Monthly Archives: June 2017

Illegal genetically modified bacteria found in animal feed supplement

Genetically engineered (GE) bacteria have been found in riboflavin vitamin supplements intended for animal feed use, according to newly published EU tests.


Contamination of food grade or animal feed supplements with GE bacteria is illegal in the European Union. In 2014, however, a German enforcement laboratory alerted EU officials to illegal GE bacterial contamination of a riboflavin supplement intended for animal feed.


Further tests showed that the illegal contaminating strain was not among those the manufacturer claimed to be using. The findings, just published in the journal Food Chemistry, were made by regulators from Germany and Italy who were sampling Chinese imports (Paracchini et al., 2017).


Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is an essential vitamin of vertebrate organisms. It is commonly used as a food additive for humans and animals. Until quite recently, all riboflavin supplements were chemically synthesised. However, riboflavin is now frequently produced by commercial fermentation using overproducing strains of GE bacteria.


According to EU biosafety regulations, no GMO bacterial strain, nor any DNA, is allowed to be present in commercial supplements. However, the contaminated sample of riboflavin contained viable strains of the genetically modified organism Bacillus subtilis.


The researchers cultured and tested the contaminating bacterium and subsequent DNA sequencing showed it to be a production strain. Further testing showed it to contain genomic DNA conferring resistance to the antibiotic chloramphenicol. In addition, the strain contained DNA extrachromosomal plasmids with other antibiotic resistance genes. These conferred resistance to the antibiotics, ampicillin, kanamycin, bleomycin, tetracycline, and erythromycin.


Correspondence between German diplomats, Chinese authorities, and the company, subsequently established that these antibiotic resistance genes constituted key differences between the strains the company claimed to be using and what was detected in Germany.


Only the erythromycin and chloramphenicol resistance genes were acknowledged by the producer. Whether the altered strains had been used intentionally or were inadvertent contaminants is still not clear. In 2015 a French testing laboratory found one riboflavin sample also contaminated with what is likely to be an identical bacterial strain, again from China (Barbau-Piednoir et al., 2015).


According to Janet Cotter of the consultancy Logos Environmental, European Food Safety Authority regulations state that antibiotic resistance genes “should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market” to prevent them entering the food chain as these antibiotic resistance genes presumably have.


“This incident is the latest in a series of GMO escapes. It highlights the need for a database of detection methodologies for all GMOs used, both in contained use and at the field trial stage, so any escapees can at least be detected without facing the serious analytical challenges identification of this GMO contaminant posed.”


The publication documenting the tests also highlighted various altered properties of the detected Bacillus subtilis strain, including reduced fidelity of its protein translation system which might lead it to produce novel proteins.



Barbau-piednoir, E. Sigrid C. J. De Keersmaecker, Maud Delvoye, Céline Gau, Patrick Philipp and Nancy H. Roosens (2015) Use of next generation sequencing data to develop a qPCR method for specific detection of EU-unauthorized genetically modified Bacillus subtilis overproducing riboflavin. BMC Biotechnology 2015 15:103 DOI: 10.1186/s12896-015-0216-y

Paracchini, V., Petrillo, M., Reiting, R., Angers-Loustau, A., Wahler, D., Stolz, A., … & Pecoraro, S. (2017). Molecular characterization of an unauthorized genetically modified Bacillus subtilis production strain identified in a vitamin B 2 feed additive. Food Chemistry, 230, 681-689.


This article originally appeared in the Independent Science News and is reproduced here with permission.






Meadows offer food and shelter to vast varieties of animals and wildflowers – and must be saved

Saving the UK’s meadows and raising public awareness of these vital habitats is the purpose of more than 100 events taking place tomorrow for National Meadows Day, writes Laura Briggs.


With the average meadow offering shelter and food to a vast variety of animal species and home to more than 80 species of wildflowers, the Save Our Magnificent Meadows partnership hopes to demonstrate the fragility and importance of our fast-disappearing Great British meadows.


More than 97% of our wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, but encouragingly people are now showing a desire to learn more about our British fauna.


