Adventures in Ethical Consumerism

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

This blog has moved! is the new address for this blog.

If you are linking to this site, please could you update your links to use the new address. Cheers!

Thank you, Blogger, for helping to get me started.

Thank you also, Firefly International, for donating the webspace for the new site.

Check it out...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Take the power back!

Germany looks poised to become the first industrialised country in the world to move to 100% renewable energy. has the details:

"Can renewable energy development keep pace with rising global energy demand? As world governments struggle with this question, Germany is advancing with resolve in a transition to 100% renewable energy. The German government accepts the goal is technically and economically feasible, and has adopted a long-term national policy for the transition. After years of reliance on nuclear energy - which supplies 30% of the nation's electricity - Germany has concluded that nuclear is a dead-end and has established long term plans to phase it out."

I've heard many a criticism of the German Green Party's coalition with the Social Democrats. Many people seem to feel the Greens in Germany have had to make too many compromises in order to share power. This story can be taken as an indication that things are really moving in that part of the world.

Not only is Germany going all green for energy, they also seem to be getting things right in terms of ownership:

"Involved citizens who, mostly working through cooperatives, own 90% of the wind turbines, as well as most PV systems."

Take the power back!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Darwin's Nightmare

Darwin’s Nightmare is another excellent film from the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival On Tour.

This is a trip to Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the source of the River Nile. In the 1960s, a type of fish called the Nile perch was introduced into the lake. Since then, the fishing industry has grown and grown. Jumbo jets arrive daily to whisk the fish away to Europe for consumption. The bosses of the fish processing companies describe how the area is booming, with employment and trade bringing prosperity to the people.

The makers of Darwin’s Nightmare are not shy. They bravely ask three very important questions: Why are there Africans starving in the immediate vicinity of Lake Victoria? What is happening to the lake’s ecosystem now that the Nile perch has come to dominate? And what cargo is being unloaded from the supposedly empty planes when they arrive?

Now you can actually see the faces of some of the people who are delivering weapons into Africa. Now you can hear what those people have to say.

This is one powerful film. It goes straight to the heart of what is happening in Africa today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bye bye, Blogger

Adventures in Ethical Consumerism is undergoing transformation. I'm moving to a new address on the web, thanks to the kind donation of web space from Firefly International. That means I'll be leaving Blogger, my gracious host for the past few months.

I found Blogger to be an excellent tool for getting started and I would recommend it to anyone who's ever been tempted to blog. Blogger can get you started publishing online within a couple of minutes. It's easy to use and the help files are very good when you want to learn more. And their email support is great; I'll miss that.

I'm going open-source. I've acquired some open-source blogging software called Wordpress, which is free to non-profits such as this.It looks like a fine example of how good open-source programming can be. With Wordpress, Adventures in Ethical Consumerism is going to look cooler and also be easier to use.

The new site under development is at:

I'd really appreciate any feedback or help you may be able to offer. I've managed to get the header looking good on the Safari and Mozilla browsers (on Mac, at least), but when I looked on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer, I was disappointed: things were in the wrong place. I didn't know what to do.

Wordpress is probably never going to be as simple as Blogger. I'm managing to figure out a certain amount, but the help files are less idiot-proofed, as is the whole thing generally. It seems playtime is over.

If you're a Wordpress expert and you're willing to lend a hand, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bitter Greens Journal

Bitter Greens Journal describes itself as "a running critique of industrial agriculture, a clearinghouse for info on sustainable farming, and a working manifesto for a liberation politics based on food."

It is certainly a very good blog.

Reading Bitter Greens Journal reminds me of exactly what's great about blogging: here is someone who is farming in America and also a professional journalist who previously worked as a financial reporter. This is highly relevant (ie 'grassroots' level) news from somebody who is actually living what he is writing about, as well as having an excellent background for understanding what supply and demand is all about. And he can write!

Some very good news

Very good news stories from the US Organic Consumers Association, as usual:

Under the New World Order of the World Trade Organization (WTO), corporations now have the right to "discover" seeds and genetic materials used by indigenous peoples for centuries, and patent these materials, thereby obtaining monopoly rights to its products and profits. One such example is that of India's Neem Tree, traditionally considered a sacred tree, whose seeds have a fungicidal quality that has been common knowledge to the indigenous people of India for centuries. Despite this widespread traditional use, an American company, Thermo Trilogy, was able to obtain a patent on that process. In other words, using Neem Tree seeds as a fungicide suddenly became illegal, unless you paid Thermo Trilogy its royalties first. But last week, for the first time in history, a patent has been revoked as a matter of protecting traditional knowledge and practices. This landmark decision, made by the European Patent Office, is being celebrated in India and will likely inspire the reassessment of dozens of other similar patents.

Press release

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the advertising practices of Splenda. The artificial sweetener carries the slogan "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," and as a result, nearly half of all consumers believe Splenda is natural, according to a survey done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In actuality, Splenda is made through a complex chemical process using chlorination and phosgene gas.

Letter from OCA to FTC regarding Spenda

This week, a committee of 35 scientists from 13 countries, organized by the World Health Organization, announced major concerns with increasing levels of acrylamides in food. Acrylamides are carcinogens that are now known to be created when carbohydrates are cooked at extremely high temperatures, like french fries and potato chips.


The American Medical Association has published the results of three new studies, further underlining the fact that plant based diets reduce cancer risks. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables offers nutrient combinations that are consistently being shown to lower risks of prostate, breast and colon cancers.


Sustainable water

An interesting article from Corporate Watch taking a brief look at the water industry, including the revelation that Nestle, Coca-cola and PepsiCo are among the major players in the world of bottled water.

"Coca-Cola has publicly declared that bottled water will be its biggest selling product in a few years."

The article points out that bottled water isn't necessarily a bad thing as it offers consumer-driven safety levels (as opposed to tap water, which could never offer any guarantees), and may even be helping to tackle obesity. It's true that I only started to drink reasonable amounts of water once the bottled stuff came on the market and sat alongside all the fizzy drinks. Even though I rarely buy a bottle these days, having them available on the shelves was essential in changing the habit.

The article also mentions the problem of waste, with growing amounts of empty bottles piling up everywhere, yet no mention of sustainable packaging. Maybe because it hasn't shown any signs of being adopted by the big players yet.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Organic news

A couple of interesting stories from

This one is almost comical. It describes how the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld two complaints against the Soil Association, Britain's most vocal advocate of organic farming:

[T]he ASA upheld complaints on two claims in a leaflet made by the Soil Association last year: that "organic farming produces healthy food" and that it is "more humane to animals".

ASA said the claims could not be substantiated scientifically.

Incredible! This reminds me of the time I heard Alex Ferguson, MSP (Con), stand up in the Scottish Parliament and state that he would not be supporting a bill in favour of more rural abbatoirs because, though he agreed with everything else in the bill, he could not bring himself to accept the notion that transporting animals across the country on the backs of lorries was stressful to them.

There can be no doubt about what is stressful to animals. It can easily be measured by scientists and frequently is. It is different for people to say they simply don't care. That is something you rarely hear. Such people usually try to hide behind claims that things to do with animal welfare are 'not scientifically proven'. The Soil Association knows this. From the BBC:

The Soil Association told the BBC it still thinks organic food is healthier.

It says it has recently submitted new evidence to the ASA which means it can now legitimately state that no other food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals and vitamins.

And it argues no other system of farming has higher levels of animal welfare standards.

What else are they supposed to do? Throw a party for the cows and have them photographed by the press with party hats on their heads? Take the ASA down to the local industialised farm and give them a guided tour?

The other story from is this one, about the impending growth of organic farming in Eastern Europe. I suppose we can expect increased availability of organic food to cause a corresponding drop in prices, which would be heartily welcomed.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that the best kind of food - for people, animals and the Earth - is both organic and locally-produced. I'd rather see Eastern Europe's growth in organic farming reflected in an increasing appetite for it among local people than see it driven west in diesel-burning haulage trucks.

