The dark side of soya: how one supercrop lost its way

This article was first published in the Ecologist on 1 May 2012.

Once credited with power to prevent cancer and combat high cholesterol, over the last few years, evidence that soya is far from a superfood has begun to emerge. And it’s not just the potentially negative health impact of the bean that has former supporters up in arms: it’s the environmental impact. In the UK we rely heavily on soya, or soy, and it’s not just for vegetarian food. It is a hidden product in many foods and everyday items such as soap. It is a cheap source of protein for people as well as animals and according toGreenpeace, 80 per cent of soya worldwide is used for the livestock industry.  WWF add that the UK consumption alone requires an area the size of Yorkshire to be planted with soya every year. So how did soya go from super crop to super bad?

Deforestation and slavery

Brazil, the second biggest grower and the biggest exporter of soya, is such a big player in the industry that there are major concerns about how this is affecting the Amazon Rainforest. According to Greenpeace, in 2005 around 1.2 million hectares of soya was planted in the Brazilian rainforest. Sarah Shoaka from Greenpeace’s Forest Network says that deforestation has been decreasing on the whole in Brazil since 2008. This is mainly because of the enforcement of a soya moratorium that bans soya produced as a result of deforestation from entering the market place.  However, Shoraka warns that this positive trend may be changing…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

World Naked Bike Ride: a protest with a difference

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 27 April 2012.

A group of naked strangers cycling through a city centre is going to turn heads. Every year across the UK World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), ‘the world’s biggest naked protest,’ is held to try and get people to notice in the name of oil dependency and pollution, car culture and the vulnerability of cyclists.

The two biggest issues for the naked protesters are our continued dependence on oil dependency and the lack of safe roads and pathways for cyclists, helping us to reduce our dependency on oil. The naked part of the protest symbolises the vulnerability of cyclists as road users.

While the rides themselves are a bold statement, there is debate around whether they are effective in communicating the issues behind them. The organisers of the bike ride say campaigning for better protection  of cyclists and promoting cycling itself is the only reason they do it. ‘But bear in mind that those behind it often have their own angle,’ says a spokesperson for the WNBR.

Bigger environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth see the naked protest as something more amusing than effective. ‘I applaud the bare-faced cheek of those taking part in the naked bike ride. Anything that helps raise awareness of pollution and greener modes of transport is a good thing in my book,’ says Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth (FOE)…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

In season now: what to eat during May

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 30 April 2012.

Bank holiday weekends are becoming a regular occurrence and with the weather (hopefully) improving, it’s time to get out and explore. For the foodie, this is about more than just enjoying the scenery; there are plenty of treats to be found if you know where to look. But too many of us don’t, says Slow Food UK CEO, Cat Gazzoli, who is adamant that we need to start taking advantage of our ‘forgotten foods’. ‘Eat it or lose it’ is the motto behind Slow Food’s Ark of Taste network, which catalogues forgotten flavours. It currently stands at 700 products from 30 countries. ‘The producers of these foods swim against the tide of intensive production methods to continue the culinary traditions that have been passed down through the generations,’ says Gazzoli. ‘Every product has a fascinating story behind it.’ So what should you be eating this month? Gazzoli has a few unusual ideas.

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

Ethical jewellery: what to ask and what to buy

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 24 April 2012.

Nobody wants to look at jewellery and feel pangs of guilt but there’s no denying that the industry has a poor record when it comes to ethics with everything from blood diamonds to dirty gold and environmental destruction on the charge sheet. What’s more, according toEthical Metalsmiths, although metal mining only employs 0.9 per cent of the global workforce, it consumes 10 per cent of the world’s energy. ‘Mining is the most environmentally damaging industry in the world, and jewellery is 100 per cent dependent on mined products,’ says Greg Valerio, co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action(FJA) and owner of CRED Jewellery. But does that mean you have to give up bijoux entirely? Well, no. But you do need to know what to look out for.

