Farming Bugs For Food

October 6th, 2013.

I’ve kept an open mind on eating insects – mainly because billions of people around the world have been eating bugs for a very, very long time.

I’ve been compost worm farming for a few years now and it has really opened my mind to the role that “lesser” creatures play in the ecosystem. While worms are actually an animal, it’s my wriggly friends that have also sparked my interest in different ways of sourcing protein. I’ll take this opportunity to point out I don’t eat my composting worms :).

I recently embarked on raising mealworms and the first generation of darkling beetles (what mealworms become) have begun emerging and will soon start laying eggs; which will then grow into human-food ready mealworms.

Mealworms are high in protein and mealworm farming involves around 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions compared with beef production.

Whether I’ll go so far as to tucking into a meal of mealworms remains to be seen (stay tuned). It’s quite easy to euthanize the little guys; I’m not concerned about the cruelty aspect – it’s the ick factor. I’ve eaten some interesting things in my life; but I have drawn the line (so far) at bugs.

mealworm-tacoMealworm Taco – Don Bugito Prehispanic Snakeria

It’s funny what we recoil from in the way of food. For example, we eat crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters and they are just souped up bugs. As I understand it, insects and crustaceans belong to the same group of creatures – arthropods.

An oceanic crustacean delicacy even has the “bug” word in its name. The Balmain Bug does look like a large insect – and is very, very tasty.

Let’s say mealworms turn out to be the tastiest tidbit on the planet. Consumer perception is going to be the major battle.

However, some are already making inroads. For example, Monica Martinez; owner of Don Bugito Prehispanic Snakeria, is introducing crickets and superworms (a type of mealworm) to residents of California.

Last month in Adelaide, South Australia; ants, crickets and scorpions were served up to diners at an event focused on global food security and sustainability.

Of course, if the idea of eating bugs is just way too extreme for you (and as it may turn out – for me too); there’s always mock meat and perhaps soon, cultured beef if you’re wanting to avoid traditional meat for whatever reasons – environmental, animal welfare or otherwise. Or, as people keep pointing out to me, just ditch the meat or “I-can’t-believe-its-not-meat” fixation altogether.

There is a lot riding on us being able to reduce our meat consumption.

Trivia: the practice of eating insects is called entomophagy.

Simple Tips For Extending Food Shelf Life

September 29th, 2013.

As I’ve mentioned many times over the years, food waste is a major environmental issue as so many resources go into growing food and then getting it from field to fork and paddock to plate.

The figures vary somewhat depending on where you source them, but one estimate I’ve seen is that 40 percent of all the food produced in the US is thrown out – and that isn’t even at the high end of the scale.

Aside from the wasted resources, there’s also a substantial financial cost. An average American family dumps an equivalent of up to $2,275 worth of food in the bin annually. Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

Since I started worm farming, I’ve had a good way deal with veggie waste – but I still don’t like the concept of giving what was edible to the worms to eat (but they certainly aren’t complaining) or just composting the waste.

I also started raising mealworms recently and as a source of moisture for little guys (and a bit of added variety to their diet); I provide them with chunks of fresh carrot. The last time I purchased carrots, I couldn’t buy them loose, only in a bag. I’m not a big carrot eater and wasn’t looking forward to boosting my carrot intake so as to not waste them.

Remembering an old trick I’d heard; I put the (perforated) bag of carrots on a couple of layers of paper towel in the fridge.

Photo is a little misleading – there’s no visible condensation in the bag

It’s now been 4 weeks and the remaining carrots haven’t lost any of their crispness. It seems the paper towel idea not only extends the shelf life of carrots, but lettuce too.

There are many simple ways to extend the life of fresh produce; some don’t involve any additional products at all – not even paper towel.

Some of the strategies involve not storing some foods like we usually do these days or avoiding storing one type of food next to another.

For example, onions should not be stored close to potatoes. It seems gases one gives off affects the other.

Our refrigerators tend to become dumping grounds for all sorts of foods, some that don’t require and shouldn’t be refrigerated. Wiser refrigerator use might also mean a smaller appliance is needed – and that means additional environmental and financial savings.

Some fruits produce ethylene gas that can cause vegetables in close proximity to spoil more rapidly; so these should be stored if possible at room temperature rather than in the fridge. (You may have smelled ethylene gas in your fridge – it has a sweet, musky odor.)

