Tag Archives: #EU

Telling Tales

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The Białowieża Forest in Poland is still the kind of place, one of the last in Europe, which looks like it is truly straight out of a fairy tale. And when European fairy tales were being written about forests in all their vast complexity, forests still looked like Białowieża Forest.

Several months ago, I wrote about the Polish government’s plans to log large amounts of ancient woodland in the protected Białowieża Forest. In spite of considerable opposition and lawsuits from conservationists, scientists, and European government agencies, the logging went ahead.

Now that the logging has been underway since early summer, the European Union has slapped sanctions on Poland in the amount of €100,000/day (USD 119,000/day) for violating EU law.

The Woodcutter’s Hut (2008)
Artist: Su Blackwell

The government insists on cutting trees against a background falling timber prices, and in spite of the gains in eco-tourism in and around the forest – not to mention the scientific importance of a forest still home to astounding biodiversity. The undertaking certainly raises the question as to how much money is being made on the sales, and by whom. It’s bad enough to watch Poland log Białowieża, Europe’s largest remaining primeval forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site, for old-growth wood and short-term profits.

It’s worse to see Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, use spurious claims to justify the straightforward gain and greed of the plan. In a similar vein to the Japanese government easily refuted assertion that whaling is still necessary for scientific research while it sells off the resulting whale meat at high prices, Poland’s government claims that the felling of old trees is required to control a spruce bark beetle outbreak.

In the habit of many of today’s governments, any media or scientific coverage that contradicts official plans is simply labelled as fake news. As the truth become more uncomfortable, the lies become more implausible.

The Snow Queen (2008)
Artist: Su Blackwell

The government’s odd argument that the forest isn’t really worth declaring ‘primeval’ because “it was made by local people, and we have facts and books that show that people were there from the beginning,” says less about the forest and more about a spokesperson grasping at a narrative straw.

Fairy tales were written to guide listeners and readers through moral dilemmas, to instruct on dark impulses and their consequences. The issues at the heart of the Polish government’s current tale are the ones we know so well: Greed, and the stories people tell to get what they want.

Ovine Appreciation

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Image of the suovetaurilia, a Roman sacrificial rite in which three animals - a sheep, a pig and a bull to the god of Mars.  "That with the good help of the gods success may crown our work, I bid thee, Manius, to take care to purify my farm, my land, my ground with this suovetaurilia, in whatever part thou thinkest best for them to be driven or carried around." This 1st century Roman engraving is found in the Louvre. Source: Wikipedia

Image of the suovetaurilia, a Roman sacrificial rite in which three animals – a sheep, a pig and a bull – were offered to the god of Mars. “That with the good help of the gods success may crown our work, I bid thee, Manius, to take care to purify my farm, my land, my ground with this suovetaurilia, in whatever part thou thinkest best for them to be driven or carried around.” This 1st century Roman engraving is found in the Louvre.
Source: Wikipedia

Sheep have been domesticated and a part of human life and agriculture for something around 10,000 years.

The annual sheep herd that grazes in the meadow next door to our place arrived over the weekend. They’ll forage here until December, when they get carted off again by a sheep farmer who places sheep in meadows all across our region like shaggy pawns in a large chessgame of milk, meat and wool.

French sheep farmers released a small flock of sheep into the Louvre Museum in Paris last week to protest cuts in subsidies to small farmers which are under discussion in the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Herd of sheep in the Louvre. Photo: antenna

Herd of sheep in the Louvre.
Photo: antenna

From a Reuters article, “They were objecting to the effects of the industrialisation of agriculture, saying they feared for farmers’ jobs.

“What we can see today is a desire on the part of the agricultural ministry to impose a marginalising policy which will get rid of farmers so we came here to say we don’t belong to a museum and that our place is in the countryside, where we can revitalise the countryside, create jobs and develop quality produce, that’s why we came here today,” said a spokesman.”

The sheep next door in the cherry orchard. Photo: PK Read

The sheep next door in the cherry orchard.
Photo: PK Read

The farm next to ours, and many around our place, unequivocally add to the life quality of our area, and not just in terms of food. The small farms here ensure that the area isn’t paved over with suburban and apartment developments, and that the farmers who have been here for generations carry on the knowledge of land and farming they have inherited.

