Undercover in Bosnia – how Dutch subsidies prop up intensive farming

Radar, a top current affairs program in Holland, this week carried footage from an Ecostorm investigation in Bosnia examining Dutch subsidies for factory farming systems. Filming undercover, our team of investigators were able to document cruelty at the nation’s biggest farm and a brutal agricultural system that could spread across the country. Reaction to the expose has been swift: questions have  already been asked in the Dutch parliament to the minister of agriculture, and campaigners are urging decisive action.

Watch footage from the investigation here

Mexico’s poor suffer as food speculation fuels tortilla crisis

A surge in financial speculation on maize is causing vastly inflated prices for corn tortillas – a sacred staple in Mexico – and threatening the health and livelihoods of the country’s poor. As part of a major report examining food speculation the Ecologist Film Unit travelled to Mexico to investigate.

The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) is jointly operated by Ecostorm and the world’s leading environmental affairs magazine, The Ecologist. Launched in 2008, the EFU has, to date, produced eleven films on a range of largely unreported environmental issues, with a particular focus on investigating unpalatable aspects of the food industry.


Ecostorm film highlights controversial gas drilling coming to the UK

Plans by UK companies to extract gas through a controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ could contaminate local water supplies, according to a new report by the Tyndall Centre. The report echoes the findings of a major Ecostorm investigation and film released late last year which raised the alarm about  the process – involving pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart rock formations and release gas – and revealed how the technology is on its way to Britain from the US.

To read our special report & watch the film in full see here

Fishy business: Ecostorm contributes to Channel 4’s ‘Big Fish Fight’ season

Prawns-File-57515103Ecostorm contributed to two programmes broadcast as part of Channel 4’s major Big Fish Fight series:  Hugh’s Fish Fight, which in episode two tackled the controversial issue of salmon  feed, a problem first highlighted by our film exposing the social and ecological costs of fishmeal production in Peru, The Greed of Feed, and Dispatches, which investigated the lucrative prawn – or shrimp –  business in Bangladesh. You can watch the programme here.

Undercover film highlights the shocking cost of US super-dairies

rotaryWith planning permission for Britain’s biggest dairy at Nocton about to be re-submitted later this month, Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit travelled to California to examine intensive milk production US-style and found factory farms, conflict, intimidation, pesticides, pollution and small-scale farmers driven out of business…

‘YOU BETTER get out of here or your gonna get your ass kicked or worse,’ the leathery-faced farmer slurred, picking his words carefully as we pulled up outside his milking parlour. It was coming to the end of our first day in the US, and despite our best efforts to persuade the farmers otherwise, it was clear that journalists are not welcome in this part of the world.

Far from the glittering lights and well trodden-tourist paths that people normally associate with California, the vast udders of America’s dairy industry run through the Central Valley, a rarely-visited arid plain that stretches down the state, wedged in between the Sierra foothills and the Californian coast.

This is the breadbasket of the USA, where almond farms, grapes and corn are carved out of the scrubby desert and grown on eye-wateringly large scales. It is also home to the largest dairies on the planet, a concentration of several hundred milk farms so vast, that in Tulare county alone, there are over 900,000 cows, producing in excess of a billion dollars worth of milk each year.

But as a unique investigation carried out in conjunction with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has discovered, the Central Valley has also become a battleground for an unreported conflict, pitting community activists and family farmers against the might of mega dairy farms that have taken root here.

Read the full report and watch the film here.


Food Justice: report calls for urgent action on global food system

food-justiceA groundbreaking year-long investigation into social justice in food and farming, undertaken by a committee of respected and influential figures from across the food sector, has been completed by the UK-based Food Ethics Council. Food Justice, the report of the inquiry, has just been published. Ecostorm assisted the inquiry by producing a number of short videos highlighting the often unreported cost of industrial farming, based on our extensive on-site investigations into this issue globally.  

The Food Ethics Council  set up the Inquiry because they were concerned that issues of social justice were underplayed in debates about food policy. The Inquiry committee’s report vindicates this concern. It finds that injustice is widespread throughout the UK and global food system; and it shows how a fairer food system is central to achieving wider sustainability and health goals.

The evidence presented in Food Justice leaves no room for doubt about the scale of the challenges that face us. However, it is equally clear that we have no choice but to confront those challenges, and to that end the report makes a series of far-reaching recommendations towards a sustainable, healthy and fair food system.

Most significantly, the key messages from the report – the need for urgent action to address social injustice, the centrality of social justice to today’s most pressing ecological concerns, the fact that ‘business as usual isn’t an option’ – represent a consensus reached despite the diverse perspectives of the business leaders, academics, public servants and campaigners who made up the Inquiry committee. This is a shared voice that demands the attention of anyone with an interest in a fairer future for our food system.

