Monthly archives "May 2010"

Patenting life

Nestlé has been in the news a bit much for its liking recently. You may have followed the campaign against Nestlé’s use of tropical-forest destructing palm oil, and the now famous orangutan. It began with a spoof video by Greenpeace, playing on a well-known Nestlé advertising campaign about having a break. A bored office worker takes a break and opens a Nestlé chocolate – it contains an orangutan finger and, tucking in, blood starts spilling out all over the place while co-workers look on in horror. The campaign aimed to stop Nestlé buying palm oil from companies that destroy the Indonesian rain forest, driving the threatened orangutan towards extinction.

The campaign has been a great success, with Nestlé taking immediate steps to improve the situation – a testimony to the power of a few committed people, and the internet, to change things for the better.

Nestlé is perhaps most infamous for its baby formula campaigns in developing countries. In the 1970’s, Nestlé began unethically promoting its baby formulae over breastmilk, launching a huge, and still ongoing, consumer boycott.

Nestlé has recently received a new charge to add to its distinguished list – bio-piracy of South Africa’s genetic material. Nestlé has placed patent applications on the use of rooibos and honeybush. The patents are broad, and under South African law a company needs a permit from the government to patent the use of genetic resources occurring in South Africa. The permit is only awarded if a benefit-sharing agreement has been negotiated, and Nestlé have not entered into any benefit-sharing agreements, meaning a successful patent application would allow them to steal long-held indigenous knowledge, claiming all the financial benefits.

The patents are mainly to do with hair and skin treatment, which at first glance may seem an odd choice for a food company. But, in the tangled web of who-owns-who, Nestlé owns a large share of L’Oréal, the largest cosmetic company in the world.

Free Rooibos
We have loads of free, unpatented rooibos and honeybush available, loose, and in bags, green, red and espresso. We’ve also got a new tea this week. What, don’t we have enough already – after all, there are 25 herb and fruit tea varieties, 7 rooibos and honeybush, and 4 black and green teas?! Well, it seems not. Just this week we were gently pointed in the direction of another new tea we don’t (yet) stock. And a warming ginger green tea that’s certified organic and well-priced is just too good an opportunity to pass up.

With the winter weather well underway, the citrus is out in force. Oranges, lemons and clementines are all available, and the eagle-eyed may have spotted a new supplier – Bellevlei Biodynamic Farm in Stellenbosch. Pru Crawley’s rocky smallholding is now an oasis of life, testament to the restorative powers of nature. Read more about it and her story on the order page.

Apologies to all who didn’t receive their SOiL oils this week – our supplier double booked our delivery and an exam. I’m sure you’ll grudgingly give the exam precedence. However, we’ve been assured they’ll be available again this week.

To order, head on over to before everything’s out of stock.

Have a great, warm week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

A new life

It’s been a dramatic week, a milestone in human history, with the development of the first synthetic life form. Two years after biologist Craig Venter (no, he’s not South African – he’s from Utah) mapped the human genome, Craig Venter and his team have crossed another boundary, and created a synthetic life form.

Technology is a powerful myth, and many respond with fear to any new innovation. Right back to the Greek myth of Prometheus and fire, humans have been warned about crossing certain boundaries, and those who have gone forth regardless have been accused of “playing God”. Likewise today, geneticists and now Venter are regularly accused of the same dangerous godlike delusions. However, technologies are not evil in themselves. Genetic Modification is not evil, it’s simply a technology, imbued with the consciousness of those developing and using it. One that, in its present form, happens to be bad news for our food security and for farmers everywhere, perverted as it is by the intention of patenting and controlling the food supply for financial gain.

Nanotechnology is another new technology controversial in organic circles. For similar reasons to genetic modification, it’s been banned by most organic certifications. It’s poorly regulated, and studies indicating potential health risks are swept under the carpet by studies funded by vested interests.

To create is one of the ultimate human drives, but when we create out of fear and greed, the results are twisted. Done with a spirit of love and awareness, creation can be beautiful.

Unfortunately the new synthetic life hasn’t got off to the best start, as, rather unoriginally, encoded in the DNA of the synthetic life form are the names of Craig Venter and some of his colleagues, and an advertisment for the Venter Institute. Should this life form ever develop an awareness and investigate its own genes, it’s bound to be sorely disappointed.

For those who’ve been stocking up on Vondis pet food, or wondering why it used to appear and disappear on the site, we used to offer it every two weeks, but are now offering it weekly.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

The thrilling three

“Why don’t you write about garlic, ginger and chilli?”, someone suggested, a few hours ago. “No thanks, I have lots to write about” I replied. Except that after trawling through hundreds of stories on the Gulf oil spill, failing nuclear reactors, melting glaciers and the like, I was far from inspired, and, to top it off, cold.

All I could think about was garlic, ginger and chilli, three wonderfully warming foods.

Chilli is perhaps more well-known for being blazingly hot rather than simply warming, and it’s the capsacain that gives chilly its fiery touch. If you’re experiencing poor circulation, a dash of chilli stimulates blood flow to the hands, feet and head by widening the arteries and generally producing a warming sensation. It’s also being studied as a treatment for nerve fibre disorders, arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy.

I remember as a child thinking that the way to reduce pain in one area was to inflict pain in another. So when suffering from a severe migraine I’d punch my fist into a cupboard. It worked, sort of, but fortunately there are better ways. Chilli shows great promise in relieving arthritic and diabetic pain. It seems some mild burning in the mouth does wonders for reducing pain elsewhere!

