Mother Nature You Are Spectacular!

If we were able to transport a person living in the year 1916 to our homes and walk them through our daily lives, it would be interesting to discover what they would make of our lifestyle. The changes over the last 100 years resulting from the massive expansion of knowledge in all areas of science are staggering – from how we spend our leisure and work time, what we eat and who makes our clothes, to how far and how easily we travel.

Delightful in some respects, our time traveller may think, and not so wonderful in others. But whatever their opinion of our lifestyle, we might be less than proud to admit that it is, in a word, unsustainable. The incredible advantages that science has brought to our world have come at a considerable cost – uncontrolled warming of the planet, pollution of our oceans and rivers on an alarming scale, loss of massive tracts of native forests and species extinctions at a record rate. The price of our lifestyle is, incredibly, the health of our planet.

As we consider the enormity of what needs to be done, and the reluctance of our decision-makers to take drastic action, it’s pretty clear that in the absence of radical new technologies, it will be up to us as consumers to change the way we do things. The tiny house movement, increased support for organic agriculture and a growing awareness of the health and environmental disadvantages of processed food are symptoms of radical changes in our thinking – changes that might bring us closer to the lifestyle experienced by our time traveller from 1916.

When it comes to skin care, our 1916 counterpart was at the dawn of the chemical revolution that gave rise to the mass production of skin creams – the so called ‘cold creams’ being the new ‘must have’ for the modern woman. Cold creams were so named because they were a water-oil emulsion which, when applied to the skin, left the skin feeling cool because of evaporation of the water component.

To make a cold cream, an emulsifier was required to permit the blending of water and oil. In the early days the emulsifier was traditionally borax, spermaceti (from whales) and sometimes beeswax. The oil component, which did the work of improving the skin’s barrier by reducing dryness and smoothing its appearance, was almond oil or similar which, because it tended to go rancid quickly, was later replaced with petroleum-derived petrolatum. The invention of preservatives such as parabens gave a long shelf-life to these creams, allowing mass production and its necessary counterpart -advertising. As the years passed, more sophisticated emulsifiers, thickeners, and other intangible ingredients were created to improve the ‘feel’ of the product on the skin. This is where we find ourselves today: a small amount of oil (plant or petroleum-derived) mixed with water and a range of synthetic ingredients.

To our minds, the error in thinking about modern skin care began around 100 years ago when it was deemed necessary to mix oil with water. The active part of a skin care formulation is the oil – the water dilutes it, making it easier to spread, but serves no other function. Our ancient ancestors understood and embraced the benefits of using pure oils on their skin. In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian tradition, the value of massaging the skin with sesame oil has been known for millennia, where it was used to slow ageing as well as to treat numerous skin and systemic conditions. Coconut oil was used by Polynesians for thousands of years to soften and protect their skin, and as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain. In western Africa, shea butter was treasured for its ability to treat burns and wounds, inflammatory skin conditions and keep the skin supple in an unforgiving climate. In all these cultures, the oils were valued as food and medicine, in addition to their role in skin health. These people knew that what we apply to our skin should not be considered differently to what we eat. We now know that our skin is an organ that is nourished from the inside, and also readily absorbs a wide range of molecules that are placed on its outside, nutrients and toxins alike, depending on their chemical structure.

As we are slowly discovering, it is difficult to improve on nature when it comes to food – adding synthetic preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers, sugars and colourings to pure plant foods tends to reduce their nutritional value. Eating pure unadulterated fresh foods is our best bet for a healthy life, whether they be ‘superfoods’ or the humble but super-nutritious parsley or oatmeal. When it comes to skin care, it makes no sense to tamper with these wonderful ingredients by diluting, emulsifying and preserving them when their nutrients are just as available to our skin in their pure form.

This is the principle on which Mokosh skin care is based. We have decided not to be part of last century’s industrial revolution that has brought us to today’s synthetic-laden offerings. Simple is best – the safest, smartest and most effective approach for our skin and body health.  Best also for the health of our planet, removing the need to manufacture a swathe of synthetic substances. Embracing the perfection that is Mother Nature is one of many small steps we need to take in the right direction.

Making a difference – what can I do?

When looking at the environmental and political turmoil around us it can be tempting at times to give up, and ask ourselves what can one person do when the problem is so large? Because traditional activism is difficult to find time for in our busy lives, many of us have taken to joining campaigns through social media. It seems only the devoted few join protest marches, focus groups or make the effort to raise money for campaigns, though these methods can be extremely effective, because they drive issues forward, raising the awareness of other consumers as well as decision makers. A powerful alternative is to carry out a quiet revolution using our wallets – by spending our money on products that do not take an enormous toll on the environment, and do not exploit the world’s poorest people.

Bicycle riding smallThis approach may involve not shopping at a supermarket, instead supporting the local farmer’s market and organic grocery store. It might involve riding your bike more, not accepting plastic bags, and making more of your own food rather than buying packaged. It might mean paying a bit more to buy fair trade and ethically-made clothing and toys, and will certainly mean walking past the sweat shop-made ones. It might take time to find businesses that are trying to do the right thing – because, like ours, most of them are small and not very noticeable. But the up side is that lots of people making choices in the right direction will make a difference.

Kitchen volunteers shutterstock_184907453SmallMany of these businesses carry far lower profit margins than those that are less ethical. This is because costs of production are higher, but prices cannot reflect this since they need to remain competitive. At Mokosh, we’re proud of our products – we believe they’re not only the best skin care on the planet, but also the safest, most ethical and most environmentally friendly skin care you can buy. But we can’t afford a massive marketing campaign, or a fancy website upgrade every year. However, when you buy Mokosh products, you are voting for organic agriculture, fair trade, palm oil free, preservative free, and virtually plastic free products.

pouring creamsEthical businesses can thrive, but they need customer support – more support than a mainstream business taking the easier, more profitable road. We’re grateful that so many of our customers spread the word about Mokosh by buying gifts or a sample pack for their friends. This is the kind of activism a business such as ours needs to survive. Please, if you can, consider doing so for other ethical businesses you’d like to see thriving in our community. Remember that whatever you buy will be replaced with the same product – so buy only what you want to see more of. And never underestimate the power of your wallet – it is a world changer.

Should you become an anti-plastic extremist?

It is difficult to imagine our lives without plastics – they are an indispensible part of the mass production and storage of our food, our smartphone and computer-dependent living, and have helped revolutionise medicine with the development of plastic replacement body parts, syringes and intravenous fluid bags. Once mass production of plastics began during the 1940s and 1950s, it was possible to manufacture consumer goods on an affordable and grand scale, resulting in the rise of the single use plastic bag and drink bottle with little provision for appropriate disposal or recycling. It is now clear that this plastic-fuelled revolution has come at a price, with toxins from plastic entering our oceans, rivers and groundwater, poisoning our already fragile food chain, and threatening the health and lives of humans and animals across the globe.

What toxins are in plastic?

We have summarised what goes into the 7 most commonly used plastic types at the end of this article, each of which may be identified by the recycling symbol and #1-7 numbering system.

Most plastics are made from hydrocarbon molecules obtained from refining petroleum or natural gas, where carbon-based monomers are extracted, forming the building blocks of plastics. Monomers are processed to form polymers or copolymers – chains of monomers of the same or different types joined together. These are mixed with various additives, including antioxidants, plasticisers and flame retardants, to provide additional properties. By combining different monomers and additives, it is possible to obtain an enormous range of plastics with varied properties.

Plastics were once considered inert, non-reactive substances, but it is now understood that this is not the case. The process of polymerisation which creates plastic is rarely complete, meaning that unbound monomers, many of which are toxic in their free state, are free to leach from the plastic. Additives, too, are not always strongly bound to the polymer, and may leach from the plastic into food and drink (

Different plastic types leach different chemicals. Most well known are those with oestrogenic activity, including the phthalates found in PVC (#3) and bisphenol A found in polycarbonates (#7). However, a recent study showed that virtually all plastics used in food and drink storage leach substances with oestrogenic activity, even those which are free of phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) (

It is now understood that leaching of toxic monomers can be accelerated by exposure to UV radiation (sunlight), microwaves, moist heat, scratching and possibly by freezing. Polymers, too, may undergo a change in their chemical structure under these ‘stressed’ conditions and gain oestrogenic activity ( This is something few people consider when using plastic containers to store food and drink, heating food in the microwave, or exposing containers to sunlight.

