An Environmentally Sound UK and US-Produced Meat?

Two items of current focus in Brexit news this week have been environmental standards and trade talks.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, appear to have differing goals where these two suggested policies meet.

Michael Gove

Post-Brexit, Gove is talking of a ‘gold standard’ for the environment and for farming in the UK, whilst Fox has been in America getting-up close and cosy discussing a possible post-Brexit trade deal, which would very likely have to include meat US, produced to both lower husbandry and processing standards, being imported into this country.  Read here, industrial-scale animal production with far fewer animals enjoying life outside grazing on grass (at least during the summers) and gobbling-up vast amounts of cereal and soya.  Widespread use of growth hormones, antibiotics in feeds and lower cleanliness in poultry slaughter relying on a final clean-up with heavily-chlorinated water.  The emphasis here should be about how the meat is produced not about whether the meat id healthy to eat or not.

Liam Fox

The UK can’t have post-Brexit both Gove’s ‘gold standard’ environmental standards and Fox’s imported meat produced by cheaper, lower welfare standards.  This ‘cheapness’ – with animals paying the difference with their lower standards of well-being, would make both the profitability of UK farmers even harder to achieve and it would also allow meat produced by these morally lower methods into the UK’s food chain.

 

News From ‘British Wildlife,’ June 2017

Ballast-Water Reform.  An international agreement on ballast-water, water which is taken on by ships for stability and when discharged, often on the other side of the world releasing invasive species, causing huge problems for local marine wildlife.  As of September 8th, all discharged ballast-water will have to be treated beforehand.

Shrinking Shorelines.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment estimates coastal habitat has decreased by 16% since 1945.  In England, this has amounted to a loss of some 13,000 hectares with only 800 hectares created or restored.

Pesticides and Profitability.  New research from France has found that reduction of pesticide does not necessarily result in reduced crop yields and profitability.  The study looked at 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France.  It was estimated that, on 59% of farms nationally, total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects.  France hopes by 2025 to cut pesticide use by 50%. The UK has no plans to reduce overall pesticide use.

 

News from ‘British Wildlife,’ January 2017

Flooding.  Two reports have recently been published concerning streamlining and enhancing of the countries response to do with flooding and associated issues: these are by Prof. Dieter Helm, Chairman of the Natural Capital Committee and EFRA’s Future Flood Prevention.  they cover such issues as: natural capital systems, flood defence, remunerating landowners for ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ (PES), ending the current dysfunctional organisational structure in favour of a more holistic structure, building on floodplains and insurance of building liable to flooding, protection of soils.  See  http://bit.ly/2exR8kg  and  http://bit.ly/2fghJPD.

Pesticides and Bees.  Recent report written by the Uni of Sussex’s Dave Goulson and available on the Soil Association’s website at  http://bit.ly/2fSepfQ  draws a surprising conclusion.  A majority of the toxic cocktail of chemicals detected in honey and nectar from honey bee and bumblebee nests, seems to be coming via wild flowers such as poppies, hawthorn, buttercup and hogweed even when oilseed rape is in flower.

Weedkillers and Rare Plants.  A study recently completed in western France confirms previous work that herbicides on arable crops are eliminating rare arable flowers and having little bearing on the farm crop yield.  It suggests that current yields could be maintained with an approximate cut of 50% in the use of herbicides.  See  http://go.nature.com/2fSrhCy

Bats and Wind Turbines.  More work is required as to why wind turbines are killing more bats than was previously expected according to the Uni of Exeter.  Better mitigation is required and to discover wht bats are drawn to turbines.  See  http://bit.ly/2fSiwbB

New Threat to Earthworms.  An invasive flatworm which can measure up to 7cm has now been found in the UK and is also spreading on the continent.  It feeds on earthworms and land snails.  It is thought to have arrived on horticultural produce from Brazil.  the Obama worm was first discovered in 2008 on Guernsey.  See http://bit.ly/2fzw9fv

Demise of the Cadbury’s Chocolate Brand

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/cadburys-chocolate-fairtrade-fair-trade-mark-farmers-kraft-american-brand-abandoned-promise-a7445826.html

In a final betrayal of the Cadbury brand, Kraft has quietly abandoned its promise to stick with Fairtrade.

Hannah Fearn, Tuesday 29 November 2016.

When John Cadbury founded his legendary confectionery firm in 1824, he was selling just three products: tea, coffee and – perhaps more predictably – drinking chocolate. With the help of his brother Benjamin, he grew the business rapidly; by 1885 they were even supplying chocolate to Queen Victoria.

