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Trouble With Palm Oil

Appropriating natural habitats for agricultural use is a leading cause of thousands of species going extinct every year. Orangutans are unwitting ambassadors for those species that are, or soon will be, sent into oblivion.

Expanding and new palm oil plantations, probably the most important vegetable oil of all, is the main driver of deforestation in Borneo. (1) 

A staggering statistic is that, in Indonesia alone, 146 football pitches of rainforests are lost every hour. (2)

And by 2050, scientists reckon we’ll have tripled our current use of palm oil, which yields over five times most of its rival vegetable fats (except coconut). It is incredibly versatile, found in 60% – 80% of all products on our supermarket shelves, and is even used in what seems like a green energy source, biofuel. (3)

When you study the stories of producers, pressure for expansion seems inexorable. Many palm oil growers are small co-ops or individual families, who must survive, which means maximising income. Others are big corporations, whose reason for being is to maximise profits. (4)

It might seem the march of deforestation for palm oil production cannot be stopped. Some suggest we take a pragmatic course if we want to save some of the wildlife we are losing and abandon attempts at wildlife-friendly farming in favour of setting up nature reserves? (5)

A glimmer of hope may be in increased productivity through research such as that being undertaken by Orion Biosains. But it is a slow process and we may run out of rainforest before increased yields can save them. (6)

The use of palm oil is a result of “push demand”, where producers anticipate consumers’ requirements. It seems to alter this, we need to alter producers’ behaviour by reducing demand/ educe demand. Iceland are taking a bold step as the first supermarket pledging to directly eliminate use of palm oil from its own brand products. (7)

It’s a grim conundrum. Consumers want cheap food. Palm oil is used as a cheap ingredient for a number of reasons, amongst them responding to the public’s calls to reducing reliance on unhealthy trans fats. (8)

If we stop the use of palm oil, demand would switch to another vegetable oil, such as soy, rapeseed or sunflower. As oil yields are lower, these alternative oils would have to be grown in even greater quantities, causing serious environmental problems, including deforestation.

I don’t believe there is one easy solution, life is not that simple. We need to keep knocking down problems as we encounter them, and don’t have the luxury of time. If reducing demand threatens profits, this will help make producers take seriously our demand to address the problems unfettered palm oil is creating. With them on side, deforestation can be halted in favour of improving efficiency, and illegal production can be halted.

Greenpeace summed it up:  “Iceland may be small, but it’s created a huge media storm. If companies want to avoid being shunned by their customers in favour of palm oil-free alternatives, and the industry wants to shield itself from more blanket bans, it’s time to reform.” (9)


Fish feel fear and pain, just like us

Fish feel fear and pain, the clear scientific evidence is shows this is the  same as for mammals and birds, yet they are treated as insentient beings and made to suffer in a way we would call torture and find totally unacceptable on land.

It is staggering that a so-called civilised and rational society still sees the oceans as a big larder. Globally, an estimated one to three trillion wild-caught fishes and 37 – 120 billion farmed fishes are killed commercially for food each year. Hundreds of millions more are killed for “sport” each year, and so it goes on.

If this completely unsustainable and cruel exploitation concerns you, please read this:

I find it hard to understand how we can still collectively accept the staggeringly huge waste of marine life and the extraordinarily cruel way sea creatures are killed (the lucky ones are suffocated).

The definition of “sustainability” should be extended to include the suffering caused by our choices to other creatures and to more honestly assess the waste of lives and habitats.

EU Referendum decision is simple – and all about war

Possibly the single best reason for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) is that the EU prevents wars.

Following war between France and Germany three times in 70 years (arguably four), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC ) was founded shortly after World War 2 by six nations, making them industrially and economically inter-dependant. It was intended to make war “not only unthinkable but materially impossible” (see Note, below). This principle paved the way for the formation of the EEC and then the EU, and it has worked.

It is not the case that, because the last war amongst Western European nations was a long time ago, the EU has moved on and that purpose has ceased to have meaning. It is precisely because such a war is so distant in time that the EU is clearly working and still fulfilling the function of making it impossible.

If we are tempted to think that war between major economic powers or “modern” nations today is very unlikely and not a possibility we need to take seriously, who thought eastern/middle Europe would fall apart so violently and completely in the last two decades? And think of Japan, who fought on the same side as Britain in World War 1, but just 21 years later was a principal enemy and fought against Britain in World War 2.

We may appear to have comfortable, stable, safe lives; but look a little further and you will see the world is far more unstable and dangerous than it has ever been. Things can change dramatically and very quickly, and the direction from which war might come is unpredictable.

War has almost always been a facet of British life, not one year has passed since 1914 that Britain has not been involved in armed conflict somewhere. Including today.

