Monday, April 20, 2009

What's in your rice?

Message from Greenpeace

The world's most important staple food is under threat and we need your help urgently.

Sign the petition

Rice is daily food for half of the global population. It has been grown around the world for over 10,000 years and is cultivated in 113 countries. For millions of people rice is not just a food - it's a way of life.

Bayer, the German chemical giant, has created a genetically engineered (GE) variety of rice that will put our health, our agriculture and our biodiversity at risk.

The European Union (EU) will soon decide whether or not Bayer's GE rice can end up on European dinner plates. But this will not only affect Europeans. If the EU approves the import of Bayer's GE rice, farmers in the US and elsewhere may soon start planting the manipulated crop.

Stopping GE rice is not just about consumer choice or the environment - it's a lot bigger than that. It's a matter of global food security, human rights and survival.

You can tell the EU to keep Bayer's hands off your rice - sign the petition.

Thanks for your help saving the world's most important food. Please send this onto your friends today - we don't have much time before the decision is made.

With best wishes
Jan, Natalia, Lisa and everyone on the rice team at Greenpeace

P.S Ecological farming is the safest solution to the food crisis and looming climate change disasters. By signing the petition you're adding your voice in support of global sustainability in the face of climate change.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blogs in Education

For a really good account of the uses of blogs in education (including environmental education), see Half an Hour: Blogs in Education

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Say No to bottled water

Ask For Tap Water

By Fazila Farouk, executive director of the South African Civil Society Information Service.

Date posted: 27 March 2009
View this article online here:

The next time you find yourself reaching for bottled water, consider the implications of your actions. Purchasing and drinking bottled water is not only pricey for your pocket; it affects the sustainability of our planet and undermines the right to water as a public good.

Unless you find yourself in a rural outpost with dubious water infrastructure or in an industrial town where the 'big factory' is pissing its by-products into rivers and streams, there is little basis
for the argument that bottled water is safer than tap water in South Africa.

Nevertheless, South Africans and millions more around the world are duped into accepting the perversion that bottled water is safer and even healthier than tap water.

This is simply not true. "Bottled water is one of the most unregulated industries in the world," argues Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, author of Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

This lack of regulation has implications both for the health of consumers as well as for the protection of water as a resource that should remain in the public domain as a common good.

In 2004, Pretoria University's Department of Medical Virology argued that little is known about the microbial quality of bottled water in South Africa. Concerned about the situation, the department undertook a study where ten different brands of bottled water were tested over a
three-month period. Researchers were looking for faecal bacteria.

From the specific sample tested in this study, it was concluded that bottled water "generally complied with drinking water regulation." However, two of the ten brands tested were contaminated. It is noted that poorly cleaned equipment and bottles as well as handling by workers, are among the factors that cause contamination. The shelf life of bottled water is also a contributing factor. With improper or prolonged storage of bottled water, bacteria can grow to levels that may be harmful to human health.

The Pretoria University study categorically states, "Consumers should be aware that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water."

Bottled water regulations have since been introduced in South Africa by the Department of Health, in 2006. However, question marks still hang over what passes for 'spring water' in South Africa, including its quality.

Early last year, Engineering News reported that despite stringent laws governing the bottled water industry, there have been reports that companies are bottling tap water and marketing it as natural or spring water.

John Weaver of the South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) is quoted in the Engineering News article as saying that "one of the biggest challenges facing the bottled water industry at the moment is the perceived low cost of entry into the business of bottling
water. To the inexperienced person, bottling water is seen as merely holding an empty bottle at the spring discharge, putting a cap and label on the bottle and making a small profit."

Meanwhile in a 2006 journal publication of the Water Research Council, it was reported that of the estimated 100 bottlers countrywide, the majority are small hand-bottled operations that employ unskilled workers.

If one starts connecting the dots from the low barriers to entry, to the fact that the industry is dominated by small hand-bottled operators employing unskilled labour, to the fact that regulations have already been circumvented by some companies, then the picture that emerges of our bottled water industry is without a doubt different to the one fed to us by the slick promoters of healthy lifestyle brands. Far from being the healthier option, our bottled water may, in fact, be quite the opposite.

With the enforcement of regulations posing a challenge, what guarantee do South African consumers have that 'clean-room technology', which is a regulatory requirement, is being applied across the board in our bottled water industry?

Still, the myth that bottled water is healthier continues to penetrate our consciousness.

The corresponding reality is that the water industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. Water is a $400bn global industry, coming in third after oil and electricity. "The water sector is going to grow 2-3 times the global economy over the next 20 years." says Rod Parsley of Terrapin Asset Management in the documentary FLOW (For Love of Water).