A recent YouGov survey for Plantlife revealed that 70% of us want to know more about wildflowers and while most people could identify the bluebell, 80% of people didn’t know the name of the common dog-violet which is found across 97% of the UK.


National Meadows Day is dedicated to protecting both the wildflower meadows and the wildlife they support, including endangered species like ragged robin and harebell, and further educating the public about the flora and fauna discovered in these unique landscapes.


Meadows would have developed thanks to farming practices, with many people owning small areas of land, and managing the land by growing through spring and summer, cutting in late summer and grazing in winter.


With the onset of World War II, cereals were planted across great swathes of land, meaning a decline in the diversity of species, and with it the meadows. The future hope is that one day meadows can be an integral part of farming once again.


On July 1 barefoot walks, cycling tours, picnics, scything workshops and wildlife hunts will offer the chance for people to experience these stunning meadows first-hand across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The initiative, spearheaded by Plantlife, is in part thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Claire Parton, Save Our Magnificent Meadows Project Manager, said: “Beyond being a quintessential sight of summer, meadows’ value to our wildlife cannot be overstated.


“A single healthy meadow can be home to over 80 species of wildflowers, such as cuckoo flower, yellow rattle, orchids, knapweed and scabious, compared to most modern agricultural pasture which typically supports under a dozen species.


“In turn, these flowers support meadow wildlife. Common bird’s-foot trefoil alone is a food plant for 160 species of insects, which support mammals and birds such as skylarks and lapwings.”


There are now only 26,000 acres of classic lowland meadows found across England and Wales and thanks to funding, the Save Our Magnificent Meadows project has managed to create and restore just over 6,000 acres of wildflower meadows across the UK.


Plantlife has also launched the interactive Great British Wild Flower Hunt in response to its YouGov survey.


Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Botanical Expert and a meadow owner, said: “The steady, quiet, and under-reported decline of our meadows is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of UK nature conservation. If over 97% of our woodland had been destroyed there’d be a national outcry.


“Without the roar of chainsaws or the sound of mighty oaks crashing to the ground, meadows are being ploughed up at an alarming rate. That is why National Meadows Day is so important – now more than ever it is essential to shine a light on these precious habitats and to begin to reverse their decline.”


Plantlife is the leading organisation working in the UK to protect and conserve wild plants and their habitats. Plantlife identifies and conserve sites of exceptional importance, rescue wild plants from the brink of extinction, and ensure that common plants do not become rare in the wild.


Find out more about National Meadows Day at


Neonicotinoid pesticides do harm honeybees, shows first industry funded pan-European field study

Honeybee colonies in the UK suffered the lowest levels of winter survival when exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides, according to industry-funded research published yesterday.   

Researchers from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) have published the results of a large-scale, field-realistic experiment to assess neonicotinoid impacts on honeybees and wild bees across Europe in the peer-review journal Science.

Louise Payton, Soil Association policy officer, told The Ecologist: “This long-awaited major study was funded chiefly by industry to end this debate. This should now be the final, fatal blow to neonicotinoids.


“With neonics widely polluting farms, and with UK farmers still treating most wheat, an outright ban is needed immediately. But a ban isn’t enough – neonics never should have been cleared for use.


“We also need a rethink of how we regulate all pesticides. Vulnerable wildlife is not being protected. A good next step would be to learn from organic farms, which support around 50% more species of wild pollinators than non-organic farms.”


The experiment – undertaken in the UK, Germany and Hungary – exposed three bee species to winter oilseed rape crops treated with seed coatings containing neonicotinoid clothianidin, from Bayer CropScience, or Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.

Neonicotinoid seed coatings are designed to kill pests such as the cabbage stem flea beetle, but were effectively banned in the EU in 2013 due to concerns regarding their impact on bee health.

The researchers found that exposure to treated crops reduced overwintering success of honeybee colonies – a key measure of year-to-year viability – in two of the three countries.

In Hungary, the colony numbers fell by 24 percent during the following spring. In the UK, honeybee colony survival was generally very low, but lowest where bees fed on clothianidin treated oilseed rape in the previous year. No harmful effects on overwintering honeybees were found in Germany.

