Seafood: Fraud, Mis-labeling and Laundering.

Do you know what seafood you are eating?
http://www.ecowatch.org

Many of us eat seafood, because we like the taste, for religious or cultural reasons, and or for health related reasons; high in omega fatty acids, healthier than red meat etc. I particularly enjoy good seafood paella, a platter of sashimi or a plate of fish and chips. However, in order to ensure that the seafood that I eat is sustainable and healthy, I always try to ensure that the fish I eat is local and caught or farmed in a sustainable and ethical manner. In this way I also try to minimize the chance that the fish I eat is not full of pollutants and heavy metals.

I am often “that” person who while at a meal or while out shopping quizzes the wait staff or manager about the origin of the fish on offer. Sometimes the discussion is informative and helpful but very often I get blank looks and end up having to explain the importance of eating local, ethical and sustainable, to someone who is generally looking at me like I am a crazy person and thinking to themselves that I should just “get on with it and make a decision!”

Fortunately, in the last few years the various stakeholders within the biodiversity and seafood sector have tried to educate the public about sustainable seafood consumption and how to choose seafood that is healthy without becoming a contributor to fishery collapse and loss of biodiversity.

These education measures have taken the form of outreach programs, licensing and quota systems, DNA testing, cell phone apps, pocket guides, websites aimed at preventing  the consumption of seafood that is unsafe for consumption or the consumption of species that are  on their way to becoming extinct or endangered. This has made my dining and seafood shopping experience a bit easier and calmer.

However, I recently came across an article that mentioned seafood fraud and seafood laundering, that sent me into a bit of a panic. I had never actually though of seafood fraud and seafood laundering ever having anything to do with each other let alone having anything to do with me.

“Regardless of the reason, seafood fraud is illegal and can have serious consequences for fish, fishermen, fishmongers, and fish-eaters.” (www.fishwatch.gov).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/oshadavidson/2011/05/26/dna-tests-show-fraud-in-seafood-labeling-is-widespread/

Popular fish and their frauds (from “Bait and Switch,” Oceana). Correct answers are : 1. Fish on the left is Nile perch. 2. Right is mako shark. 3. Right is rockfish. 4. Left is farmed Atlantic salmon.

Seafood laundering occurs when seafood and seafood products are laundered through a third-party to avoid duties and licenses and increase catches and profits. Such laundered seafood enters the market illegally and results in mislabeled seafood, seafood fraud, and ecosystem collapse and resource depletion. Seafood fraud also occurs when farmed, important or endangered seafood is labeled as sustainably sourced and or wild seafood. Seafood fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase. Seafood fraud occurs “for a variety of reasons, from simple misunderstandings or lack of information to blatantly deceiving consumers in order to increase profits, or even worse, laundering illegally harvested seafood (http://oceana.org).

Seafood fraud not only causes the collapse of fisheries which would in turn affect our dietary choices and make dining out or grocery shopping  that much more stressful, but, seafood fraud also has significant impacts such as;

  • Impacts on natural systems: The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the fact that consumers may be misled about the nature and status of fish stocks and the condition of the marine environment due to mis-labeling, which maintains the appearance of a steady supply of popular fish species despite severe overfishing. This result in the general public is being unaware that the species that they are consuming is being rapidly depleted or threatened.

The oceans provide food, medicine, energy and serve as a recreational resource, but they are not as once commonly believed, an inexhaustible resource. (http://oceana.org)

  • Undermining of conservation efforts as a result of mis-labeling. Mis-labeling of seafood makes it difficult for consumers to make eco-friendly choices despite the will to do so.
  • Negative health impacts: Consumers may end up consuming seafood that contains high levels of contaminants and toxins such as mercury. This could be hazardous to the health and wellbeing of women trying to conceive, pregnant woman, nursing mothers and young children.
  • Negative impacts the livelihoods of communities that depend on the seafood harvesting and processing industry.
  • The creation of a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally      caught seafood products through legitimate markets. This results in the      undermining of conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental      capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen. (www.oceana.org)

Despite the fact that you may be trying to consume only sustainably caught and healthy seafood (two points for trying) that is not full of toxins and or about to go extinct there is quite a high possibility that you have consumed illegal and fraudulent seafood.

