Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The tiger in the suitcase - an isolated incident?

This post now on Google News 

The airport cub, still in the suitcase. Photo credit: "Wildlife Checkpoint, Suvarnabhumi Airport." Used with permission.

 This past August 22, a hot story popped up in headlines around the world. A 2-month-old tiger cub was spotted by x-ray in a suitcase at a Bangkok airport. The tiger was drugged but alive, crammed among tiger toys and blue jeans in the suitcase. A 31-year-old Thai woman was arrested.

The drugged cub, awake but dopey, soon after removal from the suitcase. Photo credit: "TRAFFIC the wildlife trade monitoring network"  Used with permission.

The story was riveting - would the cub die, impaired from the lack of oxygen or the drugs?

The revived cub. Photo credit: TRAFFIC the wildlife trade monitoring network. Used with permission.

A couple of days later, the baby tiger was photographed looking alert and healthy. Apparently no permanent damage, other than loss of its mother and freedom.

But few of the articles I saw about the concealed tiger cub addressed the bigger picture. The smuggling of tigers or tiger body parts is not an isolated incident, or even a rare event. In fact, it happens daily on a massive scale. These operations are largely undercover. On September 15 in Ha Noi,Viet Nam, police uncovered a wildlife-bone trade network operated by a couple at their home. Nearly 900 kg (1,984 lbs) of animal bones from four different locations were confiscated.  

The haul included 6 complete tiger skeletons and 6 skulls, 32 kg of additional tiger bones - even though it's estimated that only 30 wild tigers remain in all of Viet Nam.

The confiscated bones in Ha Noi also included 3 clouded leopard skulls and 1 skeleton, 6 bear skulls and one stuffed bear head, in addition to 730 kg of other wildlife bones and dried wildlife body parts. What are all these bones for?

Very pricey "tiger-bone glue" is thought (erroneously) to improve virility
Tiger bones and other wildlife bones are boiled down by wildlife dealers to make "bone glue," a popular traditional medicine, and one of the most expensive. According to traditional medicine guides, pure tiger bone glue is taken as a tonic to enhance masculinity, although in reality it has no medically demonstrable effect.

Wildlife and body parts altered to pass for more expensive species
Before a sale, various animal bones are often made to look like tiger bones by carving or grinding them. Even living leopards may be made to seem like tigers before sale. Their bodies may be pumped full of water and agar (doubling their weight) and they may be painted with black stripes. I would find it hard to believe that such a scheme could work, had I not seen, myself, primates painted different colors to resemble more expensive species, in the wildlife markets of Jakarta.

Tigers are on the brink
In 1900, the world had more than 100,000 tigers. Since then, humans have reduced that number to around 3200 in the wild. Some estimates are as low as 1500.  But even those numbers seem higher than they effectively are.  The 6 remaining tiger subspecies survive in numerous small populations - a population defined as individuals living in close enough proximity to interbreed.  These pockets are scattered over 13 countries. Altogether, the actual land space occupied by today's wild tigers is only about 7% of the area they once covered.

It's been estimated that none of the isolated wild tiger populations has more than 250 mature breeding individuals. A population that small can be negatively affected by inbreeding, or heavily impacted by a new disease vector or a change in local prey or habitat. When a population gets too small, it loses its resilience and can just collapse for any or all of these reasons. Who knows what that number is for tigers?  At 250, they're no doubt approaching it.

What are the human threats to tigers?
As tiger numbers have plummeted 97% over the last 110 years, the Javan, Bali, and Caspian tiger subspecies have gone extinct. During the same period (1900-2010), the human population has skyrocketed from 1.7 billion to 6.87 billion today. Humans are responsible for the drop in tiger numbers and the extinctions, by a variety of insults. The primary threats to tiger survival are habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, poaching, scarcity of prey, and retributive killing.  

Habitat loss includes clearing of forests for timber, palm oil plantations, agriculture, livestock grazing, human settlements, as well as habitat fragmentation by roads and rapid development. Prey are scarce for the same reasons - loss of habitat and fragmentation of habitat, and poaching (for food or trade). Tigers are sometimes hunted and killed by frustrated farmers and livestock herders when the predators are blamed for livestock deaths. That's retributive killing.