Lower reproductive success – reflected in queen number (bumblebees) and egg production (red mason bee) – was linked with increasing levels of neonicotinoid residues in the nests of wild bee species buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and the Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) across all three countries.

Dr Ben Woodcock, the CEH lead author, said: “The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the UK and Hungary.”

He suggests the differing impacts on honeybees between countries may be associated with interacting factors including the availability of alternative flowering resources for bees to feed on in the farmed landscape as well as general colony health, with Hungarian and UK honeybees tending to be more diseased.

In contrast, the hives in Germany happened to be larger, showed little evidence of disease and had access to a wider range of wild flowers to feed on.

Dr Woodcock suggests that this may explain why in this country alone there was no evidence of a negative effect of neonicotinoids on honeybees.

The study – which spanned 2,000 hectares, equivalent to 3,000 full-scale football pitches – took account of bee disease and surrounding landscape quality in addition to colony growth rate, worker mortality and overwinter survival.

Dr Woodcock said: “Neonicotinoid seed dressings do have positive attributes: they target insects that damage the plant, can be applied to the seed at low dosage rates but protect the whole plant and reduce the need for broad spectrum insecticide sprays.

“Their use as an alternative chemical control option is also useful in controlling pests where insecticide resistance to other pesticides is already found, so play an important role to play in food production.”

He added: “There may be opportunities to mitigate negative impacts of neonicotinoid exposure on bees through improved honeybee husbandry or availability of flowering plants for bees to feed on across non-cropped areas of the farmed landscape. Both these issues require further research.

“The negative effects of neonicotinoids on wild bees may also be the result of diverse mechanisms of exposure that include persistent residues of neonicotinoids in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use.”

Professor Richard Pywell, a co-author and the Science Area Lead, Sustainable Land Management at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, said: “Neonicotinoids remain a highly contentious issue with previous research on both honeybees and wild bees inconclusive.

“This latest field study was designed, as far as possible, to reflect the real world due to its size and scope.

“We therefore believe it goes a considerable way to explaining the inconsistencies in the results of past research, as we were better able to account for natural variation in factors like exposure to the pesticide, bee food resources and bee health for different bee species.

“Our findings also raise important questions about the basis for regulatory testing of future pesticides.”

Bayer CropScience and Syngenta funded the research assessing the impact of neonicotinoids on honeybees. The Natural Environment Research Council funded the analysis of the impact on the wild bees.

The experiment – including design, monitoring and analysis – was scrutinised by an independent scientific advisory committee chaired by Professor Bill Sutherland of Cambridge University. 


Why we need a global effort by corporations, citizens and nonprofits to tackle climate change

With President Trump’s announcement to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, many other countries around the world – and cities and states within the US – are stepping up their commitments to address climate change.

But one thing is clear: Even if all the remaining participating nations do their part, governments alone can’t substantially reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

We’ve studied the role of the private sector in addressing climate change, and we’re convinced that the next stage is going to require more than just political agreement. What is needed is a concerted effort to mobilize private action – not just corporations but also religious and civic organizations, colleges and universities, investors and households – to help narrow the gap that remains after the Paris Agreement.

The Paris gap

Under current policies, global emissions are on a path toward a world with temperatures more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures.

The Paris Agreement emphasized the need to keep warming “well below” 2°C and ideally reach a reduction of 1.5°C. The accord includes national pledges to reduce emissions, which are to be updated every five years to move the world closer to the temperature target.

Although the agreement takes a significant first step, without additional steps the world will fall far short of even the more modest goal.

This is the Paris gap – the difference between the goals of the Paris Agreement and what it will actually achieve over the next decade, even if all countries fully comply with their commitments.

A detailed scientific assessment by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that by 2030 this gap would reach 12-14 billion tons per year even if all countries including the US meet their targets.

