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Sam Burcher, news views and bits inbetween......

 1st December 2014

Garden Museum picLondon has recently hosted its first Great Seed Festival in honour of protecting, conserving and sharing seed.  The event took place at the world’s first Garden Museum in the beautifully restored St Marys-at-Lambeth Church adjacent to Lambeth Palace and surrounded by lush gardens.

Seeds are the bedrock of traditional and diversity rich farming and growing systems all around the world. And the right to swap and save heritage or heirloom seeds are at the root of these systems. However, this long held practice is increasingly under pressure from State protected agribusiness which wants control of the global seed supply. 

A cornucopia of talks, films and workshops demonstrated how important heritage seeds are to every morsel of good food we eat. There was an eagerly anticipated presentation of the film GMO OMG (See official trailer http://vimeo.com/71035892) that investigates the perils of allowing the seed supply to fall into the grasp of Monsanto et al. In the US, this has resulted in 80% of processed foods containing unlabelled, untested GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The film’s director Jeremy Seifert aided by his precocious seed saving six year old son has found a captivating way of warning that a corporation that is too big to fail is too big.

A lively Q and A panel comprising of Lawrence Woodward CBE and former Ecologist Editor Pat Thomas co-Directors of Beyond GM and GM Free Me, Ed Hamer of the Land Workers Alliance and Jo Wood an organic entrepreneur reviewed the film. They addressed an audience concerned about GM crops and what will happen if the UK follow down the same hazardous road made permissible by US food and agriculture regulators.

Pat Thomas explained that the backlash against GM in the US has largely been brought about by people power groups like Moms Across America which started because mothers were worried about their children’s health. Lawrence Woodward stated that the problem in the UK and in the EU is that the media is complicit with the reductionist, pro-industry “independent experts” who are doing the same PR job that companies like Monsanto do in the US by constantly trotting out the line that GM crops are safe.

Read more: The Great Seed Festival

8th November 2013

 

hector christieThe strange case of foot and mouth

It was the summer of 2001 and the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) (Now DEFRA) was gearing up to burn thousands of cows supposedly infected by foot and mouth on hundreds of pyres across Devon, Cumbria, Wales and Northumberland. Strangely enough, the creosote soaked railways sleepers used as firewood were ordered in by MAFF three months ahead of the outbreak, and farmers all over the country had been forbidden to vaccinate their cows. 

From his cell in Exeter Prison, Hector Christie experienced the carnage and stench of the burning carcasses, which lasted for five days, after he was arrested - broken leg and all - for lying in the middle of the road to stop the traffic in protest of the cull.

Like many others, he believes that the foot and mouth virus may have been deliberately released from Pirbright, an animal research laboratory. Why?  “Because behind the mass cull was the Government’s hatred of small farmers,”Hector said. Guy Thomas-Everard, a small farmer in Devon made an impassioned plea against his healthy farm animals being killed as part of the pre-emptive cull designed to halt the spread of the disease in the Exmoor area. His plea and threatened legal challenge was ultimately successful and the government held three enquiries into the affair.

Hector, himself a small-scale farmer, still keeps a reduced herd of Highland cattle on his land at Tapeley Park, the ancestral home in Devon that he inherited in a coin toss with his brother, who owns Glyndebourne.  Tapeley’s grounds have been successfully transformed by Hector and his team into award winning permaculture gardens as they work towards being Britain’s first environmentally sustainable stately home. [1]

Read more: Hector Christie Stands Up for Sustainability

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been a flamboyant figure of British fashion for over three decades.  Although not particularly well known for having an ethical stance on the production of her clothing, she is outspoken about the pressing issue of the loss of bees.

At the March of the Beekeepers, which swarmed on Parliament Square at the end of April 2013, Vivienne Westwood stood firm in front of the phalanx of photographers for as long as it took to get her message across.  Holding up her shiny bee placard, which said “Ban Neonicotinoids” on one side and “Bee Wise” on the other, she stated that what is good for the planet is good for the economy.  “We all need to understand what is causing climate change and that everything is connected.”

And as far as the bees are concerned, she said: “We all think that there needs to be a lot more studies to find out definitively which factors are causing the problem. But that is not a reason not to act.” On protests and participation:  “I support protests. There is a lot people can do; the public can do something. They can get a life, get involved with the world that you live in, don’t just suck everything up and wait until it’s all gone,” she said.

viv westwood finger signfor BKWestwood then walked down Whitehall with designer Katherine Hamnett CBE to deliver the Save the Bees petition to the Prime Minister, which was signed by 2,625,966 people throughout the European Union.  This time people protest really has worked because three days later enough EU officials voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides for two years despite the British Government’s abstention.

