Monthly archives "August 2009"

Closed this week

It’s been one of those weeks where finding good news has been a little more challenging than usual. To start with, we’ll be closed for orders for Cape Town delivery until next week. There will be no deliveries on Wednesday 2 or Thursday 3rd of September due to the taxi strike. We’ll be open as always with a limited range for couriered orders countrywide, and will open again for Cape Town orders the week after that.

GM Grapevines approved

In spite of strong opposition, government has approved an application by the University of Stellenbosch for field trials for genetically-modified grapevines. The approved grapevines are supposedly to allow the use of less pesticides. There was a huge outcry from wine farmers at the time of the initial application in 2006, as GM materials are banned in wine sold for European consumption, where much of South Africa’s wine goes. Asked why they wanted to produce GM grapes when they could not be used in winemaking, the response of the head of the GM grape project at Stellenbosch University was “It’s banned now, but that might change.” Approval has been granted for two varietals, one used for wine – chardonnay, and the other for sultanas.

We’ll be be back next Thursday, hopefully with some better news.

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team.

Whales, plastic, and lots of water

This last weekend I went to De Hoop, a nature reserve near Cape Agulhas. The whole area is a protected marine reserve, a great spot to encounter whales, and is fairly remote. Yet the beaches were covered in waste that had washed up from the sea. Mostly little pieces of plastic, but also other things, including, rather worryingly, lots of little containers containing yellow liquid sealed in something like a plastic testtube.

Plastic has been thought to be relatively stable. If you burn it, it releases toxins into the atmosphere, but on land or sea it was thought not to break down readily. In fact, this has been part of its danger at sea, as it simply breaks into smaller and smaller particles, being eaten by sea and birdlife thinking it to be food, and who then subsequently starve with an engorged stomach full of plastic.

However, recently it’s been found that plastics break down readily, even at the cold temperatures found in the sea. When they do so they release toxic byproducts. Styrofoam, for example, forms three new compounds – styrene monomer, styrene dimer and styrene trimer. The first is a known carcinogen, while the latter two are suspected to be.

Still the plastic keeps pouring into the seas.

We’re working to minimise our plastic waste. For our own packaged goods, we use bio-plastic, which is compostable, and a step above oil-based plastics. Some of our suppliers have also moved to the same, and we’re hoping the others will follow too. Of course, where possible, as little packaging as possible is good, but there’s a balance between produce spoiling more quickly due to not being packaged, and excessive packaging.

Largest solar power station in the world

The second largest solar power project in the world has just gone online. Where is it situated? Texas? The Sahara? No, it’s in Brandenburg, Germany, the world leader in solar power. If gloomy Germany can make a success of solar, there are no excuses for South Africa.

Coal and Mercury

South Africa though is a world leader in coal. Not something to be proud of, as coal power plants spew out tonnes of toxins, leaving the costs passed on down the line, especially to nearby communities, all while coal basks in its reputation as a “cheap” source of electricity. One of the toxins released is atmospheric mercury, which usually ends up back on the land and rivers after rainfall.

A recent US survey found mercury in every single river fish tested in a seven-year study. A quarter of the fish had levels which would mean moderate fish-eaters would exceed federal toxicity standards for mercury. Levels are even worse near areas that once had active mines, even years after the mines have closed.

Meanwhile the coal keeps burning, and the mine waste keeps accumulating.

Kalk Bay collection point, and some large puddles

We have a new collection point opening in Kalk Bay this week. Details are on the site. Some of our deliveries were late this week, as our truck hit a glitch on the road. Actually, it hit a puddle in the heavy rains, and the garage wants to charge R95 000 for a new engine. I’m expecting it to run on water for that price!

Looking for a driver

Completely unrelated to the above, we’re looking for a new driver. If spending two and a half days a week driving our delicious produce around and meeting the organic community sounds appealing, or you know anyone suitable, give us a shout. Being able to avoid puddles is a bonus.

To order, head on over to

Have a stunning week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Haystacks and knobbly roots


No, not celery, celeriac. Celeriac is another of those strange discoveries I’ve made (or rather, am about to make) since becoming involved in the Ethical Co-op. I’ve never, to my knowledge, seen one before, but this week we have some available, from Appelsdrift Farm. Apparently quite popular in continental Europe, celeriac, also rather unflatteringly known as knob celery, celery root or turnip-rooted celery, is a root vegetable, related to celery, anise, carrots, parsley and parsnip.

It’s unusual amongst root vegetables in that it’s fairly low in starch, and low on the glycaemic index, and so is a better bet than other root vegetables for losing weight. Slightly harder to prepare, as its rough exterior can need slicing rather than peeling, it can be eaten raw, juiced, used in soups or stews, mashed or in casseroles and baked dishes.

Good news
Looking for good news can be a challenge, like looking for a needle in a haystack. This weekend someone was describing actual techniques historically used for looking a needle in a haystack, involving sifting, water, and so on. While Googling for the techniques, I came across a better one. Remove the haystack.

The best way to come across good news is not to fill yourself with bad news. You’ll be amazed how much good news there is, all around, if we can only open ourselves to it for a second.

