Jul 18, 2009

Paradise Forests

Paradise Forests

Only 20 percent of the world's ancient forests remain in large, intact tracts. Some of the ancient forests under greatest threat are the ‘Paradise Forests’.
This wonderfully diverse region supports hundreds of indigenous cultures and creatures found nowhere else in the world. The island of New Guinea, the world’s second biggest island, has the largest continuous tracts of ancient forest in the Asia Pacific region. The island is divided into two regions: the Indonesian territory of Papua in the west and the nation of Papua New Guinea in the east.

The Paradise Forests consist of tropical rainforests, mangrove, coastal and swamp forests. Monsoon and deciduous forests flourish in the drier and more mountainous regions. They shelter an amazingly rich number of plant and animal species, many of which occur nowhere else on earth. The Orang Utan, Sumatran Tiger and the world's largest flower, the one metre wide rafflesia all call the Paradise Forests home.

People also live in the Paradise Forests. Their deep connection to the forest for their cultural, spiritual and physical wellbeing has been unbroken for thousands of years. The diversity of these cultures is extraordinary. More than 1000 languages are spoken on the island of New Guinea alone. That is around one sixth of all the living languages on Earth today.

Jul 17, 2009

The Cow Story

The Cow Story
The cow story began in Zurich in 1998. The Zurich Retail Association used their local Brown Swiss cow (a traditional milking cow in Switzerland) as a model for a life-size fiberglass cow. The plain white, life-size, fiberglass cow had 3 poses: grazing, standing and sitting. Initially, local Zurich artists painted 300 of these fiberglass cows. But, before the event ended Zurich artists had decorated 812 cows!!! They were displayed along streets, in buildings, in parks, in the airline terminal and train station. The cows lured an additional 1.5 million tourists to Zurich. A Chicago businessman who was in Zurich, saw the cows, and brought the idea to Chicago.
Cows on Parade was in Chicago for Summer 1999. Chicago�s Department of Cultural Affairs solicited local artists to paint a cow. A sponsor paid for each �naked� cow. Nothing could be removed from a cow, but an artist could add to it. There were 313 cows that grazed throughout Chicago from June 15 to October 31, 1999. An auction held in November 1999 netted $4 million for the Department of Cultural Affairs with �HANDsome� getting the highest bid of $110,000.
Cow Parade began in NYC on June 15, 2000. It featured more than 500 cows, which were displayed throughout NYC, Stamford, CT and W. Orange, NJ. This was the first public art exhibit encompassing all 5 boroughs. NYC Department of Parks & Recreation organized it. When the cows were sold at auction later that year, they raised several million dollars for charity.
Westland Giftware created a �medium� reproduction of these cows. It is about 6� long, 4� high depending on its pose and �add-ons.�Westland�s first shipment was made September 2000 with 12 Chicago cows. In October Westland shipped 6 NYC reproductions. CowsCowsCows first saw the Westland cow reproductions at the LA Gift Show in July 2000. We loved them, ordered them and had our web site up and running by October 2000. We were the first and only Internet business selling Cow Parade in 2000. We�ve been involved since the start.
Other vendors also produced Cow Parade items. Character Collectibles offered 85 miniatures, 85 ornaments and a wide assortment of other Cow Parade items. The most popular miniature cow made was the Twin Cowers set. In December 2003 Character Collectibles discontinued all of their Cow Parade items.
Since 1999 the Cow Parade has visited many towns.
2001: Kansas City, Houston. Australia (from one coast to the other)
2002: Portland, Oregon, London, Ventspils, Latvia, Las Vegas, San Antonio
2003: Auckland, New Zealand, Atlanta, Brussels, Belgium, Isle of Man, Dublin, Ireland, W Hartford, CT
2004: Tokyo, Harrisburg, PA, Manchester, England, Stockholm, Sweden, Monaco, Prague
2005: Bucharest, Barcelona, South Africa, Warsaw, Mexico City
2006: Boston, Denver, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Madison Wisconsin
2007: Copenhagen, Milan, Marseille, Istanbul, Vigo, West Hartford, Rio de Janeiro
In each city the artists have an opportunity to design a cow and have their talent seen, the public has an opportunity to view and enjoy the art, the sponsors have an opportunity to lure the public to their business, and charities make a profit when the cows are sold at auction. Due to this win-win situation the Cow Parade has benefited many cities and charities. Dublin was excited when at their auction, Waga-Moo-Moo (made with 125,000 pieces of Waterford crystal) sold for the highest price ever - $148,000 U.S. dollars. I saw it in person and it was truly magnificent!
Over the years we have learned much. The Cow Parade organization and Westland Giftware have learned to limit the number of new cows to be released each year to two. They have also learned to have limited quantities of a cow that is retired. For example, both Moon Dreams and Gladiator were retired awhile ago � however, Westland Giftware still has not sold out of the inventory they had. When cows are now retired, Westland Giftware has either sold out or is close to selling out. This works better for the collectors.
The story of the individual cows can be quite interesting. Some artists have done many cows. Other artists do just one. The cow makes a wonderful peaceful pallet.
Thanks for buying from