Poaching is a major source of tiger mortality
Tigers are shot, trapped, snared for lots of reasons: to be sold as prestigious skins for the homes of the rich and powerful, for the pet trade (especially as cubs), and largely to supply the illegal trade in tiger parts used for Chinese traditional medicines, such as the above-mentioned "bone glue."  But bone glue is only one of many products containing tiger ingredients.  This is a huge problem in Asian countries where many people believe they can acquire the characteristics of the animals they eat. The BBC's Andrew Harding reported on a "penis emporium" in Beijing where a dish of "tiger penis hotpot" costs  $5,700 (USD). Supposedly, men order it to improve their virility, although Harding's waitress at the emporium admitted to Harding that eating tiger penis has no effect on virility. Said the waitress, "People just like to order tiger to show off how much money they have." When consumers will pay such prices for tiger parts, you can imagine the money that tiger poachers or dealers can make. Some poachers or dealers store their tiger corpses or tiger parts to sell in later years, when the animals have become even more rare and prices will be even higher. That sounds familiar. I heard the same thing about the endangered blue-fin tuna which is still overharvested - that some fish dealers are stockpiling the blue-fin in freezer vaults, for the day when the species is extinct, and prices will go through the roof. (See the documentary End of the Line for more info about this.) Along the same theme, several conservationists in Southeast Asia told me during my recent stay there that the rarest birds and primates are the most targeted by poachers, because the rarest are the most prestigious possessions, are thus most coveted, and will command the highest price in the markets. Some trappers focus on an endangered species as the price escalates, until the animals are extinct or so rare it's impossible to find them, then the poachers switch their attention to another rare species. In Southeast Asia, many local people will trap whatever they can catch, because they know that whatever it is, they can sell it at a nearby wildlife market - as food, a pet, a skin, medicine ingredient, etc.

Tigers as pets
In a poll by Animal Planet, tigers were voted the world's most popular animal, followed (in order) by dogs, dolphins, horses, lions, snakes, elephants, chimpanzees, orangutans, and whales.Is this a factor in Asians' willingness to pay exorbitant prices to eat tiger parts? Probably. It's definitely a factor in a  bit of news I found shocking: the Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimates that up to 12,000 tigers are being kept as private pets in the United States, significantly more than the world's entire wild population; 4,000 are believed to be in captivity in Texas alone. Part of the reason for America's enormous tiger population relates to legislation. Only nineteen states have banned private ownership of tigers, fifteen require only a license, and sixteen states have no regulations at all. Ouch! That's another can of worms, which I won't explore here, although I have prior posts on the widespread sale of exotic (foreign) wildlife within the U.S., and the extensive smuggling of monkeys, parrots, snakes, lizards, even chimpanzees across borders into the U.S. (See list below.)

Tigers need help!
Tigers are critically endangered, predicted by many to be extinct in the wild within 20 years, and protected by the CITES international treaty as well as by various federal regulations of the countries where they live and where their body parts are shipped to. But with international crime syndicates now involved in the highly profitable wildlife trade, and source countries' wildlife departments sorely understaffed, tigers are freely poached from preserves where they are supposed to be entirely protected. Some tiger preserves have been completely drained of tigers by poachers. Tigers and tiger parts are shipped through airports where security personnel can often be paid off - I was told this myself repeatedly by wildlife dealers in Indonesia. Tigers and tiger parts are smuggled the same way drugs are: in the trunks of cars, in boats, in planes, in suitcases. When the Thai woman was caught with a tiger in her suitcase in August, we all thought, "What a nut! Who would try something so stupid?!" The fact is, anybody and everybody would, everyday. They would and they do. That's why we have 3200 wild tigers left today, at the end of a century that began with more than 100,000.

