Glyphosate & you

January 16, 2017

times of malta

‘EU’s permission to ban glyphosate is not needed’

Monday, January 16, 2017

 Sarah Carabott

 

photo-pesticides

Placing peticides on the market is the role of the member states. Photo: Shutterstock

Malta can still decide to ban products containing the weedkiller glyphosate and does not need any EU permission, environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino insists.

Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the environment directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, was contacted after this newspaper was informed the government would only ban the use of glyphosate when such a move was ordered by the EU.

Only last summer, the Environment Ministry said the government had started the process to ban glyphosate. However, only products containing both the active substance glyphosate and the co-formulant POE-tallowamine are being banned. This, according to the ministry, includes Hopper Blu, Roundup, Roundup Max and Seccherba Respect.

stephanie-seneff-glyphosate

The price society pays to have ‘cheap’ food. Is it worth it?

A study has just been released showing that Roundup caused liver disease in rats. The World Health Organisation’s cancer agency says glyphosate itself is a “probable carcinogen”. Mr Baldacchino said the government was right to vote last June against the use of glyphosate in line with the precautionary principle cited by environmental groups, which stated that potentially hazardous substances should not be used unless they were proven to be safe.

What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones

“But it seems the Environment Minister’s spokeswoman wants the minister to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.” “The EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides. It is the role and responsibility of the member states to do so and the regulator in this area is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.”

“Malta can still decide to ban products containing glyphosate if it is not sure that the chemicals can have negative health and ecological impacts,” he insisted. Mr Baldacchino noted that it had already been proven that glyphosate killed bees, directly when they came in contact with the product and also by killing the flowers they fed on. Traces of the chemical had also been found in honey.

dead bee 16“What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones, and this includes NGOs, technical experts, health experts, environmentalists and beekeepers,” he said.

The ministry, Mr Baldacchino continued, should also make clear what its intentions were and how it would enforce the ban. He wondered who would monitor what chemicals were used in herbicides and pesticides.

In a letter sent to the Environment Minister, the Clean Food Movement expressed dismay at the ministry’s watered-down position, saying the ban had turned out to be “no more than window dressing”.

“We are now more concerned than ever about the possible continued use of glyphosate on these islands,” the letter to the minister read.

Contacted in his capacity as chemical expert, Alfred Vella, the University rector, said herbicides containing more than one active ingredient did exist. POE-tallowamine was frequently present in herbicide compositions to serve as a “surfactant”, which was not designed to kill weeds but to make the delivery of the actual toxic chemical, such as glyphosate, more effective in its action. Still, at high enough concentration, POE tallowamine itself did have toxic properties in the case of certain organisms, he said.

Concern usually revolved around the stability and durability of herbicides and pesticides after being dispersed in the environment. If their stability was high and they remained on edible produce for far too long, it meant they could be consumed together with the vegetables containing them. There were also concerns about their solubility in water, as rainwater would be able to take chemicals down to the water table or nearby seawater.

On the other hand, chemicals that were not easily soluble in water were normally quite soluble in fatty matter, meaning they could be absorbed through the skin if contaminated harvested produce came in contact with animals or people.

killed by public funds

The price the ecosystem pays to have ‘cheap food. Is it worth it?

Prof. Vella acknowledged there was concern about pesticides and herbicides in general, however, he advised on looking at both sides of the coin. The use of pesticides allowed agriculture to produce food in much larger volumes and cheaper prices than without the chemicals.

While it was possible to live in a pesticide-free environment, society would likely have to pay a price. Apart from increased cost of foods, the decline in production could cut off some people’s access to meat, fruit and vegetables and that would also have health consequences, Prof. Vella pointed out.

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Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

dead bee 8

who is paying for this if we may ask?

No, that’s the role of member states but active substances in the pesticides have to be approved at EU level. Once an active substance is approved at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticide formulation is done at a later stage by individual member states before they grant, refuse or restrict the use of pesticides formulations at national level.