News feast

I've just started using Google News as my homepage: the first page I see when I go on the internet.

I've not had my own customized homepage for a while now. I grew tired of My Yahoo ages ago, though they have made some improvements recently, including the ability to recieve RSS feeds which makes it easier to stay up to date with your favourite blogs.

Google News works for me just now, though. You can customise it to show news according to your chosen keywords. So, along with my health, science and business news sections, I also have a supply of stories relating to consumerism. I don't have to seek the stories out myself, Google finds them and adds them to my news page automatically. This is a good example of how the web is helping to revolutionise the way we access information.

The first story to appear in my customised consumerism news section was this story from Corporate Watch. It's a brief account of how ethical consumerism is continuing to grow, as is support for the fabulous Fairtrade movement.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Paying for the right to pollute everyone's air

From the Green Consumer Guide:

"Environment and transport campaigners have called on Transport for London to raise the city’s congestion charge to £20 for 4x4s and other high-emission vehicles..."

Full story.

UK's new vehicle emission ratings has the lowdown on the UK's new rating system for vehicle emissions.

This should help concerned consumers to make an informed decision when buying a new car, it should raise awareness among those who might not normally consider such things, and hopefully stimulate competition among manufacturers to produce more eco-friendly vehicles.

Towards zero waste

I'm pleased with the way my waste processing efforts are going. I throw out very little in the way of rubbish these days.

I am composting my organic waste in my communal back garden (which nobody except me seems to use). That includes raw fruit & veg offcuts/skins, tea bags, tea leaves, dead leaves from house plants and odd bits of paper & cardboard.

I take my waste paper, food cans and glass bottles & jars to the recycling point at my local supermarket, around five minutes walk away. This only has to be done occasionally as I don't seem to produce much of this kind of waste. Plastic bottles - which I hardly ever have - can be taken to a recycling point, though I have to go further to reach a facility for that. My cardboard goes to LEEP (Lothian and Edinburgh Environmental Partnership), the local charity for recycling, as there are no recycling points for this in Edinburgh. (There are no doorstep collections of any kind in my area).

Plastic bags can be taken to Tesco for recycling. I rarely need to to do this as I reuse them or I use my own bag to carry things home in.

What is left is less than one carrier bag per week of other stuff that cannot be reused or recycled. This is almost entirely plastic packaging from food (and tea), and tissues I have blown my nose on (it is winter).

Even this small amount of waste could be reduced. I try to avoid food that is excessively packaged and could probably do better at it, though it seems there is always some plastic to be torn off of something or other. As for tissues, I could probably be composting those, though someone once suggested to me that it is not healthy to blow your nose and then add it to your compost. I'm not sure. Can anyone enlighten me?

I know that recycling is not always eco-friendly, and that the process itself can produce a lot of carbon emissions and other waste. However, I feel it is important for me to try to avoid contributing to the problem of landfill. Organic waste is particularly damaging when it goes to landfill. Though it bio-degrades naturally, it cannot compost properly in a landfill site and ends up producing methane gas, a major contributor to global warming.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Free speech and the internet

The Global Voices Online blog has this short piece about efforts to ensure the free flow of information in a globalised world.

"Reporters Without Borders has taken a delegation of cyber-dissidents to the U.N.’s preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Internet & Society this week. Global Voices is naturally concerned about efforts by governments that do not uphold free speech to interfere with internet governance. RWB has come out with an excellent set of recommendations that the U.N. should uphold if it wants any credibility at all when it comes to internet governance"

Check out the guidelines. They are very simple and (potentially) very effective.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Pollution, congestion and the council's latest plans

Looking at the website of No Tolls (National Alliance Against Tolls), I realise how one-sided I've been in my comments about the transport referendum.

I had already done a little checking to see what the opponents to the scheme were saying, but I have to say I found it all pretty ridiculous.

On the No Tolls site I just read this:

'[I]f the council "do nothing" they estimate that due to cleaner vehicles by 2010 there will be a 40% reduction in emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide and 60% reduction in Particulates.'

It's a good point. We already starting to see cleaner vehicles on the roads and we're likely to see a lot more. This is only addressing pollution, though.

We are also seeing more smaller vehicles being used, but they aren't likely to have a major impact on congestion levels in the long term. Neither is car sharing, it seems.

Now, Edinburgh Council have announced that they may have to ban cars in some of the city's main streets in order to meet mandatory EU nitrogen dioxide targets by 2010. That may not be necessary if the cleaner cars prediction is right, but still we need to consider congestion.

I understand that drivers don't want to pay added charges of up to £500 per year (as No Tolls points out) for traveling into Edinburgh, But I don't know what other solutions there are on the table. We know congestion is going to get worse, and it's already bad enough.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Edinburgh transport referendum result


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Participatory democracy and the congestion charge

I think referenda are great. I love the idea of moving towards a more participatory form of democracy, as opposed to the representative variety we are used to.

It was a great privilege, eight years ago, to take part in the referendum that secured Scotland's (quasi-) independence from London.

Now, here in Edinburgh, we are getting the chance to vote for, or against, the introduction of congestion charging as part of the Labour council's grand plan to improve the city's transport situation.

The result is expected tomorrow, and early indicators suggest the overall response will be negative.

I've been in favour of congestion charging ever since I saw with my own eyes the difference in central London after the £5 daily charge was introduced there. The proposal here has been for a smaller charge of only £2 per day, yet opposition to the idea has been overwhelming. The usual reasons have been given: another tax on car drivers is too much, and businesses in the city centre will suffer.

It makes me sad. I believe car drivers deserve to be taxed off the roads. I really believe that, especially when I am walking, cycling, or waiting for a bus and I can taste the poisonous fumes in the air as they pass through my mouth and into my lungs. I do not benefit from somebody else's car, yet it may help speed me towards an early grave. If someone is to be able to sit alone in a car that can carry five, listening to their favourite CD while I get sick off their emissions then yes, they should pay towards making things better. Why not?

I also think that the kinds of businesses that are obsessed with profits and nothing else should not be welcome in our city centres. If they are not prepared to accept some responsibility for the wellbeing of people and the city, I would be happy to see them shut up shop and move to the outskirts, where the car drivers can flock to them and collectively choke on each other's gasses.

So I voted Yes to congestion charging.

There has been a lot said here in Edinburgh about the transport proposals and the referendum itself. The council has been accused of trying to manipulate voters, and really the whole process has been a bit of a farce. Despite trying to do the right thing, the council may well end up with nothing but a large bill to pay after all their efforts to win public approval.

I feel the lessons to be learned from this are important, though. Certainly it has become clear that it is no simple administrative matter to hold a public referendum, and it is perhaps impossible to expect the majority of voters to actually know about the issues they are being asked for their opinion on.

Public cluelessness could be the reason if we hear tomorrow that the No vote is the winner. Or it could just be that there are more people using cars than buses in Edinburgh, and they're only thinking about themselves.

Much more information about Edinburgh City Council's transport strategy can be found here.


Today I took part in another form of participatory democracy: an online public consultation from DEFRA, the London government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Through the Citizen Space website, they are holding a consultation on how best to tackle climate change. This type of thing is a great example of how the internet is helping to change the way democracy works by providing a direct link between you and the people who make decisions on your behalf.

We're used to being able to write letters and attend constituancy surgeries, but a national consultstion such as this would have meant far too much wasted paper and person-hours for it to be feasable in the days before the world wide web. We can expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing, and I would urge anyone with an interest in democracy to check this out.

The consultaion serves a second purpose in that it helps to inform people about what is happening, including information about what the goverment is doing, and what they are thinking about doing.