Chemicals of concern that leach from plastic include the following:

  • oestrogenic molecules, sometimes termed xenoestrogens, are potentially present in all plastics ( but of particular concern are phthalates in PVC, #3, bisphenol A in polycarbonates, #7, and the now banned PCBs which are present in some plastics made before 1979 ( Xenoestrogens are known to have effects including abnormal development of reproductive organs, reduced fertility due to sperm and egg abnormalities, increased incidence of gonadal intersex, and altered sex ratios ( The steadily increasing incidence of breast cancer in women in western cultures and industrialised countries has been linked to prolonged exposure to oestrogen via an early menarche and late menopause. There is concern that this could be at least in part due to increased exposure to xenoestrogens. Of particular concern was the demonstration that bisphenol A was able to induce neoplastic changes (transformation into cancer) in breast epithelial cells in tissue culture studies ( Bisphenol A is commonly used to manufacture baby bottles, coats thermal paper receipts and lines most tinned foods. Bisphenol A is found in the urine of most people today – in a study carried out in 2004, BPA was found in the urine of 93% of children and adults studied (

In one study it was shown that use of a hand sanitiser before handling a thermal receipt and eating food enhanced absorption of BPA into the bloodstream ( ).

  • the vinyl chloride monomer from polyvinyl choride, PVC, #3, is both highly toxic and carcinogenic. It is responsible for the ‘new car smell’, and is widely used in construction, clothing and furniture (;
  • the monomer styrene, which may be present at up to 1% in polystyrene, PS, #6, which is commonly used in takeaway hot food and hot drink containers, is toxic, mutagenic (damages DNA) and possibly carcinogenic (;
  • bisphenol S, which has to some extent replaced bisphenol A in some polycarbonate #7 plastics because of safety concerns, has been linked to abnormal neurological development in the hypothalamus (a region of the brain which regulates many body functions, including many endocrine functions) of fish at very low doses, resulting in hyperactivity (
  • in addition to its oestrogenic effects, bisphenol A has been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities (, and possibly obesity in children (
  • other potentially toxic additives include the toxic metal antimony in PET plastic, and lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals in PVC. The flame retardants such as the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are known toxins with neurobehavioural and endocrine disrupting effects (, and are used in a range of plastics.

Isn’t most plastic recycled?

Approximately 110 million tons of plastic are consumed worldwide each year ( ). Despite the fact that we have the ability to recycle much of our plastic, the world’s recycling rate is estimated to be a dismal 6.5%. Most of the remainder goes to landfill, where it may remain intact for hundreds of years, leaching toxins into groundwater, while a good proportion of it makes its way into rivers and oceans ( Recent studies estimate that 8 million tons of plastic goes into our oceans each year ( ).

The effects of plastic waste on wildlife and the environment

It is estimated that around 100,000 animals die each year from becoming entangled in or ingesting plastic, where it lodges in their digestive tracts, causing starvation (

In the 70 years or so since plastic has been mass-produced, sufficient amounts have been washed into the ocean to form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Atlantic Garbage Patch and the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch ( – huge swathes of plastics trapped in the upper layers of the major ocean gyres, the great circular marine currents. Much of this plastic is eventually broken down to microplastics, ranging in size from microscopic to particles of 5mm in diameter, which are small enough to be ingested by all stages of the food chain, causing still unknown effects. A recent study on the Great Barrier Reef showed that corals take in pieces of microplastic which then lodge in their digestive tracts and cannot be expelled, further adding to the pressures on this already endangered ecosystem (

Apart from the physical effects of indigestible plastics on the health of wildlife, oestrogenic compounds and other toxins present in the ingested plastics may cause systemic harm to the animals which ingest them, resulting in reduced fertility and increasing susceptibility to disease, adding to the risk of food chain collapse.

In addition to the toxins present in plastics, it is now becoming clear that plastics adsorb and concentrate organic pollutants, acting as toxic reservoirs of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, dioxins and the toxic DDT derivative DDE, since these toxins adhere to plastics and become concentrated (, making microplastics even more toxic, and further adding to the risk of harmful effects on wildlife. It has now been shown that fish that ingest plastics which have adsorbed toxins from the marine environment at similar concentrations to those found in the Great Pacific Garbage patch, suffer liver toxicity and other pathologies, partially attributable to the physical effect of the plastic on the digestive tract, and partially due to the toxins consumed. (

Clearly, plastic pollution jeopardises the health of our oceans, in addition to our own health, adding further severe strain to our already fragile ecosystems.

What happened to reduce, reuse, recycle?

Not much reduction

The worst offenders, single use plastic bags and single use water bottle containers, are the obvious first targets when aiming to reduce the overall load of plastic waste in the environment.

Plastic bags and water bottle containers have been banned in a small number of cities and countries throughout the world (; Despite this, it is estimated that 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded each year, and Australia is responsible for approximately 4 billion of these. In the USA only 30% of PET plastic (most commonly used for single use water bottles) was recycled in 2013, with much lower rates of recycling in most of the rest of the world.

Polystyrene containers are another clear target and have already been banned in some states of the USA because of the difficulty in disposing of polystyrene waste. Australians throw out over 40,000 tons of polystyrene each year, of which less than 7% is recycled ( It is virtually non biodegradable, contains toxic styrene and is used to dispense hot foods which are likely to increase leaching into the food and drink consumed (

Not much recycling

The poor rate of recycling worldwide (around 6.5% by some estimates) is considered to be partly due to the difficulty of sorting plastics into their different types, as different processes are required for different plastics, and due to the lack of recycling facilities. Further, it is not financially viable to recycle some plastics.

In some places, reverse vending machines give money back for plastic bottles and aluminium cans (, and in Australia, container deposit schemes operate in SA and the NT, which boasts a container return rate of almost 80%.

It’s clear that given the opportunity and/or a financial incentive, plastic can be recycled at a higher rate. Another strategy is to increase the price of plastic to reflect its true health and environmental cost. This would it more profitable to recycle plastic and make it less financially competitive when compared to paper, cloth, glass and metal packaging.

What you can do

If you want to help turn the tide towards reducing the negative impact of plastic, you may be interested in joining activists such as Ocean Crusaders; Upgyres and Plastic Free July

For the sake of your own health, that of your family and the environment, cut down your own use of, and exposure to, plastic. There is plenty of information about how this can be done: see;;

It doesn’t take long to see that the bulk of household plastic waste is generated by purchasing mass produced food and drink – when shopping in supermarkets we even put fresh produce into plastic bags. Buying in bulk, using paper or cloth bags for fresh produce, eliminating packaged and canned foods, shopping at farmers’ markets, growing some of your own produce, and wrapping wet waste in newspaper so you can get rid of your bin liner, are just some of the ways people have drastically reduced their plastic waste.

At Mokosh, most of our packaging is glass (skin care products), metal (shaving soap and body balm), or cardboard (bar soaps and lip balms). Our main plastic use is in the PET bottles we use for liquid soap – we have shied away from glass packaging for these because of safety issues with glass around bathroom sinks and showers, but have decided we need offer a glass option. We have also considered supplying bulk sizes of our skin care products, to reduce use of the plastic component in pumps used in some of our skin care oils. What do you think?

If you are already an anti-plastic activist, how have you reduced plastic use in your life, and have you managed to influence others to make the change?

How can we start to turn the plastic tide?

Getting to know the 7 plastics…

#1 – PET, PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

PET is generally a transparent plastic, commonly used for water and soft drink bottles, and some foods. Because it has been considered relatively insert, it is considered safe by most authorities. However, a recent study showed that some PET containers, although BPA free, leach oestrogenic compounds ( However, leaching of these compounds is inconsistent between PET manufacturers, most likely because of inconsistencies in the types of additives and different processes used to make PET. Of note is that when stressed by heat or UV radiation in the above study, all PET containers leached oestrogenic substances. Another concern with PET has been the potential leaching of antimony oxide, which is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of PET and incorporated in small amounts into the plastic. However, most would consider the amounts leaked to be well below what are deemed toxic levels (

#2 – HDPE (high density polyethylene)

HDPE is a flexible plastic that is usually opaque, and used to package a variety of food and cleaning products and to make outdoor furniture. It is another plastic that has traditionally been considered safe. However, as shown in the study already mentioned, oestrogenic compounds leach from some forms of this plastic, and stressors, particularly UV light, caused leaching of oestrogenic compounds from a sample that otherwise did not. Despite their generally low inherent toxicity, HDPE and LDPE as well as PP (polypropylene) are the plastics most efficient at adsorbing toxic pollutants in aqueous environments (

#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)

PVC comes in both rigid and flexible forms. The rigid form is used to make water and waste pipes, rigid bottles and credit cards. The flexible form of PVC contains plasticisers, typically the phthalates, and is used to make some forms of cling film, inflatable products, vinyl flooring and intravenous fluid bags. Some of the phthalates used as plasticisers are known to have oestrogenic activity, and some forms have been banned in Europe and the USA. In addition, heat stabilisers may be added to both forms of PVC, including lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals for which there are concerns about effects on human health. In some countries these are being phased out for health reasons, and substituted with non-heavy metal substitutes. (

PVC is made of monomers of vinyl chloride, which is toxic to a number of organ systems. As there is almost always some free vinyl chloride in PVC, small amounts leach into the air (the source of the new car smell from PVC car lining), and into food and drink containers.