In their authorisation decision, member states can therefore define the conditions for use of the product, for instance, restricted to certain crops, for professional use or for use in glass houses only.

*Information taken from the European Commission site.

______________________________________________________

 

further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

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Tunnelling the cross

May 24, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, 24th May, 2016

Tunnelling the cross

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed tunnel crossing under the 10km Gozo Channel seems to have surfaced again. Those in favour of this tunnel are putting forward every thinkable reason to justify such a tunnel. Such justifications include the long waiting queues on both sides of the channel, the Gozo aging population, the lack of job oppportuity in Gozo, and also that residents do not want to rely on touristic income to live in Gozo.

2016.05.24 - tunnelling the cross

Photo: viewingmalta.com from The Times

One Gozitan businessman also said that the tunnel would be just another road as the one leading from Marsascala to Valletta. Furthermore, it was also said that the present ferries will be obsolete within 15 years time.

A feasibility study concluded in favour of the tunnel. Externalites, that is the hidden costs that society and the environmenet will have to pay, were not even mentioned, despite the fact that it was concluded that profits in millions would be achieved. Geological studies have not even been initiated. It seems that these are not important as long as it has been concluded that there would be a financial profit.

The geologist Dr Peter Gatt, has pointed out that the area is full of large and deep faults. He also added that it is not only difficult to tunnel through these unstudied faults, but this can also be dangerous to human life.

The maximum depth of water in the channel is estimated to be 30 metres. Excavation depth in the rock bottom, without the availability of geological studies, is estimated to be 70 metres, that is 100 metres below sea level. The openings of this undeground tunnel can lead to the Nadur lowlands on Gozo and Għadira on the mainland.

A number of questions not only have not been answered, but have not even been asked, such as:

How will the tunnel affect both islands from a social and environmental point of view?

Have studies, if any, shown the impact of excavations at the two ends of the tunnel, on the hydrology and agriculture of the areas?

How will the estimated meagre one to two million cubic metres of excavated material be disposed of, and what will be its social and ecological impacts?

How will the tunnel contribute to curb the Gozitan ageing population? Will it instead contribute to further increase it?

Have any studies been done to see if the tunnel will further attract Gozitan youths to spend the weekend on the mainland for entertaining purposes and thus contributing to further add to the exodus from Gozo?

How will the tunnel affect internal tourism? I remember that in the recent past, when there was the ferry service available after the operettas held in Gozo, the commercial entities complained because this affected the bed nights in Gozo because theater visitors could easily return home after the performance. The tunnel would make this possible 356 days a year.

How would the tunnel impact the number of bed nights taken by foreign tourists in Gozo?

A fast ferry service would be the best sustainable solution from a social, environmental and even economic point of view

Initial construction costs of the tunnel are estimated at €300 million, which can easily double, depending on the geological studies. What would be the additional cost with respect to maintenance, and other requisites, for the safety of commuters: for example extraction and injection of fresh air through the tunnel? And how would these increase the toll that commuters will have to pay to cross through the tunnel?

These financial, social and environmental expenses, with the added externalities, are needed for crossing just a 10km stretch of water, not taking into consideration other construction problems. One has also to keep in mind any arising problems during its running, such as traffic accidents or other unforeseen circumstances.

The traffic problems on both sides of the tunnel will not only remain the same as they are today, but there is the probability that these will be further accentuated. Unless of course additional millions are pumped in with further social and environmental hidden costs.

Without doubt, the present facilities to cross the channel are anything but customer friendly. BUT, the tunnel is not the sustainable solution.

The present ferry service contributes to a substantial part of the problem.

It has no competition at all to render it more friendly and adjusted to commuters’ requests and demands. It is a monopolistic service.

Such is the monopolistic management that if there is somebody who believes that he is more important than all the commuters waiting at both quays, he can call back the ferry which has just departed to accommodate him!

The waiting commuters can wait a little longer, be they workers, students, tourists or just common citizens. And the expenses incurred to build such a sustainable tunnel are not the way to control such a monopolistic service.