You can download a copy of the report here: http://www.foodethicscouncil.org/system/files/FoodJustice_reportweb.pdf

New footage of Norwegian whaling shows why ban must remain in place

iwc-web-topbanner_tcm25-15708Footage released by animal protection groups today (15th June) shows the brutal reality of whaling in Norway, and demonstrates why the international ban on commercial whaling must be enforced – not lifted.

As the International Whaling Commission (IWC) prepares to vote on a controversial proposal to lift the ban on commercial whaling, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), along with partners Norwegian Society for the Protection of Animals (Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge) and NOAH – for Dyrs Rettigheter, have released footage that shows a minke whale being harpooned by Norwegian whaling vessel ‘Rowenta’ on 23rd May 2010.

The footage shows the impact of the harpoon and the subsequent failure of the whaling vessel to ensure that it was dead over the next 22 minutes.

Ecostorm undertook field investigations in Norway alongside WSPA, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge and NOAH – for Dyrs Rettigheter, that led to the footage being obtained.

WSPA’s marine mammal programme manager Joanna Toole said: “This film clearly demonstrates that whaling is crude, unreliable and inhumane. We even witnessed ‘Rowenta’ firing a second harpoon into a minke whale more than two hours later. It’s therefore possible that this whale suffered from horrific harpoon wounds for more than two hours before finally dying. This is not the way we’d expect a modern and civilised society like Norway to treat animals and certainly not something that the IWC should consider legitimising.”

Norway is one of just three countries defying the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. Since it resumed commercial whaling in 1993, Norway has killed over 8,500 whales despite rising public criticism amongst Norwegians. Next week the IWC is expected to vote on a controversial proposal which would allow Norway to kill a further 6,000 whales over the next ten years, officially suspending the whaling ban.

Carl-Egil Mastad, Director of Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge, said: “Thousands of Norwegians stand with us against this cruel and unnecessary industry – we now need the international community to condemn Norway’s whaling, not endorse it.”

Animal protection groups are today renewing their call to the public to sign an online petition asking Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, to stop commercial whaling.

Siri Martinsen, veterinarian in NOAH – for Dyrs Rettigheter said: “The Norwegian government claims that it receives little criticism of its whaling – it’s time to prove them wrong. Without pressure, Norway will not reduce whaling nor take the suffering in consideration – we need people to speak out on behalf of the whales in order to make the government rethink its whaling policies.”

Undercover investigation into puppy trade broadcast on Dutch TV

A major undercover investigation into the European puppy trade has been broadcast by Dutch TV Channel SBS6 as part of its “Undercover in Nederland” series.  The complex 18 month project – which involved investigators infilitrating the puppy breeding industry in a number of countries – was carried out by Ecostorm on behalf of IFAW Netherlands.

You can view the film here and find out more about IFAWs campaign on the issue here.

Soya investigation to be broadcast in the US

The Ecologist Film Unit-produced “Killing Fields: the Battle to Feed Europe’s Factory Farms” is the latest EFU film to be broadcast in the US by satellite channel Link TV.  The hard-hitting film, which investigates the human rights abuses and environmental devastation linked to increasing soya cultivation in Paraguay,  will feature in the forthcoming edition of Earth Focus, which carries ”under-publicised stories on how changes to the Earth’s resources & climate are affecting people all around the world”.

LinkTV is available as a free 24/7 channel in 34 million US homes. Approximately 5.8 million adults in the US are regular viewers of LinkTV on satellite. Link’s website has an average of 200,000 unique visitors each month.

The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) is a unique production company jointly operated by Ecostorm and the world’s leading environmental affairs magazine, The Ecologist. Launched in 2008, the EFU has, to date, produced seven films on a range of topical and largely unreported environmental issues, with a particular focus on investigating unpalatable aspects of the food industry. Further films are in development.

Revealed: shocking trade in Latin American horsemeat

Extensive media coverage has followed a major investigation which revealed that much of the horsemeat on sale in Belgium, Holland and France originates from Latin America where conditions have been found to be “cruel and barbaric”.

Operating undercover, Ecostorm investigators, working on behalf of a trio of NGOs – Gaia, One Voice and Wakker Dier – gained unique access to slaughterhouses and horse markets across Mexico and Brazil, where they documented lengthy journeys, cruel loading techniques and poor husbandry and conditions including shocking scenes of dead and dying horses.

Evidence obtained also included footage showing crippled horses being sold at markets, and young foals being loaded into trucks for the slaughterhouse. According to campaigners, the footage will shock and disgust viewers and raises serious questions about the little-known growing trade in horsemeat from Latin America to the European Union.