Even if you are not interested in democracy, it's still worth a look so you can play the excellent game of Polar Bear Parking. The opportunity is not to be missed!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Good news

Good news from the Green Consumer Guide: the UK government is phasing in new regulations making it compulsory for car manufacturers to take responsibility for 'End-Of-Life Vehicles'.

In the coming years, manufacturers will have to start taking care of the disposal of their old vehicles, as well as using more materials which can be easily re-used.

Another big step forward for sustainability.

Czech Dream

Yesterday I went to see a film called Czech Dream, part of the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival On Tour.

I've never seen a film like this before. Two Czech film students launched a massive advertising campaign for a new 'hypermarket' just outside Prague. They created a brand identity, a logo, tv adverts, radio spots, flyers - everything. They carried out extensive market research in order to make the most effective campaign possible. And they promised a big surprise for those attending the grand opening.

The surprise? I won't be spoiling the film if I tell you. It's clear form the very beginning that there is no "Czech Dream" hypermarket and there never will be. The whole thing is a hoax intended to expose people's obsession with consumerism.

Needless to say, there are some very unhappy consumers on opening day. But the film does an excellent job of prompting people (both viewers and consumers) to think about how easy it can be to sell something that doesn't exist. This all comes at a time (in the film) when the government of the Czech Republic is spending vast amounts of cash on a campaign trying to convince Czechs to vote 'yes' in an upcoming referendum on whether or not to join the European Union.

A very funny, short, clever, film.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fairtrade: a good idea?

Alex Singleton posted a comment saying that Fairtrade is making things worse not better, and linking to his own piece, Is Fairtrade Coffee a Good Idea?

It's interesting. Alex says the reason for such low coffee prices is overproduction, and that giving farmers any encouragement to produce more coffee will make things even worse in the long term. A fair point, but I think it kind of misses the mark in terms of what Fairtrade is about.

As Alex says, "It is easy to show photos and case studies of Fairtrade farmers who have benefitted... But in economics, it is important to look at both the seen and unseen consequences."

I agree. But Alex sees the unseen consequences of Fairtrade as being even lower coffee prices due to increased production, and therefore more farmers needing to get into producing something else (which, for some, can be impossible). And, as Alex points out, "five people and a machine can produce the same [coffee] output in Brazil as five hundred people in Guatemala."

So Fairtrade distorts the market, artificially raising prices for some while driving others into even worse trouble than ever before. Alex makes a pretty good case that buying Fairtrade is actually unethical. That it breaks the golden rules of supply and demand.

I do not agree, however. Fairtrade is a great example of how cool consumerism can be, for all. I get a good product for my money. It's fine quality, produced in a sustainable way, without exploitation of anyone, and without anyone getting horrendously rich either. I like that. As a consumer, I'm prepared to pay for that.

If I hand over my money, I want to know that people - and the Earth - are being treated with respect. I want to know my product is GM-free. I want to know that I'm not unwittingly supporting such "unseen consequences" as: coffee farmers losing money on their crop while I enjoy my caffiene buzz; exploitative middlemen getting rich and fat and lazy; giant companies like Nescafe and Kenco laughing all the way to the bank while people starve; genetic modification; lack of respect for the Earth. I don't want to pay for these things. I also don't want a product that is grown by a machine.

Luckily, there are products I am willing to pay for (vote for, if you like). Those products are the ones certified by the Fairtrade Foundation. I always managed to find the few extra pennies required for some Fairtrade products, even in my most poverty-sticken periods.

Personally, I say no to any form of ecomonics that puts profit before people. That's not what Adam Smith was about, and Darwin (Mr Survival of the Fittest), too, understood the need for humans to take care of each other.

Lastly, I do not understand the suggestion that Fairtrade is encoraging more people to produce coffee. I always thought it was more a case of getting a better deal for those that are already in the business, helping them to have a decent standard of living and encouraging effective, safe, mindful production. Long term, the Fairtrade model can be applied much more widely, including in 'developed' countries like Britain. It's about people getting a fair deal. Having too many coffee farmers in the world could be blamed on many things, but Fairtrade is surely not one of them.

I think the type of analysis Alex is offering is very valuable indeed. Fairtrade is not solving all the world's problems. There are still many, many trade issues that need to be addressed. Progress is slow. But I look forward to exploring more of Alex's blog. Looks like a very enlightening read.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Organic growth unstoppable

Two stories from offering some insight into the develpment of organic farming in Britain and the US...

Scottish Farmers to Receive Organic Certification Support documents the recent explosion in organic farming in Scotland, and why it's a trend that's likely to continue:

The Soil Association claims that the organic food market in the UK is worth an estimated £1.12 billion per year, with sales of organic food growing by £2 million a week.

US Court Gets Tough on Organic Ingredients is about plans to tighten up organic standards in the US. If the plans - which bring standards into line with the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 - are approved, it will become harder for Americam farmers to achieve official organic status. The proposed new measures do not seem unreasonable, however, and while they may temporarily slow growth in the organic sector, the net result is likely to be better quality food in the long term:

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said it will work with the USDA to address these issues.

“OTA is proud that in the two years since national organic standards were implemented, US organic acreage and production have grown substantially, organic product sales have increased, and there have been many environmental benefits as a result,"said Katherine DiMatteo, OTA’s executive director.

"The court decision may hamper that growth rate in the short term, but OTA is optimistic that its members and others in the organic community can pull together to maintain the momentum for organic agriculture.”

The organic food market in the US is estimated to be worth $10.4 billion and it shows no signs of tiring – it grew by 20.4 percent in 2003 – and sales are expected to reach $16.1 million
[sic - shouldn't that be billion?] in 2008, according to a recent report published by Euromonitor.

"Sales of organic food have outpaced those of traditional grocery products due to consumer perceptions that organic food is better for them," said the report.

It seems there are many people who still believe there is a limit to how much organic agriculture can compete with the more industrial variety we have had thrust upon us. Yet looking at these figures, it would appear the organic movement is on course for world domination! It's no surprise that non-organic producers are starting to get scared.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Towards global sustainability

It wasn't so long ago that most people in Britain felt there was no point in recycling our waste since nobody else did it and it was too inconvenient anyway. But people showed an interest in recycling, and slowly we have seen the introduction of all sorts of facilities to make it easier.

Along the way, we had to realise that just separating our waste isn't enough. We learned that it's also necessary to buy recycled products in order to help industry close this particular loop of sustainability. Now, recycled products and materials are becoming much more common, and cheaper too.

This article, Paper Recycling Chase in Asian and European Markets by Pete Grogan, shows how the recycling movement has grown legs of its own. There is now so much demand for recovered paper - especially from "hungry tiger" China - it is driving the need to recycle more than ever before:

"The paper industry will need to encourage city governments not currently providing residential recycling services to their citizens to do so.

"Those providing lackluster programs will need paper industry encouragement and assistance to develop effective recovery programs. The industry will also have to develop creative methods for providing recycling services to small businesses that are presently underserved."

Carpet, Fabric & Apparel to Get Greener
is another article from which shows how consumer demand is driving industry, which in turn is driving more environmental practices:

"The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS) has taken on the charge to make it happen. Their goal is to transform manufacturing and retail practices worldwide so that by 2015 sustainable products are available in 90% of the global marketplace. Daunting? Yes, but since the 100 largest companies account for more than 90% of the world's products, MTS believes its mission is attainable."

This initiative has serious potential. The MTS looks like more than just an industry mock-up for pulling the wool over people's eyes.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Global 100

You've read about the Ten Worst Corporations of 2004, now check out the Global 100, which aims to list the "Most Sustainable Corporations in the World".

The fact that GlaxoSmithKlein made it onto both these lists is a good indication of how contradictory ethics in consumerism can seem to be. I'm sure it's very nice if they have the "ability to manage strategic profit opportunities, that is, their ability to profit from recognizing new environmental and social markets", but what about letting people know the truth about their products. Does that count for anything? Is it possible to measure truth in dollars and cents?

