Monthly archives "June 2009"

A spoof and some atrazine

A spoof

I was fooled this week by a spoof copy of the International Herald Tribune Newspaper, created by Greenpeace. The newspaper announced that European leaders had agreed a historic deal on Climate Change. One article noted how French president Nicolas Sarkozy had made the breakthrough with dramatic French commitments, and was quickly followed by other countries around the world.

I only realised that I’d been fooled when a follow-up article began by announcing that Italian president Silvio Berlusconi had been rushed to hospital with “confetti inhalation and hug-related injuries” after returning to a heroes welcome in Rome.

In a follow-up the next day, the editors apologised for the errors “on pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of yesterday’s 8 page special”, concluding that the only part that wasn’t incorrect was the hug-related injuries to Berlusconi, currently in the news for his dalliances with teenage models.

As I read the reports, my mood changed from one of ecstasy, to one of anger, chiding myself for falling for the obvious spoof and that “of course” the world’s leaders would never agree to such wide-ranging action. Only to wonder why we are always so cynical, why we should not always expect, and work towards, the best.

With political pressure mounting on leaders who, often under intense lobbying from oil companies, have resisted any action on climate change until now, why shouldn’t we expect the best. Oil companies, who’ve spent millions on disinformation campaigns around climate change, are now beginning to realise the game is up, and they can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes any longer.

Carrots, peas and some atrazine?

Ever wanted to see in detail what sort of pesticides are present in most common foods? The website lists pesticide residues found on various foods, based on US data. The South African results will probably be similar. Buying a chemically-grown carrot, for example, will get you a lot more than you bargained for. There are 26 pesticide residues listed, of which 6 are described as known or probable carcinogens (cancer-causing), 16 suspected hormone disruptors, 3 neurotoxins (only three, that’s a relief), and 6 developmental or reproductive toxicants.

The website has a focus on atrazine, a herbicide widely used in the US and South Africa, but banned in Europe in 2004 as a suspected endocrine disruptor.

I’m aware of a 1992 study in South Africa, that found traces of atrazine in 20% of surface and groundwater samples in an extensive survey of maize production areas. I’m sure 17 more years of residue buildup hasn’t helped matters, nor has it helped the farmworkers who bear the brunt of our decisions to support chemically-grown food.

Wet and cold weather

With the wet and cold weather this week, our farmers have been affected, and the variety and quantity of fresh produce available is a little less than usual. But there’s still lots to order, from incense, solar and windup torches and lights, non-toxic paints, and of course the best range of organic produce around. Head on over to to order.

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Related posts:

Salt, and updates on the Peruvian Amazon, Biowatch and the Wild Coast.


Salt has a long history. The Roman word “salÄ?rium”, the root of the word “salary”, is associated with salt, as it’s believed that Roman soldiers were either paid in salt, or given a specific allowance to buy salt. This then spread into terms related to working for hire, such as “being worth one’s salt”.

Salt was an extremely precious commodity at the time. Many of the first roads were salt roads, transporting the precious bounty from lands that had salt to those that didn’t. The Roman “Via Salaria” was one such route.

Salt was around long before Roman times though. The oldest verified saltworks has been found in China, and dates to 6000 BC, and salt trading was a cornerstone of the ancient Mali Empire, whose capital, Timbuktu, has become synonymous for “a place far away”. The name Timbuktu literally means “a place far away” in some Berber languages, as it was on the other end of the Sahara to them.

More recently salt has been implicated as a cause of the French revolution, where the hated salt tax, besides inflating the price of salt to exorbitant levels, was made worse by the fact that it was set at different levels in different provinces, and so used as a form of royal control.

Salt is vital to human functioning. All body fluids contain salt, which plays an important role in maintaining fluid balance. However, most people consume too much salt, and nutritionists usually advise not adding salt to our diets at all. Most diets high in refined foods contain too much salt, even before adding salt externally. Meats, cheese, butter, and almost all savoury processed foods, contain salt. If you eat any of those, you probably shouldn’t be adding any salt to your diet.

Excess salt results in high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach cancer. Although most people can flush out some degree of excess salt through their kidneys, it’s particularly dangerous for infants, because their kidneys cannot yet process the excess.