What's being done?
In this year, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, the first ever Global Tiger Summit will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, from Nov. 21-24. At the Summit, Russia will host ministers and heads of state from the 13 countries that still have tiger populations to sign a declaration on joint cooperation for tiger conservation, and to initiate a global tiger recovery program which seeks to double the number of tigers by the year 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger. That means increasing tiger numbers to 6,400 from the current historic low of 3,200.

What you can do
Stopping the deforestation and the poaching are two essential ingredients to helping these beloved animals rebound. Ways to help with that include:
  • support organizations that are working hard on the scene to stop deforestation in the countries where tigers live (such as Greenpeace)
  • support the organizations that are seeking enforcement of anti-poaching laws in Southeast Asia, and are seeking to have violators prosecuted (such as TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network)
  • avoid buying products that contain palm oil
  • write your own legislators and ask them to do the same
See World Wildlife Fund's page about the upcoming tiger summit for suggestions about what you personally can do to help protect the remaining wild tigers. One piece of good news is that tigers are prolific breeders, and given the needed resources, could actually rebound quickly.

A postscript
The 6 surviving tiger subspecies, in descending numbers, are the Bengal tiger, Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, Sumatran tiger, Siberian tiger, and South China tiger (not seen in the wild since 1987)

The 13 countries that still have wild tigers are all Asian: India (with the most), Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan.

My previous posts on Southeast Asia:
Wildlife trade rivals drug trade in profits September 20, 2010

Some of my previous posts on exotic wildlife in the U.S. and animal smuggling:
Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle. September, 2008.
The U.S. imports 20,000 primates per year. February, 2010
The great apes are losing ground. March, 2010

Keywords: tigers extinction Global Tiger Summit Russia tiger bones Ha Noi Viet Nam penis emporium wildlife trade tiger glue wildlife body parts pet trade wildlife markets most popular animal TRAFFIC the wildlife trade monitoring network Greenpeace ProFauna Southeast Asia

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wildlife trade rivals drug trade in profits

I recently wrote a post about Indonesia's illegal trade in wildlife, focusing on orangutans. As one of our closest relatives, orangutans act and look a lot like humans, especially the babies. People world-over seem to share a fascination for the red-haired apes; they're featured in movies, commercials, and as "poster children" for conservation organizations. Unfortunately, their high visibility has done little to protect orangutans from impending extinction. In fact, their human-like antics contribute to their demise by making them extremely popular as pets - one of the major threats to their survival.

While orangutans are as widely available as ever for pet-seekers, dealers no longer display them openly in the marketplace. With all the media attention on the apes' endangered and protected status, dealers and police as well find it difficult to pretend that orangutan sales are legit. Orangs are more likely now to be sold in the same clandestine ways drugs are sold - at prearranged meetings, or in homes or other private locations.

Greater slow loris at Jatinegara market in Jakarta. Photo by Sally Kneidel

What about the less celebrated primates of Southeast Asia? 
Southeast Asia has 70 species of primates, with 39 species in Indonesia alone. That's an astonishing number; in my experience, it's unrivaled by anywhere else in the world. During my recent visits to three wildlife markets in Jakarta (Indonesia's capital), I saw plenty of primates openly exhibited for sale, although there were many more species for sale that I didn't see.

"The shy one"
At all three Jakarta markets, I saw the greater slow loris for sale, an internationally protected primate  species that's listed in CITES Appendix I and on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The greater slow loris is totally protected by Indonesian legislation as well. Yet these animals were paraded brazenly, were even hawked aggressively to me and my companion as highly desirable and cuddly purchases. They were called "kuskus" by the dealers, “kukang” or “malu-malu” (the shy one) by local people outside the markets.  A consultant for TRAFFIC told me about seeing lorises in markets dyed black and dressed  in clown outfits – selling for higher prices. Mortality is high in pet lorises, from infections after having their teeth pulled out with pliers, and from stress and inappropriate food. But lorises are relatively inexpensive and considered easily replaceable in Indonesia. Which means their capture rate must be quite high to maintain a steady flow into the markets.