Incineration of PVCs may result in the release of the potent carcinogen, dioxin, although this can be reduced by burning in optimal temperature and oxygen conditions (

#4 LDPE (low density polyethylene)

Like HDPE, low density polyethylene is made from ethylene monomers, but its molecules are more branched, and therefore weaker and less dense than HDPE. It is used to make plastic bags, 6-pack rings, and to line cardboard cartons to make them waterproof. In the study previously mentioned, like HDPE, some LDPE products leached oestrogenic compounds, whereas others did so only after stressing with UV light Note that HDPE and LDPE, together with PP, are the plastics most efficient at adsorbing toxic pollutants in aqueous environments (

#5 PP (polypropylene)

Used widely including for product labels, textiles, carpets, drinking straws and product packaging. Generally considered a safe plastic, although oestrogenic activity was demonstrated in some PP products in the previously mentioned study Polypropylene, along with HDPE and LDPE, is one of the plastics most absorbent of organic pollutants (

#6 PS (polystyrene)

Also known as Styrofoam, PS is used to make disposable coffee cups, plates and cutlery, take-away containers, meat trays, food packaging, CD containers and insulation. Polystyrene may be in solid or foamed form, and is made from ethylbenzene, which is obtained from benzene ( Athough polystyrene is relatively inert, it contains up to 1% of the monomer styrene, which leaches from the container on exposure to heat and following prolonged contact. ( When ingested or inhaled, the monomer styrene is considered toxic, mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic. (

#7 – Other, including Polycarbonates

Polycarbonates are made from polymers containing carbonate groups, predominantly by the reaction between bisphenol A and phosgene. It is used to make baby bottles, large containers for water dispensers, spectacle lenses, to line food cans and to coat paper receipts. The major concern with polycarbonate plastics is the leaching into food and drink of free bisphenol A, which seems to be enhanced by heat. Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor that is considered to be particularly dangerous to developing foetuses and babies, with links to cancer, obesity, anxiety and hyperactivity. So much so, that the FDA banned the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles and cups. A replacement, bisphenol-S, has to some extent replaced bisphenol A in products labelled BPA-free, but a recent study showed that both bisphenol A and bisphenol S have adverse effects on development of the nervous system in an experimental system (, with observable hyperactivity in zebrafish exposed to both compounds during gestation.

6 reasons you’ll be pleased to find unrefined shea butter in your skin care products

At Mokosh, one of our key ingredients is certified organic, unrefined shea butter, which is extracted from the fruit of a tree native to savannah Africa, Vitellaria paradoxa, formerly Butyrospermum parkii. We use it in all our Face and Body creams, our Pure Body Balm, 2 of our Lip Balms, and our 3 Shea and Cocoa Butter soaps.

Mokosh is one of a handful of brands using unrefined shea butter that is extracted using traditional, non-chemical methods. Refined shea butter is more popular in skin care because it is pure white and virtually odourless, allowing finer control over the colour and fragrance of the final product.

Unfortunately, although the refining process permits a pure white cream, it also removes varying amounts of the healing properties present in the unsaponifiable fraction of shea butter, like vitamin E (1), antioxidants (2), and possibly other medicinal fractions. What’s more, refining is frequently carried out using potentially harmful solvents such as hexane, a petroleum derivative. Hexane is a known human toxin (3), an air pollutant of concern in industrialised areas (4), and may also contaminate the product it was designed to refine.

Here is why we think our unrefined, nutrient-rich shea butter should be a regular part of your skin care routine:

1. Shea butter is a superb moisturiser, performing better than mineral oil at preventing water loss from the skin (5), and better than Vaseline at helping improve the symptoms of eczema (6).

2. A number of studies have shown that shea butter applied to the skin either alone or as a 15% mixture, has anti-aging activity (7), attributed to the non-saponifiable fraction, which is best retained in unrefined shea butter. The effect is considered to come from the anti-protease activity of triterpenes which may inhibit the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin.

3. Shea butter has well documented anti- inflammatory effects which are considered to be due to the effects of compounds in the non-saponifiable fraction (7). This means that shea butter will help calm itchy, irritated skin, reducing skin inflammation from almost any cause.

4. Allergies to shea butter are extremely rare, even though it is a nut butter. In fact its anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce allergic responses in the skin (7).

5. Shea trees take more than 40 years to mature, and live for around 200 years. Because of their slow life-cycle, there are no shea plantations, and no insecticides, herbicides or fertilisers are used in production of shea butter. By supporting the shea butter industry, these trees will be protected, provide a living for local populations, and help protect the delicate savannah ecosystem (8).

6. At Mokosh our shea butter is Fair Trade certified, and produced by a cooperative of predominantly female workers. Fair Trade certification means workers are paid a fair price, have good working conditions, use sustainable environmental practices, and are also paid a Fair Trade premium which is used to fund environmental and community projects.

pouring creams

  2. Maranz, S., Z. Wiesman and N. Garti. 2003. Phenolic constituents of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) kernels. J Agric Food Chem 51: 6268-6273
  5. Bird K (2009) Moisturising power of Shea butter highlighted by scientific Cosmetics. Formulation & Science
  6. Belibi SE, Stechschulte D, Olson N (2009) The Use of Shea Butter as an Emollient for Eczema. JJACI 123: S41

How to save the world without telling anyone

Wondering how you’re going to find time to begin your own save-the-world campaign, organise that protest march, or hold a fundraising event to support the cause dearest to your heart? There is an easier way. Saving the world with your wallet is the quieter, money-where-your-mouth-is method that can have a big impact.

1. Buy Fair Trade

Products bearing the Fair Trade logo support workers receiving a fair wage for their work, communities gaining better access to education and healthcare, and prevents child labour. Rights we take for granted become a possibility in the world’s poorest communities.

  1. Avoid buying products containing palm oil

forest fireDemand for palm oil as a cheap vegetable oil is resulting in the rapid destruction of rainforests in south-east Asia to make way for palm oil plantations. The effects are catastrophic – loss of habitat, mass species extinction, increased greenhouse gas production, exploitation of labour and a humanitarian crisis due to displacement of indigenous communities. Palm oil derivatives are found in virtually all packaged food, most cosmetics, all shampoos and conditioners, and most detergents.

  1. Buy certified organic when you can

bee feedingIf your ideal world is one where humans and nature coexist, you need to support organic farming by buying certified organic. Recent studies show organic food is also more nutrient-dense than conventionally farmed food. An extra bonus is your body doesn’t have to deal with toxins meant for weeds and insects.

4. Don’t buy it

Bicycle riding smallIf you don’t need it, don’t buy it. The simple living movement advocates buying second-hand goods, minimising car use, buying local, reducing meat consumption and growing your own food. These actions mean reducing negative environmental impacts, and drastically reduce your carbon footprint.  Don’t have time? For most people, simplifying your life means a drastic reduction in spending, meaning hours spent earning can shrink accordingly.

  1. Give

Kitchen volunteers shutterstock_184907453SmallYour time and your money are powerful assets – both have the power to make big differences in the world. If you don’t have money to donate to your favourite cause, donate some time instead. For ideas go to

Soap Stories

Soap slab 2 small
Soap slab fresh out of its mold.

There is something gratifying about releasing a large slab of soap from its mold, still warm to the touch, the fragrance of its essential oils filling the room. Soap that is made by hand is a world apart from mass-produced soap, usually made using palm oil (read about the environmental disaster that is palm oil here) and sometimes animal fat. Petroleum derivatives are a common ingredient of mass-produced soap as are a variety of other synthetic ingredients including synthetic fragrances, synthetic preservatives, antibacterials such as triclosan which is a known hormone disrupter, and EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraaceticacid), a heavy metal chelator which can mobilise heavy metals in our waterways.

Shea butter small
Unrefined shea butter is abundant in the nutrient-rich ‘unsaponifiable’ fraction.

In addition to containing suspect ingredients, mass-produced soaps are often very drying to the skin, since they are frequently stripped of the moisturising glycerol found in natural soap, and may not be ‘superfatted’, which means they contain little free oil to moisturise the skin. Mass-produced soaps are also low on the valuable ‘unsaponifiable’ component, so-called because it is the fraction in oils which cannot be turned into soap. The unsaponifiable fraction contains most of the vitamin and phytonutrient components of the oil, which are nourishing to the skin when included in both soap and moisturisers. The unsaponifiable fraction is largely removed from refined oils: for example, unrefined shea butter may contain between 6-17% unsaponifiables, whereas refined shea butter typically contains less than 1%. Natural soap made using unrefined organic oils and formulated so that it is superfatted, will be rich in moisturising natural glycerol and nourishing unsaponifiables. This soap will gently clean the skin without stripping its natural oils.Soaps curing smallHow exactly do you make soap?