Jewellery, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, accounts for around 50 per cent of global demand for gold. But there’s a plus side to its popularity and the yellow metal has become the first jewellery component to get Fairtrade certification. Figures released by the Fairtrade Foundation show that artisan and small-scale (ASM) miners sometimes receive as little as 70 per cent of the internationally agreed price of gold. Along with paying fair prices to workers, in order to be certified, mines must minimise the use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide to extract the gold from ore. Along with low-chemical gold, there is also Fairtrade and Fairmined Ecological Gold….

Read more at the Ecologist 

Profile: D Murphy

Amy Hall speaks to D Murphy about Swansea’s latest wave of squatted community centres, being arrested in the West Bank and years of campaigning for social justice.

D Murphy is part of the self described ‘motley crew’ in Swansea who launched the squatted Cwtch Community Centre in January and February this year. Named after the Welsh word for cuddle, the group took advantage of some of the empty buildings that pepper the city centre.

They started at the empty Dolphin Hotel in the city centre, gaining access through an open window, and running a refreshingly open and successful social centre. After being evicted from here they moved to the JT Morgan department store, were again evicted, then took up the old Earlsmoor Care Home which they renamed Serfsmor. After a third eviction they decided to regroup and take a break.

D, originally from Cork in Ireland, is now concentrating on her trip to Palestine in April with the Welcome to Palestine initiative. She has been a dedicated campaigner for Palestinian freedom since she first went there in 2005.

D started working for Undercurrents, an environmental and social justice video production company, ten years ago. She is their office manager. The charity was founded in 1994 out of a desire to film with people who were protesting instead of behind police lines.

Colleague Paul O’Connor describes her as a ‘mother to all’. “I think her heart rules over her head sometimes but her passion for a cause is admirable,” he says. “She is the glue, which bonds our organisation together.”

Before Undercurrents D worked in research. After doing a master’s degree in Research Methods she got a job doing research for housing and homelessness charity Shelter and later worked for Cardiff School of Medicine and trained someone with a learning disability to carry out peer research.

D has flu today, and is wrapped up in a dressing gown, intermittently coughing. She says she rarely gets ill but when she does it’s her body’s way of saying slow down but the 57 year old shows no signs of doing so.

Caradog Jones became good friends with D through the Cwtch group, despite the 39 year age gap. He says her energy was very valuable to the group. “She was brilliant at facilitating the consensus decision process at meetings, making sure nobody was left out and no one voice dominated,” he explains. “Everybody knows of her, from the local refugees to a homeless mate who knew her as ‘that Irish girl’.”

Is the Cwtch group planning long term?

Most of us work and there are a few students with some flexibility but do we want to do something full time? It’s a huge commitment, unfunded, voluntary and we absolutely do not want to go down the funded route at all; it changes the whole dynamic. I like the idea of just going into empty buildings, doing something creative. You could open up, do nice things, community picnics, barbecues, and whiz out again.

Is the squatting aspect important to Cwtch?

Not for all of us, I’d say it’s about half and half. I’m a mum and a gran and I haven’t done much squatting but I’ve been and stayed in squats and I think it’s a really fundamental right to people in this country, and more so now than ever. It’s not right just to leave buildings empty. If you’re going to, at least offer them to groups, do something positive don’t just let them to deteriorate.

Is there a particular philosophy behind the Cwtch group?

There’s one local businessman who was there from the beginning. There’s a university lecturer and I’m an office manager. There’s a real mix of backgrounds occupations and age, it’s cut across all kinds of boundaries. I suppose it’s the kind of philosophy you would find around the Occupy movement. If you speak to different individuals some would be firmly anti capitalist. It’s not something I broadcast but the principles my heart leads towards are anarchist. Anarchist philosophy to me is the most just of all ideologies.

What other projects are you involved with?

I suppose the biggest passion really in my life, the thing I’m most committed too, is Palestine. After the war Iraq went ahead I was very disillusioned with marching and protesting. I thought a lot about how I want to move forward in my life and I came across ISM (International Solidarity Movement) so I decided to go to Palestine with them. What I saw moved me in such a way that I could never forget Palestine now.

What happened when you were detained?

I went last July with a delegation and we decided to go via Tel Aviv and be open about why we were going. 127 of us were detained for six days. We decided to stay together as a group and went to the passport controls and they said ‘what’s the purpose of your visit?’ We said visiting our friends in Bethlehem and we had an invitation from the cultural centre and straight away we were stopped. By the end of the day we found ourselves in the detention centre. We were detained for no reason simply by wanting to openly visit our friends in Palestine.