Greater slow loris at Barito market, Jakarta. Photo by Sally Kneidel

Greater slow loris at Barito market in Jakarta. Photo by Sally Kneidel

I saw dozens of long-tailed macaques for sale in all the markets. Many looked so young as to be barely weaned. They all seemed bedraggled and frightened. Many appeared hungry and sick. One was dyed orange to look like a more expensive baby silvered-leaf monkey.
Baby macaque at Barito market, Jakarta. Photo by Sally Kneidel

Infant macaques at Pramuka market. Photo by Sally Kneidel
Frightened young macaque at Jatinegara market. Photo by Sally Kneidel

I kick myself for not stopping in Medan
I seriously regret not going to the animal markets in the city of Medan, on Indonesia's island of Sumatra. I went through Medan twice, but didn't realize what I might have learned about the illicit animal trade if I'd stopped and snooped around. As it turns out, a lot of the primates for sale in Jakarta were caught on Sumatra, a less populated and more forested island than the island of Java, where Jakarta is.  So Javan dealers acquire wildlife from Medan (or from Borneo) to supply the huge markets of Jakarta, markets like Pramuka.

Indonesia's biggest wildlife market: Pramuka, in Jakarta. Photo by Sally Kneidel

A great bit of sleuthing
The diligent Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC surveyed the wildlife markets of Medan sixty-six times between 1997 and 2008. During that period, Shepherd observed 1,953 primates of 10 species for sale, most of which are recognized as threatened to varying degrees by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Those 10 species were the greater slow loris, long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, silvered leaf monkey, ebony leaf monkey, Thomas's leaf monkey, Sumatran leaf monkey, Siamang, agile gibbon, and white-handed gibbon.
 Thomas's leaf monkey in a Sumatran national park, a species openly for sale in Medan. Photo by Sally Kneidel

White-handed gibbons in the treetops of Sumatra. This species was also seen in a Medan market by Chris Shepherd. Photo by Sally Kneidel

Shepherd made the effort to cultivate relationships with Medan dealers so they would talk to him about trends and sources. The dealers told him that high-profile species such as orangutans drew the attention of law-enforcement officers, but other totally protected species such as the loris rarely did. The macaques and other most common species were completely ignored by enforcement agencies, although according to Indonesian law, no primates may be legally harvested for commercial purposes.  Given the absence of enforcement, it's not surprising that the dealers expressed to Chris little fear of prosecution.  The dealers also felt no need to get the permits that are legally required to sell wildlife of any kind in Indonesia.  According to the Medan dealers Shepherd interviewed, primates are in demand and sell very quickly. Customers pay more for rare species, thus increasing the incentive for trappers to target the rare and threatened.

What's going on with the legal protection of these animals?
Indonesia is a lovely and deeply exciting country, but it does have a reputation for government corruption, bribery, and generally ineffective law enforcement. I was told several times that if I got a traffic ticket, I should just pay the policeman and that would be the end of it. Many wildlife dealers told me that animals purchased at the markets could be smuggled through airports by paying the security screeners, if they happened to say anything. I didn't test either of these assertions, but heard these comments so many times, I concluded there must be some truth to them. Since returning home, I've learned that academic studies confirm the weak enforcement of laws in Indonesia.  Given the lack of financial resources in the country, it's not that surprising.

Recommendations from an expert
Chris Shepherd closed his 2010 paper on the illegal primate trade in Indonesia with recommendations to address the problem of illegal sales of protected primates.He says that Indonesia has adequate laws and regulations to protect primates from over-exploitation. He recommends that the Natural Resources Conservation Agency in North Sumatra should be encouraged to monitor wildlife markets frequently and to take action against individuals involved in capturing and selling primates illegally. Persons illegally keeping or trading primates should be prosecuted and given maximum sentences, and as a deterrent to others, the prosecutions and punishments should be widely publicized. Furthermore, markets where illegal trade in wildlife occurs should be closed down by appropriate authorities. I agree with that, for sure.