The Paris Agreement sets up a process for countries to add new commitments for the period after 2025, but here’s the catch: The Paris gap is so large that waiting until then brings risks. Although no one can predict all the effects of a global temperature increase of 3°C or more, an increase in this range will almost certainly amplify the frequency and severity of deadly heat waves around the world. It will also increase the likelihood of crossing tipping points that could make the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise, much worse. Waiting a decade for additional national commitments is a risky option.

So how should we close the Paris gap?

Until now, global climate change efforts have largely focused on actions by national, regional and local governments – all of which will be critical to closing the gap. But governments are not the only actors that can make a difference: corporations, citizens and nonprofits can make an important, and perhaps essential, contribution, even if they cannot solve the entire problem.

We’ve already seen private actors respond to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. For example, the We Are Still In initiative is a coalition of businesses, colleges and universities, and cities and counties. And on June 20, the Climate Leadership Council – a collection of big businesses, environmental advocacy groups and individuals – launched, calling for policy action on climate change.

Our assessment finds that private actions can close 10 percent to 30 percent of the Paris gap over the next decade. This can reduce the cost of climate mitigation and allow the politic consensus to catch up with the scientific consensus, although it is not a substitute for government action.

Vast potential

Private actors – including corporations, civic and advocacy groups, private citizens, and even the Catholic Church – played an important role in pushing nations to make commitments in Paris, but lobbying for government action is not the only role for the private sector. These private actors are sources of emissions that can reduce emissions directly and independently of government policies.

In an article published in the Columbia Environmental Law Journal, we have shown how private climate efforts can deliver a billion tons of emissions reductions per year over the next decade from the corporate and household sectors.

These reductions are not enough by themselves to limit global warming to 2°C or 1.5°C, but together with national and international efforts, they can improve the odds of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Corporations can make significant reductions in emissions by increasing energy efficiency, investing in research and development, and insisting on emissions reductions from suppliers. For example, Walmart’s recent joint initiative with the Environmental Defense Fund reduced Walmart’s cumulative supply chain emissions over the last five years by 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, and Walmart recently pledged to reduce its cumulative emissions between now and 2030 by one billion tons, which would be equivalent to the entire emissions of the U.S. Iron and Steel Industry over that period.

At the household level, efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes and provide households with feedback on their energy use, including real-time data on energy use, data in monthly bills and energy efficiency ratings for residential rentals and sales, can make a significant impact on emissions.

As we have shown in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, within the next 10 years, simple household energy efforts in the United States could reduce annual emissions reductions by more than 450 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is much more than the total emissions by the host country for the Paris Agreement – France.

Speed of essence

Nonprofits, such as churches, colleges and universities, hospitals and civic organizations, are also starting to get in on the effort to close the Paris gap, but they can do more.

For example, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the moral and religious imperative of addressing climate change and has supported the national commitments in the Paris Agreement.

We have calculated that the Catholic Church has emissions comparable to a medium-sized country, such as Chile. If the Church made a major commitment to reduce emissions from its own operations, in addition to pushing governments to act, it could make a significant difference on its own.

With or without the United States, the Paris Agreement demonstrates that the international process can take important steps, but it will not yield emissions reductions with the speed and magnitude necessary to achieve its goals.

What is needed now is a new focus on the private sector – a global effort by corporations, citizens and nonprofits.

These Authors

Michael Vandenbergh is the David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair of Law, Vanderbilt University. Jonathan M. Gilligan is Associate Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University

*This article has been shared by The Conversation,






Kick-starting an African clean energy revolution – one pedal at a time

Despite being one of Africa’s most rapidly developing countries, many Kenyans still face the problem of limited energy access.  The quickest way for these Kenyans to get power is to harness the natural resources of wind and sun that their country has in abundance. It is much quicker and cheaper to erect solar panels and wind turbines than wait for a vast fossil fuel infrastructure to be built, much of which will never reach the remotest corners of the country.  It’s also vital for efforts to curb climate change that the developing nations like Kenya leapfrog the climate warming hydrocarbon fuels of the past.

