Monthly archives "October 2008"

New collection points, 5 minutes silence, and the GM surge

New Collection Points

There are quite a few new collection points this week. We’ve added collection points in Wellington and Paarl, as well as Rosebank and Kenilworth in the city. Remember that you can change your default collection point by clicking Change details after you log in.

The girl who silenced the world for 5 min

So many of us place limits on ourselves, and think we can’t make much, or any, difference. This week’s video features a 13-year old girl who did, and still is, making a difference. View it here.

As she herself said, we are what we do, and not what we say. The video was shot in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and she has continued her environmental work since.

Sunnydale Naturals

One of our goals is to close the gap between customer and farmer. Ideally, everyone should know exactly where their food comes from, who grows it, and how it is grown. A recent new fresh supplier is Sunnydale Naturals, situated in the Noordhoek valley on a 1 acre smallholding.

She’s been growing herbs and veggies intermittently since she was in school, and is a third-generation gardener, now with the help of her 3 1/2 year old daughter. She has developed a passion for wild-life gardening, natural and organic gardening and permaculture, as well as eco-crafts.

Her land has never received chemicals because it has never been farmed, and she doesn’t use an intensive compost and feed programme, believing that overfeeding is as much a pollutant as chemicals, as it ruins our groundwater, wetlands, streams and seas. She doesn’t spray at all, ever, even with organic controls.

Under her tenure, the small plot in the Noordhoek valley is turning from a wasteland of kikuyu & alien trees into a small ecosystem, with a burgeoning bird population.

Her quantities are small, but look out for them when they are available.

The GM surge continues

The biotech companies are continuing their lobbying attempts to get the world to accept genetically-modified food. While evidence mounts that organic farming is far better for developing countries (see here and here), the Monsanto’s of the world continue their efforts to enrich their shareholders back home.

True to form, in Europe, still a barrier to greater adoption of genetically-modified crops, GM lobbyists are going straight to the top. The head of the European commission is strongly pro-GM, and recently held a series of closed-door meetings, aiming at counteracting the “vested interests” of environmentalists. Since the public, and even environmental ministers, are not always ‘reliable’, the new goal is to get GM in through the back door, with heads of state involved.

It’s an interesting tactic. While the vested interests are clearly the financial beneficiaries tied to the biotech companies, and environmentalists are usually volunteers, throwing the ‘vested interest’ charge back at them is an effective way of freeing themselves of the label.

New products

There are a whole lot of new products on the site this week, many coming from discoveries and contacts made at the Natural and Organic Exhibition. I’ll be profiling some of them in the future, but for now, browse away. Remember that you can always click on the product for more information.

And a reminder again for our new customers in Cape Town. We deliver once a week, usually a Thursday, and orders close on Monday afternoon, shortly before two. You can always make any changes to your order by logging in up until closing time, and making the changes you want.

To order, go to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

The girl who silenced the world for 5 min

16 years ago, 13-year old Severin Suzuki, daughter of a well-known environmentalist, heard about the first great international environmental gathering, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Surprised that her father wasn’t going to be attending, she said that she wanted to go, as children should be there as the conscience for the grown-ups.

Her father scoffed, and told her to forget the idea. But Severin went ahead and eventually raised $13 000 for her and a number of friends to attend.

This is the speech she gave.

Al Gore said that her speech was the best of the summit. She refused help from her father, and gave a speech that brought tears to people’s eyes, and silenced the world for five minutes. It’s sad that she could have given an identical speech today, as the leaders of the world continue to jockey for power and prestige, while the earth bleeds.

“Good for you”

Organic yields higher in developing countries

After last week’s mention of a University of Michigan study that organic yields are higher in developing countries, it was interesting to see the release this week of a major UN study reaching the same conclusions. An analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries showed that yields more than doubled when organic, or near-organic practices were used. The study showed improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought, as well as social benefits.

With developing country’s currencies weakening in the current financial situation, and the cost of herbicides and pesticides, as well as patented seeds for farmers using GM crops, reaching record levels, chemical farming makes less and less sense.

Organic certification

The study also showed the barrier that organic certification creates. While most African farmers are effectively organic, they cannot benefit from selling their goods as organic since organic certification is too expensive, and usually administered by European organisations.

This is one of the prime reasons we support non-certified organic suppliers. Small and community farms that grow according to strict organic principles, but cannot afford certification, are equally, if not more so, in need of our support. Remember that you can click on any of our products for more information, including the organic certification details, and, in most cases, much more detail about the product.


Developing counties also suffer double standards from multinational food companies when it comes to marketing. Nestle were recently caught out showing an ad for Maggi’s noodles, claiming that it helps build strong bones and muscles. The reason they were caught out? Ad ad intended for Bangladesh was shown on British TV, where the claims rightly caused an outcry. Unfortunately, if the ad had been shown in Bangladesh, as intended, their claims would probably have gone unchecked.

