Now nearly a year and a half ago, I posted on the Belgian Field Liberation Movement, and their Field Liberation Day in Wetteren. This was a demonstration against a genetically modified potato field planting trial. After much public debate, and many long winded speeches by politicians, they finally decided last May to sue eleven of the ‘Field Liberators’ in civil court for damages.
Last month a Belgian court, acting on a filing from Greenpeace, declared the original permit authorizing the field trial invalid, and thus the field trial itself illegal. Way to go Greenpeace!
The civil trial is now scheduled for 15 January 2013.
You can help! You can donate to help offset possible sanctions or civil liabilities, as well as pay their legal or other expenses. You can buy their t-shirts or beer! You can also attend the hearing in January to show your support.
Paul Wheaton of permies.com made a nice video about so-called energy efficient light bulbs.
In most of Europe we have to bag our own groceries in supermarkets. If we don’t provide our own bags, we need to buy them.
It’s been a battle for some years now. Supermarkets always want to offer free bags as a convenience. They don’t usually like it when customers bring their own backpacks and the like, for fear of shoplifting.
In recent years a number of EU countries have started to impose bag or packaging taxes, presumably in order to further reduce the use of plastics in supermarkets. Now suddenly GMO plastics have started to replace petroleum based plastics, and national governments are beginning to exempt GMO plastics from these taxes, in effect subsidizing their use.
The Netherlands has a tax scheme that strongly favors GMO plastics, taxing them at a lower rate. Germany has exempted GMO plastics from their bag tax completely. In other countries like Ireland, governments are being lobbied to scrap their taxes on GMO plastics.
Here’s a bag I bought from a local supermarket a few days ago:
Notice the logo in the upper corner:
It says ‘This bag is made from corn and fully compostable’. I bought another bag from a natural foods store a few days ago, and it had this on it:
On the bottom is says ‘This bag is biodegradable’. The clerk who sold me the bag said it was made from potatoes.
Is it a coincidence that the only two GM crops approved for planting in Europe are a ‘high starch’ potato and a corn variety? I don’t think so. We’ve been told for years now these two varieties are not destined for human consumption.
For the record I want to say to both Marqt and Ekoplaza that I’m very disappointed they would sell GMOs to their customers in this way, especially as they are not even clearly labelled for what they are. This is a very misleading and dishonest thing to do.
The argument goes that plastics are a huge environmental problem — so far I guess we all agree. Therefore compostable or biodegradable GMO plastics are better — I guess this is where the agreement ends.
The argument is not unlike how expensive mercury filled bulbs imported from China are supposed to be better for us than cheaper locally made standard light bulbs. The argument is not complete and not accurate.
Here in the Netherlands the argument goes that we are a coastal area, with canals that carry water out to sea. A percentage of litter falls into these canals, and ultimately contributes to the ‘big plastic soup’ in the oceans. What’s missing of course in this argument are actual statistics or studies that show how much this is as a proportion of the plastics in the sea, if there aren’t better ways of managing the problem for example filtering the water as it leaves land, and any sort of proof or explanation as to why GMO plastics are in any way better for the environment.
Certainly, if you as a consumer properly dispose of your waste and don’t throw it in the ocean, the entire argument of GMO plastics being better vanishes.
Compostable or Biodegradable
Biodegradable is a legally defined term, that indicates something will break down into naturally occurring components. Compostable is a looser term, that simply means it will break down into something supposedly harmless, but not necessarily naturally occurring.
In either case, these plastics do not break down at all, except in industrial processes. You can’t compost these plastics at home in your own garden, and there is no guarantee they will breakdown in the environment in any sort of reasonable time frame. Once they do break down, all we have is the word of the manufactures that they will break down into something harmless. In particular, it seems unlikely they would breakdown quickly in the cold dark oceans.
If they are disposed of properly, they are certainly of no added environmental benefit. In a landfill they would still take up the same space as normal plastic, and if incinerated they would also break down in a similar way as ordinary plastic. There are unlikely to be more or better recycling possibilities when compared to ordinary plastic. In fact the presence of even a very small amount of GMO plastic can contaminate a batch of traditional PET or other plastics and undermine recycling efforts.
It’s highly unlikely GMO plastic can be produced with less impact to the environment as ordinary plastic. This is the tiresome argument of biofuels, which take more energy to produce than is in the resulting product.
GMO crops still need chemicals and fertilizers, which are based on fossil fuels and impact the environment.
In Europe there are labelling laws requiring the labelling of most GMO foods. Packaging and plastics should not be exempt! Consumers should have the right to choose alternatives.
Wow, the politics in the US are sure heating up and getting intertwined! Time was where you had a few powerful lobbies, who all looked after their own interests. Increasingly the US is starting to see powerful lobbies working together in very convoluted ways. Now a sugar tax?
World sugar consumption has tripled in the last 50 years!
Well first of all the world population has more than doubled in that time, so this accounts for most of it. Beyond this one of the things Michael Pollan pointed out in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma is during the time high fructose corn syrup was introduced into US soft drinks, America’s consumption of ordinary sugar stayed nearly constant. In other words, the HFCS was just more sugar added on top of existing consumption, and HFCS probably doesn’t satisfy an appetite for real sugar.
Considering an increase of all sweeteners together is misleading. If you only consider per capita consumption of ordinary sugar, you aren’t likely to see a meaningful increase over the last 50 years.
Not only is a modest amount of ordinary sugar a relatively safe and constructive part of a balanced diet, but it’s an appetite suppressant and trying to eliminate or reduce it will almost certainly lead to the overconsumption of other foods. It’s known for example that people who drink sugar-free soft drinks are statistically heavier than those who drink the sugared version, and this could be one reason.
