quality

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

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Food Alert!

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If nothing changes by the end of 2014 the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) will be in force; a catastrophe for those who believe that food and drink are serious issues not to be messed about with so much.

If the agreement comes into force as planned then you will soon be saying hello to genetically modified milk, beef hormones, and chlorinated chicken, not to mention shale gas and oil… And then you will have to say farewell to managed environments, free-range, freedom foods, and a pleasant and green landscape pleasing to the eye as well as our collective conciseness. The influx of products will adversely affect our European food security for what I ask? A populist agenda and cheap shopping!

This project opens the doors to American domination so that they can make by 2029 $0.03 per person with nothing in it for Europeans I venture. The deal will remove trade barriers and tariffs designed to keep safe our own food supply, our own farms and associated businesses. American companies will enjoy commercial equality with our European companies. European jobs will be lost, a new recession is peering at us over the horizon at the end of the decade.

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European social structures will be damaged, possibly beyond repair by this agreement. Social standards will be diminished, economic standards will be diminished, industrial, cultural, and personal freedoms will be diminished because this agreement will attack our basic democratic freedoms through an unprecedented level of influence that will be exercised by the American mega-companies vying to control our food supply chains.

What gain for Europe? Well its suggested that Europe will gain 0.5% of total European GDP but its also said that this figure should be treated with scepticism, it might not happen!

There is also the further very thorny issue of energy supply. The agreement allows for free trade across Europe of energy supply but there is no universality of agreement between European states on the status of energy supply. In some countries certain types of energy (shale gas) is illegal. This is without question a massive area of concern not currently addressed by the agreement or the EU. Democratic rights will certainly be trampled under the American free trade boot when it comes to energy supply.

The European project seems to be under threat from our American cousins attempts to sell Europe food and energy that it does not need or want in most cases. Do we honestly need more Americanisms? Our food is currently too fast, more not less McDonald’s cannot surly be a good thing.

A Private Affair

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On the whole the French are not that interested in the Affair Gayet. In a survey 56% of French people in a YouGov poll said that they really thought the Holland-Gayet affair is a private matter. Only 25% said they were interested in any way. The French are not curious!

But there is more, the YouGov poll shows that those who are politically on the left or left looking are less interested. For them the scoop of Closer is an invasion of privacy. They are very protective of their privacy notwithstanding the political resonance of the affair. But the opinions are partisan to say the very least; those on the right and supporters of the odious Marine le Pen do not share this view of privacy, for them it is a matter for the public to debate, discuss and titillate themselves over.

One might suggest a link between small things and tiny minds at this point.

tiny minds

Respect for privacy or not that the French populace has shown, the media nonetheless is in something of a frenzy. The priority given to the press conference by the President of the Republic, the rolling news reporting and the pitching-up of foreign news agencies has been nothing if not exceptional. The media is doing its very best to try to encourage the French public to take an interest.

The victim of these intrusions, the President Francois Holland has remained tight lipped about the matter to the point of refusing to complain. No doubt thinking about the judicial immunity the Presidential Office enjoys for his entire term. The actress Julie Gayet by contrast has decided court action is in order and is suing Closer for €50,000.00 damages for invasion of privacy. This didn’t stop the magazine going on to promise further revelations however or all sorts of rumors circulating on the internet and on social networking sites.

francois holland

What is interesting however is that the French public have said that they think the budget of the First Lady should be removed. 55% of the respondents to the YouGov poll say the budget of the First Lady is an anachronism of the Republic. But the budget set at less than €20,000.00 is hardly a kings ransom for Valerie Trierweiler the current First Lady (for how much longer she will be we don’t yet know). Furthermore 69% of respondents said the budget is unjustified regardless of political allegiance or age.

In France even the most high profile of affairs is a private matter, the contrast to Britain could not be any starker. You only have to look at any of the tabloids to see the difference in approach. Privacy in the UK is a matter of contention, in the public eye means you are public property, all the time. To quote “every Katie has a Price…”

Asylum

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English: Chart showing in-country UK immigrati...
English: Chart showing in-country UK immigration removals, (failed asylum seekers and others), since 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is fond of shining a spotlight on our asylum system, it makes good copy or TV. Its not the best way of running a debate but it does illustrate a reality that should not be overlooked. Britain like the rest of developed Europe is facing increasing asylum demands, probably in the region of 70% increase in the last 8 years.