Jul 16, 2009

Pesticides: not your problem?-Pesticides are like poison on your plate.

Pesticides are like poison on your plate.

Beijing, China — Hungry? Well, you won’t be after you watch our video below on pesticide use in China or hear about our latest research which puts big name supermarkets to shame.

We’ve known for a long time that pesticides not only kill pests but they also poison our food.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer and fertility problems as well as other frightening long-term health effects.

And China uses a lot of pesticides.

Last month, Greenpeace China sent 45 samples of fruits and vegetables to an independent laboratory to find out how serious the problem was.

The results are very scary.

A poisonous cocktail

Only five samples out of our total of 45 had no pesticides.

We found 50 different kinds of pesticides on the rest.

Many of the samples had two or more traces of pesticide residues, some up to 10!

The problem of multi-pesticide use is very serious. Many farmers have no idea what that cocktail of poisons does to the environment, themselves or to us.

Thirty-four samples had traces of at least three different pesticides; of those 25 had five different kinds; and we even found five samples contaminated with more than 10 different chemicals. These five samples are all from supermarkets.

While individually the pesticides are pretty toxic, no one knows the full effect if they’re found mixed together. Some research seems to indicate that the effect could be even more serious.

This kind of poisoning can’t be totally washed off under the tap.

China pesticides from Greenpeace China on Vimeo.

How did we do this research?

In December last year and February this year we bought commonly-eaten fruit and vegetables from wet markets and four supermarkets – Wal-Mart, Vanguard, Lotus and Nonggongshang -- in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

We tested foods like tangerines, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, cabbages and spinach.

Pesticides residues were found across all samples and from all areas showing the problem is nationwide.

Shame on the big name supermarkets

What is even more shocking is that the fruits and vegetables from big name supermarkets like Lotus, Vanguard and Wal-Mart are even more polluted than those collected from the wet markets.

These big chains have a responsibility to their customers to offer clean and safe food.

Those vegetables with illegal pesticide traces and those with 10 different pesticides were all from supermarkets and not wet markets.

Highly toxic

To give a sense of how poisonous these chemicals are we checked the pesticides that turned up positive with international lists of toxic chemicals.

•The Pesticide Action Network UK lists more than 160 pesticides that have been linked to cancer.

We found 21 of them on 40 samples in our research.

And 33 of those had more than one of these chemicals and with eight having five of them!

•The European Union lists 91 pesticides as potential disruptors of the hormone system. This system is vital for health. These chemicals may affect fertility and may impact the development of babies.

Some 38 of our samples contained traces of these kinds of pesticides.

•The World Health Organisation has a list of highly hazardous pesticides.

We found five of those on nine samples in our shopping, including two of which are banned by the Chinese government.

Traces of banned carbofuran were found on cow peas and cucumber.

Methamidophos, also banned, and classified as 'highly hazardous' by the WHO, was also found on cow peas and on capsella (green leafy vegetable).

So what can we do?

It’s obvious that using so many pesticides has to stop.

We have always argued that eco-agriculture, or organic farming, is the only way to ensure that chemicals don’t contaminate our food.

But organic fruits and vegetables are expensive.

We are urging supermarkets to step up checks of their produce to make sure that the food they stock isn’t contaminated by pesticides. They owe it to their customers to only stock safe food.