Can you imagine a rare blue crane nesting in a Hillbrow high-rise, or a white rhino sauntering up Adderly Street? Ridiculous – our cities are the antithesis of biological diversity, lethal for all but a select few species. Imagine then the surprise at an endangered species making its reappearance in Paris. The Atlantic Salmon, listed as threatened in Europe, has been making a return to the waters of the River Seine, cruising past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. I always used to enjoy stories of pristine rivers in Scandinavian capitals, clean water full of fish. But most urban rivers worldwide are little more than sewers, and by 1995 the River Seine spewed up hundreds of dead fish every year, with only 4 species surviving in its toxic waters. Since then, however, there’s been a major campaign to clean the water, and it now boasts a diverse population consisting of sea trout, shad, even the lamprey eel.

It’s not only fish trying to make comeback. Although many of the world’s forests are disappearing fast, especially primary forests, the rate at which secondary forests return is surprising some.

Felipe Garcia is a farmer from Panama, and his shack backs up against a wall of trees. Seven years ago, the neighbouring plot was being farmed, but after being abandoned as the occupants left for the city, the forest started returning. The speed at which the trees are returning is surprising some, and triggering scholarly debates, as the conventional theory that cleared tropical forest recovered very slowly, if it all, is challenged.

The forests could always do with a bit of help though. Villagers in Dungarpur in Southern India attempted this week to plant 600,000 trees in a single 24-hour period, without mechanical assistance. There’s even a world record – volunteers in neighbouring Pakistan planted 541,176 last July. The lack of information since the attempt on Wednesday perhaps means they didn’t make the record, but hats off for trying!

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team.

Organic food is not better for you!

Organic food no better for you?

We all know organic food is no better than chemically-grown food, right? It’s just a con to make more money, and provides no real benefits. At least that’s the conclusion you’d reach if you’ve been following reports of a recent study that’s getting much airtime at the moment. As always, the spin on the study gets more play than the details. Summarised as “Organic food has no nutritional benefits, say scientists”, this conclusion is flawed, to say the least.

There are numerous studies showing that organic foods are beneficial. These studies, unlike this one, take into account antioxidant levels, pesticide levels, herbicide levels, fertilisers, plant absorption of antibiotics, the health of the farmworkers, soil health, sustainability, in fact, just about everything that makes organic better.

Other studies have indicated that overall nutrition levels in food have dropped over the past 40 years. When food first began to be grown chemically, still on healthy soil, nutrient levels were high. Year after year the soil has been depleted, so nutrient levels are today lower on these farms. If a farm, after 40 years of draining the soil, converts to organic, nutrient levels would still be lower than that of a farm that had just changed to chemical farming, 40 years ago.

The study takes no account of this, mixing up analyses of studies from 1958 and from more recently. The study also ignores the 15 relevant studies that have come out since February 2008 (their cutoff date) that would have affected the outcome of the report.

The study itself finds that there are “significant differences” in the level of magnesium and zinc from organically grown crops against chemically grown crops (organic is higher). Zinc is one of the minerals we’re often most deficient in. Similarly, the study showed that conventional food contains more nitrogen (excess is linked to cancer), and organic more phosphorous, a useful nutrient. So even the provided summary doesn’t match the studies own conclusions.

There are many other studies that look at things more rigorously. One such study takes specific account of matched pairs, for example, examining the same crop grown on the same type of soil on nearby farms, one organic, one not. It found a significant increase in antioxidant and polyphenol levels, both important elements in good health, on the organic farms.

So, while the study has some interesting elements, ask yourself why it’s being widely trumpeted, wilfully misinterpreted, and why countless other studies coming to differing conclusions are ignored.

Interestingly, at the same time as pesticides were being ignored in that study, another study came out showing a link between household pesticide use and childhood leukaemia. But there’s a lot more industry funding for bashing organics than bashing bug spray!

Be careful of news headlines!

New Collection Point

This week we have a new collection point in Plumstead. We have over 20 collection points around the city, so take a look for the one most convenient for you. Remember also that some collection points have limits, so if you only place your order late, your collection point may already be full.

Eli Lilly and Corporate Funding

Eli Lilly, the company that bought Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) business, is back in the news. Eli Lilly, along with other drug makers, is facing pressure and increased scrutiny over their financial contributions to doctors. Eli Lilly paid US$22 million in the first three months of this year to doctors.

Like other drug makers, Lilly has made attempts to be more transparent as ties between pharmaceutical companies and doctors have faced increasing scrutiny from Congress, states and medical institutions. Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have also said they are going to disclose payments to doctors.

Corporate funding has a huge influence in the direction we take. Unfortunately, much of this corporate funding is highly unethical, and usually aims to align policy with company profit.

Eli Lilly is also a substantial funder of the notorious Hudson Institute, an industry “thinktank” lobbying support for industry positions. They take the usual corporate positions – that organic food is no better (actually they claim it’s worse for you), that DDT is not harmful, that climate change is not affected by humans, etc. They’re not only funded by Eli Lilly of course. Their funders read like a veritable rogues gallery – biotech, chemical and oil companies, such as Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, Novartis, Du Pont.

Fortunately with greater transparency, the link between the biased findings and their corporate backers is becoming clearer to see, and we can get to the truth behind the spin. Just not if you rely on skimming the newspaper headlines!

Women’s Day

Monday is National Women’s Day, and a public holiday. The day commemorates the march on 9 August 1956, when 20 000 women walked to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws. A song was composed for occasion, Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!), and the phrase “you strike a woman, you strike a rock” still resonates today.

Please remember to place your orders early if you’re going to be away on Monday – our cutoff time for Cape Town orders is still 2pm. Upcountry orders via courier can be placed at any time.

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team