I thought I would be able to provide a tip on how to ensure that your seafood is legal, non-toxic and sustainable. However, I find myself stumped …..  Clearly, the seafood labeling and conservation initiatives are not fool-proof. I guess once again the message is the same; don’t blindly accept the packaging, advertising, greenwash and the hype and try to ensure that your individual consumption of seafood is in fact what it is labeled as being.

References and additional reading for the super keen;

Fishwatch

Seafood advice

Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings

State of World Fisheries

Fishwatch facts

Oceana

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Fur, Fashion and Ecocred

www.cbc.ca

A significant increase in fur use within the fashion industry over the last two or so years indicates a departure from the anti-fur and animal rights sentiment and campaigns that characterized much of the green and ethical consumption discussions between the 60’s and 90s. I find this quite interesting given the increasing attention of the world on sustainability and green issues that has been brought about by a greater awareness of environmental degradation, equity, resource scarcity and climate change.

Fur use has a long history spanning from ancient use of fur to current fur use. A (very) brief history would be something like;

  • Necessity where our ancestors killed an animal for necessity i.e. for sustenance (meat) and used the rest of the animal in a sustainable manner such as using the inedible parts of the animal for clothing, tools etc
  • Status symbol: the association of fur and royalty (specifically ermine, mink)
  • This in turn resulted in fur being farmed (1800’s) and becoming a costly luxury item.
  • The development of cheaper options such as dyed and fake fur
  • Anti-fur campaignscommencing in -+ 1960’s (onwards), that resulted in reduced fur use. e.g.
    • PETA was established in 1976 and Lynx in 1980
    • Naomi Campbell and other super models in PETA campaigns
    • Lynx “it takes up 40 dumb animals to make this and only one to wear it” campaign

Fur sales have seen an increase of approximately 70% between 2000- 2010, and fur seems to be de riguer in most winter fashion collections and those in the fashion forward and trend setting scene. In many of instances the fur used is real and not fake, and there seems to be a growing acceptance of fur as a sustainable and natural choice. Considering the speed at which trends spread, especially in the fashion industry, this trend does not bode very well if you happen to be a creature with a beautiful and silky pelt.

In light of the above, given rise in sustainability, environment, green wash,ethical consumption and the fact that fur is a natural “resource” that is being positioned as a benign natural product by the fur industry, I thought it wise to look into the ecocred of fur. Is fur sustainable,green, ethical, equitable and good for us?

These are the issues that I think one should consider;

  • History shows that the fur trade has negative impacts on biodiversity and has resulted in species decline and biodiversity loss. As we know we need to maintain our biodiversity to ensure the provision of ecological services etc
  • Fur and leather are natural, recyclable and reusable.
  • The impact of fur farming includes pollution, waste, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity unethical treatment of animals and is hardly sustainable and or ethical, just like large-scale cattle or sheep farming.

“Compared with textiles, farmed fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions. In many cases fur scores markedly worse than textiles, with impacts a factor 2 to 28 higher, even when lower-bound values are taken for various links in the production chain. The exception is water depletion: on this impact cotton scores highest.” (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) “Both scientists and governments agree that after more than 100 generations, farmed fur animals are effectively domesticated. In a statement to the Dutch Government in 1999, the Danish Justice Ministry noted that “The farmed mink’s temperament, for instance, has changed from being a nervous, agitated animal fleeing to its nesting cage upon approach of human beings, to now often reacting curious and examining.” Not really sure I like where this train of thought is going…!?
  • A lot of us eat meat, (though hopefully you try to eat free range, local and organic etc to try to reduce the ecological footprint of your meat consumption and be more sustainable), so technically you are involved with the killing of animals as well as habitat loss and loss of biodiversity already. Does this make wearing fur more acceptable, sustainable or ethical?

“ The climate change impact of 1 kg of mink fur is five times higher than that of wool which was the highest-scoring textile” in a study on the textile industry and climate change impacts. (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • Even if you are vegetarian or vegan you are to some degree involved in habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, killing of living things etc unless you are able to grow your own food and verify that there has been no negative ethical or environmental impact arising from your source of food.
  • International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) also states that “the majority of wild species used by the fur trade are not taken specifically for their fur, but as part of wildlife management programmes. These are necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, population and disease control and the protection of public lands and private property. The international fur trade does not handle any endangered species and to this end supports the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • There is also a great deal of evidence of inhumane treatment of animals as part of the fur manufacturing process.

