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California Aims for World’s Highest Farm Animal Welfare Law

New law would ban the sale of all eggs, pork, or veal from a caged animal, putting the state ahead of the EU – if campaigners can get enough signatures

They call Chris Winn the signatures guy. A delivery driver by day, he spends his free time drumming up support for animal rights. “When I did the shark fin ban I got 4,000 signatures,” says Winn, 53. “Usually I’m the top guy in California.”

Now he’s on a new mission. It’s a cold Saturday afternoon in San Francisco and Winn is jubilant, bundled in a hat and sweatshirt, scouting for signatories for a proposed law that would ban the sale of any eggs, pork or veal that comes from an animal that spent its life in a cage. If passed it would be the most progressive farm animal welfare law in the world.

Free range chickenPhoto courtesy of UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences The new measure would ban cages of any kind for hens, gestation crates for mother pigs, so narrow they can’t turn around, and veal crates for calves, which restrict movement for their entire lives.

The law is only possible thanks to the quirky US ballot measure system which allows organizations and individuals to bypass politicians and put potential laws directly to a vote by the general population – as long as they can get enough signatures to support the measure in the first place. In California that means collecting a tremendous 365,000 signatures – and so for the last four months animal lovers across the state have been fanning out on street corners every chance they get, clipboards in hand.

So far they are nearing 200,000, but even with less than two months to go before the 1 May deadline, Carol Misseldine, the campaign’s northern California coordinator, is optimistic. “The response has been very positive,” she says when we meet, as volunteers assembled for a day of signature hunting. “Most people see it as a no-brainer. That being said, we are all gonna have to hustle.”

The new measure would ban cages of any kind for hens, gestation crates  for mother pigs, so narrow they can’t turn around, and veal crates for calves, which restrict movement for their entire lives. By the end of 2019 all hens would have to be cage-free – living, at minimum, on an open barn floor or in an indoor aviary with multiple levels for birds to go up and down.

It would have national implications, applying not just to in-state famers but to any farmer doing business with the world’s sixth largest economy. “This is history …more

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Back From the Brink: The Exmoor Pony

This endangered breed gives us a rare insight into what the wild ponies looked like thousands of years ago

Bordered by Devon and Somerset counties and dropping away steeply to the Bristol Channel, the hilly, open moorland of Exmoor in southwest England is a place of freezing wet winters with driving winds. Vegetation here is tough and of little nutritional value. Only the hardiest of creatures endure in this harsh environment. The Exmoor pony is one of them, though it’s currently listed as “endangered” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

profile of an Exmoor ponyPhoto by Thomas Haeusler During winter, the Exmoor pony’s winter coat is composed of two different layers, which allows it to retain body heat during the English moor’s freezing wet winters.

Unique among the mountain and moorland breeds, Exmoor ponies are distinctly recognizable by their uniform bay, brown, or dun color, and lighter, oatmeal-colored markings around their nose and eyes. The hair on their coats is set in such a way that water simply runs off their backs, away from their eyes and other vulnerable body parts. Their coats in winter are composed of two different layers — fine, springy hairs grow against the skin providing an insulation layer, while the top layer is coarse, greasy, and water-repellant. Snow falling on their bodies simply sits until it is shaken off, rather than melt and cause precious body heat to be lost.

It is believed that these ponies derive from the original prehistoric horse that made the trek from Alaska to Britain some 130,000 years ago. There is mention of the ponies of Exmoor as early on as in the Domesday Book — a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales completed in AD 1086. Along with the Przewalski's horse of Mongolia, these primitive ponies provide an insight into what the original horses must have looked like many thousands of years ago.

"Their characteristics all represent adaptations to surviving harsh elements, living on poor food supply and avoiding predators; none even hint at people selectively breeding them for an unnatural purpose," says Sue Baker, author of Exmoor Ponies: Survival of the Fittest. "Their history suggests that they are minimally altered from the indigenous British wild pony and were the raw material for the development of many, if not all, the other British native pony breeds. Their genes are therefore the reservoir of all that is required for a free-living pony. Not only has the primitive appearance survived in the Exmoor but also natural behaviors in terms …more

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The Syrian Seed Bank that Keeps Operating through the War

Employees without the means to flee the crisis have preserved the occupied facility, at considerable risk to themselves

For more than four years, the headquarters of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in the Syrian town of Tal Hadya has been occupied by the anti-Assad groups Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. ICARDA is one of 15 major international agricultural research centers, and the site of a seed bank housing some 150,000 samples in temperature-controlled vaults.

photo of Tal Hadya GenebankPhoto by ICARDA - Science for Better Livelihoods in Dry Areas While ancient archaeological sites are destroyed and Syrian people experience inconceivable loss, the Tal Hadya seed bank continues to operate, housing some 150,000 samples in temperature-controlled vaults.