The bottled water sector makes up an important segment of the overall global water market. Barlow says that something like 50 billion litres of water was put into plastic bottles throughout the world in 2007. This spelt bad news for our environment, as only 5% of those bottles were recyclable.

In South Africa, it's been reported that the bottled water market grew by an estimated 33% during 2005, following on a consistent annual growth trend in excess of 20% since 2001. Industry experts are astonished by this growth and even more surprised that it is taking places despite the fact that, as they put it, "South Africa is one of few countries where tap water in most places is still good enough to drink."

Clearly the growth of the bottled water industry presents us with the classic "people versus profits" dilemma.

As bottled water companies harvest as much water as they possibly can to drive up their sales, they are also increasingly tapping into ground water, impairing the hydrological cycle and affecting the water system's ability to replenish itself. We're already staring 'peak oil' in the
face; 'peak water' is around the corner, if not already here.

According to Barlow, the demand for water is growing while the supply is decreasing. As water becomes scarce, the question about who owns it, is becoming increasingly important.

Barlow contends that every drop of water in the future is going to be corporately owned. However, the market is amoral, she says and it is going to lead companies to taking advantage of pollution and to selling 'clean water' to those who can buy it and not to those who need it.

More specifically, Barlow refers to bottled water as a corporate take over. It makes people think that what comes out of their taps doesn't matter. This in turn leads to people not prioritizing paying their taxes for infrastructure repair, which is extremely important for the future of clean, accessible, safe public water.

It appears that Barlow's work is making inroads in her native country. According to a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has asked its members to ban bottled water.

"It's not a (real) ban, we just try to educate our citizens that the water that you pay for in your city is good - use it," said FCM president Jean Perrault in the CBC report.

The expense to consumers was also highlighted as a significant reason behind the move. "Buying a bottle of water costs approximately $2.50. The cost to produce water in the city? I can fill up 6,000 little bottles for the price of $2.50," Perrault said.

Twenty-seven Canadian municipalities have already phased out the sale of bottled water on their properties, while 21 universities and colleges have created bottle-free zones.

It's high time South Africans followed the Canadian example. There is nothing wrong with the water flowing out of the taps in much of South Africa. We're just being sold a misleading lifestyle choice. This may have been fine if our world had unlimited supplies of water, but it doesn't. Public vigilance is what is needed to save our water, our planet and our people.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fr. Ted’s Blog

Fr Ted Bobosh reviews an article by Kurt Anderson in the latest issue of Time. The End of Excess Not the End of the World: Fr. Ted’s Blog:
Anderson’s look at America’s economy compares the last quarter century’s years of self destructive and unsustainable economic behavior to an addiction. He proposes the formation of a “Bubbleholics Anonymous” to get us back on the right track.

Worth a read!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

US bill to outlaw organic farming

Not an immediate Southern African concern, but something worth knowing about. There have been conflicting reports about this, however.

The US House and Senate are about to vote on a bill that will OUTLAW ORGANIC FARMING (HR 875).

There is an enormous rush to get this into law within the next 2 weeks before the public realizes what is happening. The main backer and lobbyist is the Monsanto Corporation (along with Cargill, ADM, and about 35 other related chemical and genetic engineering giants).

This bill will require organic farms to use specific fertilizers and poisonous insect sprays dictated by a newly-formed agency to "make sure there is no danger to the public food supply".

This will include backyard gardens that grow food only for a family and not for sale. If this passes there will be NO more heirloom clean seeds but only Monsantos genetically-altered seeds.

The name on this outrageous food plan is Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 (Bill HR 875). Please contact your local Congressional Representative by phone or e-mail and express your concern about HR 875.

Go to to enter in your zip code and find your Congressional Representative.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Western Cape Religious leaders to G20 forum


Dear Friends,

We received this G20 communiqué from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and our Executive Chair, the Archbishop of Cape Town has requested it be forwarded to our religious leadership. South Africa will be represented at the G20 meeting in London and we are asked to support that meeting with our prayers.

To quote from the Acting Secretary for International Development, Helen Stawski:

‘This statement expresses some of the concerns about the current global economic crisis from a faith perspective. It adds the voice of faith leaders to the current debate on how to address the current crisis and what the implication of these policies will be. This statement is an example of some of the advocacy work the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England are engaged in with the UK government.

We are sending this statement to you primarily for information, as a member of the G20 nations, whose Heads of State will be attending this G20 summit. However you may also find it useful to use this communiqué as part of your own advocacy, for example by sending it to your governments before the G20 summit late this week. We welcome any comments on the communiqué that you may have from your own national perspective and would be interested to know if you are doing any lobbying at governmental level in your own countries.’

The WCRLF Working Committee will be happy to receive any comments or feedback.

In faith

Fr John

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