 

Photo (C) Sam Burcher 2013

16th March 2013

At the recent launch of the Save the Bees Campaign at the Palaces of Westminster, Sam Burcher had a chat with Bill Oddie writer, musician, comedian and ornithologist, star of the BBC’s The Goodies, Springwatch and Autumnwatch.

Bill Oddie and beeSB:  Why is the Environmental Justice Foundation and PAN UK’s campaign Save the Bees so important?

Bill Oddie: I’ve been to several meetings, and not just about bees, but about badgers, and any amount of other things.  And it’s Owen Paterson (the current environment secretary) who is an absolute disaster, obviously a man of enormous arrogance and enormous ignorance.  I was at a meeting about badgers last year and he actually seems to me to have a campaign of his own to control wildlife. He was talking in a meeting yesterday with people wanting to re-introduce hunting with dogs and he said, “No one is keener than me to see the hunting act repealed, because I believe in the management of wildlife.”  Who does he think he is, God?!  Management is the biggest euphemism that you can come up with.  What it means is if something is in the way of making money, get rid of it, and he virtually said that as well.

It’s money, it’s all money.  It’s the same all over the world where the situation is destroying wildlife, natural areas and forests. The reason is to make money, there’s no question about that.  Whatever it is: whether it’s the poaching of lions and elephants, whether it’s chopping down rain forests.  It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s all the same.  It’s the people who already have got a lot of money making more money.  And that is precisely what all of Owen Paterson’s decisions are based on, some wealthy cronies in whatever industry we happen to be dealing with, in this case the pharmaceutical/pesticides industry.

SB:  What can we do?

Bill Oddie: Protest is the only thing you can do.  You can’t listen to Katherine Hamnett (see article Save the Bees), as much as I respect her passion about it. But you can’t say, “It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work” that’s a pretty bad attitude.  The truth is that sometimes protesting works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But sometimes it does and there’s no question about that.  Last year, we at least got a stay on the badger cull because of organised protesting from the people and the NGO’s and so on and so forth.  We’ve still got to fight it again now because of course Paterson is handing out the licences. 

Read more: Bees Are Goodies

A JOINT CAMPAIGN BETWEEN THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE FOUNDATION AND PESTICIDES ACTION NETWORK UK LAUNCH AT THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT ON 21 MARCH 2013.

 

EJFandPAN group photo

From left to right: KeithTyrell, Ainsley Harriott, Katherine Hamnett CBE, Sir Bob Russell and Steve Trent.


Sir Bob Russell:  This is first time I’ve had to queue to get into an event that I am hosting. I think that demonstrates the seriousness of the event and why so many of you are here. I have hosted other events here.  For the 40th anniversary of Dr Who we had a dalek.  And one to get darts recognised as a sport.  If we can get a dalek in here and get darts recognised as a sport I hope we can achieve the same outcome with the more serious issues.

Why are we here?  Because bees are essential to us.  Out of 100 crop species worldwide I am told that 71 of these are bee pollinated.  We all know that populations of bees and other pollinators have dropped dramatically in recent years and my late paternal grandfather I can recall still seeing two hives at the bottom of the garden.  I think he would be aghast about what has happened over the last few decades. So these is little doubt that these declines are complex and wide ranging, but there is little doubt that pesticides play a key part. And other speakers will develop that in due course.

Read more: Save the Bees

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology (APPGA) “A Countryside fit for Pollinators”

Meeting date 12th February 2013

caroline lucas and dave goulsonCaroline Lucas MP is the chair today.  She opened the meeting by saying that pollinators are massively central to our whole agricultural system both in terms of the economy and in terms of food sustainability and security.  The services that pollinators provide would cost the UK $1.8 billion annually if agriculturalists had to pollinate by hand.  She reported that two bumble bee species are already extinct and that between 1985-2005 managed honey bee colonies declined by over half.  Reasons for decline are complex and not yet fully understood, but are thought to be due to a combination of factors, which include climate change, parasites, herbicides and pesticides, and in particular a new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

The APPGA group is concerned as a whole about intensive farming practices and the growing evidence that neonicotinoids harm bees, so they are promoting best practice to government and farmers for the restoration of farmlands and ecosystems, and a reduction of pesticides to protect biodiversity.

Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling. He recently gave powerful evidence to the Environment Audit Committee about bee populations decline and below is a transcript of his talk given to the APPGA.

Read more: A Countryside fit for Pollinators

9th February 2013

220px-evelyn barbara balfourLady Eve Balfour was an inspirational founding figure in the organic movement, and she believed that a nation’s health depended on fresh, whole food.  In her book, The Living Soil (1944), she went as far as to say that agriculture must be looked upon as one of the Nations’ national health services.  She argued that once agriculture came to be regarded as a primary health service then the only important question concerning the production of food would be: “Is it necessary for the health of people?” [1].

If her argument is correct, it means that mainstream economics would have to take second place to the moral economies based on care, co-operation, new learning and trust offered by the sustainable food networks within the new agroecological paradigm.  Under the dominant and fragmented industrialized systems of food production a whole food health service seems a long way off. But where fresh, whole food is integrated into local and community systems this vision seems both possible and practicable. These systems legitimize new ways for people to participate in healthy and sustainable diets and create conditions to challenge the status quo which denies the existence of alternatives in an increasingly fragile world.

There is no doubt that Eve Balfour’s philosophical approach has influenced the emerging knowledge structures of the alternative food networks that re-connect farmers to the environment and face-to-face with consumers through the Slow Food Movement, Transition Towns, the 100 Mile Diet and farmers markets. The extant synergies between local food pioneers and environmental and consumer health groups have irrevocably linked organic agriculture with theories of ecological diversity, and in turn, to the failure of the old paradigm to address urgent issues of multiple social, environmental and economic crises to problems to do with ideology, culture and values [2]. Therefore, the new generation of food producers that respect the limits of global life-support systems by limiting their use of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals are a solid proposition of a traditional and democratic culture that connect local action to real and environmentally responsible economies and is evolving and strives to keep the nature of wholeness alive [3].

Read more: Agroecology - A new paradigm for sustainable food systems?

29th May 2012                       

mary clear3Two women have transformed a small mill town on the historic Lancashire/Yorkshire borders into Incredible Edible Todmorden! Mary Clear (pictured) and Pam Warhurst are vegetable activists, who instead of getting down about the prospect of rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and social injustice, have decided to take action.

Together with a group of local helpers sharing their concerns, they are transforming Todmorden, which has high unemployment and no industry. They took up the challenge to make their town better to perhaps get people thinking about the environment through local food initiatives and have ambitions to be self-sufficient by 2018.

Todmorden was once a thriving cotton town, but as Mary Clear puts it, 'It’s a market town trying to survive in a supermarket culture.'  She was speaking at a Agroecology Group meeting at the House of Commons, just one of her many countrywide talks about Todmorden, where she inspired everyone with her clever ethos of generosity rather than consumption.

Mary’s mission to create a kinder world to deal with what lies ahead in an uncertain future does not involve being a victim or blaming politicians, bankers, scientists or anybody else that can be blamed.  This is a participatory action plan to grab the future for themselves. She said, 'We chose to use food as our agent of change. We thought food crosses all cultures, all barriers, all ages. It’ll work for everybody. If you eat, you’re in!'

Read more: Todmorden – The Incredible Edible Town!

26th November 2011

bee-flickr-pannaThe Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is stepping up its campaign to protect bees. Last year it hosted the 2010 London Bee Summitt.  This year, PAN is sending scientists, lawyers, doctors and  beekeepers to testify at the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) in Bangalore starting on 3rd December. The PPT will hear cases brought against six multinational agrochemical companies, which stand accused of violating human rights to health, livlihood and life.

Cases from the UK and Europe will focus on the loss of bees and other pollinators due to neonicotinoid pesticides developed and sold by Bayer. Other concerns are the suffering of families from organophosate pesticides (OPs) and the wilful suppression, corruption, manipulation and distortion of science.

Bees play a crucial role in the production of 80 million tonnes of food per year, that’s around 160kg of food per EU citizen. Germany lost 60% of bees in 2008 and France lost a third of bees in 1999 when neonicotinoids were introduced.

