The olive oil bird “massacre”

My wife and I have been in Sicily.  During our visit we stayed at an olive farm, set in beautiful countryside.  The farm produces five varieties of olive oil, plus a blend, all of which we tried while enjoying the wonderful food for which Sicily is famous.  What we didn’t know while we stayed there was the following bit of information, which I have just found in the magazine “Nature”:

“The global demand for olive oil is having a catastrophic effect on wildlife. On some farms, olives are still harvested by hand, but in these days of mass production, machines are taking over. Between October and March, many farmers use powerful tractors to strip the trees of their fruit and, in the process, vacuum up hundreds of thousands of birds that have migrated south for the winter. The tractors operate after sundown (to take advantage of the cooler temperatures that help preserve the olives’ flavour), starting just as the birds have roosted in the trees. Dazzled and disorientated by the machine’s lights, the birds are sucked up on a “catastrophic scale”. Researchers found as many as 100 dead birds in each trailer, including large numbers of British species such as robins, greenfinches, warblers and wagtails. It is estimated that 96,000 birds die this way each winter in Portugal alone.” “Nature” calls on governments, in its article, to ban night-time harvesting.

The olive oil makers have kept that quiet.  Wish we had known and could have quizzed the obviously very energetic and successful owner, who has a thriving business.  No mention was made by her of mechanical picking at night, as opposed to mechanical processing, and I still don’t know how her picking is done.  But had a great time testing the different offerings.    Maybe Epicurus, faced with this bit of news about olive picking might say, “One doesn’t know what one doesn’t know.  You can’t put everything right in this world”.


One Comment

  1. “One doesn’t know what one doesn’t know. You can’t put everything right in this world”.

    I suppose that’s true but the lingering image of vacuuming up birds into lethal machines so that I can enjoy superb olive oil on my salad and on a lot else)? Maybe I can’t “make it right” but I can hope that there are groups in Italy pushing back? no doubt a small minority but it takes a planet of varied groups of people to pitch in and save us and the Earth, right?

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