Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bayer GM / GE Rice, the facts...

Rice is the world's most important staple food - with more than half of the global population eating it every day. It has been grown for over 10,000 years and is cultivated in 113 countries. Rice is also a key ingredient in a wide variety of processed foods ranging from baby food to the more obvious rice noodles, but all this is under threat as genetic engineering (GE/GM) continues to creep up on our most valuable food.

The German chemical giant Bayer is trying to sell a herbicide resistant variety of GM rice to countries - for commercial planting. Conventional and organic rice is at great risk from being contaminated by GM strains and controlled by multinational corporations and governments.

The rice made by Bayer (called LL62) has been genetically engineered to withstand high doses of glufosinate, an herbicide sprayed on rice fields to control a wide range of weeds; Bayer also makes the glufosinate so any use of the GM rice will boost their chemical sales as a consequence. While this will be good for Bayer, it places farmers, consumers and the environment at risk. Glufosinate is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned in Europe in accordance with recently-adopted EU legislation.

Genetic engineering is a threat to food security, especially in a changing climate. GM crops repeatedly failed under extreme weather conditions, and some GE plants yield consistently less than their natural counterparts. Earlier this year, GE farmers in South Africa, for example, lost more than 80,000 hectares of corn for unknown reasons. The best insurance policy against climate change and erratic weather conditions is diversity.

Glufosinate is used on potatoes in order to kill of the green crop above the ground, its residues are then found in the potatoes and these are not affected by boiling. When being assessed by an EU working group the conclusions were reached that it could pose a risk to the unborn child and to fertility.

Currently, Bayer is pushing for legal approval of its GE rice in Brazil, South Africa, the EU, India and the Philippines. In the USA, the Bayer GE rice has already been approved for commercial planting, although farmers in the US are reluctant to plant it as they fear the loss of important markets due to the risks of accidental contamination. This fear is not without reason as Bayer already has a history of causing damages that have been estimated at more than USD 1.2 billion to the global rice industry, when one of its experimental GE rice varieties accidentally entered global rice supplies in 2006.

To see just how environmentally dependent growing rice without chemical input is, in order to safeguard biodiversity, please see the amazing and 100% inspiring video link HERE.

As previously mentioned, Bayer field trials in the US lead to the worlds rice supplies becoming contaminated by GM rice. Contaminated goods were pulled from shelves world-wide as bans on US rice came into force yet Bayer claimed that they were not liable for this event as the incident was ‘An act of God’. Yes Bayer, the god of THIS world and age.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Speculation in the food markets

While most of the solutions to the current crisis of high food prices will require substantial reworking of our global, fossil fuel-dependent food system to create a more localized and organic one, one relatively easy solution could bring quick and significant reductions in world prices. Financial speculation in commodities’ futures markets has increased dramatically in the last 3-4 years, artificially driving up prices of a host of commodities, from food crops to oil and natural gas, to metals and minerals.

Commodities markets were formed because for farmers, selling grains was a very unpredictable and chaotic task. Individual farmers negotiated with sellers and faced widely varying prices and uncertainty. After this farmers agreed with a buyer to deliver grain at a specific date in the future for an agreed upon price, this is called a forward contract. Later futures contracts were created, these are similar to forward contracts, but instead of being directly between a producer and a buyer, are traded on an open exchange called the futures market where others can participate. Buyers on the futures market rarely, if ever, actually receive the physical product but are able to profit off changing commodity prices.

By the late 1800s, futures markets had been created for various products, with speculators betting on whether prices would rise or fall. But the influx of investors not actually involved in agriculture or food production was a problem. A casino-type atmosphere reigned with huge amounts of money entering the market procuring easy profits. Abuses, from fraud to spreading rumours in order to alter prices to buying inside information, were used to influence the market. Large fluxes in investments also affected food prices unnecessarily.