People think it’s only around Gaza but there’s a different kind of siege around the West Bank. It’s day-to-day relentless humiliation, degradation and dispossession of land and homes. It’s relentless.

How does Undercurrents and Swansea Telly work?

Undercurrents support anything that’s related to social justice and we do a lot of training around giving people the skills to tell stories about their lives or their issues or their causes. I left a well paid job at the university to have the chance to work with Undercurrents, for half the money, but it’s so much more fun, I absolutely love it.

Swansea Telly is a giant project and we’re the lead partners in it. It’s internet telly for Swansea really. At the moment it’s a lot of community video, but we’re working on a music channel and were hoping to have more local bands on there and maybe more sports. It’s almost like a YouTube for Swansea.

When did you first become politically active?

When I was 16 I got very involved in the Irish language movement in Ireland. They were shutting down a very small school down in Dunquin, an Irish speaking area. I told my mum I was going to stay with my friend and her family, and we were going to study for the week. Instead I did a walk from Cork to Dublin and my mum only found out when I was being arrested in Dublin after an occupation. I had kids quite young: when I was 19 I was pregnant so really the poll tax was my next really active thing in this country; I moved here in 1980.

What do you like to do when you get any free time?

My idea of a dream holiday is to go with a few friends, put a backpack on and to walk for days. For me walking is the only time I slow down. But I think my family is my main hobby. My grandkids range from the age of a few months to 17. We just have a laugh together and I see them whenever I can. They keep me fresh and they challenge me.

What are your hopes for the future?

My biggest hope would be to see peace and freedom in Palestine before I die, it makes me sad me sad because I feel I probably won’t.

I just hope that the capitalist system crumbles. I’m very excited about living in these times because the edifice is crumbling that’s been in place for hundreds of years and I just hope I’m still around when it all comes down. It will be a fearful time but it will be a time that’s full of promise for ordinary people that we can have a better and more just world.

Phone hacking, journalism ethics and the digital revolution

This article was originally written in answer to the question below for an assignment at university in January 2012.

Does the phone hacking scandal show that good journalism will be the first casualty of the digital revolution in the media?

Journalism is dying, or that’s what many people would have you believe; the internet means that people will never pay for news again, and the phone hacking scandal is the nail in the coffin for the trust of journalists.

In a 2011 IPSOS MORI poll only 19% of people said that journalists could be trusted to tell the truth. This is not a new thing; in 1983 the percentage was the same. TV news readers fair better however, with 63% of the poll respondents saying they can be trusted to tell the truth, more, in fact, than the ordinary person in the street.

Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport, said he thinks this is justified. The regulatory framework for broadcasting is different to print journalism, and UK broadcasters are expected to be politically impartial in their news output. Ofcom’s code requires commercial broadcasters, “To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.” The BBC’s editorial guidelines are similar.

Broadcasters are on limited  airtime however, and as summed up on the News Bias explored blog: “There is a tendency to try to fit news into small sound-bytes in television media, which can lead to omission of information, the limiting of debate, and a lack of context.” People often look elsewhere for analysis and to find out about things that matter to them specifically. After all, as Jermey has said, news is consumed as part of the evening’s entertainment on channels largely going for a mass reach.

In order for journalists to be more trusted they need to connect with the outlook of their audiences. Ian Hargreaves, former editor of New Statesman and The Independent, said in his book Journalism: Truth or Dare? that, “Non-diverse journalism cannot, by definition, achieve trust across the whole range of a public which is itself so diverse in terms of economic circumstance, class, ethnicity, gender, region, and in many other ways.”

Caledonian Mercury editor, Stewart Kirkpatrick, said at a recent Cardiff conference The Future of the Press in Wales, that he sees the future of journalism as one where the journalists are more connected to their audiences through understanding and finance, with audiences funding them directly.

Nicholas Brett, Deputy Managing Director at BBC Magazines, sees this connection to the audience as vital, and has said that to have an active relationship with an audience you need to choose the medium they will respond to instead of just ‘pushing the information out there’.