The ferries in use today were launched in the early 2000. During that time the demand was not as heavy as it is today. Following intensive, successful advertisements to visit Gozo, the demand increased by leaps and bounds, reaching the million mark today. But the number of ferries remained as it was originally, resulting in occasional delays and long queues. If the service were run on competitive lines, without any doubt the problem would not be so acute.

It is quite a relief to hear that a fast ferry service is an alternative to the tunnel. This fast service, besides shortening the time of crossing, can also take commuters, car and all, from Mġarr not only to Ċirkewwa, but also to Valletta, Sliema and any other planned destination on the mainland. This can be enhanced by the availablility of a shuttle bus service from the quay to various bus terminuses.

Such a fast ferry service would be the best sustainable solution from a social, environmental and even economic point of view. Not only so, but it can be faster for commuters, it will avoid time in traffic bottlenecks, it will ease the stress of commuters, it will contribute to the decrease of vehicular emissions, it can also be cheaper and daily commuters can leave their cars on the quay close to home. The tunnel does not address these benefits.

Obviously such a fast ferry service cannot be afforded monopolistic protection, or the problems will still persist.

Speakers, both Gozitans, for the two main parties are leading the front in favour of the tunnel. Only Alternattiva Demokratika is against. One of the former said that all Gozitans are in favour of the tunnel: the vociferous ones that is, but I do not believe that the silent majority are.

The other politician, from the other side of the fence, said that this is a Gozitan project which will benefit Gozitans, and that both parties will include it in their electoral manifesto. Does this mean that those who are against such a tunnel should not vote for the parties who are in favour? A Gozitan friend of mine who is against the tunnel, after hearing such comments on the air, told me that both parties have lost his vote.

The present tunnel vision is more like walking blindfolded searching for a presumed lost black cat in a dark tunnel, to the background music of counting machines.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/efficient-link-to-gozo/


Where the wind blows

April 12, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where the wind blows

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The EU met on 8th March 2016 to decide whether to extend for another 15 years, the use of glyphosate, a crucial weedkiller ingredient. The decision was abruptly postponed at the eleventh hour.

pic-3

A glyphosate-based weed killer

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture, public areas and private gardens. It is also used in genetically modified crops, which are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate-based products.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, announced that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  Environmental groups have since been calling for its ban.

Following WHO’s warnings, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will undertake further studies to see if glyphosate can cause cancer, interfere with reproduction or damage the hormone system. The herbicide glyphosate can enter the body through food or drinking water. A new study has shown that the majority of Germans have been contaminated by the compound.

killed by public funds

Dead pollinators – bees – after spraying pesticides, especially for purely commercial purposes. 

According to scientists, heavy and repeated uses of glypohosate-based herbicides, contributes to many envirionmental and soil-ecosystem problems. Glyphosate results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food. And its impacts on biodiversity is also well known: it decimates and eliminates pollinators such as bees.

On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contends that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weed killer deemed safe for humans to consume, a report which Greenpeace has referred to as “a whitewash”.

spraying pesticides 1

Whose responsibility is it: Ministry of Landscaping? Ministry of Health? Ministry of Environment? Ministry of Consumer Affairs?Ministry for Local Councils? 

The Swedish Environment Minister said: “We won’t take risks with glyphosate and we don’t think that the analysis done so far is good enough. We will propose that no decision is taken until further analysis has been done and the EFSA scientists have been more transparent about their considerations.”

Before the scheduled vote of 8 March, leaders from Italy joined Sweden, France, and the Netherlands against the widely-used herbicide.

Following such postponement, EU Member States were given till the 18 March 2016 to provide their opinion for the next meeting, scheduled for 18 May. But the Times of Malta (March 29) quoted a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Environment, that Malta did not submit such opinion by the 18 March, because discussions were still ongoing.

spraying pesticides 2

Workers are just a cog in the pro-business machine. As long as they deliver, it is not important to ensure that they wear hazardous clothing.