I do feel a bit badly for the sheep that were herded through the Louvre, probably in panic and without any time to enjoy some of the lovely pastoral paintings there. But I do have a deep appreciation for the fact that no arrests were made – all protesting farmers and their sheep were released without charge.

The Real Thing

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Scotch whisky will soon have something else in common with Champagne besides being one of my favorite beverages: It will have protected geographical status.

Like many other coveted products, Scotch whisky is often counterfeited. Fake Scotch whisky is estimated to cost the industry £500 million annually, approximately ten percent of  overall sales.

Old Map of Scotland 1650 Source: Virtual Hebrides

Old Map of Scotland 1650
Source: Virtual Hebrides

A new Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme will require “all businesses involved in any stage of the production of Scotch Whisky to register with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by listing all their relevant sites within and outside Scotland, including distilleries, maturation facilities, blending and bottling plants. Bottlers of Scotch Whisky abroad will also be subject to controls.” (The Scotsman)

For the time being, this verification will only be required for Scotch whisky sold in the European Union, but will be extended to other unique UK beverages with a geographical origin, such as Somerset Cider Brandy and Irish Whiskey produced in Northern Ireland. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the certified Scotch label spread further.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in this case, it would be nice to know that you’re getting the real thing.

And to warm the end of this weekend like a dram of fine single malt Scotch, The Real Thing. Don’t watch if you can’t appreciate the rhythm and glamour that was the mid-1970s.

With thanks to Rachel MacNeill for alerting me to this story!

Bee Protection

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From: avaaz.org

From: avaaz.org

Today, the European Commission will present a discussion paper to Member State experts at a meeting of the standing committee on pesticides. The aim is to exchange views on the range of policy options available, in light of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) report findings published on 16 January, which assessed the effect of three pesticides on bee health. “Protecting the health of our bee population is of great importance not only for our European agricultural sector but also for our eco-system and environment as a whole.” The EFSA findings identified risks to using three neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin, which are mainly used to treat seeds prior to sowing, on oilseed rape, maize and cereals.

There have been numerous reasons posited for the bee die-offs covered in the news over the past years – exposure to a cocktail of pesticides has been found to be one potential major culprit. This is probably not welcome news to those who rely on the pesticides, either in farming or in the chemical industry. It is also one of those spaces where decisions have to be made about what has more lasting importance – pollinators, or the way we have gotten used to farming over just the past few decades.

According to a report by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: It is estimated that about one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination. More than half of the world’s diet of fat and oil comes from oilseeds such as cotton, rape, sunflower, coconut, groundnut and oil palm. Even though some of these have special pollinators belonging to other types of insects, these plants all depend on, or benefit from bee pollination to some extent. In addition, many food crops and forage for cattle are grown from seeds of insect-pollinated plants. The great value of bees as pollinators has been known for many years,
but unfortunately, this knowledge is not widely appreciated and understood.

The value of bee pollination in Western Europe is estimated to be 30-50 times the value of honey and wax harvests in this region. In Africa, bee pollination is sometimes estimated to be 100 times the value of the honey harvest, depending on the type of crop.

In a country like Denmark, about 3,000 tonnes of honey is harvested every year. It has a value of  60 million DKK or about €7.6 million. However, the value of oilseeds, fruits and berries created by the pollination work of bees is estimated to be between 1,600 and 3,000 million DKK, equivalent to €200 and €400 million.
The effectiveness of honeybees is due to their great number, their social life and their ability to pollinate a broad variety of different flowers. A colony can consist of 20-80 000 bees, and they will normally be visiting flowers over a distance of two kilometres when they are collecting pollen and nectar. If nothing is to find in the neighbourhood, they can fly even seven kilometres. A normal Apis mellifera honeybee colony will make up to four million flights a year, where about 100 flowers are visited in each flight.

There’s a petition to lend weight to those calling for pesticides to be more carefully controlled when it comes to honeybee exposure.

UPDATE: Neonicotinoids were banned in the EU for a period of two years, beginning December 1, 2013.