The internet is where this is done best. Verification can be a problem in the vast amount of information, but journalists face this to some degree in every medium. As Andrew Marr said in his book My Trade the internet has made it harder to lie in journalism, this is partly due to the speed at which mistakes can be highlighted.

The turning point in the hacking scandal, for the public and the media, came with the revelations about the hacking of missing girl Milly Dowler’s phone. The attitude up until then seemed to be as summed up in the comedy-drama Hacks on Channel 4, when the character Kate Loy who seemed to be based on Rebekah Brooks, said “They’re celebs – anyone with a publicist has got it coming.”

Ethical problems in the media are not a new thing, whether it be scaremongering, discriminatory and untrue headlines, the death of David Kelly or even the death of Princess Diana in 1997; something Ian Hargreaves has celled a ‘defining moment’ in British journalism as Diana’s car, which crashed, was being chased by photographers.

At the Leveson Inquiry, set up to investigate the role of the press and police in the phone hacking scandal, Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers said “Ethical – I don’t know what the word means…We do not talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody is different.” Ethics are tricky ground but they need to be talked about.

Charles Reiss, former political editor of the Evening Standard, has said that journalists need to be more reliable and seen to be. George Orwell’s 1946 essay, The Prevention of Literature said, “What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.”

The Leveson Inquiry will be making recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance but there seems to be little consensus on what this should be. At Hacked Off: Reform, Regulation Democracy and the Press hosted by the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform at Cardiff University, Rob Williams from The Independent said the scandal should not be used to limit the freedom of the press. But, after giving evidence at the inquiry, Ian Hargreaves said he believes Leveson is aware of these fears and is personally anxious that he won’t be seen as curtailing press freedom.

The press currently has a system of ‘self regulation’ administered by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which is meant to be independent. Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian, sees continued self regulation as the only option as it is flexible. The public interest is “a common sense, malleable thing,” he said and thinks trying to interpret a statute won’t work for such a fluid concept.

In a January 2012 leader, The Times said, “The regulator of the press needs to have the confidence of the public. And this simply does not exist at the moment.” They proposed a move to more independent regulation, pointing out that “journalists cannot go on marking their own homework”, and that, if state regulation were to happen, many people publishing on the internet would come outside it.

At Hacked Off, Martin Shipton, head of the NUJ for Media Wales, said he thought it was significant that News International doesn’t recognise the union, which has its own clear code of conduct: Journalists there were operating in a “moral vacuum”.

However, Ian Hargreaves pointed out in Truth or Dare? that journalists and editors are individuals, wherever they operate: “Journalists are part of the societies in which they work. They acquire, within those societies, a sense of right and wrong: they have, thank goodness, a moral compass learnt outside journalism.” This was echoed by Ian Hislop in his recent evidence to Leveson.

We shouldn’t use the digital revolution as a distraction from tackling problems with ethics present in journalism for a long time before the hacking scandal.

Opportunities presented by the internet are described by Ian Hargreaves in Truth or Dare? as a challenge to develop a way of reporting, “which feels fresh, startling, and memorable in the way that it did when newspaper publishers first understood how to use headlines, typography, and layout to make navigation of a newspaper more rewarding, and pictures to make the experience more arresting.”

But, as the hacking scandal shows, alongside this freedom journalists should be aware of ethics and of their audience, with codes like those from Ofcom, the PCC and the NUJ acting as a guide.

A journalist’s job is to connect people to new information about things that effect their lives, as well as the wider world around them, so any regulation needs to reflect that journalism is varied and may sometimes cause trouble.

My first editing job

After nicking my granparents’ and parents’newspapers and magazines while growing up, and sneakily listening to the radio under the covers at night, I was pretty excited to get my first editing role in primary school.

Recently I found this old Crowan Gazette at my parents’ house, which I helped to make while at Crowan School. It seems I was a co-editor. Also on the team was Tamsyn Jones, now one of my best friends. We must have been 10 or 11 at the time.

