and eliminated jobs. The lucky few quota recipients can sell rights to fish in the sea while the remainder of the people engaged in the fishery either become unemployed or are reduced to sharecroppers. Moreover, IFQ programs do not adequately address over fishing, and they encourage fishers to discard large quantities of fish that are less economically valuable , sometimes due to simple cosmetic flaws.
Congress enacted a moratorium on IFQs in 1996 but the moratorium has expired. IFQ programs are now in effect in Alaska, and the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering an IFQ program for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
September 21st, 2006
An alarming trend continues to make headlines: the high rate of Indian farmer suicides. Due to extreme debt, crop failure, and lack of agricultural subsidies, Indian cotton farmers are having great difficulty competing in the global market, or even keeping their subsistence farms afloat. The New York Times reports that ‚Changes brought on by 15 years of economic reforms have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily opened the way to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain.” In this case it seems that the lauded ‚Green Revolution” is doing more harm than good.
In Vidarbha, a central Indian area known for cotton farming, there have been an estimated 767 suicides over a 14-month period which ended in August. This human crisis has led Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to respond with ‚quick fixes” that includes a $156 million package to rescue ‚suicide prone” districts across the country. Although such short-term actions are indeed necessary, the Indian government needs to seriously address underlying structural problems that have caused the suicides.
Few farmers can afford insurance for their crops, so most must rely upon the timing of the monsoons to have a successful harvest. Given the risky nature of farming, the stakes are even higher when expensive genetically modified (GM) seeds enter the picture. Thirty-one year old cotton farmer Anil Kondba Shende committed suicide after his GM crops failed three times in a row. Although these seeds (Bt) were designed by Monsanto to withstand the bollworm and reduce pesticide use (although its ability to even do that has been questioned), they dont work if the rains dont come. With growing debt and shrinking assets, Shende, like so many other farmers, saw no other option but death.
It is impossible to ignore the human toll of these suicides, as farming families across India lose family members to this ‚plague” of suicides. Although GM seeds have been promoted as the ultimate solution to food security in the Global South, they come at far too high a cost to poor farmers. Without proper national support, Indian farmers will continue to face devastating losses, mounting debts, and a depressing lack of options: debt or death?
September 19th, 2006
Last week, in the middle of rush hour, a rebellious pig tried to flee from an evil farmer. Or at least, Im sure that‚ what George Orwell would make out of this.
The pig was en route to the butcher when he saw his opportunity and escaped between an Appleton Starbucks and Maplewood Meats near Green Bay. Im assuming he was looking for a latte and not a pulled pork sandwich. (Someone should tell him about our Hold the Hormones campaign!)
The police were called to the scene where they tried to subdue the beast with a stun gun. The pig prevailed, though, and even squirmed his way from a self-proclaimed pig wrastler. In the end, it took three tranquilizer darts to calm the poor fella down. He will be sore in the morning, but because the effects of tranquilizers on pigs are relatively unknown, he wont be sent back to the butcher anytime soon.
Pig 1, farmer 0.
September 15th, 2006
Several weeks ago we wrote about a new ‚innovation” in the field of fish farming: using decommissioned oil and gas rigs to anchor fish farms in the open ocean.
Therefore, we werent surprised to learn that the Gulf Marine Institute for Technology (GMIT) is making progress in their project to transform a giant three-platform oil and gas complex into a huge open ocean fish farm.
GMIT will tell you a lot about why this conversion from oil platform to fish farm is good and very little about the many risks it poses. One particularly egregious untruth we uncovered on their website is as follows: ‘By domesticating cobia and other species, it will be possible to provide systems and fast-growing marine finfish species that could help supply a substantial amount of reasonably priced protein to help supplement the world‚ deteriorating supply of one of its most important protein resources “seafood.”
Unfortunately, what they don’t explain is the fact that cobia and the other carnivorous species they plan to cultivate (including red drum, amberjack and red porgy) require massive amounts of wild fish protein, in the form of fishmeal, in order to survive and grow. This of course means they need to take more fish out of the ocean in order to feed the fish they are farming. On average, producing a pound of farmed carnivorous fish requires 5 pounds of wild fish, a highly unsustainable proposition.
Sadly, this is not the least of it.
And so you may ask, why bother turning oil-rigs into fish farms if it doesn’t seem to provide a viable alternative to wild fish. Well, it sure costs a lot less for oil companies when they don’t have to pull their rigs out of the water doesn’t it?
September 13th, 2006
Until recently, countless health-conscious Americans were madly in love with European Union laws that require labeling for genetically-modified (GM) food. But now, that romance has ended. Greenpeace International and Friends of the Earth (FOE) just published a report that identifies the presence of GM rice in Asian restaurants and specialty stores in Europe. According to Reuters, “Five samples out of 27 tested positive for the unauthorized rice strain… The EU does not permit the sale, import, or marketing of any biotech rice on the territory of its 25 member countries.”
The scary thing about this wacky rice is that it is JUST at an experimental stage, meaning that it is not ready to be on any market, EU or otherwise. So how is it, one might wonder, that such an experiment can wind up for sale in the EU? Everyone is pretty silent on that one. Both Chinese government officials and Seewoo Foods, Ltd. were unavailable for comment. And now for the cherry on top: the GM rice in question contains a protein that could cause allergenic reactions in humans.
September 6th, 2006
In light of the recent and untimely death of the world‚ most loved conservationist, naturalist, zoologist and wacky Australian, Steve Irwin, I thought it only fitting to blog about gorillas and banana farmers.
Over 5 years ago, Scientific American interviewed Steve and Terri Irwin. During this interview, Steve expressed his concerns with farming wild animals for “sustainable use”. The argument is that raising wild elephants for people to kill for their ivory will deter the illegal poaching of elephants in the wild. Steve vehemently opposed this. “It seems to me that people are using the camouflage of science to make money out of animals.” He believed this practice would only promote poaching around the world. Much like industrial agriculture has already shown us, mass production of animals for consumption rarely promotes conservational practices.
His wife, Terri, continued this discussion by describing a practical way to stop the killing of endangered species. In some parts of the world, banana farmers lose up to 50% of their crops to gorillas. Most farmers end up shooting the gorillas to protect their livelihood. Steve and Terri believed this problem could be solved much like dolphin-friendly tuna helped protect dolphins from tuna nets. “Personally, I would pay more for a banana if I knew that the farmer allowed a certain number of his bananas to be taken by gorillas instead of shooting the gorillas that came down and ravaged his crops,” explained Terri. The farmer might still lose up to 50% of his crop, but the other 50% would be worth much more.
Innovative solutions like this one exemplify how Steve Irwin dedicated his life to conservation. He shared his passion, love, and vision with the hope of making the world a better place. He inspired generations of conservationists and for that, he will be greatly missed.
September 1st, 2006
The fish farming industry is increasingly looking for meat substitutes for the diets of farmed carnivorous fish. Recently, the University of New Hampshire‚ Open Aquaculture Program hosted representatives of the Illinois Soybean Association and other soybean industry leaders to discuss mutually beneficial arrangements. The soybean industry, as a whole, views the fish farming industry as a promising source for future sales growth. Fish specialists are developing species-specific soy diets and hope to develop soy protein concentrate. Soy happens to be one of the most commonly genetically modified food commodities.
One of the underlying problems with farming carnivorous fish is that, well, they eat other fish. And offshore aquaculture , the form of aquaculture currently promoted by members of Congress and sectors of the federal government , involves predominantly carnivorous fish. On average, producing a pound of farmed carnivorous fish requires over 5 pounds of wild fish, while some species such as tuna can require up to 20 pounds.
Although the fish farming industry has somewhat reduced meat to non-meat consumption ratios by tampering with fish diets, carnivores are still carnivores. Vegetable proteins have an inappropriate amino acid balance and are not as digestible for fish.
Although fish high on the food chain have a high commercial value, their production on an industrial scale is inefficient and bad for wild fish populations.