Thursday, June 28, 2007

The rich gets richer, but ...

Do I want to make lots of money?

Yes.

But only to give it away.

Lofty aim indeed. But a part of me aspires to be the Warren Buffett and Bill Gates of the organic industry so that I could do more for those who need more done for them.

This headline Buffett blasts system that lets him pay less tax than secretary really caught my eye. Since when has a rich man ever complained about not paying enough tax?

Imagine how different the story of Zacchaes in the Bible would read, "O Lord! These rich people are always demanding to see me to pay me more taxes. What do I do with them?"

But of course one could still always give over the untaxed money to a good cause. That way we know exactly where our money goes to and not leave it to fund a war, for example.

Is Mr Buffett barking up the wrong tree?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Don't waste my time!

I had an annoying experience this morning.

Lady from catalogue company phoned. I used to buy from this company when my son was little but have not bought from them for a long time.

So she phoned to ask for me. Yeah, that's me speaking.

"Could you please confirm your address and post code?"

"Why?" I asked.

"For security reasons we have to check you are the person we want to speak to to give you some information."

"What information?"

"For data protection reasons, we're not allowed to say unless we've checked your data."

"Well, perhaps I am not interested in that information then?"

"OK, thank you for your time."

What cheek? To ask for me by name and then to require me to give her personal information so that she could tell me some information I am probably not interested in -- using my time!

These checks are not fail-safe any way. Any one (say, a neighbour) could pick up the phone, profess to be so and so. And as they are at the address, could well know the address and post code. Then what? Call this a security check?

Buying online is convenient but so impersonal. The best bit of buying from this company is the friendly courier who delivers. He stops his car to chat with me when he sees me walking around the area and moans, "What have I done?"

It's not him, of course. My son has simply outgrown that company. Still we stop for a chat, and that is nice.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Biofuels

I've never been a fan of biofuels.

On the surface it is a plausibly greener alternative to fossil fuel. Delve deeper and the same issues about food production being substituted (whether to produce cattle grazing grounds for the hamburger chains or the production of biofuels to run our cars) to the detriment of feeding the poor emerges, and the argument falls apart.

So this lot of articles from The Ecologist, together with the following articles from I-SIS, are worth noting:

Biofuels for Oil Addicts: Cure Worse than the Addiction

Biofuels: Biodevastation, Hunger & False Carbon Credits

Biofuels Republic Brazil

The New Biofuel Republics

I was watching a TV programme (only because my business mentor mentioned it) where this chap is trying to win a 'tycoon' competition selling a bag to help people manage the plastic bags they carry (so that people would take them back to the supermarkets).

Shouldn't the solution be "not use plastic bags" rather than "buying another bag to store those plastic bags"?

Isn't this chap missing the point? Or am I?

Likewise with biofuels. Would it not be more logical to reduce the demand for fossil fuel rather than use them to produce a seemingly/allegedly 'greener' version with repercussions on the poorest people in the world?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Excess Package

The following article caught my attention. Looked down the list to find only the products of one company (Duchy Originals) are regularly found in our household.

While we did not buy the Duchy Easter Egg (we found the Divine Fairtrade mini-eggs very tasty and good value) and only bought one Easter Egg for the whole family, we do often buy Duchy sausages which come in waxed paper and just a small band of card round the sausages.

We are one of those families that shop with packaging in mind.

"It's OK for you," some would say, "if you could afford to buy Duchy." The truth is we save a lot of money simply by cutting out all crisps, fizzy pop, sweets and chocolates. Because what we eat tends to be more expensive, we eat less and appreciate it more.

The end-result: a healthier lifestyle.

Campaign breakthrough as food giants agree to cut packaging
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Published: 15 June 2007 Timesonline

Some of the world's most powerful food and drink manufacturers have pro-mised to reduce packaging on a large range of everyday products, including Oxo, Hovis and Coca-Cola.

In the biggest success so far for The Independent's Campaign Against Waste, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Mars and other multinational companies have committed to halt the relentless rise in packaging by next year and to reverse it by 2010. The backing of nine major grocery suppliers for the Courtauld Commitment, the Government's voluntary agreement on packaging, should mean saving thousands of tonnes of plastic and paper from landfill in the next three years.

