Thai Seafood: To Buy or Boycott?

“Thailand’s seafood industry defended itself Tuesday against allegations that it uses forced and child labor, after the U.S. State Department last week downgraded the country’s ranking to the lowest level in its annual human trafficking report. [For more on the report, see here; more about sex trafficking than seafood…]

“The Southeast Asian nation exports more than $2 billion worth of shrimp each year, much of it to the U.S., where media reports in the Guardian and other publications have brought wider public attention to allegations of forced labor in Thailand’s fishery industry, particularly in the export-focused shrimp sector. The U.S. government’s move to rank Thailand alongside North Korea, Cuba and Iran in the lowest “Tier 3” ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report has further focused attention on the issue and created a public relations headache for Thailand’s military leaders, who seized power in a coup d’état last month


“French supermarket firm Carrefour CA.FR +0.27% and Norway’s ICA have suspended Charoen Pokhphand Foods from their list of shrimp suppliers after the Guardian reported that “trash fish” caught using forced labor was used as feed on shrimp farms. CP Foods has since said it would audit its entire supply chain.

“Other customers, notably Costco Wholesale Corp. COST +0.95% , have maintained orders, and Thai executives said they intend to visit the U.S. to assure customers that the industry doesn’t use illegal labor and complies with local and international labor laws. “Costco is scheduled to visit us at the end of this month to receive all documents to help them explain the situation to their clients,” Mr. Poj said.



McDonalds ♥ Vietnam

It is still amazing to read how recent enmities have receded into the distance, even if not quite forgotten, how people who were thought to be the devil incarnate yesterday are happy customers, if not friends, today.  Here, yet another example.

McDonald’s, the fast-food giant, which has restaurants in more than 100 countries and will open its first Vietnam location on Saturday in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam has a surging middle class, and most of its 90 million citizens were born after the Vietnam War ended, in 1975. Many young Vietnamese are insatiably curious about foreign cuisine and culture, like kebabs and K-pop, and the McDonald’s opening has been widely discussed on Vietnamese websites in recent weeks.


The uncommented on tid-bit in the NY Times article is that  the ruling communist party has its entrepreneurial fingers deep in the growing pie.

McDonald’s waited a long time to open in Vietnam, given its global brand recognition and likely appeal to young Vietnamese consumers. When it did, it tagged Henry Nguyen, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its local franchisee.

Everywhere we went on a two week trip to Vietnam in the spring of 2013, if a hotel or venue or location was high-class, the party higher-ups were behind it — the greatest example being the fine hotels, piers and boats at Ha Long bay, North Vietnam.  Everyone of these places has the party OK, if not direct investment by top officials.  Soon, Vietnam will have the same oligarch problem bringing the US economy into a state of ruin.

Earning Enough to Eat By

Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist and author of a small 4 volume set [The Mini Minimalist] of easy recipes of which I am a big fan, does what more foodies should do — looks at the conditions of the many tens of thousands who work in food services around the country.  Good for you Mark!


…a rapidly increasing number of food industry and other retail workers are now fighting for basic rights: halfway decent pay, a real work schedule, the right to organize, health care, paid sick days, vacations and respect. Next week, organizers say, we’ll see a walkout of thousands of workers at hundreds of stores in at least seven cities, including New York and Chicago.

Something is happening here, though exactly what isn’t quite clear. Fast food was never a priority of organized labor — it’s difficult to imagine a traditional union of four million fast-food workers in something like 200,000 locations — but dozens of organizations are now involved, including, to its credit, the Service Employees International Union, which is providing financing and counsel. The upshot: Workers with nothing to lose are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour, and gaining strength and confidence.

The Soul Sickness of the GOP

The House passage of a vivisected farm bill last week — dropping SNAP assistance (Food Stamps) in order to get enough conservatives to sign on– deserves all the contempt that can be mustered.  It’s hard to believe such votes don’t give an opening to run candidates against those who cast them.  Some who voted these sadists into office must realize that they, themselves, are suffering because of the what is going on.

“Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.

The occasion for these observations is, as you may have guessed, the monstrous farm bill the House passed last week.”

Paul Krugman

These believers in the great market economy and the invisible hand to take care of everything do not know their Adam Smith of course, knowing only what they want to know.  It was Smith who described exactly what it is these GOPers have forgotten:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. … Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.”


Food For Thought

A young friend of mine sent me a link to the site ‘by and for the homeless.’

It’s worth opening the link to follow the entire sequence of photos and numbers, but here are the highest and lowest.

Germany: The Melander family of BargteheideFood expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07


Chad: Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

Chad: Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

Stunning of course. While our not eating won’t put more food in the bellies of the Aboubakar family, our paying attention to food policy and US policies on agriculture, import/export laws will.