Following a number of articles and comments in the press, it is now more than obvious that in Malta the eagerness for monitoring and enforcing is at its lowest ebb, if at all. The professionalism of passing the buck is more pronounced.

As per Pesticides Control Act, 2001 and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act, 2011, the competent authority for the authorisation and regulation of pesticides in Malta is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA).

But, according to this newspaper, MCCAA refused to state it’s position and directed questions to the Environment Ministry. The latter is responsible for the protection of biodiversity, the Pesticides Control Board (PCB) which is chaired by a Ministry’s representative, and also for agriculture for which a parliamentary secretary is accountable.

Because of the impacts of pesticides on human food and animal feeds, representatives of the Food and Safety Commission and the Environment Health Department, both under the responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Health are represented on the PCB.

“I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on May 18 with an official public position”

One of the functions of the Food and Safety Commission is to effectively apply the precautionary principle when a significant risk to consumers is identified or reasonably suspected. Sitting on the fence is the Minister of Landscaping who is responsible for use of pesticides by his landscaping official public partner who seems to be immune to any regulation with regards to human safety and biodiversity.

One would tend to ask. “What would Malta have voted if the matter was not postponed?” In such a sensitive social and ecological matter, one would have thought that the decision was easy. But in all probabilities the pro-business vision is quite a high and a strong hurdle to overcome.

From past and present experience, considering the pro-business vision dominating every other sector, and the fortunate position in the EU’s alphabetical list, I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on 18 May with an official public position. The position will be reached according to the way the majority of the EU Member States vote: in other words, where the wind blows.

spraying pesticides 3

Commercial interests spray to their heart’s content: in public area, in public gardens, in street, outsides residential areas, close to public outlets. Anywhere as long as they make some profit out of it. Externalities will be paid by the general public and the environment. 

This despite the negative impacts that such a decision will undoubtedly have on society and ecology, which will be more acute locally considering the smallness of the country. Why does Malta have to be feel embarrassed by a vote in favour of society and the environment?

Miriam Dalli, member of the European Parliament Environment Committee, is quoted as saying that “ultimately we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest.”

One has to wait till the vote on 18 May to see what stand Malta will take: whether MCCAA will be on the side of commercial interests, or use the precautionary principle in the interests of social and environmental health.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

 


It never rains, it pours

March 26, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 26th March 2016

It never rains, it pours
Alfred E. Baldacchino

The lack of rain this winter has become a great concern for many social leaders. Parched valleys, dried cisterns, empty wells, wilted vegetation, worried farmers, are just a harbinger of things to come during the coming hottest months of the year. This acute drought is making some leaders, whether political or religious, feel a little bit wet under the collar.

Seemingly as a last resort, I would say more for convenience sake to appease their faithful, these social leaders are either reverting to PR exercises instead of working on the long overdue water management plans, or praying the Creator, asking Him for His intervention to send us some of the much needed rain. What an embarrassment!

TOM photo

Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier – Times of Malta.

The Lord has always given us rain water for free during the years. He has also given us intelligence. One can see the results of such intelligence in past engineering works with regards to water harvesting. One can find and see the professional management of such a rare natural resource dating back to the times before Christ. Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. In fact the

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta. photo Keith Buhagiar

Maltese islands are dotted with historical professional engineering projects with the sole aim that not a drop of water is wasted. This has seen the population of these islands go through two world wars without having any problems with water, which the Lord sends us for free.

But in the last 50 years, when we took over the management of our Country, we became affluent, like affluent rats, and we boast about it. This has led us to put a price to everything, and discard natural resources which are given to us for free. We are convinced that we have complete control over the ecosystem. Free assets, such as water, are regarded as having no commercial, economic, social or environmental value, and these can be exploited whenever and however we want to.

Today we live for the day, and exploit everything that we lay our eyes and hands on. Mainly, with endemic political intelligence, we ruined, and are still in the process of doing, whole historical engineering networks which contribute to the storing of such a rare natural resource.