The WorldChanging blog has this excellent wee piece about the Global 100.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Ten Worst Corporations of 2004

The Multinational Monitor has published its annual Ten Worst Corporations report.

Each year, they challenge themselves to avoid nominating any of the corporations that were in the top ten the previous year. Presumably this is to avoid a repetitive, 'usual suspects' scenario with the same bad guys coming out on top every time.

So, here are the top Ten Worst Corporations of 2004:

Abbot Laboratories
American International Group Inc. (insurance)
Dow Chemical
Hardee's (fast food)
McWane (manufacturer)
Riggs Bank

You can read the full article here, or a more easily digestible summary here.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Follow the money

This story from the What Doctors Don't Tell You e-News Broadcast (20 Jan '05) is a good example of what bothers me about the vast array of pharmaceutical drugs we are constantly encouraged to consume:

CERVICAL CANCER: A vaccine that Glaxo thinks is great

Cervical cancer is invariably caused by the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Globally around 470,000 new cases are reported every year, and the disease annually kills around 230,000 women, many of whom are from developing countries.

And so when a drug company says it has discovered an effective vaccine against the virus, people should sit up and take notice.

That's exactly what happened when researchers from Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire tested a new vaccine, code-named HPV-16 and HPV-18, on 1,113 women against a placebo. It was effective against infection in nearly 92 per cent of cases, and was 100% effective against persistent infection.

As a result the paper was 'fast-tracked' by The Lancet, and its findings - "the vaccine could contribute substantially to reducing worldwide rates of cervical cancer" - were the only words on that week's cover.

So what's the problem? Well, it's probably nothing, but... the drug has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline, most of the researchers receive some funding or support from GlaxoSmithKline, the trial was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline, and technical analyses of the data was prepared by employees of GlaxoSmithKline.

We're not suggesting for a moment that there's been any wrong-doing or that there's been even the slightest partiality - it would have been nice if just someone not associated with GlaxoSmithKline had a look in, that's all.

(Source: The Lancet, 2004; 364: 1757-65).

This is a small example of a very large and significant trend. The Lancet is a medical publication with a reputation that is second to none. And it seems too many people will believe anything that is deduced by any "scientific study". How often do they consider how the study was funded or any other factors that may influence its outcome?

Friday, January 28, 2005

A letter from John Lewis

I recieved a letter today from John Lewis plc:

Thank you for taking the time to complete one of our comment cards.

It is through feedback from customers that we are able to assess our performance. I have shared your comments regarding the use of Fairtrade coffee in the Place to Eat with our Catering manager so that she can investigate the matter.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

CASPIAN announces worldwide Tesco boycott

From CASPIAN press release:

CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) has launched a worldwide boycott of Tesco in response to the retailer's escalating use of RFID on consumer products. CASPIAN Founder and Director Katherine Albrecht made the announcement to millions of viewers watching BBC Newsnight, the popular UK news program, on Tuesday.

Tesco is the world's third largest retailer, with over 2,300 stores across Europe and Asia.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, a controversial technology that hooks miniature antennas up to tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track items at a distance. The technology raises privacy concerns because RFID tagged items can be monitored invisibly right through items consumers normally consider private, like clothing, purses, backpacks and wallets.

Albrecht outlined CASPIAN member objections to Tesco's expansion of its item-level RFID tagging trials, saying they "would involve potentially hundreds of thousands more shoppers... it essentially means that more people will be taking home items containing [RFID] spychips." She concluded, "that's simply unacceptable."

Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason said Tesco was taking the announcement of the boycott "seriously," and read a prepared statement from the retailer that was intended to assure consumers that the store did not have plans to track products after purchase.

Mason concluded that "all the big names in this [RFID] industry will be watching this battle very intently."

Basically, there are two kinds of RFID tags: active and passive.

Active ones do not excite my love of good technology. They are currently much bigger in size than the passive variety, but more importantly, active RFID tags are constantly transmitting their radio signals while drawing power from a little battery.

The passive tags do not require batteries as they are not continuously broadcasting a signal. These tags are activated by proximity to a scanner, more like scanning a barcode. The range within which a scanner communicates with a tag can be anything up to a few metres - possibly more. For me, their relative inactivity makes passive RFID tags less of a potential health risk for humans.

The current debate, however, is focused purely on privacy issues.

It's clear that widespread use of these tags, whether active or passive, could result in major loss of privacy for ordinary people. Even if Tesco or Gillette - or whoever is administering the tags - has a water-tight privacy policy, they would still have a responsibility to ensure that RFID is not exploited by criminals in the way that, for example, ATMs have been.

The Spychips: RFID Privacy Website has plenty more information. They have been calling for a boycott of Gillette since the company started putting RFID tags into some of their products and taking photos of people who pick them up! There is a website dedicated to the Gillette boycott here.

Personally, I've been boycotting Gillette for years; originally because of their animal testing policy (they have tried to clean up their act on that one), but more recently just because their products are full of seriously nasty ingredients. (See this from the Greenpeace Chemical Home website or the February edition of the Ecologist for more details).

Here is Tesco's take on the subject. Their focus is purely on how much of a benefit RFID is in terms of stock control. This is, of course, presented as a benefit to the consumer and not just the retail chain itself.

This article from C-Net news gives a pretty good deconstruction of the issues surrounding RFID tagging in general, including some smart recommendations for helping to safeguard people's rights.

Visit the Boycott Tesco website.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Broken down

My wonderful Apple Mac that is usually so reliable has finally broken down. It took a major crash when I was updating the software and now needs professional care.

I'm using an internet cafe now, where it's 50p for fifteen minutes of surf. It's getting quite expensive already and I've just been catching up on some email.

I don't feel any in-depth blogging coming on in this environment. I'm having to use a Windows PC and Internet Explorer. I like my desk.

Thinking of interent cafes, though, I was just having a look at the Yahoo! Mail Internet Cafe Awards. Check out the Namche Internet Cafe at Everest base camp, and Cafe Coquet in Kyoto, Japan where internet is free and you can have an iBook delivered to your table.

Highly recommended in the Best UK category is the (misspelled) Forrest Cafe, Edinburgh, which also has free internet access. I can recommend the Forest personally, though as a committee member I should probably declare an interest.

The Bongo Cafe is another great place offering free web access in Edinburgh.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Healthy floors

I've been thinking about replacing the nasty, old carpet in my living room. It's ugly, it's a haven for dust-mites (which I'm allergic to), and I suspect it may be giving off various noxious fumes as well.

Has anyone out there tried cork flooring? It seems this is an option that can be both healthy and ethical. According to Ethical Consumer magazine, "As a flooring, cork can be an excellent choice... it retains its elasticity and reduces sound and is comfortable to walk on... it doesn't absorb dust and so is less likely to cause allergies." They recommend buying non-PVC coated cork flooring and sealing it yourself with low VOC (volatile organic compound) varnish.

Ethical Consumer also states: "[Cork] is a good environmental choice because, not only is it natural and requiring little energy to produce, no trees are actually cut down to harvest it. Instead, the cork is stripped off the trees which are then left for nine years, allowing the cork to grow back completely... Cork forests in Spain Portugal and Tunisia are home to a variety of endangered wildlife including the imperial eagle and barbery deer. Unfortunately, they're also under threat because the demand for cork stoppers for wine has declined as the popularity for plastic corks has increased."

If you have any tips to share, please email me or post a comment below.

To find out more about floors, check out the Healthy Flooring Network.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Make Poverty History

The "MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY.ORG" banner you should be able to see at the top left of this page is there for a reason. Clicking on it will take you to the Make Poverty History website, where they make it nice and easy for you to send an email to Tony Blair, urging him to do something about the fact that 30,000 people are dying every day as a result of needless poverty.

The site also tells you how you can get your hands on a groovy, white band to show that you support the cause.