In developed countries, with strict legislation, Nestle could not get away with false marketing. In developing countries, with poor consumer protection legislation, and with high levels of illiteracy, where people don’t read or understand the labelling, they get away with it.

But even reading the label is sometimes not enough. Taking bone and muscle-building Maggi’s Noodles as an example again, the product lists E627 (Sodium guanylate,a flavourant) and E150d (Sulphite ammonia caramel, a caramel flavouring), on the label.

In spite of the labelling claiming that the product is suitable for vegetarians, E627 is partly made from fish, and E150d can be made from maize, which is usually genetically-modified. Neither of these facts are volunteered on the label.

South Africa fortunately has relatively good consumer protection legislation, and, if the GM lobbiests don’t get their way, even better legislation on the way. I remember the outcry two years ago when Kellogs were forced to remove their claims that Coco Pops and the like were “healthy mind and body development.” I always found it strange that people could believe that what’s effectively sugared air could be healthy, but enough people said they felt betrayed at the time that, clearly, labelling is believed, and it’s important to make sure it’s accurate.

N&O Exhibition and country-wide deliveries

We had a great, if frenzied, time at the Natural and Organic exhibition this year, and enjoyed meeting many of you. Coming from this, we hope to have more new products appearing on the site, as well as closer and more convenient collection points for many of you. As announced at the exhibition, we’ll be launching countrywide deliveries (of dry products only!) very soon. If you’ve joined from upcountry, or have friends and family elsewhere, look out for an announcement in the next few days.

Administrator Vacancy

The co-op has a vacancy for an administrator, starting as soon as possible. This is a part-time position, three days a week. Click here for more information.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

The co-op is hiring!

The co-op is hiring! We’re looking for a energetic and accurate administrator.

The pay’s terrible, but you’ll be working with a passionate bunch of people in an open and transparent environment, making a substantial contribution doing something you love.

It’s a part-time position, three-days a week, and you’ll be working from our office in Diep River. Duties include primarily capturing payments, general bookkeeping, and invoicing using the co-op’s systems, but as our office presence, you’ll be right in the thick of things, and need to get involved in most areas of the co-op. An ability to stay calm, positive and focused with hundreds of things happening at the same time, is a must.

If that appeals, contact us for more information, or send your application to admin (AT) ethical (DOT) org (DOT) za. We’re looking to fill the position as soon as possible.

GM labelling and organic yields

Natural and Organic Exhibition

If you ordered last week, hopefully you would have received a ticket to the Natural and Organic Exhibition in your box. Either way, we’d love to meet you in person at our stall. The exhibition runs from Friday to Sunday, and we suggest coming early. Judging by last year’s turnout, Friday will be busy, Saturday will be frenzied, and Sunday will be absolute mayhem.

GM labelling in South Africa

As expected, the backlash against the recent ruling by the Department of Trade and Industry that GM foods will be labelled (see GM foods to be labelled in South Africa) has begun. Using the classic FUD tactic (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), a GM lobbiest announced that the ruling would lead to an increase in food prices. While such a tactic may hope to scare the unthinking back into the welcoming arms of our multinational saviours, the veil of deception and secrecy is slowly being lifted from this murky industry, and farmers and citizens will not be fooled.

The claims get more outrageous as time goes by. Claims of food price increases “from 0.5%” were made in Russia. In the Philippines, “as much as 12%“. Clearly these numbers aren’t frightening enough, so for us, it’s “a minimum of 15%”. After their distortions and apocalyptic claims of what would happen if we didn’t sell our food security to an American multinational, the press release ends with the laughable comment “rather than costing consumers more through labelling lets [sic] provide more accurate information to consumers”.

Indeed, here’s to more accurate information.

Organic yields are higher

Proponents of chemical farming or genetic modification frequently claim that organic yields are lower. Fortunately, it’s not true. Organic yields are often slightly lower in developed countries, mainly since many organic farms are new, and are still recovering from years of soil depletion. As the farms recover, yields increase.

A nine-year study at the University of Iowa showed that mature organic farms have higher yields than chemical farms. The organic farms produced 6% higher corn yields, and an average of 45 bushels per acre of soybeans, as opposed to 43 for the chemical farms. Farms in the study practised crop rotation – maize, followed by soybeans, then oats with alfalfa, and finally another crop of alfalfa. Proper crop rotation is key to soil fertility. Unfortunately, particularly with the pressure to produce biofuels, many farms produce one crop only, year after year, with devastating effects on their long-term viability.

Interestingly, particularly in an African context, a University of Michigan study indicated that yields of organic farms were two to three times higher in developing countries. Yes, that’s not a typo – two to three ties higher. Farmers in poorer countries could not afford expensive external inputs, supplied by large agribusiness companies. Once they’d switched to chemical or GM crops, they were stuck in a downward spiral, with ever-increasing costs, and ever-decreasing soil fertility.