Can promotion of eco-tourism help too?
Most humans consider animals to exist for our exploitation: as food, beasts of burden, companions, or commodities for profit.  But eco-tourism provides a new category. Animals, protected and nurtured in their own habitats, can become a livelihood - a livelihood that can be especially valuable in impoverished countries like Indonesia. True, a little delayed gratification might be required to cultivate a family livelihood that can sustain generations, as opposed to a handful of cash today.

It may be working in Bukit Lawang
I stayed in the small village of Bukit Lawang, a Sumatran town next to Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang is a good example of an entire village cashing in on the tourists who come to see wildlife in the park, mainly primates. Some families run guesthouses, some hire out as forest guides, some work in restaurants, or operate kiosks that sell drinks and snacks.  Poaching of animals and plants is still rampant in Gunung Leuser National Park. But since poverty and unemployment are cited as major drivers of poaching, I'm guessing that villagers employed in eco-tourism are less enthusiastic about poaching than they might have been at one time. It would be an interesting study, I think - do people making a living in eco-tourism change their attitudes about illegally capturing or selling wildlife? Does anyone know the answer to that?

Another piece of the solution
For anyone who wants to help, consider making a donation or offering volunteer work to TRAFFIC, a great organization working hard to combat the illegal trade in wildlife. TRAFFIC has some fantastic reports, many by Chris Shepherd or Vincent Nijman, available for free download on their website. Or contribute to the efforts of Greenpeace, an NGO working to protect the forests and wildlife habitats of Southeast Asia.  Another option is Indonesia's own ProFauna, an NGO working on behalf of Indonesian wildlife.

Paper referenced above:
Chris R. Shepherd. 2010. "Illegal primate trade in Indonesia exemplified by surveys carried out over a decade in North Sumatra."Endangered Species Research 11:201-205. Available on TRAFFIC website.

My previous posts on Southeast Asia:
Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm-oil plantations August 3, 2010
My search for a wild orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra August 16, 2010
Laws flaunted: flourishing pet trade threatens orangutans' survival August 23, 2010

Resources to help you take action:
Keywords: illegal wildlife trade primate trade Southeast Asia TRAFFIC Greenpeace ProFauna wildlife Indonesia bird markets Indonesia animal markets Pramuka Barito Jatinegara Jakarta wildlife markets orangutan white-handed gibbon greater slow loris langur leaf monkey macaque primate protection primate conservation primate exploitation primate sales black market corruption

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Grocery Variety and Sustainability Go Hand-in-Hand

By Dan Grifen, a guest blogger for Veggie Revolution

"In other environmental issues we tell people to stop something, reduce their impact, reduce their damage," - U.S. Ecologist Gary Nabhan

Since the beginning of the green movement, there has been a rise in the number of organizations and businesses that are doing their part in the promotion of sustainability through conservation. As human beings, we're told to reduce our carbon footprint, consume less unhealthy foods, and spend less time in the shower! But let's take a minute to step back and look at this from a different perspective; one that Gary Nabhan strongly suggests.

Gary Paul Nabhan, PhD, is an Arab-American writer/conservationist whose extensive farming work in the U.S./Mexico borderlands region has made him world renowned. Specifically speaking, Nabhan is known for his work in biodiversity as an ethnobotanist. His uplifting messages and attitude towards life and culture have granted us access to multiple beneficial theories including his latest of eat what you conserve.

According to The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, about three quarters of the genetic diversity of crops has been vanishing over the last century; a dozen species now provide 90% of the animal protein eaten globally. In accordance, just 4 crop species supply half of plant based calories in the human diet.

Nabhan claims that by eating the fruits and vegetables that we are attempting to conserve/save, we're promoting the dissemination and conservation of these same plant species. But this goes beyond what we typically buy in supermarkets, particularly because of price and abundance. We must remember to try new things and immerse ourselves in the very concept of diversity. Keep in mind - the benefits of splurging for that costly fruit/vegetable supremely outweigh the cons. Not only are you promoting biodiversity and further eliminating the needs of farmers to remove rare, less purchased crops off their agenda, but you're also effectively encouraging healthier lifestyles.