Read more: The Permanent People's Tribunal

11th October 2011                

amount of rigs in the gulfsmOn the 30th September 2011, the CEO’s of two British oil companies were found guilty of Ecocide at the Supreme Court in Westminster. However, the trial was a mock one, organised by environmental rights lawyer, barrister and author Polly Higgins, in which she could test the robustness of her concept called Ecocide, a proposed legal mechanism to halt the destruction of the planet.

But this facinating event took a bold new step towards making the individuals responsible for crimes against humanity, nature and future generations accountable for their actions.

The prosecution, the defence, the judge, the jury, and the expert witnessess were made up of real people giving their time for free. Only the defendants, played by actors, and the oil companies were fictional. The indictments were based on recent real-life environmental events.   

If properly enshrined into International Law under the Rome Statute (2002), Ecocide would become the fifth crime against the peace of the planet. The four existing international crimes against peace are; Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression.

The indictment against the first defendant was in relation to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where 250 million gallons of crude oil poured into the deep ocean creating a “dead zone” some 200 square km, killing and oiling birds, and damaging the pristine mangrove swamps in the Mississippi Delta.  The leak was not capped for four months.

Read more: Ecocide - A Crime Against the Planet

1st October 2011

As part of its extended £750,000 Plan Bee campaign, the Co-Op is helping to identify and connect corridors of land to create and secure habitats for pollinators.

n712 m15 b-line and buffers on miniscale smThe Bee Roads pilot project, in conjunction with Buglife, the UK’s leading invertebrate charity, will engage local people in restoring flower rich meadows with the native plants that bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies love: red clover, lesser knapweed, field scabious and birdsfoot trefoil.

The UK has lost a whopping 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930’s. Over the past twenty five years over half of our honey bees have gone, along with three quarters of our butterfly species, and two thirds of moths, all of which are the primary pollinators of vital food and flower crops. The first Bee Roads start in Yorkshire, where farmers and other land owners will sow wildflowers in two long strips, eventually stretching north to south, and east to west across the entire county.

By linking wildlife sites with farms, forests, urban and national parks and gardens, Bee Roads hope to provide better access to food sources for pollinators and reverse their alarming decline. Bee Roads is a practical response to the recent Government White Paper on the Natural Environment, the first for 20 years, which places the value of nature at the centre of conservation choices. In 2010, an independent review concluded that England’s ecological networks and wildlife areas are fragmented due to human activity and not capable of responding to species loss and climate change.

Read more: Bee Roads Join Campaign to Save Bees

20th Jan 2010     

Sam Burcher joined the colourful and radical People's Summit, which stole the show at Copenhagen, to hear the real solutions to climate change

copenhagencollagesm2The UN COP 15 Climate Summit talks, widely considered a disaster [1] was obviously not the place to be in Copenhagen. Instead the place to be was the Klimaforum09, organized by a handful of Denmark's veteran environmental groups to provide an open forum for the voices of many grassroots movements left out of the official talks, in particular those from the global South. More than 15 000 flocked to the People's Summit in the vast DGI-Byen sports hall at the centre of Copenhagen to share positive solutions for climate change.

The People’s Declaration

The People’s Declaration was prepared in the run-up to COP15 and has been signed by 500 organizations and numerous individuals, and is open for signing until March 2010 [2]. It acknowledges the need for the following:

Read more: Can The People Save The Climate?

Wednesday, 07 October 2009

A remarkable recycling project turns rubbish into energy and potentially transforms slums into resource rich communities

community cooker aThe disturbing scenes of human deprivation in the highly acclaimed movies Slum Dog Millionaire and The Constant Gardener show the real-life slums in India and Africa overflowing with people and with refuse.  But what if the piles of stinking rubbish could be converted into what urban slums need most of all: hot water for washing, pure water for drinking and heat for cooking?

Architect, Jim Archer has designed and implemented a 2008 World Architecture Festival (WAF) award-winning project in Kibera, Africa's largest slum, which does just that.  The locals in the Laini Saba district have been instrumental to the success of the project they call the "Jiko ya Jamii," that translates from Swahili into the "Community Cooker".

Agnes Aringo is a caterer at Jim's architectural firm in Nairobi.  She works on the community cooker and reports that the cooker is versatile and that it boils water, cooks vegetables, stews beef, bakes cakes, fries food, and can be used to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, and make cups of tea. The two ovens cook cakes very quickly and each is large enough to grill a whole goat.  You can't tell that the fuel used to cook this food is the refuse from the slum. Agnes says, "Nothing is thrown away or should be thrown away in our environment."