We are also urging supermarkets to put pressure on their suppliers to use less pesticides and pursue organic farming methods.

As organic farming becomes more widespread the cost of organic food will fall.

And we are urging Chinese consumers to put pressure on their supermarkets to make sure they stop stocking fruits and vegetables soaked in dangerous chemicals.

Jul 14, 2009

Greenpeace Living Guide tips for green living

Greenpeace Living Guide tips for green living

The Greenpeace Living Guide offers real solutions for environmental living at home, at work and in your community. It also shows how each one of us can get political and be an everyday activist - taking on the root causes of environmental issues around the world. In the spirit of The Greenpeace Living Guide, we post some timely green tips here each month.

To receive green tips in your inbox each month, subscribe to Greenpeace Canada's email newsletter.
The top three ways to talk about the environment (from the most persuasive environmentalists we know)

A few months ago, we asked you for your thoughts about the environment, the 'green living' trend and what you'd like to see us discuss in 'Green Tips.' Many of you asked how to talk to friends, neighbours, colleagues and family about the environment. We tried to get you answers from the most persuasive and knowledgeable environmentalists we know: Greenpeace Canada phone outreach staff. They're the ones who call you from time to time to talk to about Greenpeace, your membership and environmental issues. Next time you see 'Greenpeace' on your call display, pick up the phone and get tips on how to talk about the environment straight from the experts.
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The top three things on your mind

For years, you've been hearing from us in this column about green living and green politics. This month, you're going to hear from each other.
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The top three reasons 'green tips' aren't green tips anymore

For a long time, this column consisted exclusively of handy (and very popular) 'green tips.' We told you how to clean your bathtub with baking soda, maximize energy in your kitchen and create an eco-friendly lawn. That era is over. While we will still provide tools for daily life (and our website will continue to feature a wealth of green tips) our focus will now include green politics. Here are the top three reasons why.
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The Greenpeace Living Guide's top five reasons technology won't solve climate change.

US President Barack Obama has come and gone, and our climate questions remain unanswered. How, for example, will his administration tackle dirty energy like US coal and oil from Canada's tar sands? What will result from the 'clean energy dialogue' President Obama discussed with Stephen Harper? What stand will both leaders take at the next United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December? We don't know. Here is what we do know. Both President Obama and Stephen Harper are touting technology as the solution to climate change. It's isn't. Here are the top five reasons why.
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Tap water tips

If the water is safe to drink in your community, The Greenpeace Living Guide suggests you reconsider bottled water. First, you avoid plastic bottles. Second, you avoid the appalling practice of paying private companies for a public resource: water.
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The Greenpeace Living Guide's Top 3 New Year's Resolutions for 2009

It's a new year, and, by all accounts, it's going to be a challenging one. As we confront an unfolding economic crisis, it's more important than ever to keep our focus on the environment. Why? With this crisis comes an opportunity to change the way the world does business, ushering in a new era of green energy, green jobs and responsible governance (and by this we mean regulation—financial, environmental—bring it on!). So, in the spirit of renewal, The Greenpeace Living Guide presents our top three New Year's resolutions for 2009. (For bonus points, add, 'I will order The Greenpeace Living Guide.')
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The Greenpeace Living Guide's top 3 three reasons you matter to Greenpeace, and to the environment...

It's the holidays, a time for gratitude, and the perfect moment to tell you the many reasons you matter to Greenpeace, and to the environment. The holidays are also the perfect time to order The Greenpeace Living Guide for your friends and family. Find out more.
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The Greenpeace Living Guide's top three reasons why President Barack Obama is good for the environment (and for Canada)

Greenpeace is hopeful about the election of Barack Obama. As Greenpeace US Executive Director John Passacantando said: "For eight years, the international community tried to solve global warming while this country’s leadership sat on the sidelines. We look forward to showing a waiting world that America is back and ready to lead." (More on Greenpeace US reaction to the election)
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The Greenpeace Living Guide's top three reasons to feel hopeful post-election

Okay, so, the Conservatives have formed a minority government. And, as Greenpeace and many other groups have pointed out, their climate plan puts Canada far below our targets under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. In addition, the Conservatives have refused to discuss their broader environmental plan with enviros like Greenpeace (the Bloc, the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals all responded to our questions during the election). But there are many reasons for hope and opportunities for action. Here are three. (For more reasons to hope and a whole book of green tips, visit The Greenpeace Living Guide today.)
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Greenpeace's top tips for a greener bedroom