To order, visit

Have a great week, and we hope to see you at the exhibition.

The Co-op team

Chocolate, caffeine and theobromine

Natural and Organic Exhibition
We’ll be at the Natural and Organic Exhibition next weekend – it runs from the 17th to the 19th of this month. It was great meeting so many of you at last year’s event, and we hope to meet more of you again this year. If you need any encouragement to attend, we’re giving away free tickets to 200 lucky customers this week. Place an order, and you may just get a ticket in your box.

A Chocolate video, caffeine and theobromine, and cigarettes
I spent much of the weekend making raw chocolate and goji smoothies at Rocking the Daisies, so with that on my mind, I’ve posted a new video about raw chocolate on our blog, featuring David Wolfe explaining why he thinks raw chocolate is the best food ever.

This video has taught me something new, possibly helping me to solve a personal mystery. I’ve always believed that cacao contains caffeine, but in the video David mentions that some studies indicate raw cacao contains none at all. This would explain why, even though I avoid substances such as coffee and black tea because of the effects of caffeine on my body, raw chocolate has never had any such side-effects, even though I eat a lot of it. I hope to have found a definitive source by next week, as many conflicting secondary sources abound on the internet.

Much of the confusion seems to come from the fact that cacao contains the closely related theobromine, which has a similar chemical structure to caffeine, and, although both are stimulants, quite different effects.

Caffeine has a much more intense effect, and a rapid onset, with 50% of the caffeine dissipating from the bloodstream in two to five hours. Theobromine has a slower onset, and dissipates more slowly. 50% is still present in the bloodstream between 6 and 10 hours later. Similarly, theobromine is a mild antidepressant, while caffeine actually increases emotional stress.

Interestingly, smoking cigarettes accelerates the dissipation of both chemicals from the system, which perhaps explains why smoking and drinking coffee are so often related.

Mining in the Transkei
An update on the Transkei mining issue mentioned a few weeks ago is that Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica has declared that more consultation with the community is needed, so the mining licence will not be awarded at the end of this month, as originally planned. The threat of mining is still very real, but is for now on hold. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition. It’s great that a previously marginalised community is now able to stand up against an immensely wealthy international mining company.

To order, head on over to All you Facebook junkies can also join our Facebook group.

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Ginger and yoghurt

Ginger is the world’s most widely-cultivated spice. For all its prevalence, it’s far from a common herb in its effects.

It’s been studied for thousands of years, and historically was a spice of immense value. In Middle-Age England, one pound of ginger was worth the same as an entire sheep. In both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medical systems, ginger is treated as a divine healing herb, and ginger is declared in the Koran as a beverage of the holiest heavenly spirits. The term for ginger in ancient India, vishwabhesaj meant, literally, universal medicine.

Ginger is probably most well-known worldwide for its powerful effect on the digestive system. Confucius wrote that he never ate without ginger on the side. Dioscorides, a Greek physician who served under Roman emperors Claudius and Nero, wrote of its powerful attributes, and since they were both known for their decadence, he probably had his work cut out sorting out their digestion. Countless modern studies have borne this out.

Less well-known today is ginger’s reputation as an aphrodisiac. While in one sense all healthy food can be described as an aphrodisiac, as general health and sexual health go together, ginger has a marked effect on the mobility of male sperm. Portuguese slave-owners commonly fed their slaves ginger in an attempt to boost the slave population and therefore their profits. It’s partly due to cultural changes that this aspect of the herb has been forgotten, as the Puritans and Victorians frowned on such things, and much knowledge was lost.

Also little-known is ginger’s effectiveness against parasites. Anisakis are a parasite spread primarily through consumption of raw sushi, and are growing in prevalence in the west. Ginger has been demonstrated to be remarkably effective against this parasite, while pyrantel pamoate, a commonly prescribed anti-parasitical drug, has little effect on anisakis.  It’s no coincidence that sushi is usually served with ginger. Ginger is also effective against a range of other parasites.

Finally, 1200 years before the British introduced the use of limes for sailors to prevent scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency), ginger was being used successfully by Chinese sailors for this very purpose.

Ginger has a host of other health-benefits. Of special interest to pharmaceutical companies is ginger’s effectiveness against ulcers, heart-attacks and its anti-inflammatory properties. Drug companies have spent billions trying to emulate some of the properties present in this simple herb, and where they have succeeded its been at the cost of some unpleasant side-effects.

Unfortunately there’s no fresh ginger available from the co-op as I write this, but there is ground ginger, ginger slices, gingerbread men and ginger-tulsi tea.

Rozendal yoghurts
Rozendal are drying off their cows, a privilege afforded to few dairy cows, and so none of their popular yoghurts will be available for a while. Camphill yoghurts are available as always, although they will probably sell out quicker than usual, and Noah’s Dove goats yoghurt is also available.

Go to to order.

Have a great week,
the Co-op team