Agriculturist Marco Contiero mentioned, "Biodiversity is an essential characteristic of any sustainable agricultural system, especially in the context of climate change." With sustainable crop efforts being lead by the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) and the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) the duo plans to provide a more sustainable crop that can withstand natural disasters, avoiding food shortages like Haiti is experiencing. Contiero goes on to state "We need to ensure this is the basis for the future…" – This is exactly what Doug Band, the CGI, and the IRRI are doing by engaging in sustainability efforts.

So remember, next time you're in the supermarket picking out a common varietal of navel oranges or strawberries, turn your attention to something that's a bit more exotic in nature. The same goes for salads/salad ingredients; shop outside the norm, picking spices and vegetables that you wouldn't normally incorporate into your everyday diet. During such economic downtime it isn't always easy to maintain the same level of grocery shopping intrigue, but we must also not forget that in this sundry of foods we can find fun!

Written by Dan Grifen – Supporter of all things green and progressive

Dan Grifen blogs at http://everythingleft.wordpress.com and is a guest blogger for Veggie Revolution and SallyKneidel.com

Key words: sustainable food conservation Gary Nabhan Dan Grifen Everything Left everythingleft  sustainable farming biodiversity seed diversity crop diversity shopping sustainably FAO genetic diversity of crops

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My review of the documentary "Dirt! The Movie"

 This post is now on Google News and the syndicated BasilandSpice

Garden soil, composted from vegetable and yard waste. Photo by Sally Kneidel

I was asked to write a review of "Dirt! The Movie," a documentary about our worldwide destruction of soil versus our absolute dependence on soil for our survival. The movie is an inspiring blend of interviews with scientists, farmers, and activists, as well as footage from around the world of the traditional uses and modern abuses of soil.

The first third of the movie explores the origins and contents of healthy soil, followed by testimonials from an impressive array of experts about the value and utility of soil. The filmmakers interviewed workers building with soil; one-third of the world still lives in earthen homes. Winemakers talked about the relationship between soil and subtleties of taste. Biologists dug up worms and fungi with their hands; they and others spoke passionately about the vast array of organisms essential to soil health.

A scary diagnosis
The next third of the film documented how humans are destroying the limited amount of soil we have. Little of this was new to me, yet I felt compelled to write down almost every word of it. The vivid images and words were motivating to me in the way a scary medical diagnosis can be motivating; I wanted to remember everything. To make their point about soil destruction, the filmmakers covered mountaintop removal for mining, agribusiness methods that erode soils and poison ecosystems, desertification that starves African and Indian families, and deforestation of the Amazon "for expansion of soil."  Said biologist Janine Benyus, "We've lost 1/3 of our topsoil in the last 100 years."

Benyus and other scientists denounced the agribiz practice of planting monocultures, which are more vulnerable to weather extremes and pests, leading to the use of pesticides that destroy vital soil organisms. Unhealthy soils lead to the widespread use of nitrogen fertilizer, most of which winds up in surface waters downhill from crop fields. Nitrogen pollution is responsible for the infamous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, where little survives but jellyfish. Nitrogen fertilizer also forms nitrous oxides that contribute to global warming. Remarked Vandana Shiva, a physicist, farmer, and activist in India, "25% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from agriculture that has become a war against soil."

Majora Carter is featured
The last third or so of the film was devoted to solutions, spotlighting individuals who are engaged in projects to nurture soil or to help underserved populations connect with gardening. The most impressive of those to me was Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, who extolled the virtues of roof gardens. I gathered that the filmmaker's objective in this portion of the film was to illustrate what each of us might do as individuals, to encourage viewers to take action, however small.

While I agree that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," we don't have time to piddle around.  As Wes Jackson of "The Land Institute" pointed out in the movie, "we have a hundred year window in which to find ourselves. We have come to the end of the extraction economy and we have got to figure out how to live within our means."  Jackson is being generous. We have maybe 20 years to turn things around, before reaching the point of no return environmentally. With that in mind, I would've liked to see the film focus on bigger solutions, like pressing the governments of Brazil and Southeast Asia to protect their remaining trees.  Or suggesting ways to address desertification in Africa.. As the richest country in the world, we are not powerless.