Fruits that should not be stored in the fridge include:

  • avocados
  • apricots
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • kiwi fruit
  • melons
  • nectarines
  • pears
  • peaches
  • plums
  • pineapple
  • tomatoes

There are so many simple tips – another example – to increase the shelf life of green peppers, broccoli and celery; I’m told wrapping these foods in foil works a treat.

Something I’ve also found to help is to wipe out the veggie crisper bin in the refrigerator each week and without fail. I’m assuming that this is because it helps to reduce the amount of bacteria present that contribute to spoilage.

It’s not just fruit and veg you can easily extend the life of. In the case of cheese; instead of wrapping in plastic, use cheese paper or wax paper. Mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag, not plastic.

For more tips on  extending the shelf life of various items; check out the food storage guide on RealSimple.

The environmental impact of tea

August 12th, 2013.

First published January 2011, last updated August 2013

There are all sorts of teas, but in this article I’ll focus on the world’s most popular flavored beverage made from the dried leaves and buds of  the tea bush, Camellia sinensis.

While the amount of tea used in the preparation of a single cup may seem tiny, well over 4 million tons of tea is produced annually around the world.

As far as beverages go, tea is probably one of the more natural as in its simplest form, it just consists of dried plant material without a great deal of processing.

However, like any intensive monocropping, tea farming does have an environmental impact.

To generate that 4+ million tons of dried plant material each year means a great deal of land is utilized for growing it. As demand increases, so does the amount of land required. The massive alteration of habitats for farming tea means some plant and animal species native to that area suffer.

Additionally, pesticides and artificial fertilizers are often used in tea plantations to restore nutrients used by the tea bush and to fend off parasites. The resulting soil degradation is a major issue, one usually addressed by using even more fertilizer and chemicals that further compounds the soil degradation problem. Chemical runoff into waterways can also be a problem.

Unlike some other food crops though, the tea bush isn’t ripped out of the ground during harvest – only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked; so in that aspect, it’s quite a sustainable crop. An individual tea bush can be commercially viable for up to a century.

When we see images of tea plantations, the bushes are only around waist height; but tea plants can actually grow to an incredible 50 feet high if left unharvested.

After the tea is picked, it’s fermented for a period depending on the type of flavor to be achieved. This fermenting is called “withering” and as the name suggests, it just consists of the leaf drying for a period naturally.

After the withering, the leaves are rolled through machinery and then they need to be fully dried. This is not carried out by air-drying – the leaves are heated using fuels such as wood or gas. According to information from WWF, in Sri Lanka it takes between 1.5 and 2.5 kilograms of wood to produce 1 kilogram of tea. While the wood required for drying is increasingly grown in plantations, in some cases it is still taken from local forests.

Some of the above sounds a little un-green, but compare it to other beverages and tea seems quite environmentally friendly; until we come to the packaging involved with some tea products.

Loose leaf tea usually just comes in a box with a liner – so nothing terribly environmentally evil there (comparatively speaking).

Where packaging does have a particular impact is in relation to tea bags.

Traditionally, tea bags have been made from special paper derived from Abacá (a type of banana tree) , but a few years back there appeared to be a major push by tea companies to use nylon and PET; which has caused some concern with regard to chemical leaching – and even paper based bags may have some issues.

Probably the only other major environmental issue is that of food miles – as tea plantations are predominantly in Africa, Asia and India, it can be very a long way from farm to cup.

As I was perusing various tea company sites while researching for this article, it was encouraging to see many of them featuring an environmental section where they detail their efforts and plans to further minimize the impact of their operations.

Some are switching to organically grown tea leaves, aiming for Rainforest Alliance Certification, using biodegradable boxes and pouches and importantly – implementing fair trade concepts; so looking after people as well as the planet.

If you have a favorite brand of tea, visit their company web site to find out what environmental efforts they are making.

I’m not a big tea drinker, but I’m told the tea in tea bags is generally rather low quality stuff – tea “dust”. So by switching to loose leaf tea, you’ll not only cut down on packaging and possible associated health risks; but you’ll get a better tasting cuppa – in fact, a good quality loose leaf tea can be brewed a couple of times.