UPDATE: Click here to read an excellent post from Mike Treder on the Responsible Nanotechnology blog about the role that both media and technology could potentially play in the prevention of poverty.

Mike quotes from this insightful article by Michael Lerner:

'Imagine if every single day there were headlines in every newspaper in the world and every television show saying: "29,000 children died yesterday from preventable diseases and malnutrition" and then the rest of the stories alternated between detailed personal accounts of families where this devastation was taking place, and sidebar features detailing what was happening in advanced industrial countries, like this: "all this suffering was happening while the wealthiest people in the world enjoyed excesses of food, worried about how to lose weight because they eat too much, spent money trying to convince farmers not to grow too much food for fear that doing so would drive down prices, and were cutting the taxes of their wealthiest rather than seeking to redistribute their excess millions of dollars of personal income."'

Powerful stuff!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sorry and thank-you

Someone kindly pointed out to me yesterday that this page was not permitting those who aren't registered Blogger users to post comments.

I'm sorry for restricting freedom of speech in this way. The problem has now been sorted.

Thank-you, Amy, for bringing it to my attention.

Organics in America

Some really good news stories this week from the Organic Consumers Association in the US:

'This week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long awaited report on perchlorates, a byproduct of rocket fuel that has contaminated water, vegetables, and dairy product across the United States. Perchlorates, recklessly discharged into streams and rivers near military bases and weapons manufacturing facilities, have contaminated drinking water in 35 states, and have been detected in measurable amounts in 93% of lettuce and milk samples as well, including organic products. The government funded NAS study has found that perchlorates are roughly ten times more toxic to humans than the Department of Defense has been claiming. Perchlorates can inhibit thyroid function, cause birth defects, and lower IQs.'

Mmm, I don’t like the sound of those perchlorates! It seems this has been the subject of a cover-up from day one. And just because this study is funded by the government, it doesn’t guarantee that anything is actually going to be done about it. (read more)

'According to National Geographic, there have been a significant number of reports documenting animals who seemed to sense the recent Asian tsunami before it hit. For example, Sri Lanka's Yala National Park suffered many human casualties, but park managers said the wildlife suffered almost no casualties. "The elephants, wild boar, deer, monkeys and others had moved inland to avoid the killer waves." In Thailand, seemingly insane elephants broke their chains and fled inland before the waves hit. Authorities in India reported that "the indigenous, stone-age tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands escaped the effects of the tsunami because they heeded warning signals from birds and animals." A number of scientists have pointed out that this remarkable behavior should alert us to pay closer attention to a wide range of warnings from the animal kingdom, not only in regards to natural disasters, but also in relation to danger signs of the impact on animal and human health of environmental pollution, such as the recent outbreak of frog mutations, species extinctions, and drops in mammalian fertility.' (full story)


'Activists in California's Sonoma County, have successfully placed an initiative on the ballot for a 10 year moratorium on genetically engineered (GE) crops. After 500 grassroots volunteers collected a record 45,387 petition signatures, proponents of the ballot initiative are optimistic the vote will turn out in their favor. The proposal is considered slightly more moderate than bans that passed in Mendocino, Trinity, and Marin counties last year, since it calls for a 10 year moratorium on commercial cultivation of GE crops, rather than a permanent ban.' (more)


'Monsanto, the leading global producer of genetically engineered seeds and crops, has been found guilty of bribing government officials in Indonesia. The Justice Department has fined Monsanto $1.5 million for bribing the Indonesian Ministry of Environment to allow the company to ignore required environmental impact studies before proceeding to plant genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, in the U.S., bribery seems hardly necessary for the Gene Giant, given that the Bush administration and regulatory agencies are stacked with former Monsanto employees and pro-biotech bureaucrats. Monsanto strengthened its grip on U.S. policymaking last week when one of its former lobbyists, Martha Scott, was appointed as Staff Director of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Other Monsanto boosters in the Washington power elite include former Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman (formerly head of the Monsanto subsidiary Calgene), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (formerly CEO of a Monsanto pharmaceutical subsidiary, Searle) and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (formerly a Monsanto lawyer).'

Monsanto in bribery scandal? Surely not! (read more)


'“The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal complaint with the USDA National Organic Program against an "organic" dairy farm in Colorado. The industrial sized feedlot, Aurora Dairy, claims its milk is organic, despite the fact the facility houses 5,600 dairy cows in a factory farm setting with no real access to pasture (which is required by the National Organic Standards).' (full story)

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Chemical Home

Further to my previous post about harmful chemicals in the home, I'd like to recommend The Chemical Home - an excellent, well researched website that's new from Greenpeace. This site tells you all about the toxic chemicals that are inside us, how they get there, and it names many of the companies responsible for producing and selling them in the first place.

Did you know, for example, that your pyjamas could be depositing organotins in your blood? ("Organotins are very poisonous even in tiny doses. Some organotins attack the immune system, others can cause birth defects.") Or that your sofa may contain endocrine disruptors, "capable of causing birth defects, reproductive abnormalities or developmental problems in... children by interfering with the body's natural chemicals that control growth and development"?

It's not easy to get this kind of information. Big companies are notorious for trying to cover up the fact that they have been poisoning their customers for years, and many of them continue to do so. Greenpeace has done a fantastic job, not only in gathing the facts, but also in making them available in a simple and straightforward way for people to understand.

Even if you've already banished chemical cleaners from your home, there is still so much more to know. The Chemical Home is a must-read.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Recycle your Christmas cards

Throughout January you can recycle your Christmas cards at Tesco and WH Smith.

Personally, I liked this xmas message from Joi Ito:

"I'm not sending any Christmas or New Years cards this year because I don't want to kill any more trees (and I'm lazy). I'm not sending email greetings because mass mailings are becoming indistinguishable from spam... For the more personal touch, I'm relying on my birthday reminder to remind me to say hi to my friends in a way that distributes the work across the year."

I'm currently doing neither, preferring to greet people face to face. But I think it's an excellent idea to use birthdays (if you can remember them) as a more personal way of catching up with your more remote friends anually. Keep xmas special for the family and/or local community.

We should not assume that cards need to be a part of the equation. We know who really benefits from all this waste, and it's not you or me, nor the Earth which supports us. Of course it's slightly different if you buy your cards from a charity, but there are other ways to help or donate to a good cause without wasting tons of resources.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Sweat Fashion Show

The No Sweat Fashion Show will take place on Friday 25th February 25 at 2.30pm, with a second show at 6.30pm. The location is the London College of Fashion, Oxford Circus. Tickets are £2.50 each and the event is a fundraiser for Batay Ouvriye - organising union struggle against the sweatshops in the free trade zone of Haiti.

Tickets are available from:

No Sweat
PO Box 36707
London SW9 8YA

Cheques should be made out to No Sweat (please say what it is for) and will soon be available online.

If you want to help, there's a meeting at 1pm on Tuesday 25th January at London College of Fashion.

If you want to do something similar near you, here are some notes about how to do it.

Recycle your Brita water filters

I've just found out that Brita's water filtration cartidges are recyclable. If you have a water filter jug at home, there is a good chance you are using Brita cartridges and replacing them roughly once a month.

If you want yours recycled, send them free to:

TW16 5BR

Water filters are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to drinking bottled water as the pollution caused by transportation and bottling is significantly reduced. If you're drinking straight, unfiltered tap water: good luck to you!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Germany leads fight against GM contamination

From the Institute of Science in Society:

"German Agriculture Minister Renate Kunäst hailed as a major victory a new highly restrictive genetically modified (GM) crops law passed by the German Parliament on 26 November 2004. The new law requires GM crop growers to publicly register the exact location of fields, and holds those planting GM crops liable for economic damages to neighbouring non-GM fields even if planting instructions and other regulations were followed.


