Posts Tagged ‘slave labour’

Food Read Round-up: slave labour in the fish trade, small farm takeovers, the rise of unsustainable coffee, and more

Monday, June 23rd, 2014
(Photo: By Lettuce, via Flickr)

(Photo: By Lettuce, via Flickr)

The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

I’ve been remiss in not having covered sustainable fish and fishing on Earthward before. This post touches on just a few of the issues: Canada’s lack of protection of its own coastal areas and marine life, and the use of slave labour in global shrimp production. On a more positive note, I’ve included an item on Community Supported Fisheries (like CSAs, but for fish). Other items this week? Concentration of farmland ownership around the world, and why shade-grown coffee is no longer the norm.

Canada behind in protecting oceans (and fish). Oceans play a key role in the food supply, so it would make sense for Canada to protect coastal areas that shelter and nurture marine life. However, a report released earlier this month by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) shows that this country ranks last in efforts to protect ocean biodiversity from human activity. Among countries with the longest coast lines, Canada lags behind China, Indonesia, Russia and six other nations.  In fact, Canada has protected only 1.3% of what’s known as “ocean estate”, compared with 30.4% for the U.S. and 33.2% for Australia. As far back as 1992, Canadian federal governments have set targets and deadlines for marine protection but never followed through. More recently, the government has declared that marine-protected areas will cover 10% of ocean estate by 2020, but as CPAWS notes, work must start now if this target is to be reached.

The emergence of Community Supported Fisheries. A recent article from Food Tank featured Vancouver-based Skipper Otto, a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) whose goal is to encourage consumers to buy direct from local fishermen. As you might guess, CSFs are a variant of CSAs, the community-supported farms we’re more used to seeing provide fresh produce, meat and dairy to their members. There are 35 to 40 CSFs in North America, according to the North Atlantic Marine Alliance; Skipper Otto is the first in Canada.

In an interview, Skipper Otto’s owner Shaun Strobel says that the biggest threats confronting global fisheries these days are large-scale extraction of fish and regulations that have been designed for larger corporations. By contrast, CSFs promote smaller-scale fishing, sustainable consumption and better prices for fishermen. Besides connecting consumers and fishermen, Skipper Otto is working on developing consumer education workshops on topics such as how to cut fish, sushi cutting, and canning and smoking fish.

Southeast Asian slave labour produces shrimp for Walmart, Costco, others. A six-month investigation by the Guardian has revealed that slave labour is widely in Asia to produce shrimp sold by Walmart, Costco, Aldi, Tesco and other US and UK retailers. Companies such as Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods buy fishmeal for their farmed shrimp from suppliers that own, operate or buy from slave-manned fishing boats. The slaves work 20-hour days and are beaten, tortured and even killed. Rights groups say that the need for cheap labour has been fueled by increased demand from North America and Europe for cheap shrimp and by labour shortages in the Thai fishing sector, and have called on consumers and retailers to demand action from the Thai government. For their part, the US and UK retail chains affected have condemned slavery and pointed to systems they have implemented to track labour conditions.

Global farmland ownership concentrated in a few hands. A UN studysays that the world’s food supplies are at risk because ownership of farmland is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations and other wealthy interests. Small farmers grow as much as 70% of the planet’s food but mega-farms and plantations are squeezing them onto less than 25% of the farmland available. According to the UN report, the main reason for the shift is the global expansion of industrial-scale commodity crop farms. In fact, the land area occupied by oil palm, rapeseed, soybeans and sugar cane alone has quadrupled in the past 50 years. This is especially worrisome given that small farms are often more productive and more sustainable than big ones, the report says. “Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms are…much better at producing and utilizing biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion…”

More coffee beans being grown with fertilizer and pesticides. Despite what looks like a proliferation of shade-grown, organic and other eco-friendly coffees on retail shelves, more and more of our coffee supply is made from intensively produced, sun-grown beans that require synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

As this article from OnEarth magazine describes, just 50 years ago most coffee was shade-grown, a method that doesn’t rely on chemicals and promotes healthier ecosystems that include plenty of pollinators, natural pest control and soil conservation. Today only about 2% of the world’s coffee is shade-grown. Vietnam has become the world’s second largest coffee producer, growing 75% of its beans on unshaded plantations; meanwhile, volatile prices are driving shade-growers out of business in traditional growing regions such as Africa and South America.

What can concerned coffee drinkers in Ottawa do? Buy shade-grown coffee from Bridgehead or Farm Boy. Or help raise money for the Ottawa School Breakfast program by purchasing a bag locally roasted, fair trade, organic, shade-grown, South American artisan coffee from more than 25 retailers, including Rainbow Foods, Thyme & Again, and the The Whalesbone.

What food stories have you been following in the media?