Concerns about migration or our current economic wellbeing seem pretty much irrelevant to a decision over our membership of the EU, compared to opening up the possibility of wars in Europe. We all know the EU has, over the last 20 years, turned into a body representing capital, thus promoting profiteering and privatisation, of which the secretive TTIP deal is just the latest manifestation. But these are things a socialist UK Government can fix, co-operating with others of like mind.

21 years from now puts my youngest Niece at about 40 years old, that’s plenty of time for war to return to Europe. It’s not such a distant possibility, if we pave the way by leaving the EU.

It is more important to me to avoid risking my Niece, her children and countless millions others facing the tragedy and horror of war than worrying about transitory issues that can be solved if there is a will.

Note – ECSC:


Don’t vote to maim and kill Syrian children in my name


Bombing Syria will uselessly waste lives. I have written to my MP asking him not vote to maim and kill defenceless children in my name.

“Dear Mr Bebb

I am writing to tell you that, as a constituent, I do not want you to vote on my behalf to bomb Syria.

Air strikes alone will not beat Da’esh Ned there are no ground forces to finish the job. Those forces on the ground are fighting Assad and will not shift to fight Da’esh because we send a handful of aeroplanes. Most regional powers are now bombing Yemen, not Syria, and will not be redirect because we start bombing.

Sending the few ‘planes we can spare (your Government has reduced our forces drastically) will not impress anyone. Our allies will be disappointed and our enemies will be amused.

This is not a re-rub of the Iraq vote. This time everyone knows there is no hidden threat that needs urgent action. Everyone knows there is no coherent plan to defeat Da’esh. Everyone knows bombing will not make Britain safer. So to vote for British air strikes on Syria is to vote to knowingly kill civilians, for no rational purpose.

So please do not vote to maim and kill defenceless children in my name.”


Your holiday snaps may not breach copyright after all – update

Update on my post about your holiday snaps possibly soon infringing EU copyright laws.

Labour MEP, Derek Vaughan has told me the EU committee vote that wanted to take away some of your rights to photograph buildings and monuments has no legal effect.

But the European Commission will propose a wide-ranging copyright reform by the end of this year, but the Labour Party will vote against any amendment which negatively affects the current UK provisions on Freedom of Panorama.

Derek says, “Labour MEPs are committed to ensuring that the Commission, when proposing its copyright reform, takes on board the views of creators, industry and consumers so that we can take forward a copyright system which works fairly for all.”

Your holiday snaps could soon breach copyright!

Copyright law changes could mean tens of thousands of images of public places in Europe could have to be deleted from sites like Wikipedia, and your holiday snaps could land you in bother!

Oh, dear, the EU doing itself no favours, again.

In the UK, and most of the EU, you can take photos of public or private buildings and public monuments. I bet it never occurred to you that you couldn’t. It even has a name, “Freedom of Panorama”.

A new EU law would have made this a right across the whole EU, as it is in the UK and most of Europe. But a committee voted to restrict this to “non-commercial” only.

Sounds OK, but the difference between “commercial” and “non-commercial” is really hard to legally define and the distinction on the internet can be impossible to make. For instance, commercial and state schools making uses of the same pictures, your holiday snaps being shared on websites that make money, like Facebook .

If you think this is stupid, contact your MEP and tell them:

For the record, it was  on 16 June 2015 that the Legal Affairs Committee voted for amendment 421, which would restrict Freedom of Panorama to non-commercial use only.

More background here:


Any talk of Greece leaving the EU is vindictive and short sighted idiocy

The European Union started in 1951 to prevent more wars.

The European Coal and Steel Community tied industries together and made a common market amongst members, “to make another war was not only unthinkable but materially impossible.” [Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, 1950]

Britain has maintained its own odd isolation, but most EU countries have continued this goal by forming an Economic Union, in the context of right wing political dominance.
And they decree Greece’s resistance to allowing the plundering of their nation by the profiteers – demanding “austerity” and “re-structuring” – has to be punished, probably by throwing them out of the Eurozone. OK, whatever.

But to even suggest Greece could be forced out of the EU entirely really is the path to disaster, even for the capitalists who run The West.

Look just a little further east and what do we see? An extremist Islamic organisation has already formed its own state in parts of Syria and Iraq, which neighbouring states cannot defeat nor even contain. All that stands between that and Greece is Turkey, an Islamic state that could one day fall to IS. And the EU’s dominant capitalist cadre will have delivered up to IS the eastern flank of Europe.

The EU’s right wing governments need to really think this through. They and the profiteers they represent care nothing for the people of the EU, they are just a source of profit.
But eventually retreat and safety could be impossible even for the very rich.