Thirteen major retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Boots signed the commitment after a ministerial summit at the Courtauld Gallery in London in March 2005, followed a year later by agreement with Heinz, Northern Foods and Unilever. Today, those 16 signatories are joined by multinational manufacturers including the world's biggest food company, Nestlé, Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, the British arm of the world's biggest soft drinks maker, the country's two biggest confectioners, Mars and Cadbury Schweppes, and Premier Foods whose brands range from Quorn to Mr Kipling.

The other four are the soft drinks company Britvic, the chilled food retailer Dairy Crest, the own-brand household products maker McBride, and Duchy Originals, the Prince of Wales's organic brand .

Duchy Originals was responsible for one of the most overpackaged Easter eggs in a survey by The Independent, which launched the Campaign Against Waste on 22 January. Since then, 169 MPs have signed a Commons motion backing our campaign, and demanded action from manufacturers and retailers.

Each year an estimated 6.3 million tonnes of packaging reaches British homes, costing the average family more than £400. By 2008, the Courtauld Commitment aims to "design out" the rise in packaging and, by 2010, to cut packaging by 340,000 tonnes, 5 per cent, though signatories have individual targets as high as 25 per cent.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said the influx of manufacturers would ensure the 340,000-tonne target was reached "easier and quicker." Liz Goodwin, Wrap's chief executive, said: "These are the manufacturers that have the biggest brands that are sold in all kinds of places from the major retailers to the corner shops."

Asked what had motivated the companies, Dr Goodwin said: "I think they genuinely realise it's no longer acceptable to have so much packaging. Consumers don't want it and they are responding to public pressure. Environmental issues have never been higher on the agenda."
Companies will use a range of methods from "lightweighting" - slimming down materials such as bottles or cans - to "de-layering", removing unnecessary wrapping.

Cadbury Schweppes, whose brands range from Dairy Milk chocolate and Crème Eggs to the 7Up fizzy drink, has committed to using wholly recoverable or biodegradable packaging by 2010. "We have set a target of a 10 per cent total reduction in packaging and 25 per cent in seasonal gifting," said Alex Cole, corporate responsibility director.

Alastair Sykes, chairman and chief executive of Nestlé UK & Ireland, said: "This partnership will benefit the environment, reduce waste and improve efficiency, so it creates shared value for our business and the wider community."

Although many food companies have agreed to the Courtauld Commitment a few have not, such as Pepsico, the owner of Walkers and Tropicana, and the Associated British Foods, which owns British Sugar, Allied Bakeries (maker of Kingsmill and Sunblest breads) and Primark.
Wrap said it expects more companies to sign the commitment in the next few months. In the meantime, it is planning a campaign to highlight the 6.7 million tonnes of food thrown away every year.

Big business gets the message

Nine companies with a combined annual turnover of £9bn have taken the campaign onboard:

Britvic
Drinks such as Tango, R Whites lemonade and Robinsons cordials, including FruitShoot. Bottles Pepsi in UK

Cadbury Schweppes
Cadbury chocolate as well as Butterkist, Maynards, Trebor and Trident. Soft drinks business include Snapple.

Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd
British arm of world's biggest fizzy drink company, making Coca-Cola, Fanta, Lilt, Powerade, Capri-Sun and Sprite.

Dairy Crest
Portfolio includes Cathedral City, Country Life, Clover, St Ivel, Utterly Butterly and Vitalite

Duchy Originals
The Prince of Wales's organic brand which markets premium biscuits, yoghurts, puddings, sweets and soups, among others.

Mars UK (formerly Masterfoods)
Major confectionery business responsible for Mars bars, Milky Way, Snickers, Twix as well as substantial pet food business, owning Whiskas and Pedigree

McBride
Makes own brand household and personal products for the likes of supermarkets including Asda

Nestlé UK
The world's biggest food multinational. Breakfast cereals Shredded Wheat, coffee brand Nescafe, KitKat and Smarties confectionery, Nesquik and Vittel and Perrier mineral waters.