Why is the impact of livestock omitted?
In spite of the movie's merits, I was disappointed that it never mentioned the livestock sector as a major cause of soil loss worldwide. The desertification in Africa is a direct result of overgrazing of livestock. When hoofed animals graze land with too few plants to sustain them, they pull up plants by the roots. They also compact the soil with their hoofs, which keeps rain from permeating the soil.  The result is rootless, dry soil that blows away in the wind - that's desertification.  Nor did the film mention that Brazilian rainforests are cut primarily to raise feed for livestock or to graze livestock.  If we ate plant-based foods only and skipped the livestock, we'd need only a small fraction of the agricultural land we need to support livestock. In which case, forests could be spared. Is that not relevant to soil conservation? What's more relevant than that?

I was also surprised that, during the discussion of seed diversity and the importance of saving and exchanging seeds with other farmers, no mention was made of corporations such as Monsanto that are acquiring ownership and controlling the use of our crop seeds, and genetically altering many of them. (For more about Monsanto, see the Center for Food Safety website or their publication "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers".)

Valuable for educators
But overall "Dirt! The Movie" is a film with a crucial message, and well worth watching.It's an excellent movie for a teacher or professor to use for any age student, as an introduction to an ecology unit, or to open any variety of topics involving life on the planet. It's not a gripping documentary, like "Darwin's Nightmare." But valuable.If everyone on the planet were aware of the issues covered in this film, we might stand a chance of actually turning things around before we exhaust our planet's resources...none of which are more necessary than dirt.

Key words: Dirt the movie film review movie review desertification soil topsoil nitrogen pollution dead zone Gulf of Mexico monocultures deforestation erosion agriculture gardening roof gardens Majora Carter Sustainable South Bronx Monsanto

Thursday, September 02, 2010

How food affects your brain: 10 facts we now know

 Walnuts and olive oil, two of the healthful choices for your brain. Photo by Sally Kneidel

Readers -
I just received an email from Cindy Cullen at the Culinary Arts College, asking if I'd like to post a link to their article
How Food Affects Your Brain: 10 Facts We Now Know.

Some interesting information in the post, so I'm passing it along.

I need to add a couple of things in relation to their list of foods. If you eat fish, please choose fish and seafood responsibly.  Our oceans are being emptied of fish by over-harvesting, and many species once common are on the verge of extinction. In addition, many fish species contain dangerous levels of mercury and other pollutants.

Use these guides to choose seafood wisely:
Seafood Selector from Environmental Defense Fund
Sustainable Seafood Guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council
Health Alerts Seafood Guide from EDF
Seafood Recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Choose organic
In regard to the fruits and vegetables on the Culinary Arts College list, please choose organic. Strawberries are on the list, and 54 different pesticide residues have been found on non-organic strawberries by the USDA Pesticide Data Program (according to the Pesticide Action Network). Buying organic not only protects the future health of you and your children, it also protects ecosystems and wildlife.Pesticides sprayed on crop fields are washed into nearby streams, rivers and lakes. They're also ingested by birds and other animals feeding near croplands.

A few of my previous posts on the importance of choosing organic products:
Did your shopping list kill a songbird?
Organic cotton: it's worth every penny
Top 10 eco-friendly diet choices
Bird-protecting chocolate and coffee

A few of my previous posts on over-harvesting of fish and on pollutants in fish:
Number of imperiled fish almost doubles in 20 years
Tuna is the biggest source of mercury from fish: is it safe to eat fish? 
Review of the documentary: "End of the Line: where have all the fish gone?"
Top 10 ways to help wildlife
New book about how overfishing is changing the world
Farmed salmon vs. wild salmon
Lice from fish farms attack wild salmon 

Key words: organic overharvesting of fish salmon depletion of fish mercury overharvesting of ocean fish disappearing fish imperiled fish threatened fish endangered strawberries pesticides