Shades of the gray

IMG_3546-1The future of the gray wolf is uncertain. The polarized debate over killing wolves and the search for a middle ground is the subject of a new investigative TV special Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves, produced by Link TV’s environmental news magazine Earth Focus and Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit.

In the film, Earth Focus travels to Montana and Wyoming to gauge the views of ranchers, hunters, scientists, taxidermists, conservationists and a former Governor of Montana. It explores the complex middle ground of hard truths and innovative solutions in the polarized battle over the place of wolves in the American West.

Gray wolves once ranged across North America. But by the 1930s, they were nearly extinct — trapped, poisoned and hunted by ranchers, farmers and government agents. With protection under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the wolf population rebounded.

But when wolves lost federal protection in 2011 and wolf management became an issue for the states to decide, hunting was again permitted in many areas. Recently trapping and snaring were also allowed in some states, leading many to question the fate of this once endangered species…

The investigation is now available online at

Read Jim Wicken’s first hand account of the reporting here


The big picture

Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit have partnered with Link TV’s Earth Focus programme to contribute three of five films being broadcast as part of the channel’s Fracking hell: the big picture special:

  • Fracking hell? Poland’s dash for gas Fracking multinationals covet the sizable shale deposits lying deep in Poland’s underbelly. Advocates say this will bring prosperity, but opponents cite the US experience — where fracking is marred by environmental and social concerns — fearing the end of Poland’s rural communities. Watch it
  • Fracking hell? Britain’s gas rush Britain’s picturesque terrain faces uncertainty with the arrival of fracking. Views of gas wells, drilling sites, and waste lagoons hang heavy in a land typically associated with small-scale farming and “cottage” industries. Now, citizen activists are fighting to ensure their landscape isn’t altered forever. Watch it
  • Fracking hell? The untold story A look at the risks of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale: from toxic chemicals in drinking water to unregulated interstate dumping of potentially radioactive waste, are the health consequences worth the economic gains? Watch it

Mining for smartphones – the true cost of tin

An investigation by Ecostorm for Friends of the Earth has linked mining for tin for use in the manufacture of smartphones to a number of environmental problems on the Indonesian island of Bangka. And research has shown how leading smartphone brands ‘almost certainly’ use tin originating from the island.

Read the full report, Mining for smartphones: the true cost of tin here

Watch our films documenting the problem here

Slavery behind our seafood

The tropical shrimp industry in Thailand exploits both people and the environment, a major new Ecostorm film reveals. The film, produced in association with Link TV and Swedwatch, highlights how so-called ‘trash fish’ is caught by Thai trawlers operating – sometimes illegally – in foreign waters before being ground into fishmeal for use in farmed prawn – or shrimp – feed. As fishing stocks are depleted, local fishermen are negatively affected.

Thai trawler operators often hire Burmese migrant workers who sometimes suffer brutal exploitation and abuse whilst at sea for lengthy periods. The Thai prawn industry is the largest of its kind in the world and supplies prawns to European consumers.

More from the investigation:

Slavery behind our seafood Read Jim Wicken’s special report on the exploitation of Burmese migrants working on Thai fishing trawlers

Blood Fish Read Andrew Wasley’s report on why we should blacklist tropical shrimp from our shopping baskets

Useful Links:

Link TV


UK tourists fuelling brutal live elephant trade between Burma & Thailand

An illegal cross-border trade in endangered wild Asian elephants to serve Thailand’s tourist industry is threatening the future of the species, an undercover investigation by Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) has revealed.

A new film, produced by Ecostorm / EFU in association with Link TV and the NGO Elephant Family, has uncovered how at least 50-100 elephant calves and young female elephants are removed from their forest homes in Burma each year to be traded illegally to supply tourist camps situated in Thailand.

Many of the animals end up being used for trekking, in festivals, as attractions in so-called ‘wildlife parks’ and for riding at other tourist destinations. Yet countless elephants die in the process, say campaigners, threatening the remaining populations of this endangered species.

Capturing elephants from the wild often involves the slaughter of mothers and other protective family members with automatic weapons. Captured calves are then often subjected to a brutal ‘breaking-in’ process where they are tied up, confined, starved, beaten and tortured in order to ‘break their spirits’. It is estimated that only one in three survive this inhumane ‘domestication’ process.

As many as one million British tourists visit Thailand’s tourist camps each year, it is estimated, leading to claims that they are unwittingly fuelling this devastating trade.

Campaigners are now calling on the Thai authorities to launch a fresh crackdown on elephant smuggling ahead of the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Thailand in March 2013.

Useful links:

Elephant Family

Link TV

Consumer health risked by illegal shellfish trade – investigation

329095An underground trade in shellfish is putting the health of consumers at risk with tonnes of potentially contaminated seafood feared to be entering the food chain, an investigation by The Ecologist and The Independent has revealed.

The scale of the illicit – and highly lucrative – trade has alarmed health officials and fisheries protection bodies who say they lack the resources to effectively tackle the problem. Ecostorm contributed to the probe, which you can read here & here.

Highly organised gangs, some believed to be operating directly on behalf of fish merchants, others run by gangmasters, were found to have targeted shellfish stocks in Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Teeside, amongst other areas, in recent years. Parts of north Wales and Scotland have also been affected.

The gangs target known shellfish beds at day or night, depending on the tides. Many arrive in transit vans or 4×4 vehicles and, using spades – or in some cases small boats fitted with dredging equipment – extract the lucrative molluscs before transferring them to chill boxes.

From there, the shellfish are delivered to waiting merchants, or are offered for sale speculatively to traders, to restaurants or even via the internet. Some of the shellfish end up in markets for sale to the public, but most is thought to pass through processors or wholesalers who in turn sell to restaurants, pubs or other caterers, or export it abroad.

Legitimately gathered shellfish are subject to strict purification treatments to ensure they are fit for human consumption, but fish taken from prohibited or unclassified sources, or sold before being properly treated, put the public at risk of serious illnesses caused by the E.coli, novovirus or salmonella bugs, which can all be found in contaminated molluscs.

Strict documentation procedures are supposed to ensure traceability of any consignment of shellfish moved or sold on a commercial basis, with each batch accompanied by appropriate paperwork. But the investigation uncovered that in the event of a major health scare – such as large year’s deadly E.coli outbreak – officials would be unable to verify the origin of some shellfish because of the illegal trade, undermining efforts to pinpoint the source of contaminated produce.

Blood harvest – the hidden cost of Italy’s orange trade

Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit recently travelled to Calabria in Southern Italy to investigate claims that the seasonal orange harvest makes use of African migrants, many of them paid poverty wages and living in squalid conditions. The region’s oranges are frequently bought by multinational food and drink companies for use as juices or concentrates, often ending up in soft drinks.  So bad is the situation in the town of Rosarno that medical charities have described conditions as being similar – or worse – as those encountered in conflict zones overseas.

Our investigation and film, published in conjunction with the The Independent newspaper (London), has been picked up by print and broadcast media across Italy and beyond, including Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and RAI TV.

Click here for full list of coverage

The great carbon con – the true cost of offsetting

It is meant to be supporting ’sustainable development’ but the UN’s flagship carbon trading scheme is failing, according to an investigation by Ecostorm / Ecologist Film Unit. On the eve of the Durban climate change talks in December, investigators travelled to Madhya Pradesh in central India to document the impact of a new coal power plant, and associated coal mines, approved by the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. Our investigation uncovered allegations the project is displacing poor communities and leading to the destruction of forest.

Find out more by reading the full investigation

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:

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.”