Financiers did not immediately invest in the food commodities markets as they provided lower profits than other areas of investment. This changed after the stock bubble burst in the year 2000 and the further deregulation of commodities futures markets in 2001. Investors pulled vast amounts of money from the stock market, deflating the bubble. Much of that money was placed in the housing market, thus creating a bubble in that market. As the housing bubble burst, many investors have now switched to commodities futures, and they are able to plough immense amounts of money in these markets.

Hedge fund manager Michael Masters recently testified before the US Congress on this issue. He said that institutional investors (pension funds, university endowments, sovereign wealth funds, etc.) have increased their investments in commodities futures from $13 billion in 2003 to $260 billion in March 2008, and the price of 25 commodities have risen by an average of 183 percent in those five years. He explained that “commodities futures prices are the benchmark for the prices of actual physical commodities, so when speculators drive futures prices higher, the effects are felt immediately in the real economy.”

Clearly these huge influxes of money are having dramatic effects on today’s rising food prices. One particularly troubling aspect of speculator demand is that it actually increases the more prices increase. We already see this happening as investment advisors increasingly encourage clients to invest in commodities futures. This would result in catastrophic increases in food prices.

If the financial markets devised a scheme whereby investors bought large amounts of pharmaceutical in order to profit from the resulting increase in prices, making these essential items unaffordable to sick and dying people, society would be justly outraged. This is happening now in our commodities’ system, driving up food prices worldwide, and the poor, especially in the Third World, are those that suffer the most.

The financial markets are making everything a commodity but food is not a commodity to be traded because food is a need, not a want. In trading food what is really being traded are lives.

In the Lord’s Prayer the first request after the salutations to God is “Give us this day our daily bread”. Food is one of life's essentials, not the chips in some surreal poker game.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Global Warming causes the Carteret Islands to be abandoned.

I would have thought (hoped) that this story would have been headline news throughout the world, but the news agencies have, in the main, ignored it, so here it is anyway!

The Carteret Islands are part of Papua New Guinea located in the South Pacific being a scattering of low lying islands in a horseshoe shape with a total land area of 0.6 square kilometers and a maximum elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level. You see the problem, 1.5m above sea level.

Some say that the islands' sinking is caused by them being located on shifting tectonic plates, but Australia's National Tide Facility has measured an annual rise of 8.2 mm in sea level on the islands in every year they have monitored the situation. Within the space of a generation, the islands' shoreline has receded over 60 feet. During storm surges, salt water washes away homes, destroys vegetable gardens, and contaminates fresh water supplies and for a population of 2,000+, largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, the impact has been devastating. The image that looks as though it is two islands, is actually of one that is now being flooded as sea levels rise.

So 2,000+ people are, as I write, in the process of being relocated to other locations. How ironic that the Carteret Islanders, people with a carbon footprint among the lowest in the world, are now among the first to have to abandon their islands because of rising seas caused by emissions from other nations.

The photos are used with the kind permission of and I would 100% recommend, ask, plead, that you visit their site HERE and view the film trailer as it tells the story of the islanders in their own words on their vanishing homeland. It may take a few seconds to load but this is worth any wait. If there are problems in linking from this then the environmental resource contacts at the left hand side also has a link.

The only mainstream journal to have covered this story in depth is The Ecologist, and you can read their on-line report HERE.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Can money make you content?

I am lucky, I remember what it was at one time to have little, come from families that had even less and so can appreciate what we have now.

In the West the appalling poverty and awful living standards that were the norm for my parents childhood generation have all but gone and are now but memories in books and black and white images such as you see, where men could sit up for a nights sleep and get a morning bowl of soup for a penny, the beds nearby cost three pence a night. Double left click on it to see what life in London was like for so many in years past.

Unlike those you can see in that image the vast majority of our people no longer exist in conditions and circumstances that mean they own only the clothes they stand up in and to say that since I have been born standards of living have risen considerably would be an understatement. The ‘fridge and freezer have changed the need for shopping from an almost daily event to a once a week or even longer event, the washing machine has eliminated the drudgery of the washing day my mother knew and the communications revolution has allowed mass access to information.