Just Like Europe
It’s true a few countries in Europe have special taxes for soft drinks, but as far as I know this is not a tax on sugar. In particular drinks containing aspartame are not exempt from these taxes.
In Europe it’s more common to drink soft drinks in restaurants, who often depend on sales of drinks for a large part of their profits. It’s less common to drink soft drinks at home, and there are very few people who depend on soft drinks as part of their grocery shopping. Taxing soft drinks is more a way to tax eating out at a restaurant than anything else. Soft drinks are also usually an imported product, and by taxing them it encourages the consumption of local products like beers and wines.
In the US many people who consume large amounts of soft drinks live in the so-called food deserts of inner cities, with limited access to healthier alternatives. A sugar tax would only serve to raise the grocery bill of these people. A sugar tax in the US would be a disproportionate tax on the poor.
More Profit in Sugar Alternatives
The problem is while sugar is a commodity crop, and relatively speaking expensive to transport, process and store, as well as subject to swings in price depending on availability, the alternatives like HFCS and aspartame are not. These alternatives are patented, cheap to manufacture and represent huge profits for the companies that sell them and own the associated intellectual property rights.
The argument is sugar ‘and other sweeteners’ contain too many calories, making it ‘better’ to consume an artificial sweetener like aspartame. In fact there is not a single shred of credible evidence to suggest any link between the number of calories you consume and health. Calories are a very old unit of measure determined by literally burning food and seeing how much heat is given off. Your body does not metabolize food this way, and you can’t make any comparisons.
It’s true, there are low calorie diets which help people lose weight, but in nearly all cases the diets cannot be sustained and the weight returns after ending the diet. In fact most people who attempt such diets end up heavier in the end. This is all you can say about calories, and there’s nothing about this weight gain and loss that’s healthy.
Dangers of Non-Sugar Sweeteners
Alternative sweeteners like aspartame and HFCS have so many health concerns or suspected health concerns associated with them, that I’m not even going to get into it here. I’ve written some posts about these, and you can find lots of other things by searching the Internet.
In particular both of these are suspected of being behind the current world wide obesity epidemic, and are both suspected or known carcinogens.
Age Limit for Buying Soft Drinks?
Not to be left out here are of course the tobacco and alcohol lobbies.
To begin with the tobacco lobby does not want any legal competition with their products. This is the reason they were and are behind things like prohibition, worldwide drug wars and age limits that ensure young people grow up with a period of time where tobacco is the only legal drug available. It’s pretty logical they would like to see sugar less available, because craving it could also make using tobacco more attractive.
More importantly the tobacco industry wants to see the culture of enforced age limits, as a way of making their products seem safer. After all if we have age limits for everything from alcohol to tanning salons, and tobacco has a relatively low limit, it makes tobacco products seem safer and more normal to young people. In fact there are few more lethal products worldwide than tobacco.
Alcohol follows closely behind tobacco, because if you’re addicted to tobacco, you’re much more likely to consume larger amounts of alcohol.
What is it about elections in the US that brings together such powerful political lobbies in such intrusive ways?
How about some alternatives to a sugar tax:
Prohibition of soft drink and candy vending machines in schools, except for products containing 100% fruit, ordinary sugar, water or other completely natural ingredients.
Prohibition of sponsorship or promotion of processed foods, in a similar way promotion of tobacco products is prohibited in many places now.
Prohibition or tax on HFCS and aspartame.
A tax in the US on saturated fat, like in Denmark and Hungary.
End subsidies on corn, HFCS and ethanol.
A levy on brand name soft drinks, in a similar way brand name cigarettes are priced higher in the US.
Anyone have other suggestions?
Last week Arash in Iran left the following comment:
Hello to all
I am a researcher in iran.I and my cooperator have collected 22 accessions from region of Tarom (one of areas of Zanjan province). We want to research taht how many genotypes are being farm in this area and also study resistance to puccinia alli. please gide me how I operate thate conclude best.
He actually doesn’t say it’s specifically on garlic, rather alliums in general, but since my original post was on garlic I assume that’s what he meant.
Does anyone have any information for him?
I can say that in the last few years since I’ve been making posts about garlic rust, I first read that it was present in on the US west coast, specifically in California in the region around Gilroy and a few isolated places in Oregon. I also knew it was present in northern Europe because it was in my garden and those of fellow gardeners in the UK, Denmark and Sweden.
In the years that followed I had reports from readers that it was present in the entire Willamette Valley area of Oregon, and later British Columbia in Canada and Los Angeles, in southern California. Two years ago someone reported it appeared in Ethiopia. I see mentioned on the Internet it’s also appeared this year on the east coast of the US in Maine. It seems to be spreading now, almost all over the world.
Following a suggestion from Søren, a fellow blogger in Denmark I’ve been experimenting with spraying dilute milk on my plants. I have not done this in any sort of scientific way, but my feeling is it’s of significant benefit. It seems to slow the rust down and manage it, to the extent it’s no longer a serious problem. I spray this on the plants about once a week or after rain, during the last 2-3 months or when I think rust infection is likely to occur. It’s benefit seems to be much greater if applied before the plants are infected. I use a ratio of 3-10 parts water to one part milk.
In the last several years I have grown more than 120 varieties of garlic in my garden, and a friend of mine more than 300. We have not really noticed significant signs of resistance to garlic rust on any of them, except a few of the more vigorous varieties like Susan Delafield and Estonian Red (a purple stripe type) seem to stand up a little longer to the rust probably because of the strength of the plants, and some silverskin varieties like Chilean Silver seemed to get infected a little later than the others.
The other thing a number of people observed was the application of high nitrogen fertilizer, in particular animal manure, caused the rust problem to become much worse.