The last of a three-part series on greening your home (see the green kitchen and the green bathroom). For a whole book of fabulous green tips, order The Greenpeace Living Guide today! And to share you own tips for a green bathroom, get in touch at living-guide@greenpeace.ca.
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Tips for a greener kitchen

The second of a three-part series on greening your home. Coming soon: the green bedroom. For a whole book of fabulous green tips, order Greenpeace's Living Guide today! And to share you own tips for a green bathroom, get in touch at living-guide@greenpeace.ca.
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Greenpeace's top three tips for a green bathroom

The first of a three-part series on greening your home. Coming soon: the green kitchen and the green bedroom. For a whole book of fabulous green tips, order Greenpeace's Living Guide today! And to share you own tips for a green bathroom, get in touch at living-guide@greenpeace.ca
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Greenpeace's top three tips for green summer eating

It's summer, the perfect time to eat fresh, ripe and in season. The best route to green eating: think about what you're eating. Find out where it comes from, who picked it for you and exactly how it got from seed to table. To get you started, here are Greenpeace's top three tips for green summer eating. Enjoy, let us know what you think and make your own eating recommendations at living-guide@greenpeace.ca.
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Greenpeace's summer reading list

To understand environmental issues, we need to look at science and history, at geography and economics, at sociology and politics. Especially politics. Greenpeace's summer reading list takes you from the big picture (global economics) to daily life (the seafood aisle of your grocery store) and reflects the global scope of our campaigns. We've grouped our choices into a few topical categories, followed our own imaginations and interests and thrown in a few movies and websites for good measure.

Let us know what you think and make your own reading recommendations at living-guide@greenpeace.ca.
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Three things you can do to make every day Earth Day

Earth Day has come and gone, which is all the more reason to re-affirm our collective commitment to a green and peaceful future. Here are three things you can do right now to make every day Earth Day. For a whole book of green tips to last year-round, check out the fabulous Greenpeace Living Guide.
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Top five things to avoid on your next shopping trip

At Greenpeace, we contend that that living green requires a great deal of thought, nuance and study. Environmental issues are complex and, generally speaking, there are no easy answers. We also admit that sometimes it's nice to have a (by no means exhaustive) list. So here you go: stay away from these five things, and you'll be a long way towards living green. No research required.
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Greenpeace's top three ways to green your work life - Part II

Last month, we told you how to avoid waste, keep public water public and cut down on your travel-related carbon emissions. This month, we go even deeper into what it means to have a green work life.
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Greenpeace's top three ways to green your work life

Most of us spend a good chunk of our lives at work. It's also where we take a big chunk out of the planet. The good news: there's a lot you can do to reduce your impact right now. Check out the first part of Greenpeace's guide to working green.
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Greenpeace's top three New Year's resolutions
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Tips for green holiday eating

If you're planning a holiday meal, there's a lot you can do to keep waste, pesticides and energy use to a minimum. Consider using the holiday season as a template for the rest of the year. It's a great opportunity to create new habits and try new recipes you can roll out in the months to come. For more fabulous tips on living the green life, check out our new Greenpeace Guide available right now!

Jul 13, 2009

Cow's milk diabetes evidence mounts

Cow's milk diabetes evidence mounts

Red meat, cow's milk and low-fiber diets increase risk of lymphatic cancer, says new research

More research suggests that certain children may be vulnerable to diabetes later in life after exposure to cow's milk while very young.

The Finnish study looked at children who already have one close relative with type I diabetes.
Previous research has suggested that children exposed to the insulin which can naturally be contained in cow's milk may develop antibodies to insulin.
Insulin is the naturally-produced chemical which helps animals, including humans, reduce excess levels of blood sugar.
Diabetics either have lost the ability to produce their own insulin, or have developed bodies on which insulin has too little effect.
How children lose the ability to produce their own insulin - rendering them reliant on injections for life - is still a matter of much debate among doctors.