Soap is made using a classic acid-base chemical reaction, resulting in the formation of a salt, which is soap. Yes, soap is technically a salt! The acid part is provided by the weak organic fatty acids that make up vegetable oils (and animal fat). The base or alkaline component is known in soap-making terms as ‘lye’. Lye may be made using sodium hydroxide (NaOH) to produce solid soap, or potassium hydroxide (KOH) to make liquid soap. The fatty acids in vegetable oils and animal fats exist mostly in the form of triglycerides, which are composed of a glycerol molecule bound to 3 fatty acid molecules.  A molecule of glycerol is relased as part of the acid-base reaction when the fatty acids react with the lye.

Lye     +    triglyceride =    soap  +  glycerol

Base   +    acid            =   salt     +  glycerol

This chemical reaction is called ‘saponification’, which means ‘the process of turning fatty acids into soap.’ Heat is released as part of the process – that’s why a freshly made slab of soap is warm. In mass-produced soaps, the valuable glycerol fraction is removed from the mixture and used in other skin care formulations like moisturisers, as well as in the food and pharmaceutical industries, which is one of the reasons mass-produced soap is so drying.

Isn’t lye harmful to the skin?

Lye is a strong alkaline solution that will ‘burn’ the skin on contact. The beauty of the soap-making reaction is that when performed correctly, all the lye is consumed in the process, so that there are no remaining free lye molecules in the soap. The product is the stable salt which is soap. So yes – lye is harmful to the skin, but a correctly made soap does not contain lye. In fact, most handmade soap will contain an excess of oil which ensures that all the lye is consumed, and ‘superfats’ the soap, providing additional moisturising properties.

Pouring soap 2
Pouring soap into molds.

The process – solid soap

Handmade bar soaps can be made using either the ‘cold process’ or ‘hot process’ method. Both methods allow retention of most of the beneficial components of the oils. In cold process soap-making, the process we use at Mokosh to make bar soap, the lye solution is prepared by adding a predetermined amount of sodium hydroxide to distilled water. When the lye solution has cooled, it is added to oils and butters which have been heated to between 40-50°C . The two are blended using a whisk or electric stick blender until the mixture thickens. At this point essential oils and plant extracts may be added. The mixture is then poured into moulds and covered in blankets for insulation, and left undisturbed overnight to allow the saponification reaction to proceed. The next day, the soap is solid but still warm, and ready to be cut into bars. At this point, the soap is quite soft, similar in consistency to cheddar cheese. The bars are then cured for a minimum of 4 weeks, which allows excess water to evaporate, which makes the bars firm and adds to their quality.

It is possible to make bar soap without true soap as an ingredient, using synthetic detergents instead – these are ‘non soap’ bars some people use instead of true soap. However, most mass-produced bar soaps are made using the same oil-lye reaction used in natural soap-making. Following saponification, the mixture is boiled in water to remove the glycerol fraction, which is used in other products, after which the soap is solidified by adding salt (sodium chloride). The soap is then vacuum-dried to form pellets which may be blended with a variety of ingredients, usually synthetic detergents, fragrances, plasticisers and other compounds. The mixture is then homogenised in a process called ‘milling’ which is essentially pressing the soap through rollers. You may have seen ‘triple milled’ soaps which have undergone this milling process, which simply means the soap has been ‘well mixed’. The resulting mixture is then extruded and stamped in a soap press.

The process – liquid soap Liquid soap paste

Natural liquid soap is made using the ‘hot process’ method. Lye is made from potassium hydroxide, rather than sodium hydroxide, and blended with the oils and butters until it thickens. It is then cooked at just under 100°C over a few hours – thus the term ‘hot process’. When the reaction is complete the soap forms a transparent paste (see photo on right). The paste is then mixed in distilled water to form a liquid, and essential oils are added. Most commercial liquid soap is not really soap at all, but a blend of synthetic detergents, most commonly sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulphate (made from palm oil), and they may also contain triclosan, an antibacterial which is a suspected hormone disrupter, and a variety of other synthetic ingredients.

Mokosh bar soaps Soap stack

We love our bar soaps – they are luxurious to use, lather beautifully and those containing essential oils make you and your bathroom smell beautiful. Although most people don’t like the thought of using soap on their face, many of our customers find them so gentle, they can happily do so. Equally, many eczema sufferers find they can use our bar soaps, whereas standard soaps dry out their skin, resulting in eczema outbreaks. Our fragrance-free olive oil soap is particularly mild, being extremely high in glycerol. It seems that 100% olive oil soaps are the gentlest, because they result in the release of the most glycerol. Glycerol is a humectant, which means it attracts water, and therefore draws water to the skin, rather than drying it out. Our shea and cocoa butter soaps are also extremely mild, glycerol-rich, and high in nourishing unsaponifiables. Because they contain coconut oil they form a richer, creamier lather than our pure olive oil soap.

Shaving soap curing small
Shaving soap curing

Because all our bar soaps are naturally rich in glycerol, they need to be stored on a soap rack to dry between uses, so that they do not absorb water and go soft. When looked after, one bar will generally last around 4 weeks when used by one person.

Mokosh liquid soap Liquid soap squat bottle small

Made using coconut and olive oils, and fragranced with organic essential oils, our liquid soap is free of preservatives, synthetic additives, palm oil derivatives and potentially harmful additives like triclosan and EDTA. It is a stronger soap than our bar soaps, and recommended for hand and body wash, rather than as a face wash.

Palm oil is found in most soap

If you pick up any bar soap in a supermarket aisle and look at the ingredients list, you will likely see the words ‘sodium palmate’ and ‘sodium palm kernelate’ near the top. These are the terms for palm oil and palm kernel oil that have undergone the saponification reaction. Currently, Indonesia and Malaysia are burning rainforest at an alarming rate to clear land for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a multi-billion dollar industry resulting in the destruction of rainforest to satisfy our demand for cheap vegetable oil in our soap, skin care products (read more here) shampoos and conditioner (read more here), and the majority of packaged foods. The forest fires cause massive pollution problems and release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Deforestation is likely to result in the extinction of the endangered orang-utan and Sumatran tiger and numerous other lesser known species, and is causing a humanitarian crisis in displaced indigenous populations.

The Trouble With Genetically Modified Food

The Trouble with GM Food

by Marion O’Leary

 Genetically modified (GM) food has been controversial since the first GM tomato went on sale in the USA in 1994 (1). The GM debate has revolved around: (a) concerns for safety to both human health and the environment; (b) the risk of unintentional spread of the transferred gene to non-GM plants; and (c) the concern that a few large GM seed-producing companies will gain control over our food supply.

A landmark case in Western Australia in which an organic farmer is suing his GM canola-producing neighbour for damages is attracting worldwide attention. Steve Marsh is seeking compensation for damages resulting from GM contamination of his organic farm.  Because the organic certifier of Steve Marsh’s farm, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, NASAA, has zero tolerance for GM plants, their presence was sufficient for 70% of the farm to lose its certification, and for Steve Marsh to lose his way of life and income.

The case is currently before the Supreme Court, with a decision expected by the Judge within a few weeks. This action is seen by many as a test case that will determine whether or not we will maintain the right not to grow or consume GM foods.

The Defence maintains that Steve Marsh’s neighbour, Michael Baxter, was not negligent in planting his GM crop on land adjacent to  his neighbour’s certified organic land, even though he was warned by Steve Marsh that contamination could occur and might result in loss of certification. When Michael Baxter took the step of swathing his crop, a method in which the crop is cut and left to dry for some days before harvesting, the potential for contamination by blowing seed onto the farm was significantly increased. The Defence claims that zero contamination by GM was unreasonable and contamination inevitable, and that the organic certifier, not the farmer, was to blame for the loss of certification.

Currently in Australia, the only way to avoid eating GM-derived food is to eat a 100% certified organic diet. Not many people are aware that in Australia conventional foods may contain up to 0.9% GM protein or DNA without being labelled as such (2). Oils derived from GM crops, like canola, do not require GM labelling, since very little GM protein or DNA survive processing. Likewise, dairy products, meat, and eggs from animals raised on GM foods, and honey from bees feeding on pollen from GM plants, do not require GM labelling.

Because Australian food authorities have taken this stance, consumers cannot be certain their food is GM-free, unless they choose to eat a certified organic diet.  Interestingly, the consumer can make an ethical or health choice to purchase free range eggs, chicken, and pork, but this choice is not available with respect to the GM origin of our food.

If Steve Marsh loses this case, he and other organic farmers who lose their organic certification as a result of GM contamination would not be entitled to compensation.  Organic farming could well become unviable, as loss of certification invariably also means loss of income. Additionally, there will be pressure to alter the organic standard to allow the presence of 0.9% GM in organic foods, a tolerance level that is permitted in the EU for unintentional contamination of organic foods. If that happens, there will be no means of purchasing food in Australia that is not potentially contaminated with GM products.

GM food has now been approved to be grown in many countries worldwide. The ubiquity of GM food and its general acceptance by authorities might tend to make the average consumer feel secure about its safety, and to consider the ‘fuss’ being made about GM food as an overreaction by food extremists.