This week we’re offering a new habanero sauce – mild it says on the label. Ha, don’t be fooled – it blew my socks off. But that’s just me, a colleague was smothering it like tomato sauce over everything, so you’ll have to see for yourself. There’s also chilli olive tapenade, olives stuffed with with chilli, and, not least, chilli corn chips. As of yet, no fresh chillies, but I hope that’ll change before you place your order.

There was a phase where some suggested taking aspirin to prevent heart disease. That advice is now discredited, but there’s a better alternative. Garlic also thins the blood, promoting circulation and aiding the elasticity of the capillaries.

Of course, it also wards off vampires. The vampires in question include Counts Candida, salmonella, fungi, yeast and e-coli, all of which are killed or inhibited by garlic.

So no need to rush off and buy a silver dagger – there’s a choice of traditional garlic pickle, dried garlic, and fresh garlic available on the site this week

Ginger is the last of the “thrilling three”. I can see why Enid Blyton took “Famous Five” and Marvel Comics “Fantastic Four”. Ginger also boosts the blood flow, is fantastic for the digestive system, combats nausea, and also assists with arthritis and the cardiovascular system in general.

We have potent ginger powder, ginger pumpkin and ginger noodles, two ginger drinks, and tofu and ginger miso soup available this week.

To order, head on over to

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

Attack of the pigweed

“Attack of the pigweed” may sound like a 1950’s B-grade horror, but the phenomenon is real. As more and more herbicide is sprayed on the genetically-modified monocultural wastelands of the world, resulting in plants developing immunity to the herbicide, the United States, where the experiment has been carried out for the longest, is suffering the worst of the consequences.

Pigweed, and other “weeds”, are rendering much of the farmland in the south of the USA inoperable. You may wonder why farmworkers don’t just pull out the pigweed. That’s just it – most of the affected farms are huge farms of 10 000 or more acres. Farms which are not feasible to farm manually – they’re normally looked after by a plane flying over dropping herbicides and the like, and a combine harvester racing around at harvest time.
The pigweed stops combine harvesters in their tracks, and owners of these mega-farms are at a loss. There’s a solution, of course. Reduce the scale of farms back to the human scale, where multiple companion crops can be grown, organically, complementing each other and supporting the soil health. Or wait for Monsanto to release it’s better, stronger, more expensive chemical cure in about 2015.

Besides encouraging superweeds such as the the pigweed, glycophosphate (the herbicide particular to Roundup, and most-widely used) is starting to be studied more, and a number of its other harmful effects are being noted, such as damaging beneficial microbes in the soil, interfering with nutrient uptake by the plan and reducing the efficiency of nitrogen fixation.

Drill, Drill Baby
About 200 000 gallons of oil a day are pouring into the ocean from the accident in the Gulf, although this is an estimate, and the rate has picked up markedly since the accident as other cracks have opened. Toxic dispersal chemicals are being poured over the oil, and the slick has hit land – islands just off the Louisiana coast. A similar deep-sea spill took 8 months to cap, and if this one takes as long to plug, the effects on the US coast will be devastating.

While this spill attracts widespread attention, thanks to its proximity to the US, it’s interesting to compare it with another oil-related event. One that resulted in up to 4 million gallons per day being dumped. Texaco (Chevron) released this into the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, not as a result of an accident, but on purpose, as it wanted to keep production costs to a minimum.

What was released wasn’t pure crude oil, it was “produced water”, a toxic cocktail that’s left over from the oil extraction process, consisting of various chemicals, and about 2% crude oil.

While BP has, under public and US government pressure, at least agreed to pay financial damages for the Gulf spill, Chevron continues with it’s litigation to try and avoid any responsible for the devastation it has caused.

As the US public outcry grows, the backlash has begun. “We need oil”, the spin-doctors say, so it’s unreasonable to restrict drilling or to “interfere with the market”.

We need oil like a junky needs the next fix. Yes, it’ll be unpleasant to stop, but it’s something we have to do, for all of our benefit.

Ice, Ice Baby
It’s not just Cape Town that’s been experiencing rain this week. And while that’s stating the obvious, there’s a rather dry part of the world that hasn’t experienced rainfall in April in recorded history. Until this week, that is.
It’s not just Cape Town that’s been experiencing rain this week. And while that’s stating the obvious, there’s a rather dry part of the world that hasn’t experienced rainfall in April in recorded history. Until last week, that is.

Rain usually begins in late June in the Canadian High Arctic, during the northern hemisphere summer, when things are warm enough to allow melted water to fall from the sky. But, as the Arctic continues to warm rapidly, the rainy season has been brought forward. One of the weather stations previously had a record of June 7 as the earliest date in the year that rain has fallen. So for things to be warm enough in late April is quite a leap.

The sacred fig
The fig tree holds a special place in most religious traditions. The oldest verified living plant is a fig, planted at a temple in Sri Lanka in 288 BC. The Buddha is traditionally thought to have achieved enlightenment under a fig tree – the Bodhi tree, or sacred fig. Ashvastha, the “world tree” of Hinduism, is the same species and figs are specifically mentioned as one of the fruits in the Promised Land in the Torah. There’s a sura named after and dealing with the fig in the Koran, and it also gets a mention in the Bible as the leaf used by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness, and as a result was used in European art for the same purpose. Fig leaves were even painted on earlier nude artwork depending to reflect the changing mores.

While we can’t offer enlightenment or clothing, we can at least offer dried figs, available again after a long break, over at

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team