Uses for used tea leaves

  • If you do use tea bags, instead of throwing them into your household trash bin – they can be composted or added to a worm farm.
  • I’ve seen dried tea leaves suggested as an incense (although in my opinion, burning tea leaves smell pretty bad)
  • Following on from the last tip – burning tea leaves is said to repel mosquitos (that I can believe)
  • Dried tea leaves can absorb moisture in cupboards and odors in refrigerators
  • Tea leaves sprinkled in kitty litter can help reduce smell
  • Remove oil from pots and pans without impacting on their “seasoned” aspects
  • Dried tea leaves can sop up oil spills in the kitchen.
  • Soak old tea bags in melted wax to make firelighters

Green alternative uses for beer

July 30th, 2013.

(First published May 2009, last updated July 2013)

Many of us would have experienced the morning after syndrome where you awaken to find your home looking and smelling like a bombed brewery.

What to do with all those flat, warm half empty beers laying around? Well, I used to drink them, but that’s another story for another time and for a completely different web site. However, I would like to state I haven’t engaged in that practice for quite some years now :).

There are so many uses for beer aside from drinking it, using it in cooking or wasting it; and beer can sometimes replace more environmentally unfriendly products for a variety of applications. Here’s a few ideas gathered from around the place:

Dealing with snails and slugs

Snails and slugs love beer. A beer trap can be made which is just a small dish or jar with beer poured in and then buried in affected areas up to the rim. The snails and slugs drop in but can’t get out. Another interesting variation on this is to spray beer on weeds so the snails eat those instead of your plants – using a pest to control a pest. Of course, once you’re out of weeds, then you’ll need to still deal with the snails and slugs.

Dealing with fruit flies

To get rid of fruit flies in your compost heap or worm farm, put a little beer in a cup. Then cut the corner off of a sandwich bag and place the cut corner in the cup; folding the rest around the cup and securing with a rubber band. Place the cup in the bin. The flies go in and then cannot get back out. (I also use vinegar to catch fruit flies and other gnatty creatures).

Rodent trap

Mice and rats are said to be also attracted to the smell of beer. A little poured into a bucket with a ramp leading to the lip can be used as a bucket trap. Of course you still need to deal with the critters; who will also likely be drunk and possibly argumentative by that point :)

Compost booster

Sprinkle the beer over your compost pile and then turn it over – it’s said to give the micro-organisms a real boost.

Plant fertilizer

A little beer splashed around the base of plants will provide them with additional nutrients; but don’t drown them in the stuff.

Wood furniture cleaning

A little beer on a cloth rubbed into your wooden furniture will help remove dust and grime and revive the grain patterns.

Copper cleaner

Apply to copper items, let sit for a bit and then buff off (spot test first of course)

Gold polish

Dump your gold jewelry into the beer, then buff with a soft cloth

Beer shampoo

Many swear by it – and here’s how to make your own beer shampoo. Flat beer can also be used as is as an after shampoo rinse.

Bee deterrent

Places shallow dishes of beer on the outer boundary of the area where you are having a BBQ or a picnic to entice bees to those spots rather than where you are gathered.

I’ve seen variations on this tip bandied around as a beer trap intended to capture and kill bees. Given that bees are critical to food production and are facing enough challenges at the moment through Colony Collapse Disorder; I’d strongly recommend not trying to kill the little critters. Bees are our friends :).


Beer drinkers – go green, save cash, brew your own at home.
Alternative uses for vodka

What is GreenPalm?

June 22nd, 2013.

Sustainable palm oil is a very important topic – more than most of us realise. So what is GreenPalm and is it effective?

You’ve probably consumed palm oil at some point today. It’s used in many processed food items and personal care products such as soap and shampoos.

Palm oil is not always indicated on ingredient lists – it may be simply referred to as “vegetable oil”. To make matters more confusing, other ingredients can be derived from palm oil; such as Cetyl Alcohol, Glycerol Stearate and Sodium Kernelate.

Indonesia is by far the largest producer of palm oil. It’s estimated the country produced 28 million tonnes of palm oil in 2012. Malaysia is also a significant producer; cranking out around 19 million tonnes in 2012.

A major concern with regard to the production of palm oil is the environmental cost. For example, rainforests have been razed in Borneo and Sumatra to clear the way for palm oil plantations. Aside from increasing carbon emissions through the burning, it has had a significant impact on many species including the critically endangered orangutan; which has lost over 90% of its habitat in the last two decades.

The issue of palm oil gained additional focus in June 2013 after air pollution hit a record high in Singapore; to the point it endangered the lives of the old and ill. The major cause of the event was the burning of peatlands on Sumatra to make way for farmland.

So what is being done to address the many issues surrounding palm oil?