LN-376-of-2012

How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

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Professional legislation with regards to the management and conservation of water was adulterated, to accommodate speculators, with an eye on votes. We lost sight of this natural resource to the extent that official entities, like MEPA, that notorious environmental watchdog, prefers planning to store cars instead of planning to catch and store every drop of the rare resource of free rain water.

In our desperate greed, we contributed to the flooding of inhabited areas where the relatively poor reside, besides neglecting the water table with regards to its replenishment, its conservation, its abuse, and the enforcement of legal protection.

But the endemic political acumen, came out with a solution. This led to the asking for help from the new milking cow. Approximately €57 million were used to dig an underground tunnel so that all the free rain water which we are gifted with, could be swept to the sea. Such a scenario emerged from the uncontrolled development and lack of planning as a result of which water could not seep into the aquifer. A pain in the neck when rain water floods our street because of such mismanagement.

If we made use of the intelligence the Almighty gave us, as our ancestors did, we would have restored all the historic cisterns and wells, build new ones to capture and collect all the water, and not ask school children to catch a drop, and throw millions of gallons out to sea. Imagine if the historic professional water management systems were appreciated, cared for, renovated and kept in a good shape. There would not be any reason to pray for rain. Imagine if large cisterns were built in all the school yards, of which there are so many.

Wouldn’t the €57 million have been well spent and such harvested natural resource be so beneficial in this time of drought? But such common sense was not so common with the planning authority, or else these were regarded as whitebait not palatable and attractive enough to the sharks!

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

The cemetery built in Nadur Gozo, disrupted and ruined the natural hydrological system and the professional engineering built by the Knights of Malta.

The religious authorities did not bat an eyelid for such waste of resources either. Not only so, but some had also a finger in the pie in the mismanagement of such a natural scarce resource. With MEPA’s blessing, they chose the largest water catchment area in Gozo where to build a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery consisting of 600 graves for the dead at the expense of the living. An appropriate adequate grave for present day intelligence.

In the process, a historical engineering system, which was used to catch free rain water and harvest it in various cisterns, was ruined. This system used to ensure enough adequate water for agricultural needs of the farmers along Wied il-Qasab during the long hot summer months. But because of such mismanagement and lack of professional planning, today when it rains, not only is the water not collected for agricultural use, it now floods the fields further down the valley. The result of the approved plans, by you know who, which interfered with the flow of water through the geological strata. And the cemetery was blessed too!

eco-1This is why I feel embarrassed to pray for rain. I am surprised at the audacity some have, especially those who believe that they are closer to the Lord than any other. Why should the Lord listen to us when a great percentage of such free rain water would be swept to the sea as unwanted, undesired and useless water. And it also floods agricultural land because of land mismanagement and land abuse. What an embarrassment to man’s intelligence. How shameful!

And in the meantime, despite such a drought, large expanses of turf are still being sprinkled (during the darkness of night) with the Minister for Landscaping’s blessings.

If I had to pen a tentative reply to such prayers, I would say: “Be blessed, go and repent.” And remember that “Water is the driving force of all nature” (Leonardo da Vinci).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Additional reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/dezert-niexef-nixfa-ta-ideat/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/l-immaniggar-tal-ilma-fmalta/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/in-nixfa-tax-xitwa-u-s-sigra-tal-lewz/

 https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/an-official-water-policy/


A splitting image of Mepa

August 3, 2015

times of malta

Monday, 3rd August, 2015

A splitting image of MEPA 

Alfred E Baldacchino

mepa logo-1

MEPA’s failure in its environmental responsibility started from day one. Barely a week from the ‘merger’ with the Environment Department, in 2001, I was told in a joking vein: “forget about environment; it is development which dictates here.”

And so it was to be. And so it is today. Honouring national and international environmental obligations, which were never understood or wanted to be understood by MEPA, seemed like trying to swim up the Niagara falls. Eventually, environment became MEPA’s Cinderella, leading to its present headless mummified state in limbo.