The influx of asylum seekers is as a direct consequence of the numerous conflicts and wars around the globe. Asylum of itself is not a problem and should never be seen in terms of being a problem, its the fact that there is at the same time massive economic migration going on. Asylum is a tradition of most developed western European nations, a proud tradition in most cases and it must be preserved, it must be accepted that we are fortunate and have the honor of assisting those who need our help. I find it shocking that there are some who reside in this country who feel differently.

Nonetheless, it might be fair to comment that our processing centers are perhaps close to full and stretched for staff. The cracks are becoming obvious. The system is unable to deal with complex situations meaning it slows and blocks preventing those who might most need our help from getting it because we just don’t know they need it.

We should feel rightly proud that asylum seekers come to our countries with the intention of seeking help and maybe even settling on a more permanent basis. The contribute to the wealth (economically and culturally) to our societies. But its clear that the social support systems cannot support these people, those employed to help, the case-workers burn-out with massive levels of sickness absence. All the time the human tragedies build. There is a need to protect the individuals but also there is a need for process which is at best a delayed process.

I would agree with anybody who said reform is urgently needed. Without question we should not settle for half measures, current failures should be corrected, but not at any cost. The economic cost of failure is mounting but so is the probable economic cost of doing the job right. My experience in industry is that doing something right first time is the most economically cost effective way of doing a job. I have no doubt that the same apply’s to the asylum system.

Delays might be necessary, so improved holding centers to accommodate the asylum seekers while the initial checks are being done would be a really good start. Simplification of procedures and processes would also help greatly. These two factors would simply add to the quality and speed of service provided, making it more respectful and certain in outcome.

A win-win in anybody’s language I guess.

At the borders of course better directional control would be needed, this is not a resources issue but probably a training and information issue.

And then once a final decision is made the person if successful should be assimilated into society. With a fully renovated procedure the asylum seeker and society will be both better served.

Final decisions are important and really need to be as speedy as possible. I’m sure most would agree that an asylum seeker should not have to face an almost endless wait on deportation or not. There has got to be clear pathways for those who do not gain asylum, they should not be expected to wait for an appropriate moment for return to their own country.  Our collective responsibility as a European Union should be ensuring those who want and need out help can access it but those who do not are dealt with firmly, fairly and quickly.

Gender Gaps

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Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, Internat...
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christine Lagarde, Director of the IMF, said recently, “In the long race ahead, it makes no sense to simply eliminate half the contestants before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life can yield enormous economic benefits.”

Its probably fair to say that in the developed west that women get a better deal in terms of equality in the workplace than probably anywhere else on the planet. That’s no to say there is absolute equality, there isn’t, but they do experience a much closer to the male experience than almost anywhere else. Of course Asia is probably the most desperate place to be a woman right now but the Middle East offers some hope.

The Middle East is a key region of interest because although increasing numbers of women are receiving a good standard of education, the region still lags behind on the core issue of economic equality. On a global scale, the latest figures from the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report show that although the gender gap in education is 93% closed, the gap in economic equality has closed by only 60%. A problem!

There is plainly a disconnect from the classroom to the workplace. Education will continue to be vitally important generally but it has to be questioned where the focus for women’s education is. What educational support do women need to prepare them for the world of business and work?

Perhaps the Middle East is swayed by overt sexual discrimination? This might be too simple an explanation but nonetheless probably forms part of the explanation. Women entrepreneurs seeking loan capital may have their ideas and suggestions dismissed on the basis of them being a woman rather than straight forward commercial measure of the likely hood of success of the business being proposed. Women’s enterprise then is choked-off at source! The net result is retarded economic growth with only 50% (at best that is) of economically active people partaking in forwarding the economy.