Probably the biggest initiative is GreenPalm; which is a certificate trading programme based on Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification.

About RSPO certification

The RSPO was established in 2004 to promote the production of sustainable palm oil. The RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production are the global guidelines for producing palm oil sustainably.

RSPO certified operations must commit to and observe 8 basic principles:

1 – Commitment to transparency

2 – Compliance with applicable laws and regulations

3 – Commitment to long-term economic and financial viability

4 – Use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers

5 – Environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity

6 – Responsible consideration of employees and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills

7 – Responsible development of new plantings

8 – Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity

Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) must be grown on plantations established on land that was not deforested after 2005.

The RSPO says all certified oil is fully traceable through the supply chain. The organisation’s members produce about 40% of the world’s palm oil and are processors or users of more than 30%.

However, RSPO isn’t just an old boys club of industry – there is also some input and oversight from NGO’s to allow for increased transparency.

As of the end of 2012, RSPO certified plantations covered an area 22 times the size of Singapore island and around 14% of the world’s palm oil is now RSPO certified – a massive jump in just a few years.

While the growth of CSPO is impressive, the majority of the world’s supply is still non-certified and rainforest continues to be cleared at an alarming pace.

How GreenPalm works.

With so many producers – both RSPO certified and non-certified – one of the challenges is that a tanker-load of oil will have come from different plantations, mills or even countries; making it difficult for palm oil purchasers to gauge the provenance of the product. While splitting up certified and non-certified product can be done, it adds costs at multiple stages.

However, RSPO certified producers can register X output of their product with the GreenPalm program. For each tonne of certified palm oil, the producer is given one GreenPalm certificate.

Those certificates can then be sold via the GreenPalm online trading platform to companies such as food producers. The price of a certificate is a premium above the cost of non-certified oil. The additional cost isn’t huge – less than 1%.

A producer can buy X tonnage in certificates equivalent to what they use in production of their food items; or part thereof.

So, while the actual oil the food company is using may not be RSPO certified; they have paid for certified oil – which is being used somewhere.

The idea is that producers can make more money through having a certified product and manufacturers can promote their support of sustainable palm oil; which can have a positive effect on consumers, resulting in more sales.

GreenPalm issues

Whether RSPO certification and GreenPalm has been effective or not will depend on who you ask. Some have accused the organisation of being a greenwashing front due to perceived low standards and lack of regulations. However, at the moment it appears to be the best of a bad situation.

So what’s a consumer to do?

Given the current circumstances and how difficult it is for most people to avoid palm oil, the best thing we can all do is to let companies know we are concerned and demand answers.

In my 2007 article on palm oil, included is some sample text that can be used in an email to companies asking about the provenance of their palm oil  and registering concern with regard to sustainability. Yes, it does seem to be just ‘keyboard warrior’ stuff, but it’s the pressure from consumers on companies that has forced some of them to examine their palm oil supply chains and make the shift to RSPO certified oil.

… in the meantime; Sumatra burns, the people of Singapore choke on the smoke and many species are threatened; but the hope is increased RSPO/CSPO certification will at least buy a bit of time to come up with better solutions.

For more information regarding issues surrounding palm oil, visit Say No To (Unsustainable) Palm Oil – it’s an impressive site; particularly given the person behind it – Thomas, a 17 year-old Australian. Far from being a keyboard warrior, Thomas has visited Borneo twice and has seen the destruction first-hand.

Disposable Paper Vs. Plastic Reusable Cups

June 17th, 2013.

A GLT reader posed some interesting questions recently about disposable paper cups made from post-consumer paper waste.

“Also, is that still more “green” than using reusable plastic cups considering the water and energy used to clean them?,” he asked.

I really didn’t know – the fact the comparison was with a cup made with post-consumer waste was a curve ball; so a little research was involved (spoiler: even after digging around it was still unclear).

According to a 1994 analysis from the Institute For Lifecycle Energy Analysis; with regard to energy savings, “the choice between reusable and disposable cups doesn’t matter much in its overall environmental impact”.

A study quoted by the Institute shows a reusable plastic cup needs to be used around 17 times before it hits the break-even point with a paper cup in terms of energy. So I guess it’s down to how often you used them – I’d certainly get at least 17 uses out of one. Also, with the analysis being nearly 20 years old, it doesn’t take into account the improvements in energy efficiency of dishwashers.