After two years in government, it has now been thought appropriate to resuscitate such a mummy. Despite being an electoral promise, the move is accompanied by a lot of fanfare and publicity, and this raises more questions than answers. Is it to hide past failures and the procrastination in making such move? Is it to detract from the fact that environment has been kept out of the portfolio of the Minster for the Environment but is in that of the Prime Minster? Is it to make up for the environmental degradation which also saw the Environment Directorate degenerate into a mummified orphaned headless Cinderella? Is it just meant for that part of the electorate who can be convinced that a circle is square?

To consolidate MEPA complete disregard for the environment, on its death bed MEPA, forwarded a report to the Prime Minister, a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that Żonqor was the best site for the university development. The report completely ignored the Environment Directorate, it’s acting Director (no Director since change of government) and the MEPA board too.

MEPA has stooped so low, with such farcical unprofessional behaviour along the years, that it has lost all credibility. It is in need of new image to “secure better planning”!  Is the colourful publicity and change of name merely dressing the old wolf in new sheep’s clothing? Many already see the Executive Council referred to in the new Bills, as already set up and running, as evidenced by the Żonqor report. It seems that the rape will go on, till there is nothing left to rape.

As advertised, MEPA will be no more, and will only be remembered in the books of history especially for its complete environmental failures. Few would shed a tear.

 

trophy

Future generations have a right to know who was responsible for the protection of the Maltese environment, which they have lent us.

I won’t. I have gone through the new environment bill. An exercise undertaken by a parliamentary secretary in the office of the prime minister. The new bill transposes all the environmental provisions from the MEPA Act (except for some ‘overlooked touches’): a cut and paste exercise to ensure that the EU Environment Aquis obligations are all there.

If the new Environment Act is to put the environment high on the agenda, why was it not possible to achieve such aims, with the same legal provisions, when it was under the responsibility of the Prime Minister? Is all this fanfare a confirmation of failure? MEPA has been declared a monster, without any political control, when as everybody knows it functions by political nods, as one concludes from a rationalised  żonqor point.

I honestly believe that the Minster for the Environment, Leo Brincat, can administer the environment on professional lines. Perhaps this is why he has been kept away from environmental responsibility, and MEPA, environment and all, are still not in his portfolio after two years. It is nice to have someone to shield the blows though!

One now hopes the Minster for the environment won’t be given a ‘promotion’ and be replaced by someone whose main qualification will be to convince us that he is ‘balancing’ environment and planning, naturally in the ‘national’ interest. This would only result in handing over of a mummified headless Cinderella from limbo, nicely adorned as a skeleton on a string, controlled by the Executive Council.

 

 

cartoon

What trust can one have in the headless skeleton, resuscitated and dressed as an Environmental Authority? In the absence of such trust, which is not easy to re-establish, it is very difficult to believe everything that is being said.

Those who yearn for a better future, better social wellbeing, a better environmental home, have to fasten their seatbelts. We are all in for a rough ride.

I sincerely wish all the good luck to the Environment Minister who will need all the help he can from genuine individuals and social entities, especially from the political field.

Unfortunately though he will have a lot of bones to pick with.

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PS – graphics were added to the original article.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Plight of livestock breeders

June 16, 2014

 times of malta

Monday, June 16, 2014

Plight of livestock breeders

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

The media recently reported on cases of spraying slurry on agriculture land. Some questions remain unanswered. Earlier this month, I attended  a conference on the infonitrates project funded by the EU Life+ to see for myself what is being and what is not being said on the matter.

brochure

The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and animal rights welcomed participants, emphasising the importance of nitrate in agriculture,
the need to control such use and abuse and the need for the correct management, which can have an impact on water resources and
biodiversity.
Information was given on the work done with regard to communication, education and awareness among farmers and livestock breeders. Very
important, much needed and beneficial efforts.