Youth is the key to forward growth and engagement economically. The youth of today shape the future of tomorrow. This despite the political and military challenges facing the region at the present time, youth hold the key.

I am quite sure that each country will need a unique approach, cultural challenges presented by national identities possibly being the most difficult of challenges to overcome, but not insurmountable over time. My assumption is that the majority of countries of the Middle East will face many common challenges, possibly more so than any other region and this then may prove to be the deciding factory in regional success and therefore the model for the rest of the world to follow. Well we can hope I guess.

The exception to the Middle East rule is Israel with an economy broadly speaking similar to developed European and US economies. Although I’m not suggesting that Israel is not without economic issues to overcome, but they are much closer (and in some respects further on) than the close by European economies in respect to equality of opportunity.

Women in the workplace, women in business… it simply makes no sense to eliminate half the contestants before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life will yield enormous economic benefits.

Reaction to Racism

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Christiane Taubira during Ségolène Royal and J...
Christiane Taubira during Ségolène Royal and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s meeting in Toulouse on April, 19th 2007 for the 2007 presidential election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

France it would appear from recent media reports seems to be developing a resurgence in Racism. French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira is to give an interview in the Left Leaning daily Liberation on Wednesday 20 Nov. 2013. In the article she will attack the rise of racism in France and the lack of the French political classes for not speaking out against racism.

Herself a victim, Anne-Sophie Leclere a candidate from the far-right posted on her Facebook page that she could be compared to a monkey and a 12-year old brandished a banana at her during a rally. Taubira said: “The reactions have not been sufficient….What’s most shocking to me is that there has been no strong, beautiful voice raised in alarm at the downward spiral of French society [when it comes to racism].”

The justice minister’s remarks come just one day after Harry Roselmack, France’s most prominent black newsreader, penned an opinion piece for another French newspaper, Le Monde, accusing France of harboring “deep-seated racism”. “Racist France is back,” he wrote.

The one-two punch from two of France’s most visible black personalities has shone a harsh spotlight on an issue that the theoretically “colour-blind” country, with its proud motto of “liberty, fraternity, equality”, has had some difficulty in tackling.

The problem is I suppose is that just like Britain Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-Muslim feeling and actions are on the rise and are all outlawed, but there is little respect for the law and its not enforced anything like sufficiently. There is no threat from the law so to speak. Racist speech has become more acceptable on the basis of ‘its deplorable but should be allowed as a matter of free expression’. This of course is the negative effect of supporting free speech, basically if the leaders are doing it then it must be okay for the public to openly express these odious opinions right? Well, NO actually it isn’t.

Then there’s the rise of the politically far-right parties across Europe. Media attention on these parties puts a sanitized face on their political propositions and provides a platform for their racist speech. The far-right is no-longer politically and morally seen as marginalized. The deafening silence offered in response allows, encourages even the far-right to go further, to claim to speak for the average man/woman, and the Left, how do they respond? They are intimidated and do not respond.

In her interview with Liberation, Taubira also accused the French political class, but particularly the National Front, of inciting racial resentment with their focus on the “threat” posed by immigration. “We need to stop making a daily soap opera out of immigration data,” she said. “How is immigration a problem? How is it endangering French society?” The same of course apply’s in Britain, the issues are the same.

Where the two nations differ (thankfully) is on classification. In France there are no classification on the census for racial origin. In France race statistics are illegal, to be French is sufficient. For me I find myself agreeing.

The honest conclusion has to be that the recent rise (lets hope its a spike) in racism is related to more multiculturalism, more mixing, more openness to the wider world. Over time my guess is that it will abate, but until that time comes we should not ignore its rise, to ignore it is to feed it. No, it must be challenged and we should implore our political representatives to challenge it on our behalf even more than we ourselves do. The very fabric of our societies are easily stained and could be permanently stained if we allow racism to go unchallenged.