High-risk children
It is believed that the body's own immune system suddenly turns on the cells in the pancreas gland which produce the chemical, destroying them, but what makes them decide to attack is unknown.
Dr Johanna Paronen from the University of Helsinki looked at "high risk" infants who had been either given formula feed with cow's milk since birth, or given a combination of breast feeding and non-bovine formula.
At three months old, those given cow's milk had immune systems which reacted far more strongly to bovine insulin.
The levels of immune system antibodies to bovine insulin and human insulin tended to be higher in the group of infants fed only cow's milk.
The researchers wrote: "Our observations raise the issue of whether oral exposure to foreign insulin plays a role in the autoimmune process leading to type I diabetes.
"It is possible that in some genetically susceptible children, a continuous, even small-dose early exposure to bovine insulin in cow's milk may lead to loss of tolerance to insulin."
Interestingly, where the child had a diabetic mother, rather than a diabetic father, this effect was less marked.
The researchers suggested that exposure pre-natally to both diabetes, and any insulin treatment, might decrease the risk.

However, a spokesman for Diabetes UK said: "Various research studies have looked into the theoretical link between drinking cow's milk and the onset of Type 1 diabetes.
"Whilst some evidence appears to support the theory it is not conclusive, and there is just as much evidence against the theory."
She added that while breast feeding was to be recommended in general, there was not enough evidence for women who could not breast feed to stop using formula feeds and cow's milk.

Jul 12, 2009


Protect cows: Muslim leader


NEW DELHI: Adding a broader dimension to the debate on cow slaughter, a prominent Muslim leader has said that the Central law being considered by the Vajpayee government should "not be limited only to 'non-use of beef' but should also protect those cows that wander the streets as 'stray animals' and suffer from the eating of garbage, plastic and other poisons".

In a statement, Maulana Syed Athar Hussain Dehlavi, chairman of the Old Delhi-based Anjuman Minhaj-e-Rasool, said protection must be provided to those "unfortunate cows who die a slow death on the streets... Indian cows must be protected not just from the slaughtering knife but also from hunger, unhygienic food and dirty conditions". Dehlavi stressed that the cow is the "symbol and worship for Hindus and so protection of cow is very important".

Although in different parts of the world people belonging to different religions use beef, he said, "in India, in view of the respect of cow, the Indian Muslims also have regards and respect for cow and avoid using beef".
Gehlot turn to 'milk' cow

Express News Service

Jaipur, February 27: The Rajasthan Cooperative Dairy Federation (RCDF) is gearing up for some serious milking. Cows are in and buffaloes are out as milk booths in Jaipur gear up to sell ''pure cow milk'' this weekend. Ignoring all talk of a political plot behind the promotion of cow milk in the state, around 500 booths in Jaipur will display gleaming new polypacks of cow milk. By mid-March, all 1,400 booths in the city will follow suit.

Brushing aside all conspiracy theories of political motivation and talk of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot countering the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's cow agenda with his own little gimmick, Jaipur Dairy officials say the entire project is based on the simple principles of demand and supply. ''There is a huge demand for cow milk in the state, especially during festivals and weddings. We are just giving people what they want - pure, unadulterated cow milk,'' says Atul Shukla, Deputy Manager (Marketing) of Jaipur Dairy.

At present, at all the Saras booths, there are four varieties of milk available - all a mix of cow and buffalo milk. Saras Gold, with fat content of 6 per cent, sells at a premium Rs 17. Of the three lakh-odd litres sold in the city, the more popular toned milk packets sell for Rs 13. Priced at Rs 14.50, the new cow milk packet hopes to set the cash registers ringing. With a maximum of 3.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent ''solid not fat'' (the protein content), cow milk is being pegged as the healthy milk to drink.

''Cow milk is always popular. In fact, we woke up to the fact when Mother Dairy in Delhi asked us if we could supply pure cow milk to them. After their request, we started doing a little market research and realised that a number of our customers were constantly demanding cow milk at our booths. And so the decision was taken,'' says G.S. Sandhu, Managing Director of RCDF.