Premier Foods
Food giant behind many traditional products, such as Ambrosia, Angel Delight, Bird's, Bisto, Branston, Crosse & Blackwell, Gale's Hovis, Mothers Pride, Mr Kipling, Oxo, Sarsons, and Sharwood's.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rain and Tears

It's the not-so-very-nice hay fever season.

Thankfully I have yet to run out of hankies as I did last year.

Apart from a constantly blocked nose which then occasionally runs like a tap -- but the congestion does not clear up -- this year's effect was felt more in the (teary) eyes and (itching) throat.

Basically it's horrid.

Worse, son seems to have developed symptoms. He's only seven. A friend said we must move to Spain to get rid of the hay fever symptoms. Truth is, the plan is to spend more holiday time in Singapore. Not so much for the weather (hot, humid, hotter, more humid), but for culture.

My son needs to learn more about the culture that his mum grew up in, or at best, some of what she remembers of it. The current Singapore is so different from the one she left 16 years ago.

The past two weeks have been horrendously busy. Last week we had a briefing meeting for parents whose sons are going into 'Middle School'. It's a totally new world from Junior School and it will be quite something to see how our sons aged seven-plus cope with this more grown-up world.

On Friday, we had Sports Day. The boys toughed it out under the occasional showers. Then after the teachers' race, there was a cloud burst and we all got thoroughly soaked.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the PTA had two events to organize. I say two, but they sort of ran into each other. In fact they ran into each other a lot and then continued for a bit. The annual summer fair followed by the fun cricket came and went. I was much more disorganized than at previous Fairs. (Well, we've only just finished our 1970s party a month ago, followed by the half-term break, so there was really no time to do very much. Is my excuse.)

The weather did not help. Part of the problem was deciding whether to hold the event outdoors or in. The committee members were all checking the forecasts studiously. But we were looking at different forecasts.

While I relied on my internet and the symbols indicate that it was going to be wet, wet, wet, others looked at teletext -- which is impossible to get on my tv system so we never ever use it. They were convinced that after that one shower, it would brighten up after three o'clock.

In the end we pitched up outdoors, the heavens opened and twenty minutes to four, which was when the Fair was supposed to begin, and there was a mad rush to bring everything indoors. Thankfully I had insisted that the bottle tombola stayed indoors.

In the end the weather did brighten up. The children were able to use the bouncy castle. The pizza oven and barbecue army set up and there was an unending queue, which of course meant we ran out of food!

Last year there were 41 people booked into our 'fun cricket' event. How was I to know that catering for 150 this time would not be enough?

Any way we made do. And long after the event was supposed to end at 8pm, people were still around. Well, it's nice to see people enjoying themselves.

But it would so much nicer if more would have stayed to help tidy up.

Must not complain, the main events over, I can now relax a bit.

There is still the cookbook to get done before Speech Day, in three weeks' time!

Sleep has not been easy, too. Often I'm up at 3am with a bunged up nose and can not get back to sleep till just before the alarm goes at 6am.

Bah!

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Enough to make you shake

So scientists have established a link between exposure to pesticides and Parkinson's Disease. (See article here.)

Am I surprised?

I was reminded of this as I was painting a radiator cover for my son's room. The fumes from the paint was giving me a headache.

Why was I using this paint? My husband bought it, is my lame excuse. That is another story I shall not go into.

There are so many things we use these days which are purportedly for our good, to make our houses look and smell nice. But the cost to human health during its production process and its lifetime cannot be ascertained.

As I was painting the walls of my son's room -- this time with more eco-friendly paint -- I was reminded of the scene I witnessed in Guangzhou (China) in the mid-1980s when China was just opening up.

There in the middle of a very busy street I saw Chinese workers painting the railings by a kerb using some rags which they dipped into the paint with their bare hands.

I dread to think what the effect of that would be on these poor men. But I was just another 'comrade' to them. (Because I looked just like them and the social anthropologist in me meant I dressed like them, I was mistaken as a local. But that's another story.)

I write this as another story is emerging of the EU wanting to speed through the lifting of a ban to "allow the remains of pigs and chickens to be used as fodder".

Do these people have such short memories? Do they not remember BSE?

Enough to make one shudder.

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