The Clean Energy Cycling Caravan, consisting of 10 riders, is powering its way through 10 counties covering a total of more than a thousand kilometres. As part of a campaign called The Big Shift, the cyclists have been meeting local government officials, holding community energy cafés powered by solar panels and doing interviews with journalists. Climate change is something that affects the world’s poorest people the most, and if our efforts to tackle it are to be effective they need to be led by grassroots support from the Global South. 

But our actions to tackle climate change must not leave those same people cut off from the energy they need to develop and prosper. If the developed world tries to pull up the drawbridge after getting rich off the back of fossil fuels and don’t provide help to its global neighbours, it will find international efforts to reduce emissions hard to achieve. That’s why it is essential these efforts go hand-in-hand with providing energy access and leap frogging the dirty energy of the past to the clean energy of the future.

In Kenya, 57% of people are connected to the grid but most of that is only to providing lighting and it is neither affordable nor reliable. More than 80% of people still burn wood or charcoal for cooking.   With elections looming it’s the perfect time to make the case for a better and cleaner energy system. 

Polling commissioned by Christian Aid has revealed that 64% of Kenyans would back a party that prioritised more clean energy so politicians can be assured there are votes to be won there.

A forward-looking Kenyan government would be able to make use of the country’s abundant and reliable resources of solar and wind power, as well as renewable biogas and as-yet largely untapped geothermal wells. The danger is that as the Government moves the country away from expensive diesel generators it is turning to coal, proposing a new coal power station on the coastal island of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Not only will this have pollution implications, locally and atmospherically, it does not make economic sense either. Due to a lack of infrastructure the plant would rely on coal imports from South Africa, likely exacerbating Kenya’s already significant trade deficit. 

Developing home-grown wind and solar makes far more sense, especially as these are starting to compete with fossil fuels on price. A solar project in Kenya’s North-Eastern region of Garissa is generating electricity at just $0.12 per kilowatt hour, the feed-in tariff for geothermal projects is $0.09 pkh and the Lake Turkana wind farm comes it at just $0.08 pkh – the same as the projected prices for Lamu’s coal power.  Add in the fact that renewable prices are heading downwards – India recently scrapped a number of coal power stations due to the falling price of solar – and there’s the chance that the Lamu plant might end up being a dirty white elephant sooner rather than later.

The economics is clear, the ecological case is obvious and voters are in favour of a cleaner, greener energy system for Kenya. Let’s hope these 10 young cyclists working so hard this week to spread the word can help kick-start a widespread African clean energy revolution.

This Author

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices Contributor for The Ecologist.  He is on twitter at @wareisjoe.  To find out more about the Clean Energy Cycling Caravan visit their facebook page









Towards tribal interdependence and peace in Kenya

My country, Kenya, is in an election year and tensions are rising. During the vote in 2007, tribal rivalries spilled over into violence: around 1,200 people died and thousands were displaced or orphaned during the fighting. As we get closer to the August polling day, many people fear something similar will happen again.

This fear is rooted in a political system that often works to aggravate these tribal divides, rather than heal them. There are 42 tribes in Kenya, but since Independence the country’s President has emerged only from the two largest: the Kalenjin (my own tribe) and the Kikuyu. They uphold their position in part through policies that favour their own tribes people, and they incite fear that any candidate from a minority tribe might do the same.

Most people therefore cast their vote along tribal lines, rather than based on the integrity of the candidate. At a government level this creates a status quo of sorts, but at a community level it can create powerlessness, fuel division, erode faith in the political process, and make peace fragile.

I believe the exploitation of tribalism for political gain overshadows the presence of a more positive reality: that each tribe in Kenya possesses strengths and skills unique to them, and which collectively help create the health and wellbeing of our nation. For example, the Kikuyu are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, the Kalenjin for their cash crops, the Luos for their fishing and mechanics, the Maasai for their cattle, goats and herbal medicine, the Gusii for their farming of bananas, avocados and sugarcane, and the Luhya for their poultry and hospitality. Urbanisation and trade is bringing these different tribes together, and in the process, our interdependence becomes more apparent and more important. But this truth gets drowned out in Kenya, let alone internationally.