The Water Services Corporation representative, before leaving, dwelt on the importance of ground water, the fact that Malta has the lowest water supply accessibility, which makes the country face chronic water scarcity and suffering drought. The worst impact on groundwater are nitrates resulting from sewage, manure from animal husbandry, salinity and sea water seepage in sewers in coastal areas.

cow-1

The obligations imposed by EU directives, control, legal measures and the establishment of a nitrate committee were also outlined. And this is how it should be, though it is not fair that conditions are only imposed on the ones who register.

An expert from the German Chamber of Agriculture and another from the Israeli Agriculture Research Organisation showed the professional way forward, something the local technocrats can digest within a couple of days but, unfortunately, this can take a generation to be politically accepted and implemented.

The best part of the conference was when the participants took the floor. If only the accountable political entities were all present. No politician from either side of the House was there. Admittedly, this was not the place for such comments but breeders saw this as an opportunity to make their point, expressing the desperate state they are in. Their frustrations were loud and clear: lack of adequate water for their fields and livestock while complaining that good water was taken for free and sold to swimming pools and hotels; pains regarding the lack of additional infrastructure to manage manure; worries about the bursting storage of solid and liquid manure because of lack of adequate disposal.

One of the breeders said they are not allowed to use slurry on their fields even during the dry season.

A comment from the head table that there are plans to install bio-digesters had a quick reaction from the floor, asking whether breeders were expected to stop feeding their livestock so that they will not excrete until the bio-digesters are in place. In short, it was all about bulls, woes and moos.

pigs

It has to be a pig to nonchalantly display the place from where processed undigested waste food is excreted out of the body. But this is only natural and it applies to all animals who have to eat. If not properly managed (and livestock cannot do it on their own) it can have a great negative impact on biodiversity.

Livestock manure is a resource that can generate enough energy to make the farm completely independent of fossil fuel. It can also contribute to the production of compost, thus decreasing overhead costs. Yet…

hen-1

 

 

 

Other official stakeholders were conspicuous by their absence. Mepa, one of the regulators for the water framework and the nitrates directives was not present. No surprise, though. Neither was the ministry responsible for the conservation of water and now also for health.

The WSC was present only momentarily for the brief presentation on the precarious water situation and the negative impact of nitrates. Neither was there anybody from the health directorate to listen to problems raised.

Considering the lack of coordination and mismanagement of the subject since accession to the EU, it felt more like shooting the bull.

If only the accountable political entities

were all present

A breeder told me that they had been given a concession to empty liquid waste in the sewer despite problems caused to the treatment of sewage water and notwithstanding the fact that, in their area, the sewers were old, lacking any pipes but hewn in the bedrock. Problem solved, well, at least, no one can see it.

rabbit

I pitied the agriculture official on the head table who not only was forsaken but was literally deserted. He could somehow manage technical questions but in no way could he give political answers or explain the duties of other government entities.

The lack of coordination hit one in the face. The absence of technocrats from other entities to help livestock breeders with their difficulties was an indication that these did not have any political backing or vision to do so.

Admittedly, this is not an easy task. The management of animal waste cannot be solved by one isolated government entity. Past mismanagement and lack of proper planning do not help either.

This community of legal livestock breeders does not seem to qualify as a minority deserving political backing despite the stiff competition from
overseas, the adverse economies of scale, its 24/7 commitment to the livestock, the adverse climatic conditions and the risks taken to make ends meet.

On the other hand, the fact that this community does not have any representative who can handle not only the technical aspects of their labour but also legal, social and ecological matters is not beneficial to breeders either.

manure-2

Having heard cries of pain from those who aired their voice, I left the conference not convinced at all that there is a clear vision of how to take the bull by the horns.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

August 17, 2013

times of malta

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I guess that while at breakfast, supper or dinner, few would pause on a bite to ruminate on how the fruits being served managed to reach their plate. So long as the plate is full, why bother!