It’s true that GM technology has revolutionised our world in many areas, creating great advances in the biomedical sciences, and has much potential in solving some of the energy and pollution problems the world is currently facing. As far as food is concerned, it is argued that introducing new traits to food crops could potentially enhance the world’s food security. However, it is also important to have a clear understanding of the potential for harm from consuming GM food and engaging in GM farming.   For this reason, it’s worth looking at why a growing number of scientists are dissatisfied with safety claims for GM foods, and to look at broader concerns about GM agriculture and its effect on the environment.

Is GM food safe to eat?

boy eating soup smallIt is stated in Wikipedia’s article on GM food that ‘There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food’ (3) . However, not all scientists agree, as seen in the December 2013 statement by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (4):

‘As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”.’

The statement also cites a review of animal feeding studies that found there was an equal number of studies that found GM food to be safe as the number of studies that raised serious safety concerns.  In the review, most of the studies that claimed GM safety were performed by the GM companies or their associates. The statement then outlined 7 different areas in which there is scientific dispute about the safety of GM crops in food and on the environment.

A 2004 report from the British Medical Association (5) concluded that ‘… many unanswered questions remain, particularly with regard to the potential long-term impact of GM foods on human health and on the environment. The few robust studies that have looked for health effects have been short-term and specific. There is a lack of evidence-based research with regard to medium and long-term effects on health and the environment.’

Despite these concerns, by 2012 GM crops were approved for use in 28 countries (6), including Australia, where the first GM crops were grown in 2008.

How is GM food safety testing carried out?

The safety of GM food is based on ‘substantial equivalence’, which is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as embodying ‘… the concept that if a new food or food component is found to be substantially equivalent to an existing food or food component, it can be treated in the same manner with respect to safety (i.e. the food or food component can be concluded to be as safe as the conventional food or food component’. (7)

GM DNA image smallGenetically modified plants have genes inserted into their DNA that code for production of a protein perceived to be of benefit. The types of genes include those for herbicide resistance, like that present in Roundup Ready Canola (originally isolated from the bacterium Agrobacterium strain CP4); those that encode for insecticides, like the Bt toxin sourced from a naturally occurring insecticide Cry1Ab produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringienesis; and those that encode for particular nutrients, like golden rice ,which produces beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A.

It is important to note that the new protein produced is often taken from micro-organisms and not from plants, and is, therefore, often new to the human diet (20). Introducing a new gene into a plant could have unforeseen side effects following consumption by humans or livestock: the new gene could interact with other genes in the plant itself and alter plant metabolism and the nutritional and endogenous toxin content of a plant; the new protein could cause allergic responses following consumption, even if in only a subset of the population; and finally, the new protein could itself be toxic to humans or animals either directly, or through interactions with other components in the alimentary tract.

Despite the potential for rather complex and subtle effects on the metabolism of the consumer of these often novel proteins, substantial equivalence is determined by chemical testing, and not by studies involving feeding to laboratory animals or humans. Regulators who decide whether a new GM crop is safe for release into the food chain determine whether the food is substantially equivalent to its non-GM counterpart by comparing, for example, levels of carbohydrate, proteins and vitamins. They also examine the genetic modification, its protein products, and determine the likelihood of untoward effects such as allergenicity or toxicity (8).

When chemical testing shows cause for concern, animal feeding trials may be conducted, but these are generally only short term. They are often conducted for periods as short as 4 weeks, rarely for as long as 90 days.  Trials carried out over such short time periods as these would be unlikely to demonstrate long-term effects like chronic diseases or cancer.

Further, data on safety of a GM food is generated by the food manufacturer, and is not carried out independently by the regulating authority (9), which simply examines the presented data. The fact that GM companies carry out their own safety assessment studies is one of the reasons there is currently a lack of trust in the results of safety analysis of GM foods. In 2012, the American Medical Association made a call for mandatory testing of GMO foods before Food & Drug Authority (FDA) approval (23) – to date this has not been implemented.

Because the safety requirement for GM foods is based on the principle of substantial equivalence, GM foods are not tested on humans for safety before they are released into the food chain.  As a result, studies have never been carried out on human populations to determine whether there are any health effects associated with GM food consumption.

A review of the scientific literature in 2011 found that although there had been a substantial increase in the number of food safety studies since 2006, most were conducted by the biotechnology companies responsible for commercialising the GM plants (21). Another 2011 study looked at the independence of research in the area of GM food safety testing, and found a significant correlation between author affiliation to industry and study outcome that cast GM products in a favourable light (22).

Some scientists are concerned that it would be difficult to detect any increases in allergies or diseases that might be linked to GM foods, since there are no systems in place to track the long term effects on humans of consumption of GM foods. For example, in an article published in Nature (10), Ben Miflin, a proponent of the benefits of GM crops, stated that under current monitoring conditions, any unanticipated health impact of GM foods would need to be a ‘monumental disaster’ to be detected. In the same article, Susan Wuerthele, a risk assessor at the US Environmental Protection Agency, stated: ‘It took us 60 years to realise that DDT might have oestrogenic activities and affect humans, but we are now being asked to believe that everything is OK with GM foods because we haven’t seen any dead bodies yet.’ And David Suzuki, geneticist and environmentalist, stated (31) ‘We are now unwittingly part of a massive experiment. Over years, as thousands and thousands of people consume this, we will provide the data which will allow us ultimately conclude whether or not there’s any danger.’

Are there any known detrimental effects of GM crops on the environment?

There are 2 main classes of GM crops with potential environmental impacts:

1)      those that confer resistance of the GM crop to a herbicide, which allows the crop to be sprayed with that herbicide without detrimental effect. In theory, such crops should require overall reduced herbicide use in order to control weeds.   Examples include GM crops that are resistant to the herbicides Roundup, or Bromoxynil; and

2)      those that are encoded to produce an insecticide that kills target insect pests when they attack the crop, including the Bt toxin (described above).

tractor spray smallFor simplicity, we will limit the discussion to studies on the effects of Roundup resistant GM crops in the USA, where Roundup-resistant GM crops are widespread.  A 2012 report showed that herbicide-resistant GM crops had led to a 239 million kg increase in the use of herbicides in the USA between 1996-2011, rather than the decrease that was intended when the crops were introduced (11).

In addition, there has been a rapid development and spread of Roundup resistant weeds because of the intense selection pressure applied by extensive and repeated use of the single herbicide Roundup (11, 13). The weed resistance issue is one of grave concern to agriculture. Weed resistance to herbicides requires farmers to use increasingly higher herbicide application rates, apply additional types of herbicides, and use manual weeding techniques – all of which increase costs to the farmer and herbicide load in the environment. The GM seed companies are responding to the resistance problem by developing new multiple herbicide-resistant strains, which will result in application of additional quantities and varieties of herbicide (11).

Some scientists express concern about the effects on human health of increased use of Roundup in our environment, and the higher residue levels in our Roundup-sprayed food (13).  Roundup has been found to be toxic to human embryonic and placental cells (24, 25) and human cell lines in tissue culture (26) and disrupts the synthesis of oestrogen in human lines (26), even at concentrations lower than the dose recommended for use in agriculture (24, 26).  Evidence that Roundup may be toxic to a range of mammals was evidenced by a study in which mouse bone marrow cells showed DNA abnormalities in the form of chromosome aberrations and micronuclei following exposure to Roundup (17).  

Finally, these widespread herbicide-resistant monocultures support fewer bird and insect species, which has significant and long-term detrimental effects on our ecology (15); Roundup is toxic to some types of phytoplankton, with potentially damaging impacts on the micro-ecology of freshwater systems (18) and has been shown to have a detrimental effect on tadpole populations (19). Roundup has also been found to cause DNA damage to the red blood cells of goldfish (16). Worryingly, a 2012 study examined the frequency of the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, in agricultural areas of Mississippi and Iowa. Glyphosate was detected in 60-100% of samples of air and rain collected (12).

Don’t we need to use GM crops to ensure the food security of the planet?

Vegetable gardenIt is often argued that GM technology should be embraced, since it provides the technology needed for crops to adapt to the expected harsher environmental conditions in the future. It is also argued that poorer countries that suffer from food shortages would achieve greater crop yields if they had access to GM technology.

However, not all experts agree that planting more GM crops is the best way to increase the planet’s food production efficiency. A report commissioned by the World Bank and the United Nations and carried out by over 400 scientists concluded that GM crops were not the solution to world hunger (28). The report pointed out that yields of GM crops were “highly variable”, providing “yield gains in some places and yield declines in others”.  The report also called for cooperation between scientists and farmers to build culturally acceptable and sustainable food production systems, including (29):

‘- Low-input, energy-saving practices that preserve and build soil, conserve water, and enhance natural pest resistance and resilience in crops

– Innovative farming methods that minimize or eliminate costly chemical pesticides and fertilizers

– Use of thousands of traditional varieties of major food crops which are naturally adapted to stresses such as drought, heat, harsh weather conditions, flooding, salinity, poor soil, and pests and diseases

– Programmes that enable farmers to cooperatively preserve and improve traditional seeds

– Use of existing crops and their wild relatives in traditional breeding programmes to develop varieties with useful traits

–  Use of safe techniques of modern biotechnology, such as marker assisted selection (MAS) to speed up traditional breeding. Unlike GM technology, MAS can produce new varieties of crops with valuable genetically complex properties such as enhanced nutrition, taste, high yield, resistance to pests and diseases, and tolerance to drought, heat, salinity, and flooding).’