Most salts though contain anti-caking agents, iodine, and all other additives. The Ethical Co-op is offering a number of varieties of salt, none of which contain additives. There’s Himalayan Salt, a rock salt from Pakistan, Kalahari Salt, a rock salt from the Kalahari and Khoisan Salt, a sea salt from the West Coast.

There are also a range of organic herb and salt mixes from Camphill. I unfortunately don’t have information on the salt they use as I write this, but hopefully we’ll get it on the site soon. Remember you can click on any of our products to get more information, including the ingredients, the source, certification details, a picture, and general information.

A healthy alternative to salt is Dulse granules – a seaweed that has a salty flavour, but is much higher in minerals, and much lower in sodium chloride.

Peruvian Amazon

I wrote last week about the situation in the Peruvian Amazon. Well, thanks to everyone who responded – your involvement may have had a part in the dramatic changes since last week. To recap, in February Peru signed a free trade agreement with the US, which required changes to certain laws allowing access to the Amazon. Oil and logging companies licked their lips. Indigenous Amazonian people’s erupted in protest, and President Garcia sent in the military, leading to at least 30 deaths.

As a result of the outcry, Peru’s prime minister is being forced to resign, and the government is sending a bill to Congress revoking these new exploitative land laws.

Wild Coast toll road

You may remember last year that government put on hold approval of a mining project in the Wild Coast, after opposition from local communities and environmentalists. Last week though government approved plans for the construction of a toll road through the Wild Coast. The road was initially intended as paving the way for the mining project. While the mining has not been approved, the approval of the road, in the face of widespread opposition from the royal house of AmaMpondo and Pondoland communities whose homes the road will cut through, as well as environmentalists concerned about the ecological impact, is not a positive sign.

While the area is one of the poorest in the country, and there’s a great need for poverty alleviation, the proposed road may not be the best way to go about it.

Government spokesperson Vuyelwa Vika claimed that, in spite of the decision already having been made, “There will be a consultation process, to be complete within the next three months, during which stakeholders, including communities, environmentalists and everyone who has ever raised issues about the development, will be consulted”. Since the decision has already been taken, it seems the understanding of consultation is “telling you what we’re doing”

A small South African NGO vs Monstanto

Last week did see some great local news though. The ongoing saga between Biowatch and Monsanto has been going on nine years. In 2000, Biowatch took legal action requesting official information about the planting of genetically-modified crops in South Africa.

Biowatch won the case, but in a strange anomaly, were forced to pay Monsanto’s costs. They appealed, as being a tiny NGO this would have bankrupted them, and the implications would prevent any NGO’s from ever taking on the multinationals again.

Biowatch appealed this part of the ruling to the High Court, and lost. They were also prevented from further appealing to the Supreme Court. Biowatch took the case to the highest court in the land – the Constitutional Court, and luckily South Africa’s superb constitution came to the rescue. Biowatch won the case, and will no longer be required to pay Monsanto’s costs. The case is already being widely discussed, and sets an important precedent that constitutional rights need to be taken into account when costs orders are made.

To order, head on over to

Have a fantastic week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Trees, bills, internet hysteria and Greenpeace gets some local flavour

Peruvian Amazon

In 2001 I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Peruvian Amazon. It was a remarkable, life-changing experience. At that stage, land near the main northern Amazonian city, Iquitos, was becoming degraded, but much of the surrounding forest was still intact.

Now, the Peruvian government has pushed through legislation to allow intensive mining, logging and large scale farming in the rainforest, precipitating violent clashes with indigenous groups trying to preserve their homeland.

You can support the campaign urging President Alan GarcĂ­a to immediately cease the suppression of indigenous protests, to suspend laws that open up the Amazon to extractive industries, and to engage in a genuine dialogue with the indigenous groups by visiting the Avaaz site.