Fruits start as flowers with different shapes, colours and smells. They often have sugary nectar and nutritious pollen to attract insect to pollinate them. On pollination a cycle of events is initiated leading to the production of seeds often shielded by a fruit, many of which we eat. An EU funded project has estimated that pollinators contribute to over €150 billion per year to the global agriculture economy, two thirds of which is pollinated by bees.

FD---0215---2008.01.31---Prunus-dulcis----Mtarfa

Bees are amongst the most noted natural pollinators

The Genesis explains how “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” But man thought otherwise, and embarked on measures to correct ‘God’s faults’ found in the ecosystem. He put chemicals on the market to do away with unwanted creatures, so that there will be more foods to ‘feed the people’, or as some may say to ‘fatten bank accounts’. Pesticides come in different forms: there are insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All have the same aim: to kill living creatures which are unwanted, which are contributing to a lesser yield and meagre profits.

Sprayed chemical are neither target specific nor area contained and they kill not only unwanted creatures but also beneficial insects including pollinators. They also accumulate inside bodies of those who eat contaminated food. Not even man is spared.

Pollinators, mainly bees, are being decimated at an alarming rate, and in America they are falling like confetti. Fingers are pointed at mites, cell phone towers, diseases and climate change, not excluding pesticides. A Colony Collapse Disorder where entire beehives die at once, has reared its ugly head. In the United States 31.1% of managed honey bee colonies were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. In Maryland alone, close to 60% of the managed hives died during the same period.

A recent scientific study at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture has revealed frightening facts. Pollen gathered by bees, not necessarily from the sprayed crops, has revealed a concoction of pesticides and fungicides, some samples containing more than 21 different chemicals. When eaten by bees or fed to their grubs in the hives, it weakens them against parasites. A Chemical Concoction Drama is unfolding: collapsing bee colonies. The alarming increase of dead bees is sending a clear message to mankind: ‘goodbye honey’.

While the mega pesticide producers continue to spread their chemical concoctions and genetically modified organisms, with the ‘noble’ aim of feeding the people, pollinators continue to pay the price. Most alarming is the fact that these firms have worldwide political backing. In international political fora politicians seem more like charismatic colourful puffins, who, with apologies have been labelled as always sitting in meetings, taking decisions, and doing nothing about them. When economics come in play, controlling chemical spraying is simply impossible. Don’t get in the way, bees or no bees.

This year, following strong lobby from international NGOs, and a handful of socially convinced politicians, the EU will ban for two years the use of three of the world’s most widely used pesticides. Only 15 Member States voted in favour!

Even in tiny Malta one can see workers spraying pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, both in open fields and also along road­side verges. What for?  Some of these are central or local government workers paid from public funds. Surely, there must be at least one politician who has such responsibilities in his portfolio.

China, also has its own problems. In 1980 in parts of Sichuan, the pesticides used in pear orchards wiped out the bees, to the extent that pollination had to be carried out by hand using feather brushes. Imagine a new trade of ‘flower ticklers’, whose main work would be tickling male anthers on stamens of flowers to make them deposit their pollen on a feather brush, and then slowly, gently, transporting it and depositing it to the female stigma, to eventually reach the ovary. The flower is fertilised and your fruit formation starts. How would you liked to be a bee? Beg your pardon; this may sound a bit infra dig. So how would you like to be a flower tickler? You will have the satisfaction of knowing that most of the food on our plates will be at your fingertips. BUT… with one difference. While one bee colony can pollinate up to 300m flowers a day, FOR FREE, flower ticklers have the laborious task to reach such standards for which they have to be paid, at least minimum wages.

flower-tickler

Flower ticklers – a could-be hobson choice approach toward pollination replacing natural pollinators.

Albert Einstein, said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”. It is not surprising that many adjectives like fundamentalist and scaremonger were and are hurled at him. But this is also in line with another saying that insects have seen man come and they shall see man go.

If you do not want to prove Einstein right, and you do not want to be a bee, for our own sake, let bees be, honey.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com