Live Together not Side-by-Side

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"The Naughty Step": or, Religion ove...
“The Naughty Step”: or, Religion overthrowing Heresy and Hatred III (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

In Britain today there’s a celebration which on the face of it is enormous fun, especially for children. Bonfire Night; a night when there’s a bonfire, fireworks and a communal gathering. What’s often (almost always) missed is the underlying reason for the ‘celebration’ – the conviction and death of a Roman Catholic (Guy Fawkes) for trying to overthrow the monarchy in 1604 by blowing-up Parliament.

The purpose of this post is not a lesson in English history but to point out the divisions in society.

400 years ago Roman Catholics were in the minority in England and were treated in most cases worse than the Protestant owned farm animals, so not even second class citizens. In fact even today it isn’t constitutionally possible for a Catholic to be the Monarch! Yup, that’s right 2013 and a Catholic cant sit on the crown thrown!

The point is that communities live side-by-side and not generally speaking together. The present day situation often revolves around immigrant communities, large and rapid in-fluxes of peoples who’s sole aim is a better life. The Protestant/Catholic question has largely been resolved, well in England any-way, Northern Ireland and Scotland may be peaceful places but I’m quite sure the tensions remain even today.

Its probably true to say that ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ and its to be expected that new immigrants will naturally coalesce into mini-communities centred on the familiarity with those from the home-land, and traditional customs. This is to be expected and initially at least accepted. However, the behavior of the native ‘do-gooders’ does seem to encourage difference, it encourages the whole-scale preservation of cultural practices from far away places. It might even be that these ‘do-gooders’ have a sense of neo-colonial social condescension flowing through their thoughts and ideas. Of course if this is the case then they are guilty of prejudice of an intellectual nature; I’m not sure which is more damaging the thug on the street practicing violence or the intellectual who constructs social barriers to progress.

The politically far-right has begun to take a-hold over some sections of society and intellectually they have been clever in claiming secularism for themselves.  They use the cloak of secularism to hide their ‘hate talk’. Yet it is also true to say they pick their causes, they will often march shoulder to shoulder with religious fundamentalists against causes such as same sex marriage or gay rights. Non-the-less when it comes to some religions the message is in no way complex; The Jewish and Muslim faiths come-in for some very pointed accusations from the far-right.

The realities of every-day life in a multi-cultural society play into the hands of these people, communities living side-by-side in mistrust fueled by the hate speak of the far-right lead inevitably to these divisions being exploited for the benefit of hate. Cultural symbols become a metaphor for religious and cultural intolerance. Those of hate who hide in the Churches and Mosques openly accuse and attack those who do not practice as they do. The phobias become pervasive, leaching into everyday society, the press, the media and yes even into everyday conversation. Difference becomes a topic of conversation, it becomes a main event, a reason to hate, to mistrust, not to live together.

The issue really isn’t the head scarf or whatever symbol is chosen, its the definition imposed by those who might wear and use it as a justification of their personal being and by those who do not wear it and point to their own justifications for its removal. The head scarf, the golden crucifix, the yarmulke… these become the very things that generate hate, the ideas become something obscured.

The dominance of a Protestant culture remains in the British legal system and it could possibly be argued that strengthening of this could actually lead to greater harmony. Those with conflicting views would have a firm rule to live by and if they cannot may seek out less difficult places to dwell. The cultural gaps that have been allowed to develop are where those who hate have come to exist, to thrive, to push out from. The cultural gaps are often defended as the places that freedom exists but is this so? Well, yes actually, but its the freedom to practice hate that gives them a bad name.

The current situation is difficult and set to become even more difficult with further removal of barriers to migration. The far-right I’m sure will gain more favor over the coming year after the in-flux of Romanians & Bulgarians. It seems inconceivable that the bonds of kinship will be broken on arrival in Britain (or France or Italy or anywhere else for that matter) and I’m sure it will provide food for the far-right that these people fail to integrate with immediate effect. I’m sure that they will fall prey to the emphasis on skin-colour, on religious difference, on cultural practices but most importantly that they are just plain different.

In my mind, equality, emancipation and universalism should be the goals of society applied evenly to all, the immigrants, the far-right, the far-left and those in the centre. Assimilation should be the aim of all peoples, to live together not side-by-side.