Proposal to ban organic farming

Two months ago, whizzing around the internet like a radioactive neutron was the story of the US bill HR875 that will ban organic farming. Well, perhaps not quite so fast, as it seems to still be circulating locally. There’s even a Facebook group, and it’s a lot larger than ours! Except that the headlines are misleading. The bill is flawed, and has numerous problems, but it won’t ban organic farming. The story is misleading, and distracting from some other, real, threats. The bill ostensibly aims to improve food safety, and requires farms to allow their records to be inspected, and to comply with certain food safety standards, not all of them ideal. But to say that it outlaws organic farming is a bit like saying paying tax is equivalent to outlawing earning an income.

Gloom and doom

It’s easy for us to become discouraged, as we are bombarded by bad environmental news all the time. The positive aspect is that most of the damage being done these days, we know about. Our modern world is more transparent than ever before, and news flashes around the world minutes after it happens. There’s so much happening, and the negative is often easier and more appealing.

But there are so many positives happening all the time. A recent Yale study analysed 240 independent studies and concluded that ecosystems, once left to recover, often do so remarkably quickly. Forests can recover in 42 years, ocean bottoms in 10 years, and ecosystems stressed by invasive species in as little as five.

If we stopped the destruction today, we could see a pristine and abundant planet in many of our lifetimes

If we actively help the recovery, things can happen even quicker. Remember “a 20-year tale of hope”, featured on our website, with Willie Smits demonstrating his work of restoring a destroyed rainforest.

Greenpeace has a South African leader

In November, South African Kumi Naidoo takes up the role of Executive Director of Greenpeace, when Gerd Leipold steps down after nearly nine years as activist-in-chief. Having been active in the struggle against apartheid, working in the area of youth development, Naidoo fled the country due to police harassment. He returned in 1990 and has been active in the NGO sector, being a founding director of SANGOCO, the South African National NGO Coalition).

Going on to serve as chairperson of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, and serving on UNIFEM and UNDF as an advisory board member, he was appointed by the UN Secretary-General to the Panel of Eminent Persons on UN Civil Society Relations, became a member of the steering committee of the World Economic Forum’s Global Governance Initiative, co-chair of the International Facilitation Group of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), and chair of the International Facilitation Group of the Global Call to Action against Poverty.

Greenpeace, being a vocal and visible organisation have faced criticism from all sides. It’s easy to criticise action, but there’s no doubt Greenpeace are an effective organisation making a number of positive contributions. We wish them and their new Executive Director well.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Diabetes, a food pyramid and renewable energy

Paying attention

A friend of mine was this week diagnosed with diabetes. He was overweight, drinking lots of water, having dizzy spells, and had been ignoring the symptoms for a while. In my own experience, with various digestive problems, for years I ignored or justified the ever more noticeable symptoms as overwork, or something I’d experienced for so long I no longer noticed it.

Yet when we return to health, and the symptoms go away, it’s remarkable how we could have accepted them for so long. If you’re not in great health, something is wrong – don’t accept second-best!

Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common, yet relatively easy to reverse with a good diet. With 40 per cent of South African women qualifying as obese, mostly eating diets high in sugar and starch, there are predictions that as many as one in every two or three women in the country will be diabetic at some stage in their lives.

Foods and herbs that are particularly good for blood sugar levels and diabetics include oats, cinnamon (which has a startling effect on minimising the impact of sugar when taken at the same time), berries, lentils, beans, green vegetables and raw food in general. Foods to be avoided by diabetics or those at risk include sugar, refined starches, and foods with a high glycaemic load.

This week’s video and a food pyramid

Dr Weil is a well-known US medical doctor, nutritionist and author. In this week’s video he talks about skin care products, his new health pyramid, released this year, the “middle way”, politics, meditation and health in general. View the video here.

His interactive food pyramid is also available on his website.

Renewable energy

There’s been a surge in investment into renewable energy, and last year marked an important milestone. For the first time, renewable energy attracted more investment than conventional dirty energy, leading to hopes that the tipping point has finally been reached.

Interestingly, much of the increased investment has come from the developing world. While Europe is the source of most investment, developing countries, including China and India, now invest more into renewable energy than the United States. Perhaps it’s no surprise that under US president Bush, investment in renewable energy has been on the decline, but perhaps, with the new optimism and a new president who’s stated his intention to develop the green economy, that may change.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team