"The new law introduces the principle that GM farmers and GM operators are financially liable for economic damage caused if their crops contaminate non-GM products. It takes a proactive stance against GMOs, and protects organic farms and non-GM conventional farms against insidious dominance of GMOs. It also protects ecologically sensitive zones against transgenic contamination. It lays down rules for good professional practice such as minimum separation distances, documentation, and use of GMO fertilizers. And companies are bound by law to inform growers about compliance with the demands of good professional practice by means of an instruction leaflet; and are liable for incorrect product information."

The move has been praised by Friends of the Earth Europe, and is a bold one for Germany who risk further damage to their troubled economic prospects by making themselves an unpopular destination for big-money bio-engineering firms.

Germany also risks falling foul of the European Commission, who have recently been criticised for wanting to give in to pressure from America, Canada and Argentina over the reluctance of its member states to unquestioningly accept GM imports. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) are currently deciding whether or not to allow European countries the right to say no to GM if they want to.

Friends of the Earth International's Bite Back campaign gives you a chance to register your objection to attempts to restrict choice in the European food chain. Signing the Citizens' Objection is quick and easy. The site also gives you access to a wealth of information on GM, including ways for you to help spread the word.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Campaign for Real Beauty gets respect

I think Dove deserve some respect for their advertising strategy. The Campaign for Real Beauty is, of course, a campaign to sell more beauty products, yet I can't help admiring the way they are actively moving the emphasis of their advertising away from the standard 'model'.

Dove's ads make a big deal about the fact that they feature real people of all ages, shapes and sizes. This is in contrast to the usual 'acceptable' face of advertising, which generally relies on a standardised approach to the concept of beauty. This standard approach, besides being utterly false, is having a destructive effect on the self esteem of many of the more impressionable women that are exposed to it. Dove ought to be commended for taking the first step towards turning things around.

More from the Observer here and from the Times here.

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty website.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Consumer idiot

The consumer idiot blog is a great laugh. This blogger works for an internet marketing company and he blogs some of the more amusing emails he receives at work. Reading it, you can see how people are getting really disturbed by the advertising that's constantly thrown at them. The blog also offers some insight into what happens when you get involved with these internet marketeers.

If you're bothered by pop-up ads (the ones that magically appear in a new window when you're surfing), here are some simple (and free) solutions for you to try.

For PC users, Mozilla is a browser similar to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Mozilla offers increased user-friendliness compared to IE, as well as a better range of options, including a very effective pop-up blocker. Mozilla also offers more secure browsing than IE, which continues to be riddled with holes.

You can download Mozilla here.

In case you want to know what else is wrong with Microsoft, take a look at this detailed report from Corporate Watch.

Unlike Bill Gates and Microsoft, Mozilla is part of the open source movement. Some of the best software in the world has been created using the open source method, which means anybody can contribute to the project and (usually) anybody can use it free of charge.

Dan Gillmor has the latest on Bill Gates, and the truth about open source.

If you're a Mac OS X user, you're probably already using Safari, and you'll know that it's the quickest, most efficient, sexy-looking and user-friendly web browser on the planet. It also prevents all pop-ups from popping up.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

People Tree sale!

The People Tree sale has begun! People Tree are a well-established ethical retailer, and their ethical credentials are second to none:

"People Tree is a pioneer in Fair Trade and Ecology Fashion. We work in close partnership with 70 producer groups in 20 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, helping some of the world's most marginalised communities to improve their lives through Fair Trade. We provide product design skills and assistance, a fair price, regular orders and advance payment as needed. We also support village welfare projects and schools for our producers' children.

"People Tree's collection is made with organic cotton and handwoven fabrics to promote natural farming and production methods that are safe for the environment and safe for the consumer, as well as generating much-needed income in rural areas and keeping traditional skills alive. Fair Trade delivers benefit to where it's most needed and helps empower the producer and the consumer."

Common Dreams on Coke

An interesting article from the Common Dreams Newscenter.

Coca Cola are denying their products help to cause obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis, despite credible medical evidence to the contrary. At the same time, they are shamelessly buying their way into schools, colleges and universities in order to advertise more to young people and increase their profits as a result.

The article draws parallels between the behaviour of Coca Cola and the manner in which the tobacco industry has frequently tried to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers.

Fortunately, intelligent people are fighting back. Many major British and American unions (such as UNISON and The American Federation of Teachers) are pledging to work against Coca Cola until they put a stop to their nefarious practices.

"Parents, make the year 2005 the year that all school vending contracts for Coca-Cola as well as Pepsi cease! If you need to serve pop in the house, make it a rare and occasional treat. Water and soy/rice milk and real juice provide a sound and better alternative."

Why not write a letter to Coca Cola explaining exactly what you think of their marketing techniques? The address for Coca Cola Great Britain is:

1 Queen Caroline Street
London W6 9HQ

Green = clean: update

A reader has recommended Simple Green for keeping your home clean without resorting to dodgy chemical products which may be messing with your health.

Simple Green is biodegradable, which basically means it will not pollute the Earth when you dispose of it. Click here for a more detailed explaination of biodegradation from the excellent wikipedia. This description is especially worth reading if you want to know why you should compost your organic kitchen waste. (Skip the first paragraph if you're not a scientist!)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Don't hurt the rabbit!

On New Year's Eve I was disappointed to see a man in the street collecting money for the charity Cancer Research UK. Not my favourite charity at the best of times, on this occasion I felt sickened by the irony of how the man was dressed. He was wearing a Bugs Bunny costume.

"Is this some kind of joke?" I asked him.

It's a sad fact that Cancer Research UK fund research using animals. Many people argue that it would be crazy not to use animals in the desperate search for a cancer cure. Yet Animal Aid has managed to compile a list of around a hundred health charities that don't test on animals, including a number of cancer research charities. On the same page, they list charities that do test on animals, as well as a number that don't fit neatly into either category.

Click here
to view the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection's excellent page on cancer research and animal testing.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Is your town a clone town?

The new economics foundation is conducting a survey to find out how Britain's high streets are doing in terms of diversity.

Clicking here will download the survey form in PDF format to your computer. Print it out and take a stroll down your high street, scoring points according to the type of shops you pass. Then add up the points, see how your town is doing for homeliness (or 'cloneliness'), and pop the form in the post to the nef (the address is on the form).

I was thinking about this type of thing earlier when I was on Princes Street - Edinburgh's high street - waiting to catch a bus. The scene was beautiful. A full(ish) moon was hanging brightly in the sky, gentle wisps of cloud were complementing the deep blue backdrop and the old clocktower of the Balmoral Hotel was, as ever, watching benevolently over us all. I looked at the lights in the trees and one or two other seasonal decorations, thinking of how they were succeeding at being both pretty and inoffensive. Next to the tall, elegant Scott Monument was a small, temporary fun-fair complete with ferris wheel and bright, neon lights... a pleasant juxtaposition of old and new, classical and sensational.

As the last minute shoppers strutted around, and the buses jostled for position with the few cars that had managed to squeeze inbetween them, I had to admit it - the city was looking good!

It was when I turned my head towards the shops that my vision was bombarded with a load of santas, snowmen, tinsel, fake trees and fairy lights: all this stuff that just looks more and more tacky and sad with every year that goes by. It became more clear to me than ever that the most pathetic thing about christmas is the desperate commercialisation of it by companies that are out to make a profit.

Have a good 'un!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Green = clean

Research at Bristol University has indicated a link between chemicals in the home and development of asthma in young people:

“Experts looked at families' use of a range of products such as bleach, paint stripper and carpet cleaners.

Children born into the 10% of families which used these products the most were twice as likely to suffer from wheezing as those who used the least.”

Click here for the full story.

I decided to go chemical-free at home a couple of years ago. I definitely feel this was a positive decision for my health, and haven’t had any concerns about lack of hygiene. I would say my home smells a lot more natural than it did when I had small chemical plant under my sink and, as a highly allergic person, I believe my skin and breathing are less irritated as a result of the change.