Women have, thank God, been given their unquestionable rights to freedoms that would have been inconceivable even when I was a child. The car has allowed mobility in a way that would have been in the realms of science fiction in my grandparents’ day and they would have likewise viewed the pill.

So what has gone wrong?

In the West alcoholism is on the increase, as are the use of drugs to relieve stress, depression and anxiety. Anti-social behaviour is no longer unusual, violence is increasing, aggression is the norm on the roads and suicides in the UK are now at their highest numbers in males aged 15-44.

Here we all are, enjoying a material prosperity such as the world has never seen before, yet we have witnessed the loss of a society and community that cares. Society now has unparalleled material wealth yet is the same society that has unparalleled discontent with its lot. Could this be because in the rush to acquire, to possess, there is little room for anything more in peoples’ lives? Could it be that having acquired that new possession the euphoria soon wears off and what was desirable now becomes the norm?

I have seen society change and the driving force behind this has been the acceptance of three principles.

Success is to be measured materially
Material success will bring happiness
Therefore in order to be successful (and happy) you must make your aim in life material goals.

OK, that's a tad simplistic but basically it is what many people believe and to go against this is to be in conflict with what we are fed daily. Look at any TV or newspaper and there will be the message that if you want to have a fulfilled life then you must consume. If you want success then you must possess and if you want status then do both in a highly visual way.

The fallacy is that money can produce contentment, when even the most casual observer can see that this is not true. I have become to realise that there is a far more addictive product than cannabis, heroin, alcohol or anything else available, and that is money.

There is, of course, nothing essentially wrong with money, the problem is that the bulk of our society is addicted to it 100%. For many it completely controls what they do and when things go wrong, more has to be printed for a society that is addicted, obsessed and in love with money. Some grow their own drugs, governments print money in order to satisfy societies major addiction, in fact when I look around today I do realise that “the love of money is a root of all evil” and that indeed “Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain”. **

I am privileged to be a frontline volunteer member of a suicide intervention team, and I can say from experience that “the love of money” and the damage caused by those “eager to get rich” has resulted in a lot of pain to many innocent others. **

Carl Marx once said that "Religion is the opiate of the people". He was wrong, money is the opiate of the people.

** Italics from 1 Timothy 6:10

Incidentally, the facilities you see in the images were provided by the Salvation Army in Blackfriars, London in 1902. The S.A. may be short in liturgy, but they have always been long in action.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Swine Flu – is this the reason why?

In the US state of Iowa there are almost nine times as many pigs/hogs as people and in 2005 (yup... 2005) the University of Iowa, (Centre for Emerging Diseases)warned that these intensive animal farms were a tremendous potential reservoir for the flu virus.

The source of the virus is yet to be fully confirmed but the facts are that near La Gloria, a village East of Mexico City, there are pig/hog farms that intensively produce almost a million animals a year. In La Gloria almost 60% of the inhabitants have been affected by flu symptoms and some have died.

Dr. Gregory Grey at the University of Iowa was involved in a major study that concluded that “virus-laden secretions from pigs may be more concentrated, and reductions in ventilation and sunshine exposure may prolong viral viability. Thus, a confinement operation worker’s probability of acquiring the Influenza virus infection may be increased compared with that of a traditional swine worker.”
The study warned that swine workers could “initiate epidemics” by mixing the viral strains which would then trigger a pandemic. “They may serve as a conduit for a novel virus to move from swine to man or from man to swine,” the study said.

The Mexican factories are alleged to have very low standards of hygiene and were owned and run by an American company Smithfield, who were at the heart of one of my previous postings.

There is a video on that post of Smithfields accepted practices. Please view it, look at the animals conditions, see just what those involved had to say about the effect the factories operations had on their health and draw your own conclusions.