A more recent set of calculations by Jason Munster shows a reusable plastic cup needs to be used around 10 times to hit the energy break-even point; not including any energy involved with washing.

Again, bear in mind the disposable paper cups the reader was referring to are made from post consumer waste.

In my article on recycling energy savings, I mention recycling paper uses about 60% less energy than making paper from new materials – so let’s assume the sort of figure applies with regard to this product. Now the plastic cup needs to be reused around 27 times to hit the break-even point based on the 1994 study.

The number of times a plastic cup will take to hit that point may vary on usage too – for example, I don’t wash my coffee cup after each use (black coffee drinker); therefore my plastic cups hit the break- even point much earlier.

So that’s the energy side of things – but how about water? That was even harder to try and pin down. I wasn’t able to find any direct comparison, but according to this National Geographic page, it takes around 140,000 gallons of water to make a ton of plastic and 54,000 gallons to make a ton of paper.

Given the water savings involved with recycled paper (about 7,000 gallons less per ton); that would put a plastic cup with around 3 times the water footprint of a disposable post-consumer waste based paper cup – but that’s really a guesstimate as other production processes are involved.

Add to that the water used to wash a reusable cup – again, it depends on use. When I wash my cups, I don’t fill up a sink full of water exclusively for that task; it goes in with the day’s other dishes.

This complex story doesn’t end there.

While paper is recyclable, many paper cups are coated with plastic, which makes them difficult to recycle – so they ultimately wind up in landfill.

In a landfill scenario, the paper takes a long time to break down and given the low oxygen environment; methane is produced, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. So really, a disposable paper cup isn’t just made from a renewable resource; it’s also part petroleum product like its full plastic counterpart – and all the issues that accompany plastics apply.

It’s really difficult to arrive at a clear answer to the reader’s question and no doubt I’ve missed out on some aspects – but assuming a reusable plastic cup is of reasonably quality and made from recyclable plastic; I think it would be the “green” winner of the two.

If the comparison was between paper cups made from new materials and reusable recyclable plastic cups – then I think the plastic cup wins hands down as additional factors come into play.

Pepper Mill Made From Reclaimed Teak

May 12th, 2013.

Teak has been sought after for many centuries for its beauty and durability. It’s been used to make boats, furniture and in the construction of houses. Aside from its striking grain patterns, it is strong, termite, fungi and dry rot resistant. Like a fine wine, teak improves with age.

Its popularity and slow growth of teak trees (around 80 years for timber) has seen naturally-growing teak become a rarity and consequently protected; so much of the teak products made today are from plantations.

However, given so much teak was used in Thailand for the construction of houses and its long life as a timber product; old-growth teak used in neglected structures is being given new life. So sought after is the material that use of reclaimed teak is heavily regulated.

One example of a reclaimed teak product is this pepper mill I recently received from Andre Park, owner of Teak Mills; which is based in Northern Thailand.

Reclaimed teak pepper mill

My photo really doesn’t do it justice – there are better pics on Andre’s site.

Made from old wooden hand rails, the fine-grained teak is graded and the best pieces used for the mills; which are hand finished by Burmese craftsmen. The pepper mill ceramic grinding mechanism, which has fourteen settings, is made by CrushGrind Denmark and is guaranteed for 25 years.

At 220mm long x 75mm diameter (~ 8.6 x 3 inches), it has a large peppercorn storage capacity and the large diameter makes grinding a breeze – it’s very comfortable to use.

Andre included some Kampot peppercorns as well. I used to think pepper was pepper; but a whiff of the Kampot’s aroma soon set me straight. I christened it on a salad today and it certainly added a new dimension – and a little goes a long way.

Now I’ve been spoiled, I doubt I’ll be buying the standard supermarket fare peppercorns again. Kampot pepper is certified organic and has a protected Geographical Indication (GI) from the Cambodian Government and the European Union

The pepper gets its name from the region where it is grown; Kampot Province in southern Cambodia. Apparently the region used to produce to be the most sought after pepper in the world until the Khmer Rouge regime wiped out production. Around 20 years ago, the industry started up again and it’s now really starting to take off.

The history of this pepper mill makes it a very interesting piece – and I love having useful items made from reclaimed or recycled materials that may even outlast me.


Upcycling and downcycling

Re-using and recycling egg cartons

March 1st, 2013.

First published July 2011, last updated March 2013

A common household waste item is the egg carton – it’s waste that in many cases doesn’t need to be taking space in landfill.