Try these brands for a natural, biodegradable cleaning experience:

Clear Spring
Earth Friendly

The Co-op is working to remove hazardous chemicals from its range of own-brand household cleaning products, among other things. Click here for more information.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

GM debate continues

Here’s an interesting wee story about GM (genetically modified) food safety from the Organic Consumers Association in America.

“The glufosinate herbicide, used in large quantities on Bayer's GM herbicide-resistant crops, has been found to have adverse effects on the brain.”

The story is a bit of an anomalous one for ethical consumers. On one hand, it strengthens the argument of those who favour organic and GM-free farming techniques. On the other hand, sadly, the information was obtained from experiments on lab rats.

Click here for an explanation (from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) of why animal experimentation is an unreliable method of gathering scientific information.

As for GM, the debate is far from over. Anti-GM campaigners have had a tendency to whip up hysteria about the subject, successfully convincing many people that GM foods will never be completely safe. With the European Union now saying that decisions about GM crops should be based on science instead of public opinion, the road ought to be clear for proper experimentation. The problem is that in the absence of public outrage, the biotechnology companies are likely to walk all over our governments, who will be either powerless or unwilling to stop them from doing whatever they want. This could have some very nasty consequences for you and me.

Visit the Soil Association’s pages on GM.

GM Watch doesn’t mess around. This is especially interesting.

Here’s a good story from the BBC on GM.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Suite Vollard, Curitiba

suite vollard
News of the Suite Vollard housing development in Curitiba, Brazil has got me in a spin. It's a high-rise apartment block with quite an unusual feature: each flat can be rotated a full 360 degrees, independently of all the others.

Click here
and here to read more about Suite Vollard.

Innovation or excess? Post a comment...

Curitiba is renowned as a world leader in city planning and sustainability. Click here to read more about Curitiba.

Thanks to Beyond Brilliance, Beyond Stupidity.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

How to have an ethical xmas

From the Guardian Unlimited website: this article on ‘How to be good’ during the festive season.

"In the coming weeks, we will put up 7.5m trees, use 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and stuff our faces with 10m turkeys. But does Christmas need to be so all-consuming?"

The article - which covers everything from parsnips to presents - is part of the Guradian’s excellent ethical living guide, written by Leo Hickman and Jane Crinnion.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Local abattoirs

Today Eleanor Scott (of the Scottish Green Party) introduced a debate on the subject of rural abattoirs to the Scottish Parliament.

The number of small, rural abattoirs in Scotland is falling rapidly. This is mostly due to the costs of keeping up with health regulations and inspections, especially since the outbreak of foot & mouth disease in 2000. Now, many farmers are having to transport their animals for slaughter, a practice which brings with it a number of disadvantages.

One concern is the spread of disease, which occurs much more quickly and easily when animals are moved around. Another, perhaps more obvious, reason is animal welfare. While there are still some who deny that transporting animals for long distances before slaughtering them is detrimental to their welfare, I don’t think there can be much doubt that such things are stressful for animals, as they are for humans.

Other good reasons for encouraging more rural abattoirs rest on the philosophy that keeping food local is the best thing for ordinary people. Consumers benefit from fresher food, and the money they spend on it is retained within the community. There is also less money and resources wasted on transporting the food, and less pollution as a result. Food tourism is an expanding movement; people like to experience local food in the places they visit. And it was pointed out by Rob Gibson (of the Scottish National Party) today that “more tender meat [is obtained] from local animals killed locally”.

Lewis McDonald, Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, said the Scottish Executive recognizes the need to support small abattoirs, and went on to list a number of relevant complications. These included the investment required to meet stringent hygiene standards, the fact that all abattoirs need to be commercially viable, the fact that consumers want and expect safe food, and that staff working conditions need always to be taken into account.

It was great to see this topic being given an airing in the Parliament today. Many MSPs spoke in favour of having more rural abattoirs in Scotland, though I think it will fall to the individual farmers and butchers to make things happen in their own areas. This has already been happening in Scotland, and it would be great for everyone if we could develop more of the same. is an excellent resource for tracking down good quality, well-priced and ethically sourced shoes, boots, slippers, belts, wallets and recipes.

One of the things I love about this site is that it gives you relevant information in language you can understand, instead of fancy names for fancy innovations that don't necessarily mean anything. Their 'about us' page is a particularly interesting read. The fair labour policy is a little vague, I feel, but commendable all the same.

This is a site that focuses on the products and the processes that bring them to you. Its lack of sales pitch is highly refreshing.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rough Guide to a Better World update

If you've been having trouble getting hold of the book Rough Guide to a Better World, you can now view it online or order a free copy here.

AMT goes Fairtrade

AMT coffee has switched to Fairtrade!

From the Fairtrade Foundation:
Commuters in a rush, and anyone on the go, can easily grab a Fairtrade certified coffee as AMT Coffee takeaway coffee company has switched to 100% Fairtrade coffee in its 46 coffee kiosks in busy stations and airports around the UK.

This is largely down to you! AMT Coffee say that customer feedback forms have shown that their customers want Fairtrade coffee and that, as a company loyal to its customers, they feel the switch to Fairtrade is necessary to honour their pledge of quality, value and service to their customers.

Deputy Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, Ian Bretman, says: “This is how Fairtrade works – if people ask for Fairtrade, then companies will supply it... We estimate this will increase sales of Fairtrade coffee in the coffee bar sector by 30 percent, thereby bringing improvements to many more people in the developing world.”

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Better to remove things"

Here's a great article from Wired Magazine. This is a must-read for anyone who's interested in having safer, more efficient and user-friendly streets.

'Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things." '

Monderman's method, which focusses on sensible road design and concepts of shared space, is simple and effective. By doing without the jumble of signs and street-markings, he forces all road users - motorists, cyclists and pedestrians - to pay more attention to each other and their surroundings.

Sound ridiculous? Tom McNichol's excellent article may convince you otherwise.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Cleaner cars update

Honda seems to be setting the standard for cleaner, more efficient diesel engines.

But their new TV ad seems to be getting all the headlines.

The excellent Green Car Congress blog praises Honda's alternative fuel strategy in America here.

Also from Green Car Congress, this about new entrants into the fuel-efficient Smart Car segment of the market.

Biodegradable bottles

What an excellent development! Biota Spring Water is packaged in a compostable plastic bottle. Unfortunately it's only available in America, for now. From

"Biota is the first spring water to be packaged in a compostable bottle. The bottle is made of a corn-based bioplastic, which was exclusively created for Biota by Naturework PLA. The bioplastic is an alternative to PET which is the petroleum-based plastic commonly used to bottle beverages. PET takes about a thousand years to decompose.

The bottle will break down completely in 75-80 days but only when conditions are right. It will not decompose even if you leave the bottle in a hot car for weeks. The decomposition only takes place when exposed to constant heat (120-140°) and humidity. The bottle label is also biodegradeable, but unfortunately the bottle cap is not, although Biota hopes to change that.

Another advantage to the bottle is that it will not leach unhealthy residues into the water, and thus the water never gets a "plasticky" taste to it.

The water itself comes from a spring in Ouray, Colorado. Biota is currently only available in Colorado, California and Nevada. It is priced as a premium spring water."

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Rough Guide to a Better World

This is the best example of a PPP (Public/Private Partnership) I've ever come across. Rough Guides, in conjunction with the Government's Department for International Development, have produced the Rough Guide to a Better World.

This book is free and you should be able to get one at your local Post Office. If you live outside the UK, you can send an email to and ask nicely. Alternatively, download the (rather large) PDF here.

I haven't read the whole book yet, but it looks like a pretty decent effort. It covers many topics including: what is development?, speaking out on behalf of poor people, making trade ethical and ethical tourism. There are lots of useful references, and tips on how to go about making a difference.