Periodic bulletins have assured the public that ‘the seeds are safe’ in the midst of conflict, duplicated at seed banks outside the country. The Syrian war precipitated the first ever withdrawal from the subterranean seed vault at Svalbard in the North Pole last year when ICARDA staff requested previously deposited material to populate new seed bank facilities in Lebanon and Morocco.

Yet remarkably, while ancient archaeological sites are destroyed and Syrian people experience inconceivable loss, the seed bank in Tal Hadya continues to operate. Its refrigerated vaults remain powered, and a small number of Syrian staff are permitted by occupying rebels to maintain the facility. Why?

The answer illuminates what it takes to wage war in the twenty-first century. Even before conflict around Aleppo hastened the departure of foreign staff, the backup generators kicked in as the heat of the summer caused regular power outages throughout the region. With its specimens carefully preserved at -20 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit), ICARDA’s seed bank cannot sustain any failures. The facility’s diesel-fuelled backup generators insulate it from the blackouts experienced elsewhere.

And these power outages are key to the seed bank’s survival. ICARDA is a state-of-the-art facility; but its utility to factions in the war is in large part as a power source. Occupying fighters use ICARDA to charge laptops and mobile phones, and some profit from the black market in fuel needed to power the generators.

But this isn’t enough of an explanation for the seed bank’s continued operation in wartime. While ICARDA ordered expat staff out of Syria, many native managers and technicians remained. They continued their work, negotiating daily passage to the facility to retrieve important data and check the operations of the seed bank. Meanwhile, the herbarium — a valuable collection consisting of 16,000 dried and pressed wild cereal and legume specimens from the Fertile Crescent region …more

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‘Mega-Colonies’ of Penguins Discovered in Antarctica

Finding shows remote area is a vital refuge for wildlife and should be protected, scientists say

Huge “mega-colonies” of penguins have been discovered near the Antarctic peninsula, hosting more than 1.5 million birds. Researchers say it shows the area is a vital refuge from climate change and human activities and should be protected by a vast new marine wildlife reserve currently under consideration.

photo of penguinsPhoto by Michael Polito / Louisiana State University Researchers found that the Danger Islands have 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins - more than the rest of the entire Antarctic Peninsula region combined. They include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world.

The huge numbers of Adélie penguins were found on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea, on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a difficult place to reach and has seldom been visited. But scientists, prompted by satellite images, mounted an expedition and used on-the-ground counts and aerial photography from drones to reveal 751,527 pairs of penguins.

The researchers then examined satellite images going back to 1959 and believe the colony has been stable over that time. In contrast, Adélie colonies to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the impact of climate change and human activity are much greater, are in decline.


For the penguins of the Patagonian desert, climate change looks like too much water, too soon.

By Eric Wagner

Since the first penguin chicks hatched a couple of weeks ago, the colony at Punta Tombo has been filling with them. To a chick they are all precious, tiny and soft as they are, but handling them is more taxing than I expected.

»Read More…

“This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins,” said Tom Hart, at the University of Oxford and part of the international research team. Its report, Survey of Adélie Penguin Mega-colonies Reveals the Danger Islands as a Seabird Hotspot, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Michael Polito, at Louisiana State University and also part of the team, said: “I was amazed by the sheer number of Adélie penguins I saw. The water around the island boiled with penguins.”

Hart said: “The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) to include the Danger Islands. More than that, I think it highlights the need for better protection of the west Antarctic Peninsula, where we are seeing declines.”


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CA Court Blocks State Ag Department from Spraying Pesticides

Agency failed to adequately review impacts or provide proper notice of pesticide use, rules judge

In a win for environmental and public health advocates, a California court has halted a program that allows the state agriculture department to spray pesticides on public and private property without proper notice to the public about its intention to spray or adequate study of the possible adverse impacts of the chemicals used.

photo of pesticide spraying of treePhoto by US Department of Agriculture / Keith Weller Prior to a court order issued last week, the California agricultural department was permitted to spray 79 pesticides anywhere in the state, including schools groups, public parks, and private backyards.

The court order, which came late last week, was in response to a lawsuit brought by 11 environmental and public health groups — including the Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Moms Advocating Sustainability — and the city of Berkeley.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program, which is supposed to control outbreaks of invasive plant pests, gave the agency the license to use 79 pesticides — including some known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, and other wildlife — anywhere it the state. The “anywhere” included school grounds, public parks, near organic farms, and even in private backyards.

The agriculture department uses the program to control pests such as the Asian citrus psyllid, which can infect citrus trees with a bacteria that has been wreaking havoc on citrus farms in Florida. Since the program was adopted in 2014, the agency has carried out more than 1,000 treatments across the state, sparying pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin, which are known for their toxicity.