Moreover, a number of studies in developing countries have found that small farms are more efficient than large ones by producing more food per unit area (29, 30).

This independent assessment of how the world should address food security (28) is in direct contrast to the approach advocated by GM proponents. Genetically modified seed is genetically uniform and cannot possibly be suited to the many different microclimates found even within one country. Farming using GM technology promotes a system of monoculture farming that favours one or more genetically engineered traits across the whole crop, at the expense of locally adapted strains that may have inherent and unpredictable adaptations to local environments, pests and diseases.  The resources that might otherwise have been spent to build resilience in crops using systems that build soil fertility and improve water, pest and disease management, are sacrificed for the purchase of agrichemicals, such as Roundup, associated with the GM trait. And finally, farmer independence is compromised by the need to purchase seed for each annual crop – saving GM seed to plant the following year means risking prosecution for patent infringement by the GM seed supplier.

Once again, David Suzuki has something to say on the topic (31): ‘More than half the products of, say of Monsanto, are seeds that are generated, not to produce more nourishment or to be better tasting, but to allow these plants to be drenched with Monsanto’s pesticides…So it’s a business excuse…it has nothing to do with improving the quality of life on earth.’

What is riding on the Judge’s decision?

bee feedingThe outcome of this case will determine the rights of farmers to produce crops that are free of GM contamination, and of the public to consume GM-free food. If it can be successfully argued that contamination of non-GM land is ‘inevitable’ and that zero tolerance to contamination ‘unachievable’, our right to farm and consume GM-free food may be lost forever.

As we have seen, not all scientists are satisfied with the safety of GM food in the human diet, or the safety to human health of eating herbicide-sprayed food. GM farming has led to spread of herbicide resistance, resulting in increased use of herbicide sprays – not less, and has resulted in variable yields – not the consistently higher yields that were promised.  Further, independent studies conclude that GM farming is not the best way to tackle the problem of food security – not what the GM companies would have us believe.

Once again, David Suzuki (31): ‘There’s a tremendous amount of money…invested in biotech companies now, and so there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to realise some kind of income on that investment…So it’s money that’s driving it.’

What I’d like to know is – what does GM technology have going for it?







(7)    Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Biotechnology and Food Safety. Rome, Italy, 30 September to 4 October 1996 [4] p. 5



(10) Butler, D., Reichardt, T. Nature  (1999) 398:651-6. Long-term effect of GM crops serves up food for thought.

(11)Benbrook, C. (2012). Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US – The first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24:24

(12) Chang F-C, Simcik MF, Capel PD (2011) Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2011 Mar;30(3):548-55

(13)] Powles, S. B. (2008). Evolved glyphosate-resistant weeds around the world: Lessons to be learnt. Pest Manag Sci 64: 360–365

(14)Lopez, S. L., et al. (2012). Pesticides used in South American GMO-based agriculture: A review of their effects on humans and animal models. Advances in Molecular Toxicology. J. C. Fishbein and J. M. Heilman. New York, Elsevier. 6: 41–75,

(15).  Pleasants JM, Oberhauser KS (2012) Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effects on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity 6:135-144

(16) Tolga Cavas and Serpil Konen (2007) Detection of cytogenetic and DNA damage in peripheral erythrocytes of goldfish (Carassius auratus) exposed to a glyphosate formulation using the micronucleus test and the comet assay Mutagenesis 22: 263–268,

(17) Sahdeo Prasad, Smita Srivastava, Madhulika Singh, and Yogeshwer Shukla,(2009)  Clastogenic Effects of Glyphosate in Bone Marrow Cells of Swiss Albino Mice Journal of Toxicology Vol 2009

(18) G. L. Pérez , A. Torremorell , H. Mugni, P. Rodríguez, M. Solange Vera, M. do Nascimento, L. Allende, J. Bustingorry, R. Escaray, M. Ferraro, I. Izaguirre, H. Pizarro, C. Bonetto, Donald P. Morris, and H. Zagarese (2007) Effects of the Herbicide Roundup on Freshwater Microbial Communities: a Mesocosm Study Ecological Applications 17:2310–2322

 (19) Rick A. Relyea (2005) The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and Productivity of Aquatic Communities. Ecological Applications 15:618–627

(20) Nestle M. (1996) Allergies to transgenic foods—questions of policy. N Engl J Med. 334:726–728

(21) Domingo, José L.; Giné Bordonaba, Jordi (2011). “A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants”. Environment International 37: 734–42

(22) Diels, Johan; Mário Cunha, Célia Manaia, Bernardo Sabugosa-Madeira, Margarida Silva (2011). “Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products”. Food Policy 36: 197–203


(24) N. Benachour, H. Sipahutar, S. Moslemi,, C. Gasnier, C. Travert,, G. E. Seralini (2007) Time- and Dose-Dependent Effects of Roundup on Human Embryonic and Placental Cells Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 53: 126–133

(25) Sophie Richard, Safa Moslemi, Herbert Sipahutar, Nora Benachour, and Gilles-Eric Seralini (2005) Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase Environmental Health Perspectives 113(6): 716–720

(26) Céline Gasnier, Coralie Dumont, Nora Benachour, Emilie Clair, Marie-Christine Chagnon, Gilles-Eric Séralini (2009) Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines Toxicology 262: 184–191


(28) Beintema Nienke M; Koc, A.; Anandajayasekeram, P.; Isinika, A.; Kimmins, F.; Negatu, Workneh; Osgood, Daniel Edward; Pray, C.; Rivera-Ferre, M.; Santhakumar, V.; Waibel, H.(2008) In International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) global summary for decision makers. Chapter 8. Washington, DC: Island Press.


(30). Fan S, Chan-Kang C. Is small beautiful? Farm size, productivity, and poverty in Asian agriculture. (2005) Agricultural Economics.  32: 135–146


It’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions – here are ours…

What are your New Year resolutions?

We’ve come up with 10 that we hope we’ll be able to stick to. Any tips you may have to help us keep them would be much appreciated!

1. Grow more fruit and veggies at home to reduce the carbon footprint of our food. And we plan to look after them better this year – this means being more diligent with the mulch, fertiliser and compost so we get healthier, more abundant produce. A secret wish – to get one feed of greens per person from the garden each day. And home grown tastes so good – this little strawberry was indescribably delicious!

2. Buy organic food as much as possible. This supports sustainable farming, and reduces the burden of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers in our ecosystem.

3. Food blog starters final smallBecause demand for palm oil is the cause of so much forest destruction throughout the world, this year we’re going be fanatical about banning palm oil-containing foods from the shopping trolley. Check out our recipes for some quick and delicious ways to feed yourself and your guests over the summer months without falling off the palm oil-free wagon. Healthier too! – no preservatives or artificial colours, fresher and more nutrient-rich.

4. Alex Raye hair photo smallBan palm oil from the bathroom. This means no moisturisers or cleansers that contain water/hydrosol/aloe vera juice, because water-containing skin care products need an emulsifier or surfactant – and it seems that currently there are none that are palm oil free. Read more about this here.  There are a couple of brands in addition to Mokosh that fit this bill. If you can’t get hold of these, moisturise your skin with a good quality oil such as organic camellia or macadamia. It also means no shampoo, and no conditioner, because all contain palm oil, as far as we know. Read more here.  Easy for us now that we’ve discovered that bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar will do the trick! See how here. Does this prospect frighten you? Take a look at this photo and you will see what can be achieved when it’s done correctly.

5. Bicycle riding smallUse the car less, and use the bike and public transport more. Getting fit while saving greenhouse gases and money seems a good combination!

6. Buy fair trade and ethically produced goods when we can – food, clothing, gifts and household items.  There are plenty of outlets that stock fair trade items, such as Fair Go Trading in Perth, as well as the big ones like Oxfam and New Internationalist.

7. fair trade bagNever buy mass-produced items made in sweat shops under slave-like conditions. This means avoiding most of those fabulously cheap clothes, and a lot of designer ones. If unsure, buy items where the country of origin is clearly identified, and that country has fair work conditions. Putting pressure on major retailers to buy only from factories that are treating workers fairly and providing safe working conditions would be a start.

8. vintage clothes smallAlternatives to mass-produced items will be: buying from companies that manufacture ethically, buying from charity shops and recycled clothing shops, making our own, mending more, taking better care of things so they last longer and swapping with friends.