According to data from the American egg board; in 2011, 247.8 eggs per person were consumed in the USA (egg in shell and in products).

It’s a lot of eggs and while not all are transported in the egg cartons we see in the supermarket; it would still work out to be many millions of cartons each year being discarded.

What are egg cartons made of?

An egg carton may be made from plastics such as Styrofoam or from recycled paper and molded pulp. One way to make your egg consumption a little more environmentally friendly is to ensure you buy eggs in paper based packaging as styrofoam is difficult to recycle.

Recycling egg cartons

If the eggs you buy are in plastic packaging that isn’t styrofoam; look for a triangle with a number inside it stamped on the packaging. This is a plastic resin code and depending on the number, it may be possible to place this packaging in your recycling bin.

Even though the paper based version of the packaging is biodegradable, when thrown in with your general household rubbish it will likely wind up in landfill where the decomposition process takes a lot longer and take up valuable space.

Additionally, as the waste in landfill is buried, decomposition occurs in an anaerobic environment, which is one without oxygen. Microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions give off potent greenhouse gases such as methane as they digest material. Methane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 62 times that of carbon dioxide.

Instead of going into your general rubbish bin, paper based egg cartons should be put into your recycling bin; but given the nature of their construction, they also break down very quickly in compost piles – so you can use them to help benefit your garden.

Egg cartons also make for tasty worm food. If you have a worm farm, soak the cartons in water for a while and feed them to the little critters – they’ll make short work of the cartons. On a related point, egg shells are also great in worm farms as the shell provides grit to help the worms digest organic waste materials.

Other uses for egg cartons

Egg cartons don’t have to be waste – there are other ways to use both the paper and plastic forms. Here are a few ideas.

– Inquire with your local primary/pre-schools if they need cartons for craft projects. I still remember an alligator I made with an egg carton when I was a very young lad and using the cartons in class as a type of paint palette. Art departments also use the cartons for papier mache projects as paper based cartons are basically just papier mache themselves.

– Use for craft projects at home for your own children – there’s a stack of ideas here.

– Use the cartons as seedling starters – plastic egg cartons can also be used in this application.

– Handy for organizing small items such as nuts, bolts and screws.

– Use as packing materials when shipping goods.

– As a way of storing delicate Xmas tree bauble decorations.

– My brother was an avid golfer and used egg cartons for storing golf balls.

– Plastic egg cartons can be used as trays for making ice cubes.

– Transporting hard boiled eggs to picnics.

– If you have neighbors or a local farm with egg-laying chickens; they might greatly appreciate your egg cartons – and perhaps may even give you some free eggs in exchange.

Making further use of egg cartons is just one aspect of making our egg consumption a little more environmentally friendly. How the eggs themselves are produced is an important issue from an environmental and animal welfare viewpoint – and not all “free range” eggs come from truly free range birds.

Community Supported Fisheries

February 15th, 2013.

Like community supported agriculture, community supported fisheries could be a way to lessen environmental impact of the fishing industry and better connect people with their food.

My commercial fishing career ended many years ago, but I still have a bunch of memories of the destruction that I participated in. My father was also in the fishing industry and for a long time afterwards couldn’t even bring himself to look at photos of him alongside bluefin tuna, broadbill, marlin, shark and other species; photos that were once a great source of pride.

Probably the worst forms of fishing I was involved with were bottom trawl and scallop dredging. We ripped up the ocean floor and pretty much scooped up anything that wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way.

One of the things that struck me even during that time of ignorance was the huge amount of waste involved. During general bottom trawling we used to pick up all sorts of species; many of which were tossed overboard as there was no market for them or we were not permitted to sell them. They didn’t swim happily away as they were already dead.

A good example; which was prior to my time, was the case of the flathead. It’s not the prettiest of fish, but in my opinion, one of the tastiest. These used to be thrown overboard as they were considered “trash”; but today, you’ll pay AU$ 45 a kilogram for flathead fillets (around USD $23 a pound). Once trash, now treasure.

As it has been so long since I last worked in the industry, I’m not sure what the story is locally now; but in Europe, the issue of “discards” is still a big issue. This isn’t just due to consumer taste or ignorance; but also the result of laws – some of which are well-intentioned, but miss the mark.

According to Fish Fight, an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of fish are thrown back overboard in Europe annually. In the North Sea, half of the fish caught are thrown back dead.