The milking cows are all in drought-hit Barmer district. Thousands of farmers in this district own the Rathi breed of cows which, according to dairy officials, have been certified the best by French cheese-making company Le Bon.
Centre mulls ban on cow-slaughter

Express News Service

New Delhi, March 3: The Centre is examining the issue of imposing a ban on cow-slaughter throughout the country, Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply today. Ajit stated that 22 states and six Union Territories have already enacted legislations to ban or restrict cow-slaughter. ''Even then the Government of India is examining the issue.'' There was, however, ''no evidence'' that slaughter of cow and its illegal transportation was on the rise. Since West Bengal had not completely banned cow-slaughter, the cattle are transported to the state. They may be smuggled to Bangladesh illegally, he pointed out.

In reply to another question, Minister of State for Agriculture Hukumdev Narayan Yadav informed the members that an expert group, constituted to examine the recommendations of the National Commission on Cattle on banning cow-slaughter, has been asked to submit its report by March 15. He said the Commission, which reviewed laws relating to protection, preservation and well-being of the cow and its progeny, has suggested a constitutional amendment for the enactment of a Central law on this count.Agreed on cow slaughter, LS split on who has power to ban it

Express News Service

New Delhi, March 11: A BJP-supported private member's resolution for a ban on cow slaughter sparked off uproarious scenes in the Lok Sabha today, with the Opposition resisting a vote on it. As both sides resorted to slogan-shouting, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD), who was in the Chair, adjourned the House an hour ahead of schedule.Congress and Left members trooped into the Well saying the House was not competent to adopt the resolution seeking a legislation banning cow slaughter moved by BJP's P.S. Patel. Shivraj Patil (Cong) said the issue fell neither under Union nor concurrent lists. The House was thus not competent to legislate on cow protection.

Gau man gau

Jan 22, 2003

Digvijay Singh refuses to get cowed down Now that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's deep affinity for holy mother cow has been loudly proclaimed - chiefly his reported taste in gau mutra (cow's urine) and his belief in gau dung as excellent fertiliser - you would have to be dumb cattle not to realise that the cow has always been a potent political instrument in the hands of India's rulers.

With elections around the corner, Diggy Raja has clearly decided to take the bull by the horns and attempt to destroy the sangh parivar's monopoly on Hinduism and nationalism. After all it was only a mere fortnight ago when he launched a jhanda ooncha rahe campaign to honour the Tricolour and there is thus reason to believe that with patriotism well hoisted, Singh is now determined to prove that as far as Hinduism is concerned: when you gotta gau, you gotta gau. Since gaumata is a crucial feature of the sangh's definitions of Hindutva, Digvijay is clearly refusing to be cowed down by the BJP's ownership of our sacred quadruped.

Gaumata has had a long political career. Mughal emperors like Akbar and Jehangir imposed restricted bans on cow slaughter. Shivaji declared that Hindus musn't witness the killing of cows. The founder of the Arya Samaj, Dayanand Saraswati, used the cow as a symbol of national unity. Several riots through the ages have been spurred by reports of slaughter of cows.

Tilak's first campaigns centred around safeguards for the life of the cow and, in the seventies, Vinoba Bhave went on a hunger strike against cow slaughter. The VHP's gau-raksha campaigns began the era of aggressive Hindutva and for groups seeking to emphasise the anatagonism of Islam to Hinduism, the so-called Muslim attack on the cow has been seen as a fundamentally hostile stance against the majority community.

No wonder the book, The Myth of the Holy Cow by D.N. Jha, in which the author provided instances of cow slaughter in the ancient period, been banned. When politics operates in an overwhelmingly agrarian and pious land, its symbols are naturally bovine.

Not that gau mutra isn't healthy. Those who have sampled it, swear by its scientific rejuvenating effects and the properties of cow dung are in evidence all over the rural countryside, not just as fertiliser but also as fuel. Digvijay's gau campaign thus isn't complete hogwash, although it shows that in Indian politics you can never say gau man gau.
Advani seeks blanket ban on cow slaughter

New Delhi: Deputy PM L.K. Advani today called for a Constitutional amendment for a blanket ban on cow slaughter across the nation, asserting that soon there will be enough democratic pressure for such a demand.
Advani was speaking at the inauguration of the All-India Conference and Exhibition on cow products-based economy at the IIT.