9. Donate more to charities that provide education, health care, infrastructure and the opportunity for enterprise to disadvantaged communities, or that help preserve the environment. This should be easier with the money we’re saving on petrol, clothing and growing more of our own food.

10. Be pro-active in writing to our MPs and joining movements that fight for the changes we want to see in the world. So many spring to mind – time to act!

How to feed your guests this summer without buying store-bought palm oil-containing foods!

One of our New Year’s resolutions is to buy no more palm oil-containing packaged food.  We have devised a menu that could be used to delight your guests, or simply keep on hand as a healthy treat. The pesto is particularly versatile: it makes a delicious dip, pasta sauce, pizza topping, or can be served with eggs to spice up your breakfast. The spelt crackers and pan-fried breads are a great alternative to the usual palm oil-laden variety.  We made the following dishes from beginning to end in around 4 hours. The benefits: fresh, nutrient-rich food for you and a crowd of guests, with no palm oil, preservatives, stabilisers or additives. Oh yes, and they’re delicious and enormously satisfying! Some of these recipes were adapted from those published in Green Lifestyle magazine, issue 47.



Food blog starters final smallSpinach and Feta Dip    —    Basil and Rocket Pesto   —   Roasted Beetroot Dip

Spelt and Herb Crackers   —    Pan-fried Pesto Bread

Main Course:

Pasta with garden herbs and vegetables smallPasta with garden herbs and vegetables


Fruit salad with cashew cream smallFruit Salad with Cashew Cream

Spinach and Feta Dip

Spinach and feta dip small1 bunch of English spinach or young silverbeet

1 bunch of rocket

4 spring onions, finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic

150g silken tofu

100g Danish feta

2 tablespoons dill sprigs, chopped

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind

Juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons of olive oil

Place spinach and rocket into a clean sink and cover with cold water to clean thoroughly. Transfer leaves to a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water and allow to wilt for 1 minute. Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Heat olive oil in a small frying pan and add the spring onions and garlic. Cook until onions and garlic are softened and translucent. Cool mixture.

Add spinach, rocket, onion mix, tofu, feta, lemon and dill to a food processor and combine until dip is smooth. Season and top with lemon wedges and fresh dill.

Roasted Beetroot Dip

Beetroot dip small500g of beetroot

1 cup of plain Greek Yoghurt

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180c. Wash the beetroot and trim off any stems. Place onto a large sheet of foil, season with pepper and salt, and sprinkle with olive oil, then wrap tightly. Put the beetroots onto a baking tray and cook for 1 hour or until a skewer or shape knife goes through with ease. Allow to cool.

Unwrap and rub off the skins under a running tap (gloves are recommended as beetroot will stain your hands). Chop and place into a food processor with the remaining ingredients, processing until smooth. Season to taste.

Basil and Rocket Pesto

Pesto dip 2 small1 large bunch of basil

1 large bunch of rocket

2 cloves of garlic

olive oil

handful of grated parmesan cheese

juice of half a lemon

½ cup pine nuts

Place basil and rocket into a clean sink and fill with cold water to remove any dirt or sand. Drain in a colander.

Roughly chop garlic and add to processor with basil and rocket. Process until chopped. Add cheese, lemon juice and nuts and begin to pour in oil as processor is switched on. Consistency is up to personal taste but we like our pesto slightly chunky.

Season well and transfer to a bowl. To keep pesto fresher for longer and to stop oxidisation pour a thin layer of olive oil on top and place in an air-tight bowl.

Spelt and Herb Crackers

Spelt crackers small1 teaspoon dried yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups wholemeal spelt flour

3 teaspoons finely chopped herbs – rosemary or basil work well

1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine yeast, sugar and salt in a jug with ½ cup of lukewarm water. Allow to stand in a warm place until yeast is frothy.

Place the spelt flour into a large mixing bowl with the herbs and create a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture. Stir with a spoon and then knead with the hands to a smooth dough.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Place in a warm place and allow to rise for 1 hour or until dough has at least doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 180c and line 2 trays with baking parchment. Divide dough into 4. Roll out one portion as thinly as possible on a floured surface. Cut into rectangular strips or triangles and place onto prepared tray. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake for 7 minutes keeping a close eye as crackers start burning very quickly. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with salt. These will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Pan-fried Pesto Breads

Pesto bread and pesto smallBasil and rocket pesto recipe above


300g (2 cups) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

Put flour and baking powder in a food processor and whiz to combine. With the processor running and 1/3 cup of boiling water then add 1/3 cup of cold water. Once water has been added turn processor off and tip the dough onto a floured surface.

Knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Form into a ball, cover and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a 25 cm circle. Using the back of a spoon spread a dessert spoon size of pesto over the surface and then roll up the dough like a swiss roll, concealing the pesto inside. Take the roll and coil from one end to coiled spiral. Repeat with remaining dough.

Roll the snails with a floured rolling pin into flat circles, around 15 cm in diameter

Oil a frying pan well and apply a medium heat. Fry breads one at a time 3-5 minutes on each side until golden and crisp.

We cut these into slices like a pizza, and served them with the dips. These are delicious served warm or at room temperature. They could also be used as a pizza base, with the topping of your choice – we suggest olive oil with fresh roughly chopped tomatoes, basil and fetta cheese.

Pasta sauce (serves 2 – scale quantities accordingly)

Pasta sauce smallOlive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes

grated rind of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons capers

fresh basil, torn

fresh thyme, parsley and chives, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Gently heat the oil and lightly fry the garlic. Halve the tomatoes and heat, stirring until a little soft. Add lemon rind and capers and stir over heat until heated through. Remove from heat and stir the fresh herbs through before spooning over freshly cooked pasta.

Fruit Salad with cashew cream

Fruit salad with cashew cream close small250g cashew nuts (soaked in filtered water overnight)

Juice of one orange

Juice of half a lemon

2 tablespoons honey, agave syrup or maple syrup

Seeds of one vanilla pod

2 teaspoons coconut oil

Pinch of salt

Fresh mint

Your choice of fresh fruits – we used watermelon, honey dew melon, rock melon, grapes and passionfruit.

Drain cashews from soaking water and rinse.  Put into a food processor with remaining ingredients and mix until smooth and creamy. You may need to add a small amount of water to achieve the correct consistency.

Serve fruit salad into glasses and spoon over the cashew cream. Top with fresh mint.

You don’t need to ruin rainforests to have beautiful, healthy hair

by Marion O’Leary

At Mokosh we believe the environmental, humanitarian, animal welfare and species conservation issues associated with the palm oil industry mean anything containing palm oil or its derivatives cannot be regarded as ethical choices for consumers, even though many of these products are often advertised as ‘green’, ‘eco’, ‘organic’, ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty free’ .

Thankfully, there are now many affordable, palm oil-free skin care, cleaning and toiletry products to choose from, providing you read the labels carefully or choose to buy from a reputable company that is ‘palm oil free’. However, this does not apply to shampoo and conditioner – a recent survey by Mokosh found that palm oil derivatives seem to be used in all shampoos and conditioners sold in Australia (Read more here). This is bad news for anyone who wants to do the right thing by the rainforests, and the people and animals whose lives depend on them.

The concept of ditching shampoo and conditioner is generally a hair-raising idea for most of us. After all, we have been brought up with the convenience and luxury of hair care products that guarantee that in just a few minutes we will look like the airbrushed models who are advertising them. The idea that there was a time that manufactured shampoos and conditioners were not ‘essential’ products would seem far-fetched to anyone in the west under the age of 65.

The good news is that I have bravely, by trial and error, and with no regard for my personal appearance, stumbled upon some solutions that I believe won’t leave you having to decide between saving orang-utans and having good hair!

The following is a hold-your-hand guide to taking the step that I have, giving up shampoo and conditioner. In our earlier blog, we listed some alternatives to using shampoo and conditioner. These included:

– Washing hair in bicarb (baking) soda followed by a diluted vinegar rinse,

– Washing hair in palm oil-free soap followed by a diluted vinegar rinse, and

– Washing hair in ‘mud’ shampoo.

There are other options too, including washing in various plant powders, clays, and teas. I haven’t tried these yet but you might like to have a look at the recipes which are a great resource for this, in the Almost Exactly blog.

Today I am going to give you the ‘heads up’ on the bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar method, and together we can help save the rainforests.

The bicarb soda/apple cider vinegar method

Besides avoiding palm oil, people have been moving to this back-to-basics hair washing method for other reasons including:

  • Bicarb soda and vinegar are safe when released into our waterways through our drains. This is not so for many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners, which include preservatives such as parabens, which mimic oestrogens; the ethanolamines  – MEA, DEA, TEA, which are organotoxic and toxic to aquatic life; and quaternium-15 – a preservative that releases formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.
  • The manufacture of bicarb soda and vinegar does not pollute the environment. This is not the case for many of the ingredients found in shampoos and conditioners.
  • Bicarb soda and vinegar is safe for human health. This is not the case for many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners.
  • Bicarb soda and vinegar are not tested on animals, whereas many shampoos and conditioners are.
  • You can buy ingredients in a simple cardboard box and a recyclable glass bottle – say goodbye to millions of tonnes of plastic waste!
  • It’s cheap. We calculated 31c per wash for the basic bicarb soda and vinegar wash – see our calculations below*. Of course, it costs a little more when you add the nourishing treatments you may need to keep your hair looking really good.