For further information and to view footage from the investigation see:



Church sells stake in Vedanta following Ecostorm exposé

An-overview-of-the-Vedanta-refinery-in-Lanjigarh-Orrisa.-300x225The Church of England has sold major holdings in the controversial British-owned mining company Vedanta Resources plc after admitting it has no confidence that the company is respecting the humans rights of local communities in areas of operation.

An Ecostorm investigation for The Ecologist magazine and The Independent newspaper last year revealed that the Church was among a host of well-known British companies and institutions who hold shares in the company. Halifax Pension Fund, Lloyds TSB Group Pension Fund, Norwich Union Life and Pensions Ltd and Prudential Managed Pension Fund, Land Rover Pension Trustees Ltd and Unilever Pension Fund were among those exposed as beneficial shareholders in the controversial mining conglomerate.

A number of local and regional authorities – including Suffolk County Council, Havering Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council – also have investments and all are now under pressure to sell their holdings too.

Vedanta has been criticised by NGOs and the UK Government for failing to properly consult tribal populations about plans for a bauxite mine in a remote part of eastern India. The mine would devastate a mountain that is considered sacred by the indigenous population.

The Church had sent a delegation to meet officials from the company in November 2009 to see for themselves the company’s on-going mining activities. However, after meeting senior management they had no confidence the company would improve its ethical behavior.

‘I am a passionate advocate for engagement with companies when we have ethical concerns,’ said John Reynolds, chairman of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG). ‘However, after six months of engagement, we are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing bodies hold shares,’ he said.

Companies under fire for marketing controversial biofuel as “ethical and green”

blusky-300x210-1UK-based investment companies are marketing a controversial biofuel crop as “highly ethical and green” despite it being linked to conflicts over land, food security and growing hunger in developing countries, an Ecostorm investigation for The Ecologist magazine and The Independent has revealed.

The brokers have been criticised by environmental and anti-poverty campaigners for selling investments in jatropha because of increasing concerns over the crops’ impact on poor communities.

Jatropha, a bushy shrub which grows in Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia, is being touted as a “miracle” biofuel because the plants’ seeds contain a potentially valuable, non-edible, vegetable oil that can be used for biodiesel.

The investment companies are selling jatropha as the new “green oil” and claim it has the potential to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods in developing countries. They also maintain jatropha oil offers a viable alternative to fossil fuels. One of the plants’ biggest benefits, the companies claim, is that it thrives on low grade, marginal land, and in semi-arid areas with poor soils, thus not competing with food production.

But, according to campaigners, the supposed benefits of jatropha are largely unproven, and the experiences of many farmers encouraged to plant the crop do not tally with the claims of the biofuel industry. Yields have fallen short of predictions, claim farmers, and agricultural land has been destroyed or converted for jatropha, threatening food security, impacting on livelihoods and displacing local communities. Promised incomes have failed to materialise, it is claimed, because of poor demand for jatropha seeds.

A new report out today by Action Aid links the expansion of industrial biofuels, derived from crops including jatropha, palm oil, soya and sugar cane, to rising food prices and increasing global hunger. The group states that growing demand for crops for fuel is putting them in competition with those grown for food, driving food prices higher and affecting what and how much people eat in the developing world.

To read the full Ecologist investigation see: http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/414659/jatropha_biofuels_uk_investors_sell_controversial_crop_as_green.html

To read The Independent’s coverage, see: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/seeds-of-discontent-the-miracle-crop-that-has-failed-to-deliver-1899530.html

To read ActionAid’s report see: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/meals_per_gallon_final.pdf”

Footage exposes illegal practices on EU pig farms

A Compassion in World Farming undercover investigation carried out by Ecostorm – together with a report by the European Food Safety Authority – has suggested that many of the 250 million pigs reared each year in the European Union are being farmed in illegal conditions.

A new film, launched in Brussels, presented graphic footage showing farmers’ apparent failure to follow the law and governments’ failure to enforce it. During an 18-month undercover investigation, starting in 2008, Compassion and Ecostorm visited 74 pig farms in six EU Member States: the UK, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

The vast majority of the pigs investigators saw had their tails docked (cut off) and most had no straw or other manipulable materials provided. EU law says clearly that pigs should not be routinely tail-docked and that enrichment materials must be provided.

The investigation uncovered tail-docked pigs living on barren concrete floors in conditions of utter deprivation that are totally unsuitable for these highly active, intelligent animals. Compassion in World Farming have filed formal complaints to the European Commission against several of these countries.

Top restaurant in veal controversy

Ecostorm, working with Compassion in World Farming, recently carried out investigations across the UK and Holland to reveal where some of the country’s top hotels and restaurants source their veal from – and established that the double Michelin-starred Espelette restaurant at The Connaught hotel was offering controversial Dutch veal while waiters claimed the meat was British. Dutch veal is controversial as it frequently involves rearing techniques described by campaigners as “cruel and unnecessary” and outlawed in the UK.