Read more: The Community Cooker

Wednesday, 07 October 2009

The first community project in the metropolis to recycle food wastes into energy and fertilizer by anaerobic digestion

The organic muesli producer who keeps making history

alara collageAlex Smith has been made a London Leader of Sustainability for 2009 by the London Development Agency (LDA). This appointment by the Mayor of London's office is a far cry from thirty years ago when Alex was a squatter and started his food company Alara with two £1 notes he found in the street. Alara now produces up to one hundred tonnes of organic muesli each week, some sixty percent of UK's total muesli production.

Alara was the first cereal business to be certified organic in the world, the first cereal company to be Fair Trade certified, and soon, if Alex has his way, he will be the first food production company to be zero waste. Alex wants to make his mark as London Leader by using anaerobic digestion to recycle food wastes into energy and fertilizer to support the first "Urban Dream Farm 2" in the world. Dream Farm 2 (see final chapter in ISIS' Report Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free [1]) is based on the circular economy of nature, in which organic wastes are recycled into food and energy resources, thereby maximising carbon sequestration and minimising greenhouse emissions and environmental pollution.

Alara's food factory is on an unusually green industrial estate just north of King Cross-St Pancras train stations and Camley Street Natural Park, a wildlife sanctuary on the banks of the Regents Canal.  Further down Camley Street is St Pancras Old Church, the oldest Anglican parish church in London built on what was originally an Iron Age mound. The church stands in a beautiful cemetery garden re-designed by the author Thomas Hardy when he was a young architect and where the poet Shelley is reputed to have first met Mary Shelley visiting the grave of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.  Johann Christian Bach, the son of the famous composer is also buried in St Pancras Gardens which form the grounds of the Hospital of Tropical Diseases and St Pancras Coroners Court.

Read more: An Urban Dream Farm for London?

Cotton is known as “white gold” in some parts of the world. But the price in pesticide poisonings and the decimation of ecosystems is too high to pay. Only a shift to organic cotton farming will turn the tide.

katherinehamnett4Designer Katherine Hamnett did something very different at London Fashion Week in 2007. Instead of showcasing her latest ready to wear clothes she featured a film and a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in collaboration with the Pesticides Action Network (PAN), exposing the human health and environmental cost of pesticide use in global cotton production.

Hamnett is famous for inspiring a popular fashion campaign for bold, life-affirming slogans printed onto cotton t-shirts during the 1980s. Almost twenty five years later, her collections are still highly prestigious. But now, she is doing everything in her power to support organic cotton farmers, and produces her unique t-shirts only on certified organic cotton, and her latest slogan “Save the Future” is a testament to her values.

At the Museum of Natural History, which hosted this year's event, she told me how she feels about GM cotton. “I'm terrified of it,” she said. “Bt cotton is of no benefit to farmers and has been a massive failure. Monsanto should be broken up! They have taken GM cotton to the scale of genocide in countries like India, and created devastation on all levels.”

Read more: Picking Cotton Carefully

London is capable of providing fresh local food fit for one inner-city restaurant, so which integrated food and waste management strategies bring forth the radical agendas needed to create sustainable futures for all?

Fresh food from inside the M25

oliver roweOliver Rowe, a young London chef, has set himself the task of attempting to source all his ingredients from within the M25, or from places accessible on the London Underground system.

His new 70-seater restaurant Konstam at the Prince Albert in Kings Cross, an area better known for salacious rather than salubrious activities, offers a menu of fresh and tasty locally produced food. So far, he has found lamb, pigeon and pork produced in Amersham, goat’s cheese churned in Chesham, honey from beehives atop Tower Hill tower blocks and flour milled at Ponders End.

Rowes’ mission to cook local food is not solely motivated by the politics of foodmiles (the distance that food travels from farm to plate, see http://www.i-sis.org.uk/FMAS.php. It’s also a question of taste, and freshness. He said, “We are constantly being told to eat local food and I wanted to see if this was realistic in London.”

City farm provides staples

Staples such as eggs and milk are sourced simply from Spitalfields City Farm in London’s East End. However, ingredients such as oil and salt were harder to track down. A margin of cheating is allowed to supply salt from the mud flats of Essex and cold pressed rapeseed oil from Suffolk.

Read more: Sustainable London and Beyond