The lawsuit sought to halt the program citing “far-reaching flaws in the state’s analysis of the environmental harm” caused by the use of these pesticides, and the agriculture department’s decades-long history of avoiding talking about the public health and environmental risks of the pesticides it uses by repeatedly granting itself emergency exemptions from environmental laws.

Environmental and public health activists have for years been trying to persuade the agency to shift to less toxic pest control alternatives to no avail. "The lawsuit was born out of concerns about flagrant pesticide spraying, rather than sensible pesticide policy,” says Paul Towers, spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network North America. “State officials attempted to write themselves a blank check for 30 years to use …more

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International Fishing Trawlers are Driving Up Demand for Ocean Bushmeat in West Africa

Faced with depleted fish stocks local fishermen are hunting more and more dolphins, whales, and sea turtles

Fisherfolk living along the Senegalese coast were supposed to inherit a rich and ancient livelihood. Using flat-bottomed, wooden dugout boats called pirogue, they were to head out to the seas armed with little more than a small net and the gift of knowledge and return with boats full of fish. The ocean’s bounty had been sustaining them for generations, but in the past few decades that has been changing — and it doesn’t take long to figure out what’s to blame.

fishermen unloading a boat in SenegalPhoto by Toon van DijkDue to increasingly meager catches, many traditionalist fishermen in Senegal and other countries along Africa's west coast seek out better employment in Europe or try to survive by adopting alternative livelihoods like hunting ocean bushmeat.

Where once the shores along Africa’s west coast were dotted with local fishermen’s’ small, flamboyantly-colored boats, they are now dominated by large industrial trawlers, pulling nets large enough to catch entire shoals of tuna. Every year the ships are getting bigger and bigger, now reaching capacity of over 4,000 tons of fish per trawler, whilst fish stocks for local fishermen dwindle with every passing day.

According to estimates by the Africa Progress Panel, West Africa has become a global hub of illegal fishing, losing an estimated $1.3 billion a year to the trade. Of this, around $300 million comes from illegal fishing in Senegalese waters, according to estimates by a USAID report produced in concert with the Sea Around Us. “Up to a quarter of jobs in the region are linked to fisheries, which is part of a vast intra-regional trading network in which women play a central role,” writes Caroline Kende Robb, former executive director of the high-profile think tank that advocates for sustainable development in Africa. “Apart from draining the region of revenue, overfishing reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment. It destroys communities, who lose opportunities to catch, process, and trade fish.”

Governments in West Africa, seeking an easy income, have been selling the rights to fish their waters to rich European governments, who have already decimated their own seas. While European trawlers remain the primary foreign presence in these waters, fleets from China, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan have also expanded in recent years. Together, industrial fishing vessels from these countries outperform local artisanal fishers by at least 20:1, estimates OceanCare, a Switzerland-based marine conservation group.

What’s worse is that this legally-sanctioned activity …more

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New Agreement Could Help Environmental Defenders in Latin America, Caribbean

If ratified, regional accord would require nations to promote the rights of environmental activists and prevent attacks against them

In a colorful town nestled between Colombia’s rolling hills, Isabel Zuleta speaks to a crowd of 100 people. The police stand behind them dressed in army fatigue, listening to Zuleta talk about the community’s right to water, their concerns about damming the Cauca river they rely on for fishing and other needs, and the floods they’re grappling with from the hydroelectric Hidroituango dam. Many fear that government officials are ignoring their concerns and requests for compensation.

photo of berta caceresPhoto by Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos Demonstators hold an image of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental defender murdered in 2016. If ratified, a new agreement known as LAC P10 could help protect environmental defenders in Latin America.

Although this rally and many other demonstrations Zuleta has held have ended peacefully, her work is not without conflict. As leader of Movimiento Rios Vivos, a group dedicated to protecting Colombia’s rivers, she regularly holds public forums to voice communities’ concerns about dams and mines, lobbies the government to release information about projects’ effects on rivers, and leads non-violent protests. She’s received numerous death threats in response to her advocacy. Other Movimiento Rios Vivos members have faced smear campaigns, harassment and surveillance. Two activists in the group were murdered a few years ago.

Violence against environmental defenders runs rampant not only in Colombia, which is among the three countries with the highest number of defender killings, but around the world. In 2017, almost four environmental defenders were killed each week for protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. Latin America is the most dangerous region, with more than 60 percent of defender deaths in 2016 occurring in its remote villages or deep within its rainforests. Threats against defenders are also on the rise across the Caribbean.

But an agreement being negotiated this week could help.

From February 28, 2018 to March 4, 2018 in Costa Rica, countries and civil society groups are negotiating the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as LAC P10. If adopted as a legally binding agreement, it would require governments to set new standards to achieve Principle 10, known as the environmental democracy principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. These legally binding provisions would improve people’s access to environmental information (such as water pollution data or mining concessions details), strengthen their ability to participate in environmental decision-making, and help them hold powerful interests to account for harming communities and …more

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