[Thx Fiona K]

Cops Sent to Arrest Illegal Seed Users

In more stunning news of corporate thuggery, and a screaming siren about the abuse of ‘intellectual property,’ Dupont is sending cops to ferret out illegal use of its ‘patented’ seeds.  No longer can a farmer save a portion of his crop for seeding the next year.  If he has Dupont or Monsanto seeds he’s got to pay up every year — like a software license.

By Jack Kaskey – Nov 28, 2012 1:14 PM PT

DuPont Co. (DD), the world’s second- biggest seed company, is sending dozens of former police officers across North America to prevent a practice generations of farmers once took for granted.

The provider of the best-selling genetically modified soybean seed is looking for evidence of farmers illegally saving them from harvests for replanting next season, which is not allowed under sales contracts. The Wilmington, Delaware-based company is inspecting Canadian fields and will begin in the U.S. next year, said Randy Schlatter, a DuPont senior manager.

…Attacks on the modified food industry aren’t new. Farmers criticized Monsanto in the 2008 Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” for contracts that keep them from saving seeds. The St. Louis-based company has sued 145 U.S. farmers for saving Roundup Ready soybeans since 1997, winning all 11 cases that went to trial, said Kelli Powers, a Monsanto spokeswoman. The U.S. Supreme Court last month agreed to consider the legality of such planting restrictions.


Maybe this will encourage at least the smaller growers to stop buying the GM seeds and return to practices more in keeping with economic and ecological sense.  There’s got to be a better way than Round Up to keep pests low and productivity high.


Climate Change and the Food We Eat

The SF Chronicle, unique among big, local dailies continues to provide frequent, front-page coverage of the climate change and how our daily lives are, or will, be affected.  This morning it’s what is happening to agriculture in California.

Risks include rising heat, increasing salt in the soil, less water and no insurance.

While wine isn’t in the basic food group as it is in France, it is on most grow-up tables in California.

Napa vintners already are feeling the effects of the changing odds. In 2010, the wine industry had one of its worst years on record when days of record-breaking heat in August were followed by a few freakish days of frost.

“You’re ripening earlier, in a warmer time of the year under a warmer climate, so you’re getting a double whammy,” Weiss said. Even just a week’s difference, he said, can affect the quality of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Read more:


Cherries, I suppose we could do without and still live pretty good lives, but if the cherry in the hot time has the roll of the canary in the coal-mine we’re in serious trouble.

In April, the cherries were blooming in the Colombini family orchard in the San Joaquin Valley, their blossoms a signal that the harvest would be coming in six weeks.

But there was trouble lurking under those delicate blossoms. Jeff Colombini, director of the family company, Lodi Farming, pointed to the erratic blooming of his trees – a flower here and there, but many stunted, half-grown blossoms. That is a sign, he said, of the “stresses that come with not enough chill hours.”

Most of the highest-quality cherry varieties in the state are tuned for a November or December chill, which slows down the metabolism of the nascent fruit and elongates the ripening process that comes with the onset of warmer weather.

For a perfect California cherry, the trees need 1,200 to 1,400 hours of “chill time.” But Joseph Grant, a UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Stockton, said that lately, cherry growers have been seeing more like 1,000 to 1,100 hours per season.

Read more: 

Assault on Poverty

Social column in the SF Chron brought the news of Tipping Point to my attention.  Have good intentions?  Want to make a difference for the poor?  Check out Tipping Point.

Fair Trade Tea in Bay

Nice article the other day in the SF Chron about Numi teas, right here in Oakland, CA

A little more than a decade ago, two Iraqi American siblings were vacationing at the Grand Canyon when they decided to create a tea company that prized art and social justice.

Today, Numi Organic Tea in Oakland is the leading brand importer of fair-trade certified teas in the United States.

And here is Numi’s site.

Organic Milk Producers In Deep Trouble

Very sobering article in the NY Times today about the rise and fall of the organic dairy farmer.

[When Ken Preston turned his dairy farm organic in 2005] his income soared 20 percent, and he could finally afford a Chevy Silverado pickup to help out. The dairy conglomerate that distributed his milk wanted everything Mr. Preston could supply. Supermarket orders were skyrocketing.

But soon the price of organic feed shot up. Then the recession hit, and families looking to save on groceries found organic milk easy to do without. Ultimately the conglomerate, with a glut of product, said it would not renew his contract next month, leaving him with nowhere to sell his milk, a victim of trends that are crippling many organic dairy farmers from coast to coast.

For those farmers, the promises of going organic — a steady paycheck and salvation for small family farms — have collapsed in the last six months. As the trend toward organic food consumption slows after years of explosive growth, no sector is in direr shape than the $1.3 billion organic milk industry. Farmers nationwide have been told to cut milk production by as much as 20 percent, and many are talking of shutting down.