Beyond tribes, I see interdependence all around me in the natural world, and between humans and the natural world, as we work towards improving conservation efforts in the Maasai and elsewhere.

For Kenya to thrive, we need to encourage the message of interdependence and peace between our tribes. We must address the entrenched tribal division and stifled community voice that corrupt political tactics have brought about. I believe that the development sector can play a key role in making this change happen, and I think that my involvement with a local health and wellbeing network gives some clues as to how we might do this.

In this network, people come together voluntarily from across their community to form what we call a ‘cluster’, because they want to see sustainable, community-led change. A cluster begins by celebrating the different strengths and resources that we have. We then identify a vision for our community, and we use our own strengths and resources to sustainably pursue this vision. We access training and support from outside of our community if we need to, but it is from within the community that we identify solutions, and work to unlock them.

My cluster is in the Kenyan highland town of Kericho, west of the Rift Valley. Here, the trade in tealeaves has brought many different tribes together, and our cluster reflects this tribal mix. With this mix comes a diverse set of skills. Some members are from the creative arts: poets, painters, photographers and actors. Others are from caring professions: youth work, healthcare and social work. Together, we make documentaries, we host community events, and we create art and capture stories to counter harmful and divisive narratives. We also map local skills and resources, so we can link people and organisations to appropriate services, as well as identify particular gaps in community services. As we build relationships across our differences, we can speak on behalf of the whole community to the people who make decisions that impact us

Whilst a glance at Kenya’s political system suggests our tribal differences are only a problem, my experience is that these differences can in fact provide a solution, to help achieve the peace and sustainable development that we all want. But for peace to thrive we need the community to speak louder. If the development sector and others do more to amplify this voice, it can be a big help.

I have learnt that mobilising local collaborative networks can generate great social impact by giving space for connections, by strengthening community voice, and by identifying and harnessing the strengths and differences we all have. It is my hope that if more influential people took this on board then social impact will grow, and perhaps translate into the systemic change we need at the political level too, which ultimately, I believe would encourage peace and understanding in my country and elsewhere.

This Author

Debora Langat is a photographer, videographer and blogger based in Kericho, Kenya. Her passion is storytelling, and she is available for freelance work 




A People’s Food Policy – grassroot food and farming groups call for a more just food system

Today sees the launch of A People’s Food Policy – a groundbreaking manifesto outlining a people’s vision of food and farming in England that is supported by over 80 food and farming organisations.

The report draws on 18 months of extensive, nation-wide consultations with grassroots organisations, NGOs, trade unions, community projects, small businesses and individuals. It has resulted in a set of policy proposals and a vision for change that is rooted in the lived experiences and needs of people most affected by the failures in the current food system.

It’s widely acknowledged that agriculture is one of the sectors that will be faced with the most uncertainty as a result of the UK leaving the EU. Rising food prices is an issue that has already been repeatedly reported on in the context of Brexit, while migration restrictions are set to have an enormous impact on the availability of workers in the agricultural sector.

In the face of this uncertainty, the new report argues that policy, legislative framework and a new Food Act that, “integrates the compartmentalised policy realms of food production, health, labour rights, land use and planning, trade, the environment, democratic participation and community wellbeing” is now needed.

Heidi Chow, food campaigner for Global Justice Now, which is part of the coalition that developed A People’s Food Policy says: “From the increasing corporate control of agriculture in the UK, to the price of basic food stuffs outstripping the rises in real wages, through to small farmers being aggressively squeezed out of the market – with over 33 000 small to medium farms closing down in the past decade – the UK is witnessing a series of crises in how we produce, distribute and sell food. The Government’s approach to addressing these problems is at best piece-meal and at worst non-existent.

“The new Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, stated last week that the UK can have both cheaper and better quality food after Brexit but the experience of many UK farmers and growers suggests that cheaper food prices must be paid for by lowering environmental and social standards across the farming sector. Instead we need to see greater regulation of the food retail sector to ensure farmers everywhere are paid a fair price for their produce.”