Rough Guides have also recently produced the book Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping. If you're thinking of buying one of these (or anything else) from Amazon, maybe you could do it via Kids International Net Donations, which ensures a percentage of every purchase gets donated to the charity of your choice. Or why not order one from your local, independent bookstore?

On the subject of books, there's also the Good Shopping Guide, which is an excellent source of ethical info and has just published a new edition.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Selfridges suck

The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade are currently campaigning against Selfridges for continuing "to make profits from the brutal fur trade". If nothing else, I would suggest you don't go shopping at Selfridges until they sort themselves out.

Also from CAFT, how to be a fur detective.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ethical deaths

Here's a nice little piece about Alternatives to Traditional Burials.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Fairtrade footballs

The Fairtrade stuff just keeps on coming! I think this is great, because the Fairtrade mark guarantees the consumer (you and me) that high standards of ethical and environmental practice have been adhered to in the manufacture of the product.

Fairtrade certified footballs have just hit the market. From the Observer Magazine: "In Pakistan, an estimated 15,000 child workers hand-stitch footballs - each ball has 32 panels, and each panel needs 690 stitches. Adults working in the industry, many in factories lacking basic safety standards, earn less than 30p per day."

Fair Deal Trading are offering the footballs (which start at only £9.80), and they also have a nifty line in Fairtrade sneakers from No Sweat.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Who is the fairest of them all?

With the rapid expansion of the Fairtrade market share, more conventional coffee companies have been looking to get in on the ethical act.

The Guardian has excellent coverage of the developments with these two articles:

Forget Maxwell House. Would you like a cup of Kenco Sustainable?
Who is the fairest of them all?

And a couple of letters here.

Friday, November 26, 2004

More online, ethical shopping

A new website, Kids International Net Donations, is offering a way to help raise money for charities while shopping online. You use the site as an intermediary while shopping at other major online stores, and a percentage of what you spend gets donated to the charity of your choice. The percentage varies depending on the supplier of the goods, but it's usually around 5%. And because Kids International is staffed by volunteers, 100% of income goes to the charities. Other, similar websites tend to take a cut of the income for their own expenses.

Clean, cool clothes is an excellent site offering a cool-looking range of environmentally friendly & ethical clothing. I haven't tried it myself, so let me know if you have any feedback to share...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Ethical media?

An interesting article from Dan Gillmor about the rise of blogging in China, and its implications for freedom of speech.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Excess packaging

Click here for a long and detailed article from The Independent Online Edition about the packaging of consumer products in the UK. The article has a strong focus on plastic packaging - why there is so much of it, how we feel about it and what happens to it once we're done with it.

If you're wondering what you can do to reduce the amount of food packaging you are wasting, I would recommend trying an organic box scheme. Many parts of Britain now have at least one local farm that will deliver fresh, organic fruit and vegetables regularly to your door. You should find there is less packaging on your food (especially plastic), and also less fuel is needed to supply you with it. Locally grown food also has the advantage of being very fresh - practically straight out of the ground - and this, combined with the organic farming method, means a tastier and healthier product for you.

Farmers' Markets are another good way of getting food that is fresh, local and not excessively packaged. Find a Farmers' Market near you.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

More good news for impoverished farmers

According to the Fairtrade Foundation...

"In 200 London stores and other selected stores across the UK, Greggs Bakers will now be selling JP Juices Fairtrade Orange Juice cartons. This is great news, particularly given that Greggs is probably the best known bakery chain and is on most high streets. Keep up the pressure and they may extend this nationwide!"

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Boycotting America

This story from the Organic Consumers Association shows how the recent boycotting of American products is having an effect. Whether you're taking part, or you're one of the people who thinks boycotts are pointless because you'll never get everyone to participate, this article is for you.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Winter warmers

With winter fast approaching it's appropriate that Ethical Consumer magazine have recently published a report on fleece jumpers and jackets.

The Patagonia brand emerged as the best buy on the market, with Polaris, Rab and Mountain Equipment all coming a close second. Berghaus, Helly Hansen, Lowe Alpine and The North Face did not rate so well in their ethical and environmental performance.

We all know about Nike's poor record in sweatshop labour, and the report also mentioned that they have been criticised for the use of "perfluoropropane (a chemical with global warming potential 8,600 times greater than carbon dioxide) in cushioned souls in its trainers. Competitors use compressed air instead."

None of the companies surveyed achieved the top rating for environmental reporting, though Patagonia was commended for having some products in its range made from 90% recycled materials.

Simultaneous Policy

Many of the world's ethical and environmental problems cannot be properly tackled because of competition. If Coca-cola suddenly decides to become 100% ethical, Pepsi will almost certainly murder them in the marketplace. The same can be said of nations. If Britain suddenly decided to impose strict regulations on environmental performance in industry, she would be hurting her own economical standing in the world.

The Simultaneous Policy (SP) is a very clever method for overcoming this little problem:

"As a policy, SP can include any desirable measure that no nation nor group of nations can implement unilaterally for fear of putting itself at a competitive disadvantage. SP could therefore include measures such as the re-regulation of global capital markets, the taxation of transnational corporations, the cancellation of Third World debt, the establishment of higher world environmental standards and measures to promote local economies. SP would thus consist of very many of the changes the Global Justice Movement is presently calling for - but with the key condition that they are each to be implemented by all, or virtually all, nations simultaneously.


"SP is also a process by which ISPO[International Simultaneous Policy Organisation]'s members use their right to vote to bring politicians and political parties around the world to make the " SP Pledge"; a pledge to implement SP simultaneously, when all or sufficient other nations have also made the pledge.

"To make this happen, you and all other citizens around the world are invited to "adopt" SP . Adopting SP means that we each make a personal commitment to vote in future elections, not for a specific politician or party, but for ANY political party or politician – within reason – that makes the SP pledge. Or if you still have a strong party-political preference, adopting SP signifies your desire for your party to adopt it.


"Since SP is only to be implemented simultaneously, there's absolutely no political risk to politicians who make the SP pledge. Indeed, they can make the pledge while still continuing to pursue their existing competition-based policy programmes until such time as sufficient nations have made the SP pledge and implementation can proceed.

"But failing to make the SP pledge could cost them dearly, especially if they're fighting closely contested elections, for they'll likely lose to rivals who have made the SP pledge to attract the SP voting bloc. So SP's growing number of citizen adopters – even if relatively few - could make the vital difference between politicians winning or losing their seats, or even an entire election. With SP, citizens around the world thus have a powerful tool for making it politicians' self-interest to co-operate transnationally to solve global problems."

Signing up is simple and non-invasive.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Meatrix

The Meatrix is great!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Too Good To Waste

I've just been browsing the latest edition of Too Good To Waste, the Edinburgh & East Lothian guide to not trashing the Earth when you're disposing of stuff. A couple of interesting points:

Household batteries are still not being recycled in the UK, though there are some options for recycling nickel cadmiums (NiCd), which are found in items such as cordless power tools and laptops. These are apparently the ones that are most harmful to the environment due to their heavy metals content. Meanwhile, the British Battery Manufacturers Association is claiming that there is no pressing need to start recycling the ordinary domestic kind. I can't help wondering if that's because it would involve some financial commitment on the part of their members.

Anyway, you should know by now that it's more economical for you - and better for the environment - to buy rechargable batteries. If you buy Energizer or Panasonic rechargables, you can mail them back to the manufacturers for recycling once they've reached the end of their life. I just bought a load of Uniross ones. D'oh! However, they did come with a charger that switches itself off when the batteries are full.


According to Too Good To Waste, Oxfam, Red Cross, Comet and Tesco are currently active in recycling old mobile phones. I'm sure there are others doing this as well.


Women's sanitary items are causing major environmental pollution. "DON'T MESS WITH OUR BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS," I hear you shout, but here are some things that will help you and the environment: Too Good To Waste recommends the Women's Environmental Network, and I would suggest you check out the Mooncup which, I am reliably informed, is a most exceptional product. For women.