Readers' Letters from Ethical Consumer Issue 159
The hole in your sock (EC158, p.24) had me reaching for my darning mushroom, with which I have held open many holes in socks so that I can make a neat darn. It’s made of wood, one holds the stalk and stretches the sock over the cap. Perhaps we could show people how to make a neat darn, or put in a patch, or even do invisible mending on a torn shirt. Perhaps we could bring back needlework classes for children. Perhaps!
Alison Gardner-Medwin, via email
SMOs as a means of development
I note in your article (EC158) about Synthetically Modified Organisms (SMOs), you quote various groups such as the World Economic Forum and the Friends of the Earth as to how SMOs “may have a knock-on effect on the livelihoods of millions of farmers” because we’ll be able to manufacture them industrially, without the farmers, the implication being this is a bad thing. This appears to be the ‘Luddite Fallacy’, or to use the less antagonistic term: ‘Technological unemployment’.
I can’t say I understand how the logic behind this makes it any different from tractors, combine harvesters, or any other piece of modern agricultural machinery. As recently as 1981, 3% of UK employment was in agriculture, today it’s 1%. Yet over the same period, productivity on UK farms has increased by about 30%, a change that was powered almost entirely by modern technology. The other 99% of the UK’s population are, therefore, free to work in other useful fields like science, medicine, engineering and their ilk. For another prime example of what happens when you move away from an agrarian society, see The Industrial Revolution with its concomitant increases in quality, length, and health of life.
Conversely, 75% of Madagascar’s population is in agriculture,  which is probably a strong factor in it being ranked down at 151st out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. Surely rather than trying to keep them all employed in agriculture so we westerners can indulge in ‘natural’ vanilla flavoured ice-cream, we should instead be aspiring to give them opportunities beyond toiling in the fields.
Jonathan Moriarty, via email
Co-op bank closing accounts supporting Palestine
I have been a subscriber to the Ethical Consumer magazine for many years and very much appreciate the advice and information that I’ve had from it. I’m glad that you’ve always shown strong support towards Palestine and have published details of boycott campaigns with an aim to peacefully bring justice to the region. I have also been a customer of the Co-op Bank for many years and, more recently, the treasurer of a local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) which has banked with the Co-op for six years.
I was shocked in November to receive a letter from the Co-op informing me that our PSC account would be closed on the 14th January 2016, as we no longer “fit their risk appetite”. We had no more details than that. A request for an extension of one month (needed to set up an account over the holiday period) was refused. We have since made applications to open an account at the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society and the Trustee Savings Bank. Both of these have been refused on the basis that we do not meet their ‘compliance acceptance’ standards.
Norwich PSC does not send money or receive money from abroad. Our account has never been overdrawn and has not incurred any penalties. Many branches around the country, as well as other groups raising money for humanitarian and educational causes, have been treated the same way. For more on our position on this issue see our website. PSC has launched a legal case; the legal team believe that this is a discriminatory act and contravenes the Equality Act 2010. The Co-op has had a reputation as an ethical bank and claims to “act with honesty and transparency…treating customers fairly…promoting human rights and equality”. It is hard to see any evidence of these principles.
I wonder if the Ethical Consumer’s support of, and attitude towards, the Co-op Bank has changed owing to their recent actions? Are you able to shed light on what is happening in the banking world? Whatever it is can surely not be ethical.
Heather Ford,Palestine Solidarity Campaign, via email
Ed: Ethical Consumer’s Save our Bank campaign has been working hard on trying to get the bank to reverse this decision. For more information see page 37 of our Mar/Apr issue.
In support of pets
As a vegan who also cares for cats that have ended up on my doorstep, I have some appreciation for Dr Ratle’s argument (in the letter in EC158) respecting the ethics of pet ownership, but cannot agree with his/her conclusions. Dr Ratle’s focus would be much better directed towards human meat consumers, who are not obligate carnivores like cats, and who would benefit from adopting a plant-based diet not only to avoid animal suffering but also for the sake of their health and the environment.
Being low in saturated fat and rich in a range of nutrients, such a diet provides optimum protection against heart disease, many cancers, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, asthma and allergies, and eliminates any consumption of chemicals, growth promoters and antibiotics pumped into factory farmed animals. Furthermore a decline in meat eating means a decline in the destruction of rainforest woods and hedgerows for livestock farming and the growing of animal feed, together with a decline in pollution of waterways and the atmosphere.
It is highly irresponsible for Dr Ratle to suggest that rescue animals, if not euthanised, should be allowed to go to feral, which would result in a level of breeding and disease that could become out of control, and give rise to much animal suffering. Her/His comparison between pet ownership and the ownership of the 4-wheel drive is simplistic and inappropriate. People share their lives with animals for a complex variety of reasons, not solely or necessarily for personal gain.
Just as provision for vegans has improved tremendously over recent years and attracted many new consumers, so it is highly likely that palatable and nutritious plant-based foods for obligate carnivores will also develop over time. In the interim, the best that cat carers can do is avoid products tested on animals, and manufactured by companies with a poor track record in respect of animal welfare.
Anna Reeves, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Palm oil woes
I have been buying Pure dairy-free margarine for years now, thinking I was being so virtuous not contributing to the misery of a lactating cow. Now it turns out I’ve been making orangutans homeless. Aaarghh. So (thanks to my EC sub) I have switched to Biona margarine because it claims to use sustainable palm oil and is about the same price as organic butter. The term ‘sustainable palm oil’ appears on a few products, so I buy those to relieve my guilt. However, none of these so-called sustainable products have a badge like the Soil Association and organic. I wrote to Warburtons seeking clarification on who they buy their palm oil from. Warburtons wrote back saying that is commercially sensitive information, which didn’t install confidence in the transparency of ‘sustainable palm oil’.
Furthermore, having read the issue on palm oil (EC156) I’m still not clear what constitutes sustainable. Please can you revisit the matter and give readers a clear definition of what sustainable palm oil actually is? Case studies of what those companies look like would help. Also, surely we need better brand awareness of suppliers in the chain?
Laura B, from our Forums
Ed: The issue is not as clear as it could be – partly because not all NGOs agree on the goals. At Ethical Consumer, we have recently amended our ratings to give a best score to companies for whom 100% of the supply chain is RSPO (or organic) certified, unless they are relying wholly on the RSPO Book & Claim (GreenPalm) offset scheme. See the RSPO FAQs on our website for more info. We will be amending our list of ‘palm oil free’ and sustainable palm oil brands on our website over the next month or so.
The ethics of cooperating with Amazon
It is always good to hear of your successes over the year, but it is sort of funny that you should have picked on Amazon and the Co-op Save our Bank campaign. I know that the Co-operative Food stores are a separate business, but they too are supposed to share the ethics. I am not chuffed at all that our local Co-op in Sidwell Street (Exeter) has a lot of Amazon lockers in it for people to collect their orders, Presumably it is hoped that they will then go on shopping there as well – maybe also saving transport fuel (saving cost to Amazon, and pollution to the environment?) – but I am not convinced that this is enough to give shelter, plus an air of ethical respectability to such an unethical company…
Sylvia Hilken, via email