Dee Butterly, the coordinator of A People’s Food Policy, a young tenant farmer and member of the Landworkers’ Alliance adds: “The lack of a coherent, joined-up food policy framework in England is becoming increasingly problematic. In this country we have shameful levels of food insecurity, with food bank usage rising year on year, and an estimated over eight million people now in a state of such financial precarity they can’t afford to eat. Just last week, Unicef released a report ‘Building the Future’, with evidence that the UK has some of the highest levels of child hunger and deprivation among the world’s richest nations, with one in five children under 15 years old currently food insecure.

The way our food system functions and is governed needs to radically change. We need to develop a national food policy in that coming years transforms our food systems and that puts equality, resilience and justice at the forefront. As Brexit negotiations begin, we urge politicians to seriously consider this new blueprint for a progressive national food policy which supports a food system where everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough good food at all times, without compromising on the wellbeing of people, the health of the environment, and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.”

Many countries in Europe and around the world have begun to adopt progressive frameworks such as food sovereignty, agroecology and the right to food into regional and national legislation in an effort to create a more stable and just food system.

A People’s Food Policy is an extensive report, extending to 100 pages across nine thematic chapters covering governance, food production, health, land, labour, environment, knowledge and skills, trade and finance – each with an in depth analysis and policy proposals for transforming the food system in England.

Download a copy of the People’s Food Policy proposal here:







Foxhounds and bovine TB edges (finally) into the news

It is an uphill battle to get information out into public view when a government ministry is determined to sit on it.  Such is the case of the Kimblewick Hunt hounds and bovine TB. Despite Freedom of Information requests, letters and phone calls, they are refusing to release any facts.

Dr Iain McGill, who as a MAAF scientist had experience of government blocking the publication of research into foxhounds and BSE, is now hitting the same stone wall of cover-up over hounds and bTB.

Defra initially told Dr McGill that the hounds had canine TB, but then admitted that it was in fact bovine TB. The Animal & Plant Health Agency told the Ecologist this was not a notifiable disease. But Defra has now admitted that it is.

As a notifiable disease, Defra not only has to inform all those who might be affected, but immediate investigation and testing should be carried out not just on the source of the outbreak but on places (or in this case other packs of hounds) that might be at risk.

Yet the bTB in Kimblewick hounds was kept secret for three months before any news got out. Of the mainstream media, only the Mirror covered the story.  The Times limped in with the story after that, presumably because Theresa May, who was going to repeal the Hunting Act, has had to backtrack yet again following her disastrous election campaign.

Defra has told Dr McGill and his veterinary colleagues that they have ‘tested’ other packs but give none of the information asked for of which hunts were tested, or the methodology and epidemiology involved. They have also said that 7 of the Kimblewick hounds were tested positive for bTB.  So why have 50 hounds been killed?

On BBC Sussex Dr McGill pointed out that in the large area hunted over by the Kimblewick Hunt there are up to 90 active outbreaks of bTB in cattle.  Well over half – 55 – of those outbreaks have occurred since bTB was found in the Kimblewick pack.

To justify the badger cull in 2013, the Chief Veterinary Officer claimed that pets and humans were at risk from bTB where environmental contamination was high. Now Defra claim that the threat posed due to contamination from infected packs of hounds is ‘low’, although there is no evidence to support that.

As Dr McGill remarks, these are two diametrically opposing statements.  Hunt packs cover a lot of ground and hunts, along with all their followers and quad-biking terrier men, are happy to hunt across both infected and TB-free farms, with no regard to biosecurity.

If the risk of infected foxhounds spreading bTB is low, then surely Defra should agree that the same must apply to badgers.  Which means, as we all knew, that culling badgers has been a useless and terrible slaughter.

The new Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who has a record for voting against anything environmental, says that he has ‘inherited’ the badger culling policy, as though, says Dr McGill, it was Defra’s family silver.  Gove also says he ‘listens to veterinary advice’, which should not, but does, mean the advice of one vet. 

He can expect a queue of determined and angry vets knocking on his door.

This Author

Lesley Docksey is a regular contributor to the Ecologist


Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.


It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.


This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project



Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs