Organic Versus Local, How to Eat Ethically?

March 29, 2007

False hope is worse than despair
Jonathan Kozo
l

When we eat organic products we are assuming that they are healthier for us and they are better for the environment.

We can define organic products as “food from plants and animals that have been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and without antibiotics, growth hormones, and feed additive”. The lack of artificial enhancers makes us think that they are better for our heath and the environment. While the former statement may require an entire study that is out of my scope, the latter certainly makes my sustainable-sense tickles.

Organic food humble start was in the farmer’s markets across Europe and Anglo America, where local producers offered their products directly to consumers. “Organic” and “local” were almost synonymous. Then the trend caught in with the big supermarkets and the local component was effectively removed from the concept.

Local farmers’ and small markets are important because they boost local economy and help to develop rural areas close to large cities. With the arriving of juggernauts like Wal-Mart and super stores, the rural local economy suffers set backs that end up hurting everybody in the local community. Buying local is always a good way to keep certain amount of business in the region.
In markets like Northern America or Northern Europe, the climate doesn’t allow organic food to be produced year-round. Organic food need to be transported from the southern areas, polluting all its way to the supermarket. Bill McKibben declares that growing and transporting a single calorie worth of lettuce from California to his home in Vermont consumes about 36 calories of energy.

Consuming organic food that is not locally produced may ending up hurting the environment and the local economy. The pollution caused by its transportation may offset the benefits of not using chemicals in its production. Actually, some pesticides are used in growing organic food: ryania, sabadilla, and rotenone, so the ecological benefit is even smaller than thought. http://www.oneplan.org/Crop/OrganicPestCtrl.shtml includes a complete list of pesticides used in organic farming.

Organic food is non-sustainable because the world population could not be fed with pesticide-free agriculture: The small amount of organic produce that can be harvested for acre is not enough to meet the demand. That is also one of the reasons why price for organic food are so high

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Non-Conformist Conforming II

March 9, 2007

Non-Sequitur

by Wiley Miller


Non-Conformist Conforming

March 6, 2007

Hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, Corn-Pone stands for Self-Approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is Conformity.
Mark Twain

In Toronto’s “West” Queen Street West there are a handful of stores that appeal to that segment group that I call the New Hippies; people who try to hold liberal values but cannot look beyond their noses and don’t think what those values stand for. “West” Queen Street West has got stores offering merchandise with the “Che” Guevara, Marcos, Mao. The t-shirts you can get have clever quotes. I love to see how many people who call themselves anti-conformist can be targeted as consumers so easily because they conform to trends that are empty at the most. Real radicals aren’t buying t-shirts in trendy Toronto spots, are they?

What bothers me is not how they anti-conform against Gap by conforming with Atticus; is how they delude themselves by thinking they belong to a fighting liberal class that is above all the capitalist pigs, when they can’t look that they are being deceived by the marketing masters they said they hate: People like to eat organic, but in Canada, and many places in Europe and northern USA, organic food needs to be shipped from abroad, especially by plane. The new (rich) hippies buy this organic, expensive, healthy food that burn seven times its own weight in carbon monoxide to get to the store and look from above to the poor chavs that have to buy locally produced, pesticide-plagued food.

We have some cyclist that really believe they are above all drivers because their bikes don’t pollute and they ride even at -20 degrees; then they cut the line, run the red light, run over pedestrians, and ride on the sidewalk at expense of other people. Just so you can see them and follow their ecological friendly example.

My favourite example though is the t-shirt I saw in the aforementioned Queen Street at the Black Market Store, they sell a t-shirt that has got a bike, and below the legend “NO IRAQI WAS BOMBARDED TO FUEL THIS VEHICLE”, what a delight! All the rest of us, who have to drive, bunch of murderers, if only we get the message! The tiny fact that the t-shirt was manufactured in Bangladesh, infamously known by its sweatshops and child labour, is just unimportant. As long as they can buy the shirt at $14.95 plus taxes to deliver their message, the kid that was paid $1 a day should be happy.

UPDATE

I received some comments about how wrong I was for attacking the Black Market Store, and the Black Market Staff wrote to me that they never, ever sold the t-shirt that I mentioned. I think is quite clear that I am not attacking the Black Market store. They sell military outfits next to old rock concert t-shirts so I don’t consider it to be a new hippie store because they don’t have the pretension of being an activist store. I went anyways to double check where the t-shirts are made in, and found out that all new t-shirts are manufactured either in Canada or Mexico, countries with well established clothing manufactures and a very clean record on sweatshops (Mexican salaries could be higher, but the conditions are appropriate). They also sell used t-shirts at $15 dlls each, and they come from countries as diverse as USA, France, Guatemala, and yes, Bangladesh. I understand that they do not have control where the used t-shirt are made in, so they cannot really be sure that they never sold a used t-shirt as the one that my friend and I saw.


Talking with Perspective

February 28, 2007

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.
Eleanor Holmes Norton

One thing that prevents me to join some organizations such as Greenpeace, J4MW, et cetera, is the radicalization of a great number of its members. In the other hand, the organizations perceived as all the evil that exist on Earth, are usually opened to its critics’ positions. Shell, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund always welcome its most critics’ point of view.

Let’s take an example, In Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is regarded as a rendezvous of the rich and powerful, but the voices opposed to globalization are always heard; they even have got special events, like the Open Forum. In contrast, the World Social Forum, the anti-globalization counterpart of Davos, is completely close to anybody who wants to speak in favour of globalization.

When in the small village of Atenco, in Mexico, riots and violent anti-governments manifestation turned into criminal acts, J4MW supported unconditionally the criminals that led the demonstration, closing the doors to any voice that support the legal status and the government position. In similar ways, radicals at Greenpeace make even grassroots activist to draw themselves out of this organization.

In the sustainable movement, David Suzuki once declared that ‘anyone who owns a SUV can’t care about the environment’; but he has being more moderate since then, and he is regarded as one of the greatest authorities concerning the environment. In the Fair Trade movement, any research that indicates that fair trade is not sustainable in the long term, because it keeps people in poverty, is usually received with a lynch spirit by the grassroots activist.

The left is plagued by people who likes the social ideas, but don’t have the willing to research how well these ideas apply or how realistic they are. In many cases, people joining social movements do so in order to oppose globalization, pollution, free trade, but just for the sake of oppose them. How somebody can seriously support Chiapas’s egomaniac Marcos? After 12 years of ‘war’ the area he controls is even poorer than before, his solutions are completely unviable, his openness to dialogue inexistent, but a lot of leftist still support him. I for once abandoned his line after two years of policy inconsistency and bad poetry that characterize the Sub-Commandant.

The ideas that these organizations embrace are usually the ones that I will support: anti poverty movements, global warming awareness, justice for migrant workers, and human treatment to animals. Is the lack of pluralism and self-critic what drives me and, I am sure, most moderate leftist away from them. Some organizations are no more that umbrellas for all kind of socialist movements, that oppose in general all what comes from the capital’s owners, the multinationals, and the USA, but can’t come up to particular solutions. Compare such organizations full of wannabe hippies against real, humanitarian movements like Medecins Sans Frontiers, the World Wide Foundation, and Amnesty International. These are real, grassroots activists, really busy trying to make this a better world, with little time to criticise everything they are against to.

In the meantime, this is an organization that can count with my absolute support and blessing:


Running of the Nudes


Is Free Trade Fair Trade?

February 23, 2007

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.
Dennis Whole

We will assume, for sake of simplicity, that fair trade takes place between a undeveloped country (the seller) and a developed one (the buyer), but it is meritorious to mention that fair trade also applies for commerce within a country (like Mexicans from the city buying coffee from Mexicans from Chiapas).

According to Fair Trade USA, there are 20 fair trade certifiers worldwide working with over one million farmers. But recent studies by the World Bank conclude that the benefits of free trade and economic liberalization have failed to reach the world’s poorest people. Paul Rice notes that many of these “victims of globalization” are small farmers in the developing world. Fair trade is a market-based approach to solving global poverty, he explains, one that helps make free trade work for the poor[1].

Suggestions that “unfair’ products may be taxed or that imports have to comply with ILO[2] standards have led to criticism from free trade advocates and even fair trade promoters are cautious when demanding protectionism or international intervention. Fair trade is seen as paternalism in international commerce[3].

The emphasis is that is the lack of free trade what is affecting developing nations: Protectionism, quotas and agricultural subsidies from the developing world are affecting third and second world producers.

The idea of fair trade is paying a fair price for the product of the work of different farmers and workers. One of the global implications is that, in perfect market conditions, the price of a product would be fair since the producer will not be willing to sale at a lower price of a given amount. Free trade will equals fair trade (Brink Lindsey, Milton Friedman).

The problem is that there are some market imperfections:

· Several industrialized countries, like USA and France, have strong subsides to the agricultural industry[4]
· Industrialised countries are larger economies than non-industrialized[5]
·
The fluctuation of commodity prices doesn’t guarantee a living wage for many producers, forcing them into debt and poverty[6].
·
The fluctuation of the currency between first world countries and underdeveloped and developing ones often alters the price of the product in an unnatural way[7],[8]

In the 1980’s, the US government policy provided $260 billions to American Farmers[9]. In 2008, the final NAFTA protections to Mexican bean and corn will fall, leaving poor Mexican farmers alone against the most subsidized farmer economy in the world.[10]

These imperfections make very difficult for smaller traders to compete. The argument is that multinational companies are able to benefit from subsides and protections that small economies cannot provide. The economic situations that these imperfections bring may fire backwards to developed countries when illegal immigration and terrorism are exported along with the goods. Flora and fauna extinction, social unrest and deforestation are faced in producing countries as result of poor economic conditions, like Chiapas in Mexico.

Fair trade hence gives consumers to use their purchase power as a vote to balance the situation[11]; fair trade then tries to set a fair price for the product, on the basis that the price shall:

  • Covers the costs of production.
  • Allows the peasant or worker to actually make money.
  • Allows re-investment in the farm or factory and
  • Allows the peasant or worker to work on safe conditions.

So, how much is a fair trade product priced
over a non-denominational

[12]

one? Here some examples
:

Product Fair Trade Non-Denominational
Coffee 1.26 .063
Cashews 2.48 2.38
Chocolate 0.73 0.64
Tea 1.25 1.00

I haven’t find evidence on how the fair trade price
is set and I haven’t found evidence that the price stated complies with the
fair trade mandate. There is very little work on the extend of how lives are
changed by effects of fair trade[14] Hudson and Hudson document that the producers of the cooperative “Majomut” in Chiapas are getting $148 USD more per year in an entity where the average salary is $1,345 USD per year, but they cautious us of not taking one
single result as a general effect of fair trade.
The traditional test of fairness is the voluntary consent of each party to the business.It is “The free will that constitutes fair exchanges” 15] . When an estimate of the value of a third or second world
product is done in the first world, we are estimating the value of a foreign
market from a distorted perspective. The word fair is usually what a willing
buyer will pay a willing seller[16], but given the mentioned market imperfections, we need a measure to determine what would be a fair price for a given product.



[1] “Why Fair Trade?” Paul Rice, TransFair USA, video conference held on March 2006. Available on http://www.big-picture.tv
[2] International Labour Organization
[3] “The Myth of Fair Trade”, James Bovard, Cato Policy Analysis, Nov 1, 1991.
[4] The U.S. government spent $2 billion in 1986 to flood international markets with American rice, driving down the world rice price by 50 percent. The Thai rice program spent less than $100 for each Thai rice grower, while the U.S. program spent the equivalent of over $l million for each full-time American rice grower between 1985 and 1990. Thailand’s average per capita income is $860, while the average American full-time rice grower was a millionaire even before receiving lavish subsidies in the mid and late 1980s.
[5] “Why Fair Trade?” Paul Rice, TransFair USA, video conference held on March 2006. Available on http://www.big-picture.tv
[6] http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/about_what_is_fairtrade.htm, retrieved on April 2006.
[7] Washington lawyer David Palmeter observes: “In the U.S., exchange rates in anti-dumping proceedings are determined by applying an outdated regulation, a relic of an era that ended in the early 1970s when the fixed exchange rate system established at Bretton Woods was abandoned. . . . The rate established by the Federal Reserve is a quarterly one, set in advance, and based on transactions at the end of the previous quarter. . . . This average rate is used throughout the quarter unless, on any particular day, it varies from the average by more than five percent, in which case the daily rate is used.” N. David Palmeter, “Exchange Rates and Anti-dumping Determinations,” Journal of World Trade 22, no. 2 (1988): 73.
[8] The depreciation of the Brazilian real from 1.20 to the dollar in January 1999 to 3.60 as of January 2003 has caused Brazilian costs in dollar-denominated terms to fall markedly.
[9] “The Politics of Plun der”, Doug Bandow, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1990.
[10] “Los Idus de Julio”, Carlos Fuentes, El Norte, Jul. 21, 2006.
[11] “Students Guide to Fair Trade”, Louisa Lyne, Oxfarm, 2006.
[12] The author resists to use the term ‘non fair trade’ since he’s trying to avoid the implication that products without the fair trade labeling are unfair.
[13] Retrieved from http://www.worldcentric.org/store/pricing.htm on July 2, 2006
[14] Hudson and Hudson, “Removing the Veil?”, Organization & Environment, Dec 2003, p 422
[15] John Taylor, 1822.
[16] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Report of the Secretary of the Treasury to the Congress on the Operation and Effectiveness of the Anti-dumping Act and on Amendments to the Act Considered Desirable or Necessary,” 1957, pp. 1819.


Introduction to Fair Trade

December 8, 2006

It hit me very early on that something was terribly wrong, that I would see silos full of food and supermarkets full of food, and kids starving. … In Fair Trade, we see ourselves as this infinitesimal part of the world economy. But somebody’s got to come up with an alternative model that says children eating is No. 1.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder, Global Exchange

The Second International Fair Trade Colloquium held on June 2006 at the UQÀM in Montréal posed the following questions:

· How can Fair Trade remain an alternative that distinguishes itself from conventional trade without bearing the risk of remaining marginal?

· What are the advantages, the risks and the conditions of success for fair trade certification?

· Is it possible to preserve the movement’s values while increasing market access? For example: what are the consequences of distributing Fair Trade products in supermarkets?

· How do Fair Trade initiatives distinguish themselves from other commercial enterprises that have socially responsible and sustainable policies?

· What influence has Fair Trade had on the institutional context and practices of traditional business enterprises?

· Does Fair Trade improve the living conditions of producers?

· Does it contribute to sustainable development?

· What is Fair Trade? What should it be?

Paul Rice believes that companies will find that Fair Trade is good for business; and they will grow fair trade product lines out of self-interest, rather than pity for the growers[1]. I will propose that since the current focus is to sell and to buy fair trade products as an act of conscience, it is still the pity for the growers that impulse the movement.

Some of the 25 million farmers, with less than 25 acres, depend on coffee for their livelihood. Coffee is 24% of total exports from Honduras in 2000, 43% from Uganda and 54% from Ethiopia[2]. The price of competition is driving a lot of people out, in Central America, an estimate of 200,000 permanent workers and 400,000 seasonal workers have lost their jobs. In the other hand, coffee employment have rise in Vietnam from 300,000 to four and five million today[3].

Fair trade coffee claims now only 1% of US retail market, while in Europe, where the movement have existed longer, the amount is 5%.[4]


[1] Paul Rice profile, http://www.transfairusa.org, retrieved on May, 2006.

[2] Oxfam, p. 8.

[3] European Coffee Federation, “ECF Comments on Oxfam ‘Make Trade Fair’ Campaign,” pamphlet, p. 2.

[4] Brink Lindsey, “Grounds for Complaint?”, Adam Smith Institute, 2004, p. 7


Why We Should Care

December 5, 2006

We all have enough strength to endure the misfortunes of others.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Why we should care about the consequences of our actions? Why should we control our consumption so others can enjoy more things? Are we obliged to do charity? Shall we just give away our fortunes because people abroad are affected by our consumption?

While I think the majority of people will find a place in his conscience to at least feel sorry for the people working in sweatshops abroad so we can sport the latest Nike sneaker, the reality is that no many persons are willing to give up their level of consumption, comfort, or perceived wealth just because some guy in Nicaragua is having a hard time.

I don’t pretend they do.

The same way some people will feel sympathy for the third world countries (or the dwellers of the inner cities in the first world) they are few who will give up their comfort. The reason the new socialist need to find to care for each other is not coming from the heart –nothing wrong with that- but from the brain.

Marie Sherlock already taught us how to live simple with our children in a consumerist environment that is too eager to fleece us up. Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin showed how to keep out of the circle of expense-debt so characteristic of Anglo America. A simple stakeholder analysis on Gap, Wal-Mart, Starbucks –with all his Fair Trade paraphernalia- will show us that, by allowing companies to exploit human, social, natural resources abroad we are setting the scene for a big backslash against out societies.

If we, as Anglo Americans, are using 25% of the resources in the world, while being just 5.5% of the human population, we are setting ourselves in the middle of the target to be hatred, blamed for all the injustice and regarded as the new Empire. The direct consequence is terrorism and insecurity while traveling (why do you thing citizens from USA travel with Canadian flags?)

Another direct consequence is illegal immigration, with the sequel of poverty and wear out of our social security system. If abroad we are regarded as filthy wealthy, people will come we want them or not. Those who will come illegally will be an economic and social burden –they give a lot to the economy, but, as their activity is unregulated, the benefits are hard to measure-

Environmental damage will be another consequence that will reach the first work sooner than later. For those empty heads happy for global warming and not suffering those harsh winters, wait to see the invoice in the degradation of soil and agricultural products soon.

If you don’t buy any of the aforementioned arguments, just think on how bad is over consumption for your wallet. Think how many hours do you put at to keep up with the Joneses, and have a good look at you home and look how many trash that you really don’t need is laying around.

If you thing that we are profiting on the low-wages paid abroad, wait until your pink slip issitting in your desk, because your blue collar job has move to China or your shinny high tech position has been relocated to India. All the abuse on the planet, its economy and resources will hunt us down sooner or latter.

That is why we should care now.