When John Cadbury’s sons took over the business in 1861 it had only 11 employees and was losing money – but the pair turned it around. At the end of the century, inspired by their father’s Quaker ideals, the brothers built the Bournville estate to house the hundreds of workers the company’s now vast factory required and “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped, living conditions” in the process.

28-cadbury-get

Cadbury’s was just one of a proud tradition of ethical British businesses, including the confectioner Rowntree, Clarks the shoemaker and Wedgewood pottery. Here was a company that provided a quality product to the people, and exercised a social responsibility in doing so.

Sadly, the creation of the still-lively community at Bournville may have been the high point for this historic brand. The first signs of its descent from its origins as a force for social good – the lowermost slopes of which it finally traversed this week – were visible as early as the late 1960s.

In 1969, Cadbury merged with Schweppes. That put an end to its Quaker ideals and social underpinning. It became a business with a single, capitalist motive: selling more confectionary, making more money.

On went the journey towards the symbol of global hyper-capitalist culture it is today. In 1978, a US chocolate magnate, Peter Paul, acquired a 10 per cent share. Its profits outside the UK overtook its British interests. In the late 2000s, jobs were stripped with the closure of a factory in Keynsham. Some of that production moved overseas.

After months of wrangling, in January 2010 Kraft Foods finally bought the firm for £8.40 a share. A great British icon, an important brand in the history and evolution of British business, was no longer British at all. The name persisted, but precious little remained of the company Cadbury himself had created, or the strict business ethics under which he and his two sons worked.

But there was even more change yet to come. When the buyout occurred, Kraft said it would stick to Cadbury’s commitment to using Fairtrade cocoa beans to produce its chocolate. Fairtrade rules mean that cocoa farmers earn a minimum of £1,600 per tonne of cocoa sold. This week, Cadbury confirmed that it was no longer working with Fairtrade, and had instead switched to a new cocoa production partnership known as Cocoa Life – which does not exert the same price rules.

Cadbury has agreed with Fairtrade to keep its logo on the back of their chocolate bars, as a “partner” with the brand. Fairtrade demands that farmers should not be worse off under the new scheme. But this is nevertheless a significant pulling-back from the company’s original commitment.

Cadbury is now a subsidiary of an arm of Kraft, or spin-out company, known as Mondelez International. Its chief executive is Irene Rosenfeld. Her remuneration rose by 50 per cent in 2014, to $21m. What the cocoa farmers who work to supply her global operation will earn for their crucial part in her success is now under question.

Other smaller brands under the Cadbury group have had their ethos similarly stripped from them. Green & Blacks was founded as a small, organic brand and was awarded Britain’s first Fairtrade mark. It was bought in 2005 by Cadbury, and subsumed by Mondelez International as part of the Kraft takeover. Its new range of chocolate for the US market will no longer be organic – the first time that the Green & Black’s label had ever used non-organic chocolate since it was founded in 1991.

Perhaps it’s unfair to single out a single brand when the journey Cadbury has taken, from a local family business to global corporate, is one that so many have followed. But it is the very epitome of the destruction of business value in the search for profit at all costs.

For now, Bournville is still home to Mondelez’s Global Centre of Excellence for Chocolate research and development. Every Cadbury chocolate bar you buy can trace its origins back to the heart of the British business. How much longer before it’s cheaper and easier to do that work somewhere else – whatever the cost to the community that birthed this great British brand?

Pollution from Cruise Liner in UK Waters

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/latestnews/entryid/2110/princess-cruise-liners-fined-in-illegal-ocean-pollution-case.aspx

Princess Cruise Liners fined in illegal ocean pollution case.

Ethical Consumer.  02/12/2016.

United States Department of Justice announced on the 1st December that Princess Cruise Liners has received a US$40M penalty after pleading guilty to seven federal charges in an illegal ocean pollution case that involved one ship’s use of a so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste into the waters.

According to the press release “Princess will pay a $40 million penalty – the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution – and plead guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess cruise ship.”

cruise-ship

Princess, headquartered in Santa Clarita, California, is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation (Carnival), which owns and operates multiple cruise lines and collectively comprises the world’s largest cruise company.

As part of the plea agreement with Princess, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies (Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line N.V., Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises) will be under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for five years. The ECP will require independent audits by an outside entity and a court appointed monitor.

It said “The U.S. investigation was initiated after information was provided to the U.S. Coast Guard by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) indicating that a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England.”

“The whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie.”

 Illegal discharges.

According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had made illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations.

The discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time as the discharge, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.

Illegal practices were also found on four other Princess ships, including use of clean ocean water to fool onboard sensors that would otherwise detect dumping of improperly contaminated bilge water. Authorities say cost savings was the motive and that the ship’s officers and crew conspired to cover up what was going on.

History of environmental violations.

“The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer.

“Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm. Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive.”

If approved by the court, $10 million of the $40 million criminal penalty will be devoted to community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida; $1 million will be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters. [!!]

The Blight of Airbnb

I personally think that the regulations need tightening on this; the housing shortage is so acute that the last hurdle it needs is this type of greed by landlords.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/01/airbnb-introduces-90-day-a-year-limit-for-london-hosts

Airbnb introduces 90-day annual limit for London hosts.

Robert Booth and Dan Newling, Thursday 1 December 2016.

ABSTRACT.  A quarter of London homes listed on Airbnb were rented for more than 90 days last year, many illegally and in breach of an act intended to stop landlords turning badly needed housing into unofficial hotels. The booming home-sharing website admitted on Thursday that 4,938 of its “entire home” London listings – 23% of the total – were let out for three months or more, despite a law requiring anyone doing so to apply for planning permission.

Follow the above link for the full story.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Watch the short accompanying video in the link below!

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/inside-the-arctic-seed-vault-designed-to-save-humanity

Inside the Arctic Seed Vault Designed to Save Humanity From Extinction.

Written by MOTHERBOARD, November 11, 2016.

In the Arctic Circle, on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, a drab facility carved into the mountainside could be humanity’s last hope in the event of a global catastrophe. This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a roughly 400-foot-long building designed to store seed samples for 4.5 million different varieties of crops from around the world, or 2.5 billion individual seeds. The vault even contains seeds from North Korea.

seed-bank

Among the crops stored in the cavernous underground ice tunnels at -18º C (-0.4º F): 150,000 samples of rice, and 140,000 samples of wheat. Now you can take a look inside as Motherboard tours this awe-inspiring facility.

The goal is to create a kind of genetic vault of human agriculture, or a “Noah’s Ark” of genetic diversity, as the Global Seed Vault has been called.

For the non-farmers out there, you may not know that crops need genetic diversity to survive and thrive—that is, even a single type of plant (say wheat) needs to have several different genetic varieties to avoid being wiped out by pests and disease. Fortunately, there are a handful of gene banks around the world collecting and preserving seeds in order to ensure agricultural genetic diversity continues into the future. But what happens if one of these gene banks is destroyed?

That’s where the Global Seed Vault comes in—it will be there to act as a kind of failsafe, or “backup” in the event that other gene banks around the world are lost. In a time of great uncertainty, it’s a ray of hope for how humanity can come together across borders, and use science to ensure the survival of our species.

 

A Criticism of Knepp Estate’s Rewilding – My Rebuke

Following a very critical letter in the British Wildlife journal from Sussex campaigner Dave Bangs, below is my response to BW on his views on Knepp, conservation funding, estates in general, land use and ownership:

I would like to respond to Sussex campaigner Dave Bangs letter (BW 27: 455) in response to Peter Marren’s inspiring article concerning rewilding on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex (BW27: 333-339).

Firstly, the comment DB makes about ecologists lecturing on behalf of wealthy estates and concurrently the loss of posts in public-sector conservation bodies are not directly connected.  The withdrawal of Government monies from these bodies (and the NHS), is part of a much wider debate concerning this country living within its means and poorly considered political decisions made by the previous Government.  Maybe the odd conservation body should reconsider how they spend their budget?

Sadly, the rosy days of funding for wildlife and conservation during the 1990’s now seem far behind…  I feel quite angry when I see decades of my own work unravelling before my eyes!  Chalk grassland ungrazed; rights of way now largely un-maintained; the loss of tens of thousands of elm trees – a speciality here in East Sussex.  Then there is the neutering Natural England…

He argues that this and other lands should not be favoured with public monies.  I feel that strategically placed, relatively modest-scale projects such as Knepp should be encouraged in the hope that they will provide oases for the more mobile wildlife species (and people).  The small percentage of land involved in such schemes is on a world-scale, not worth even contemplating.  I would be the first to agree that the current agri-environment scheme is not ideal but I disagree with DB’s left-wing, politically-tinged assault on the amazing work being carried out at Knepp.  Also in Knepp’s defence, it does produce a quantity of excellent meat.  As DB states, it is part of the somewhat “more resistant farmlands of the Weald,” land that often requires a great deal of effort, inputs and capital, to make a living from within these difficult times.  Sadly, global food prices are a part of today’s modern world – farmers cannot exist within their own little economic bubbles.

The statement concerning Eastbourne Borough Council’s decision to “sell its iconic and wildlife-rich downland estate around Beachy Head” smells a little of red herrings.  Admittedly not a decision I am happy with but the selling of four mainly ‘grassed-down’ arable farms (this sale being made incidentally with no public consultation input), does however, not include the “iconic” coastal chalk grasslands.  The other estate referred to is presumably the Rathfinney Estate vinyard near Alfriston, which one has to say is a great improvement on the rolling, sterile acres of cereals that were its former use.  Additionally, this Estate has made efforts to conserve scrubby, previously long un-grazed chalk downland and to encouraging wildlife elsewhere within its landholding.

I feel that sustainable food production should be concentrated on the good productive lands that (currently) have little wildlife interest, but, with a modest amount of tweaking based on work such as carried out at the RSPB’s Hope Farm.  The current rewards for ‘lip-service’ to the current agri-environment scheme,  that is often the case at the moment must be ended.  Let us hope that post Brexit, we will gain a far more wildlife-friendly agri-environment scheme, fair to our wonderful landscapes, fair to farmers and sustainable – but I for one, will not be holding my breath for that!

Monty Larkin.  (Has worked for the Sussex landscape and its wildlife for 40 years.  Founder and until recently Grazing Co-ordinator of the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust.  Visit www.sussexponygrazing.co.uk)

10 Years of Saving the Albatross

I have been financially supporting this project since its inception.  Just hope that one day I get to sea albatross in their real environment!

http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/donations/campaigns/impact/albatross/marine-champions.aspx

Sea legs and clear heads: the emergence of Marine champions.

Albatross Task Force Programme Manager Oli Yates and Senior Policy Officer Rory Crawford reflect on the first 10 years of the Albatross Task Force.

Wandering Albatross.

Wandering Albatross.

Seabirds are threatened by a variety of pressures. Directly, through being caught on hooks in fisheries, invasive species at nest sites, ingestion of plastic waste, and oil or chemical pollution; plus indirectly via habitat degradation, competition with forage fisheries and climate change. Our understanding of these individual impacts is improving, but their effects are largely unknown. What is known is that the world’s seabird populations are in bad shape. We need to tackle these threats head-on.

The good news is that seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries is preventable. Simple solutions already exist and the Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been successful in developing mitigation measures to reduce the number of seabirds being caught, or bycatch. These measures have been scaled up to achieve fleet-wide reductions in seabird bycatch in South Africa, where the government has supported the adoption of regulations. Several more ATF priority fleets are close to achieving this milestone. Only by reaching and sustaining fleet-wide reduction targets can we hope to turn around the fortunes of threatened albatrosses.

Clear heads are required to ensure sustainable bycatch reductions

Therefore, the role of ATF instructors now combines working on board fishing vessels at sea, and advocating for regulations in governmental meetings. When the same individuals who perform the technical experiments at sea are able to present findings in the political arena, the message is powerful. It’s exactly this mix of sea legs and clear heads that is required to maintain sustainable bycatch reductions in the future.

It’s a rare cocktail of traits that make an effective ATF instructor!

Not everyone is able to do both. In fact it’s a rare cocktail of personal traits that make an effective ATF instructor! Spending time at sea every year is exhausting, both mentally and physically, but our hope from the beginning was that some instructors would stay the course. We’ve been lucky, as whilst we’ve had to say farewell to some great and talented characters, several key members of staff have grown with the project.

On World Oceans Day last month, we celebrated the anniversary of the Albatross Task Force, a decade after the first team in South Africa was launched in 2006. Back then, there were no baseline bycatch estimates for any of our target fisheries, no best practice mitigation measure designs, no fishery regulations requiring these measures to be implemented and, in turn, zero uptake by skippers.

We have come a long way: we now have baseline estimates in all fisheries, best practice mitigation measures are well defined and regulations are in place in seven out of ten of our original target fisheries.

The ATF model will help bring prospective industry partners on board.  That doesn’t mean the job is done. We still have to ensure all vessels in all fleets adopt mitigation measures and support national observer agencies to develop effective seabird bycatch monitoring. In recent years, we’ve also identified an additional six fleets that are affecting seabirds, particularly albatrosses.

Through the BirdLife International Marine Programme, we’re starting on the long road to develop effective measures for gill-net fisheries, which kill 400,000 seabirds per year, and purse seine fisheries, where we’re only just starting to understand bycatch levels. However, through the Task Force we are building on the foundations of successful collaborative work with industry and government to improve the fortunes of seabirds. Having the ATF model in place gives us a compelling story to tell to prospective industry partners in new fisheries, encouraging future collaborations.

Further, this experience has created opportunities to work toward tackling many of the other threats in the marine environment. Our ATF instructors are emerging Marine Champions in their countries, and provide a source of great hope for a more sustainable future for some astounding birds and the healthy habitats they rely on.