''Article 48 given by the Constitution makers should have been more comprehensive in its scope. Then the situation today would have been substantially different had it fully addressed the issue of cow slaughter,'' Advani said. ''The signature campaign by the RSS after Independence is a great movement that placed the issue of cow slaughter in the centre of public debate till as late as 1979,'' he added. (Agencies)
Holy cow! Look what they're talking about

Tavleen Singh

There are moments when politics in India acquires a surreal quality and we are currently in the throes of one such bizarre moment. How else to explain the current obsession with cow slaughter and beef-eating at a time when the world edges ever closer to war? The story, for those of you who may have been following cricket or the impending war instead, is that the Congress Party in Madhya Pradesh suddenly and quite inexplicably decided to charge the Prime Minister with being an eater of beef. Gau hamari mata hai, Atal Behari khata hai. This is the sort of stupid accusation that is best ignored but the Prime Minister chose to answer it. So, his government was ordered to launch a counter attack in the form of a terse press release from the Ministry of Commerce. ''Export of beef is banned. The prohibition is listed as item 02021: all consignments of meat are subject to pre-shipment inspection.''

In case this was insufficient defense of the Prime Minister, his party also leapt into the act with Vijay Kumar Malhotra coming forth with the theory that when Hindutva hero, Veer Savarkar, suggested cow slaughter was a good thing he meant foreign cows only. God knows what he meant but he should have been talking of Indian cows whose plight is so pitiable that the poor creatures would be better off dead. European cows, on the other hand, live better than most human beings do in India. At the India Economic Summit in Delhi last November, an economist drew attention to the fact that cows in Europe lived on two dollars a day, twice as much as Indians below the poverty line get to spend.

Now, there is something that our two main political parties should be discussing. With nearly half our population living in desperate poverty it would be interesting to know what excuses, explanations and ideas our politicians have to offer. With what face do they tell us that we are on our way to being the world's next economic superpower when so many of our countrymen continue to live on less a day than European cows? What is worse is that most of them are as illiterate as European cows as well and yet we never hear our political parties discuss the shambles in our education system. In recent times, there has been much hysteria over ''saffronization'' of education again, oddly enough, on account of beef and cows. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, that leading champion of the Indian cow, deleted from history textbooks all references to Brahmins eating beef in ancient times and secular hysteria rose across the land. Fine. But, why do we never see similar rage over the disgraceful state of the Indian school system? So appaling are conditions in our schools that to have a classroom is a luxury. Most rural schools do not have this luxury and if they do they are usually reliant on the services of a single teacher who often finds no time for the mundane business of teaching.

For things to improve we need to spend at least twice as much on education as we currently spend but I cannot remember the last time there was a serious debate in Parliament on this issue. For that matter, when did you last hear our politicians discuss the shaming state of Indian healthcare? We have government hospitals in which it is not unusual to find stray dogs and cats wandering about the wards, not to mention rats so large they have been known to eat newborn babies. And, if you wander into smaller towns and villages it is not unusual to find health centres and hospitals so filthy that to enter them is to risk your life. According to one recent survey, Indians spend more on private healthcare than almost any other people, but can you remember the last time there was a debate in Parliament, or even a public discussion on this subject?

What is it with our politicians that they find so much time to discuss cows, religion and temples and so little to discuss education, healthcare or our desperate need for such fundamental necessities as electricity and drinking water? Speaking of water, there was a truly surreal moment recently when everyone panicked over the quality of bottled water in India. The government responded with remarkable speed and last week the Consumer Affairs Ministry withdrew certification to eight brands of bottled water on grounds of unsafe quality. What makes the exercise truly surreal is that nobody, least of all the Minister of Consumer Affairs, appears to have noticed that the water that ordinary Indians get through their taps is of such dubious quality that only the foolhardy or the desperately poor dare drink it without first filtering or boiling it. Certainly, if analysed, it would be declared unfit for European cows.

To return then to cows for whom we see so much concern from both Congress and BJP, can we expect that their lot will improve in the near future? As things stand, to be an Indian cow is a fate worse than death. With cow slaughter banned, when cows grow old they are simply abandoned so clusters of them can be seen seated sadly on busy streets in every Indian city. Most die such slow painful deaths that if it was possible for them to have a say in the matter they would almost certainly vote for lifting the ban on cow slaughter. Perhaps, it's time to seriously consider Savarkar's views on the subject, he was after all the man who invented the idea of Hindutva.