I haven’t covered all the impacts or aspects of fur and I could go on and on and on about the ethics and environmental impacts, some positive, most negative.

My aim is to highlight the fact that it is up to each of us to ensure that we recognize the real impacts of our fashion choices. Personally it’s about necessity, demand and not falling for the green wash that fur is green and sustainable within our current context.

I would rather not add to the demand for something that is not a necessity and also has a significant environmental impact, despite the fact that I love fashion and would love to wear something awesome, soft, warm and beautiful. If I have to keep warm I would prefer to do so with something that has the lowest impact and not something that adds unnecessarily to environmental degradation even if it’s is the height of fashion. If you have to up/ recycle an old, over 20 or 30 years) fur item but don’t add to the needless demand for fur.

Reference and additional readings for the super keen:

History of Fur: http://www.furgifts.com/?p=90

http://www.historytoday.com/carol-dyhouse/skin-deep-fall-fur

IfTF: The Socio-Economic Impact of International Fur Farming www.iftf.com

Marijn Bijleveld, Marisa Korteland, Maartje Sevenster The environmental impact of mink fur production. Delft, CE Delft, January 2011

http://www.oikeuttaelaimille.net/materiaali/esitteet/information%20about%20fur%20farming.pdf

New Species Discovery At iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Edwardisia iSimangaliso

 

My day has just been made with the news that a new species of anemone has been discovered at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. The new anemone species is to be called Edwardsia isimangaliso and is considered a unique find in that;

  • The anemone lives half-buried in sand, unlike other anemones.
  • It displays a large number of long, tapering tentacles
  • It is the only one in the genus [and among only a few anemones] able to survive salinities in excess of sea water.
  • It is also able to survive periodic freshwater conditions.

Click here for more information on the new anemone; Edwardsia isimangaliso.

The discovery of new species that are able to withstand changes in environmental conditions is significant due to the fact that not only is our environment dynamic and ever-changing but also due to the fact that our actions have impacted and altered the functioning of our natural environment and the environmental services that are provided by our environment. Environmental degradation, inefficient resource use, waste, climate change etc have all combined to reduce the biodiversity of the planet and thereby impacted the ability of nature to provide much-needed environmental services. Consequently, the discovery of a new species that is unique and resilient, (due to its ability to survive in both freshwater and sea water), is significant as it is indicative of a healthy and bio-diverse environment.

Biodiversity is important due to the role of biodiversity in the effective functioning of ecosystems and to ensure the provision of ecological infrastructure and green infrastructure services. As per the Convention on Biodiversity;

“At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.”

The discovery of a new species is therefore awesome news indeed!

Additional reading:

http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares

http://www.cbd.int/convention/

Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

Image

Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

 Image

How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

(Not So) Good Intentions: Climate Change Adaption & Mitigation Projects

I am pretty certain that we are all aware that everything we do has an impact as does everything we don’t do! This is particularly important as we all do our bit for the planet, nature, our environment, a sustainable future, our families, our next pair of shoes, or outfit, meal, or our next chocolate fix …… or whatever the reason is that you do the things you do.

Often we assume that our actions have no impact and that our positive and “good” actions are just that… perfectly wonderful and good for the world. We especially fall prey to thinking we have achieved great wondrous goodness when we do something that we perceive as good for the planet, nature or society. In addition green washing and misinformation by organisations simply adds to the fake feeling of ”goodness”. It is for this reason that we often end up doing things that we think are very good and that have possible negative impacts that we do not consider or that we blindly ignore.  An example is a recent presentation that I attended on energy efficiency, certified emissions reductions and climate change adaptation technology. Considering all the energy that COP 17 generated about the pros and cons of the climate change response and adaptation, I was quite hopeful that the first presentation that the first post COP 17 presentation I attended  relating to the climate change and technology issue would actually provide some new and amazing information or solution or way forward.

The presentation related to the use of agricultural wastes as an energy source, (nothing new here I thought….) specifically, palm oil processing wastes which are used to generate methane gas which is then used to generate power. Shock horror…..palm oil!

Palm oil, a major component of many processed food products has the dubious honour of being a major contributing factor to green house gas emissions, deforestation, landless-ness, relocation of marginalized communities etc

Surely, these people aren’t trying to sell a climate change adaptation solution (and we all agree that we definitely need solutions to climate change) that involves deforestation, habitat and species loss, and general negativity based on the creation of a few emissions reductions?

So the issue is, do we really need to cause more degradation and negative impacts by adopting solutions that actually take us backward in the journey towards sustainability?

When I raised the issue with the team that was presenting they had no idea about the linkage between palm oil production, species and habitat loss and deforestation etc. I am not sure whether the projects negative impacts will be mitigated or reduced but I did realize that before we blindly follow the solutions presented to us by we need to ensure that the so-called solution is in fact a solution. The other sad fact is that most people should by now know about the impacts of the palm oil industry and we should all be trying to reduce our use of palm oil and not creating opportunities for palm oil production to be increased or overlooked under the guise of sustainability and climate change adaptation.

I do note that the project uses the waste from palm oil processing and in so doing is trying to make the system more efficient. However, at the same time the use of palm oil in this project provides it (in my opinion) with a layer of green wash aimed at making it more acceptable and sustainable.

However, given the palm oil industry’s not so good record as far as habitat and species loss is concerned I think we should avoid climate change adaptation projects that may actually contribute to climate change and increased green house gas emissions in the long run.

In case you did not know here are some facts on the impact of palm oil cultivation:

  • Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Greenpeace has concluded that “first generation” biodiesel extracted from new palm oil plantations may not on balance reduce emissions. If wood from forests cleared for palm plantations is burned instead of used for biodiesel, leaving forests untouched may keep more carbon out of the air.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
  • Reduced biodiversity including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_palm_oil#cite_note-30)

Additional information on Palm Oil:

FAQ PALM OIL

Palm oil in your shopping

Borneo orangutan survival

CSPINET Palm Oil report

Mongabay Article on Palm Oil 

Green Fashion, Educated Choices and Levi’s Waterless Jeans?!

"Levis Water<less" jeans

I was looking into what makes an item of clothing green/ greener/ good for the environment/ sustainable etc… and came across “Levis Waterless Jeans“. My first thought was “Greenwash.” My greenwash train of thought focused on the following issues;

What about:

  • The water and energy used in the production,packaging, transport and sale of the jeans
  • The monoculture cotton plantations and the impacts on biodiversity and water
  • The (very high) possibility that the denim is produced from Genetically Modified (GM) cotton
  • The dyes that go into the dying of the denim. What dyes do they use, what are they made of etc….
  • The water used to wash and dispose of the jeans….

My list could go on forever……

But then I decided to have a look at what Levi’s said made their jeans waterless and therefore better for the environment… and these are my thoughts:

  • It seems that even though the product is not entirely green or perfectly waterless…. it does at least start to engage with the issue of water and sustainability. Maybe “WATER<LESS” is a bit of an exaggeration in this regard?
  • Hopefully the product will start to get customers asking the right questions about ethical and green fashion and consumption.
  • The campaign provides some facts and figures about the production process and also links the issue of water conservation with people who live in water scarce areas.
  • The campaign did not adequately tackle the issue of monoculture, biodiversity and water. This is a key flaw in the campaign as the production of the cotton for the denim is a very large part of the water use debate as is the impact of monoculture agriculture on water catchements, ecosystems and our water resources. One should however note that Levis has aligned with the Better Cotton Initiative. However, I was unable to determine wether the initiative supports GM Cotton or not. The biodiversity impacts and GM issue are a key issue for me!
  • The Levis Waterless Jeans are one product in the Levis range… what about the other products?
In conclusion, I think that the Levi’s Waterless Jeans are (for me) not the amazing eco-fashion answer to eco-friendly jeans, though they are a step in the right direction and will (hopefully) get consumers asking questions about issues of sustainability, sustainable consumption and how our consumption patterns affect the natural environment.
It is very important that we consider all the aspects related to our consumption patterns and don’t simply buy into every headline and green marketing campaign. We may not be perfect but every informed decision we make is a step in the right direction.

Levis Water<less jeans lifecycle

*Please note that this is my opinion and that I am not endorsing any brand or product.