Progress is being made on reversing some bans, but consumers also need to get a little more adventurous by trying different species; some of which can be as tasty as their favorites and are often much cheaper.

Another way to do more with what we harvest from the ocean is via community supported fishery (CSF). Members of a community supported fishery pay an amount each week to a single operator or a fisher’s co-op and in return receive a share of the harvest – any species that is suitable for human consumption. Thinking back to what we used to catch, this arrangement can provide a lot of variety.

The trawler operators also receive a better price than they would at market. While trawling can never be truly green; a properly run Community Supported Fishery means a fisher can do less work for more money – and less work means less trawling and fewer fish needing to be pulled from the oceans; plus far less waste.

The Wikipedia entry on Community Supported Fisheries points out the arrangement involves a triple bottom line approach: environmental stewardship, benefiting local economies and social improvements.

If you live in a fishing community and are interested in starting up a CSF, check out the National Sea Grant Law Center’s “Starting and Maintaining Community Supported Fishery (CSF) Programs”; which can be downloaded here (PDF).


Community Supported Agriculture
Community Food Gardens
Natural Food Cooperatives
Fishing And The Environment
Seafood And The Environment

Organic food labeling terms – what do they mean?

November 27th, 2012.

First published July 2009, last updated November 2012

Most people who buy organic foods are happy to pay a premium price to ensure what they are eating is free of artificial preservatives and additives and has been produced in an earth friendly way.

However, there’s something a little rotten with the state of organic foods in many countries.

Not only are consumers being misled, some organic food labeling is also impacting producers who have invested so much time, effort and money into making their produce truly organic by allowing inferior products to share the organic limelight and compete for market share.

In some regions, the term organic has become a little diluted; it’s really a form of greenwashing.

For example, in the USA, products labeled “organic” can contain 5%  non-agricultural substances approved by the USDA. These approved substances are supposedly not commercially available in organic form, and some are questionable in terms of health and environmental issues.

It really pays to not only read labels, but then to find out what is stated on the label actually means. The following are brief summaries of organic labeling guidelines in various countries.

USA organic food labeling guidelines

100% organic – must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. The USDA seal may appear on the packaging, but it must detail the certifying agency.

Organic – must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form. The USDA seal may appear on the packaging.

Made with organic ingredients – must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package

Processed products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term organic anywhere on the *principal* display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel. The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.

Products using any of the above cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. The certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principal display panel.

Source/more information: USDA

Canada organic food labeling guidelines

Organic – must use more than 95% organic content. May use the Canada Organic Logo and/or the designations “Canada Organic” and “Biologique Canada”.

% organic product – must contain 70-95% organic content. These products cannot use the Canada Organic Logo and/or the designations “Canada Organic” and “Biologique Canada”.

Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% organic content may only contain organic claims in the product’s ingredient list.

Certified organic products must also bear the name of the certification body that has certified the product as organic.

Source/more info: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

UK/European Union organic food labeling guidelines

Organic – if 95% or more of the content of agricultural ingredients has been produced organically (according to European Union Organic Standards), the product itself can be described as organic.

If less than 95% of the content of agricultural ingredients has been produced organically, the term organic can only be used to refer to the ingredients which have been organically produced in the list of ingredients on the product label or accompanying documentation. In this case, the ingredients list must also carry a declaration of the proportion of the content of agricultural ingredients which has been produced organically.

Source/more info: Organic Farmers UK

Australia organic food labeling guidelines

100% organic – where 100% mass/mass of all ingredients (excluding water and salt) come from certified organic sources.

Certified organic – where a minimum of 95% mass/mass of all ingredients (excluding water and salt) come from certified organic sources, and where all other materials are allowed under Australian standards for use in certified processed product.

Certified organic ingredients – Where less than 95% but not less than 70% mass/mass of all ingredients (excluding water and salt) are of certified organic origin, and where all other materials are allowed under the Australian standard.

In each of the above, GMO crops and irradiation cannot be used.

Products with less than 70% mass/mass of certified organic ingredients may only make reference to organic in the ingredient list in relation to the ingredient.

Source/more info: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

The above is only a brief summary of organic food labeling guidelines in various places, but there’s a lot more involved in each case; for example, the most current National Standard For Organic And Bio-Dynamic Produce is around 72 pages long!

It does go to show though that terms containing the word “organic” can be somewhat flexible as to their true meaning and consumers can understandably be not getting quite what they expect – and paid for.