It says it was going to come out monthly but I don’t think we ever made another one! I can’t remember why. I love all the stuff like Leedstown Show Results, and Class 4’s trip to Penzance. Makes me a bit homesick for Cornwall.

No such thing as a free ride

First appeared on the alt.cardiff website on Thursday 14 December.

People on controversial work placements in Wales are working unpaid while unemployed. Critics see this as unfair but supporters argue getting experience is vital

Person working in Primark

In the ‘big society’ there is no place for those who don’t pull their weight, but in Wales there are now 137,000 people unemployed, a record amount.

Jobcentres arrange a variety of work experience to get people back into employment. One of these schemes is Mandatory Work Activity (MWA), where people undertake compulsory unpaid placements, or lose their benefits.

People can be referred to MWA at any time but they have usually been receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for at least 13 weeks. Placements are up to 30 hours a week, for four weeks.

Specialist providers such as A4e and Rehab JobFit are contracted to deliver placements through a variety of businesses and organisations. Since June 2011 Rehab JobFit has provided placements for 349 people in Wales. Over two thirds of these are in South East Wales, for organisations including YMCA and Wales Air Ambulance.

While some see MWA as work people should do for benefits, others see it as slave labour. Public Interest Lawyers have begun legal action against MWAdescribing it as “unlawful forced labour”.

Wasted skills?

It has been reported people doing MWA are forced to work in shops like Poundland and Primark, despite any other skills or experience. But some have managed to get placements suited to them.

Katie Simpson, 23 and living in Cardiff, has done two unpaid work placements during two years of unemployment. She said the first, compulsory and arranged through A4e, was for 13 weeks. She was expected to do 20 hours of work a week and five hours job hunting, but says she did get an extra £15 in JSA. She was also able to work for the Youth Offending Service where she already volunteered.

Bronwen Davis, also living in Cardiff, had been unemployed for 18 months when the jobcentre told her she had to do a work placement. She arranged her own with a music studio. “I don’t think a lot of people realise you can do that, but it can be a good opportunity to go and try something you’re interested in,” she said.

She said through running drumming workshops she learned more about working freelance and became more confident about self employment, which is her aim. “I did feel exploited though,” she said. “The company was getting hundreds of pounds a day and I wasn’t getting paid.”

Learning on the job

Katie’s second placement was with a claims management company and although it wasn’t compulsory she was told she had a strong chance of a job if she took it. “I was pretty reluctant to the idea, the placement was full-time. If I worked there I’d struggle to find any time to search for other positions,” she said.

It went well initially and Katie began to apply for jobs at the company but, “By week six the pressure of the job, with an income of £53 a week, started to take its toll and I took a couple of days off sick,” said Katie, who suffers from depression. When she returned she says she was given a disciplinary.

Katie was given the opportunity to sit on the team she had recently applied for a job with but the manager questioned her on her absences. “I knew this wasn’t strictly legal,” said Katie.

After three months another manager confessed to her that she had no chance of a job. “She said that for every application I had applied for there were more experienced individuals applying,” said Katie.

Katie doesn’t feel the placement was worth the work experience. “I had been talked down to nothing,” she said. “I felt incredibly depressed about my abilities. It’s an experience I would rather forget.”

Katie McCrory, media relations manager for A4e, said, “Lack of experience is one of the main reasons why people get turned down for jobs they apply for.”

Rob Fitt from Rehab JobFit, another provider, said MWA helps people, “establish the discipline and habits of working life, such as attending on time or regularly.” But many people have had previous employment.

Boycott Workfare campaign against compulsory, unpaid work experience. A spokesperson said MWA does not tackle unemployment successfully. “We haven’t received any news of people being offered full time paid positions,” he said.

He says they have no evidence people are being matched with relevant skills. “It seems where retail companies are concerned, people are being mandated to stack shelves,” said the spokesperson.

MWA can be seen as a way for businesses to get free labour at the expense of the state, and taking on paid staff, but some argue it is fair that people should have to work for their benefits. Employment minister, Chris Grayling,has said about work programmes: “No one should expect to be able to sit at home doing nothing.”

But with employment levels at a record high in Wales, and austerity measures taking hold, there is increased frustration that in the ‘big society’ hard work counts for nothing.