But does it work?

Why would manufacturers go to all the trouble of research and development, spending millions of dollars inventing new chemicals, requiring testing on animals, to create new ways to make our hair soft and shiny, if it was as simple as bicarb soda and vinegar?

Well the answer is that it isn’t always simple to get it to work. There are a lot of blogs written about the bicarb soda and vinegar method, and the results are mixed. For some people it was a disaster, for others it worked well initially, but then their hair deteriorated and became lifeless. Others say their hair never looked better and they will never go back to shampoo and conditioner.

It seems there are common reasons why bicarb soda and vinegar fail for some … and the good news is that there are ways to make it work for seemingly most people. This is providing they are prepared for the pit falls, and are ready to persevere to find out what works best for their hair. Alex Raye hair photo smallThe Almost Exactly blog is one I found the most useful on this subject, read more here.

It is written by Alex Raye, who has been using the method for more than a year and, incidentally, has gorgeous hair! See images left (reproduced with permission)

To make it easier, I am going to summarise Alex ‘s instructions for you.

Getting started – the detox

If you have been using conditioner and shampoo containing waxes, dimethicones, plastic substances like acrylates, vinyls, polymers, or other coating agents, they will react with the bicarb soda, making your hair sticky and tacky. Basically, it won’t work. You need to ‘detox’ your hair first by removing the coating. Here are 2 methods:

1. Castile soap detox

Castile soap is a natural liquid soap based on olive oil. Mokosh makes this type of soap, as do Maclyn’s, Melrose and Dr Bronner’s.

i. Dilute liquid soap approximately 1:10 with water, ie approximately 1 tablespoon per cup of water and use to wash hair.

ii. Follow with apple cider vinegar rinse made using same proportions.

iii. Massage the rinse solution into the hair and scalp and leave it on for a minute or two, then rinse with water.

iv. If you have hard water, you may need to dilute your Castile soap with distilled water rather than tap, and you may also need to rinse more than once with apple cider vinegar to remove the soap salts from the hair.

v. It may take 4 or 5 washes to remove all the coating from your hair, before you move onto the bicarb soda/vinegar method.

You should leave 3-4 days between washes.

Many people are happy with the results of using castile soap and vinegar, and stay with this method, using oils and other treatments between washes to provide nourishment to the hair. See Nourishing  your hair and scalp  with/without oils below.

2. Bentonite clay detox

Bentonite is the most absorbent of all clays and can reportedly remove coatings from hair very efficiently.

i. Mix equal parts of bentonite clay with water.

ii. Massage over the scalp and hair, and leave for around 5 minutes.

iii. Rinse with cool water.

Perfecting your detox

If your hair looks dry, try adding half a teaspoon of oil (not palm lol!)  or a teaspoon of raw honey to the cup of Castile soap solution. You can also use aloe vera juice, or coconut milk, instead of water.

If you have been colouring your hair with semi-permanent or permanent dyes, your hair may look frizzy, tangled and fly-away. This is not because the detox is damaging your hair, it’s because you have removed the waxy coating provided by agents in your shampoos conditioners , which camouflages your already dye-damaged hair.

It may be possible to solve this by using the treatments described below in Nourishing your hair and scalp with/without oils below. If you want to continue using synthetic dyes, and your hair has been badly damaged by them, it may be difficult to get your hair to look good without these coatings. But don’t despair, there is a section in the Almost Exactly blog on how to deal with this problem too. Read more here.

How to make your bicarb soda hair wash and apple cider vinegar hair rinse

Bicarb soda hair wash

i. Dissolve 1 tablespoon bicarb soda in 1 cup warm water – use distilled water if your water is ‘hard’.

ii. Pour over wet hair and massage in.

iii. Rinse well.

Apple cider vinegar rinse

i. Add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water – best cold if you can bear it as this helps close the hair shaft cuticles, thereby increasing the shine.

ii. Pour over wet hair and massage in.

iii. Let it sit approximately 1 minute, then rinse with water.

Note that bicarb soda is alkaline, as are liquid and bar soap. The apple cider vinegar is acid, and helps restore the naturally acidic pH of the hair, and close the hair cuticles.

The transition to palm oil free hair nirvana

Hair too oily?

Some people go through an oily phase because their scalp is used to producing lots of oil in response to the drying effects of shampoo. As well, this extra oil may not be totally removed by the bicarb soda.    But don’t worry, the oil production slows down – for some people, this takes up to 4 weeks, while others don’t experience it at all.

The longer you can wait between washes with bicarb soda and vinegar, the shorter this phase will be. If the bicarb soda is not removing the oil and you find it unbearable, you can add a 1:20 dilution of Castile soap to it to help get through the transition period. Doing this, however, seems to lengthen this period.

Hair too dry?

The most common problem following use of bicarb soda is that the hair is too dry. There are a number of possible ways to deal with this:

i. Dilute the bicarb soda in aloe vera juice (available from most health food stores) instead of water.

ii. Reduce the amount of bicarb soda – try it at half strength.

iii. Mix half a teaspoon of oil (for types see Nourishing your hair with oil below) in a cup of water, rinse over the dry ends after your vinegar rinse, and then rinse with water.

Hair doesn’t feel clean?

There are a few possible causes:

(i) You need to detox your hair more;

(ii) Your water is ‘hard’ and you need to mix your bicarb soda in distilled water, or you need to do additional vinegar rinses, possibly also with distilled water.

Keeping the nirvana

A common problem for people who have enjoyed bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar for a few weeks or months, is that they begin to notice their hair is looking a bit dull and lifeless. Castile soap and bicarb soda are good at cleaning hair, but for many, hair will not look good for long unless it is also nourished.

Nourishing your hair and scalp with oils

This is a gorgeous way to nourish your hair and scalp. Choose pure oils like organic unrefined coconut, argan, almond, jojoba or a special hair oil like Mokosh’s Balancing Hair Treatment. How often you do this is up to you – the Almost Exactly blog suggests every 1-2 weeks.

i. Take up to 3 tablespoons oil, and warm gently – best method is to place it in a   clean glass bottle and stand it in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or so.

ii. Massage into the scalp and through the hair, gently combing it through, then wrap hair in plastic wrap or a shower cap, and cover with a warmed towel.

iii. Leave for at least 20 minutes- the longer the better!

iv. Wash with Castile soap – it may take 2-3 rinses to remove the oil.

v. Note, bicarb soda won’t remove the oil – if you don’t want to use soap on your hair, try using the ‘without oils’ nourishing treatments below.

Nourishing your hair and scalp without oils

See the section on this topic in the Almost Exactly blog on how to use the following ingredients .

(i) Raw honey

(ii) Aloe vera gel

(iii) Non fat yoghurt

(iv) Egg yolks

Apply alone or in combination to the scalp and hair as a mask, leave for 20 minutes, then rinse with water.

My own experience 

Marion hair photo smallI have been shampoo and conditioner-free for around 4 months now – ever since I discovered that palm oil was probably in all shampoos and conditioners. I started out washing my hair in diluted Castile soap (around 1:10), followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. This was good for a while, but then my hair started to look dry. I then switched to bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar, but as I had not yet discovered the Almost Exactly blog, was using the bicarb soda as a paste, which Alex suggests can damage hair. When I switched to the diluted bicarb soda according to the recipe above, my hair improved, but was still a bit dry at the ends. After reading the Almost Exactly blog, I made 2 changes: I diluted the bicarb soda in aloe vera juice rather than water, and I used a post-vinegar rinse with water containing a few drops of hair oil. No more dry ends, my hair looks as good as when I was using conventional products, and feels very soft.

It’s not difficult or fussy – I leave the bicarb soda, vinegar and hair oil handy by the shower, store the aloe vera juice in the fridge, and make up the bicarb rinse with it just before I wash my hair. It takes no more time to do than using shampoo and conditioner. I have no dandruff issues and no itchy scalp – both of which were problematic before.

I’m pleased to say I’m one of those who won’t be going back to shampoo and conditioner. I’d love to hear if anyone else has tried no shampoo methods, and what worked best for them! If you are planning to try this method, send in your photos in progress – we’d love to share your story.

*For bicarb soda, assume 15g per wash, for vinegar assume 20ml per wash. A 500g box of Bicarb Soda at $2.40 for a 500g box will come out at $0.07 per wash, and a 473ml bottle of Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar at around $7.40 will cost $0.32 per rinse.