Starbucks Christmas Tree Frappuccino just tastes like sugar and regret

Please drive this away from me.

Nothing says Christmas like a cold cup of sugar. 

At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I took a sip, and another one of the Christmas Tree Frappuccino. It’s Starbucks’ latest concoction that has people running out to corporate coffee shops, where they spend $5 and most likely take a bunch of smartphone photos to later post on social media. 

Like this: 

Like any good business reporter, I jumped on the trend Sunday. After my editor shared a piece by The Denver Post reviewing the drink and some tweets of people’s reactions, I asked if I could go get one and try it myself. Because that, my friends, is reporting. 

Well, I’ve been wanting to get one ever since my sister shared the Starbucks ad in our family group Thursday morning. 

Three hours later, my mom shared a picture of hers. Her review: “It is delicious.” Her favorite part was the candied cranberry topping. 

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

I had participated in two of the previous limited-edition Starbucks drinks. 

The Unicorn Frappuccino, a trend debut, was actually not too bad in my biased opinion. Though I think I was on an emotional high because I drank them with Chloe the Mini Frenchie (RIP). 

important coffee meeting with @kerrymflynn who you would share a unicorn frappuccino with? 🦄☕️

A post shared by Chloe The Mini Frenchie (@chloetheminifrenchie) on

The Zombie Frappuccino was strange, but I was also in the middle of emceeing an event in Columbus, Ohio. 

I definitely couldn’t let this one escape me. 

And so that’s how I ended up drinking 420 calories on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, I live four blocks from a Starbucks, so it wasn’t too burdensome to put on a jacket and walk out in the cold weather for a frozen beverage. 

The most embarrassing part was probably ordering when I asked for a “Christmas Tree Frappuccino” and the barista replied, “What?” So then I had to repeat myself over a cringeworthy order while the person in front of me just sipped her cup of hot coffee. 

I waited to take a sip until I could take photos. Because, of course, that’s exactly what Starbucks wants us all to do. All of our tweets are free ads. Actually, they’re not just free. We’re not getting paid. We’re paying them. Starbucks is making money having us all make ads for them. It’s brilliant, and I’m happy to be part of it. 

I got home and looked at the drink on my counter. The Matcha whipped cream had melted to half its height from before. I finally noticed that there was no candied cranberry topping. But I regretfully took a sip. And oh man, it was not good.

Thin Mints are great (Disclosure: I’m a Girl Scout). Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream is awesome. 

The Starbucks Christmas Tree Frappuccino is not either of those things. Every sip of this beverage is an overload of sugar. I’d rather crush up a bunch of Thin Mints and mix them with some ice and milk in a blender than continue sipping this. 

I’m not going to tell you not to get a Christmas Tree Frappuccino because you can probably make your own decisions. But this is not good and you can spend $5 on something else. If you need the picture, go to Starbucks and just wait for someone else to order one. But be good to yourself, and don’t drink it. 


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Puerto Rican Rum and Revenue Flowing Again at Bacardi Distillery

After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s physical destruction multiplied its financial crisis. But at least one revenue generator is up and running: rum.

On the western edge of San Juan Bay in a small town called Catano, a Bacardi Ltd. distillery produces some of world’s most famous rum. The spirit made at Bacardi and competitors like Destileria Serralles and Edmundo B. Fernandez Inc. provides fully 3 percent of Puerto Rico’s tax receipts.

The Bacardi Ltd. distillery factory after Hurricane Maria.

Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg

The world’s top producer of international rum brands, Bacardi got its facilities functioning less than two weeks after the Sept. 20 storm left many without food, clean water, electricity or communications. The Bermuda-based company exported its first post-storm rum shipment last week. That’s a relief for the island, which counts Bacardi as one of its highest-profile companies and a pillar of the economy.

The Catano distillery sits between two power plants. It includes distillation towers, warehouses to stash aging barrels, and storage tanks for molasses, water and diesel.

When Jose Class, Bacardi Puerto Rico’s plant director, first arrived after Maria struck, entry was impossible. Overturned fences, branches and power lines littered the grounds. Gigantic palm trees lay uprooted. A concrete wall of one warehouse had collapsed. Pieces of the metal roof were scattered in and around the building.

The rum and distillation equipment was safe.

“I was so lucky that it was empty of barrels — I only had some cars in there,” Class said. “I can get a car today. My rum? It has to be aged at least for a year.”

The plant’s engineering, maintenance and fire brigade were unable to start clearing Maria’s mess until five days after the storm’s eye passed. A week later, Bacardi filled its first 40,000-gallon batch.

Sugar’s Offspring

Rum has long been a Caribbean staple. It is distilled from molasses, which was a byproduct of the vast sugar industry enabled by colonialism and slavery. Its popularity was spread by sailors plying those trade routes.

It’s such a steady revenue generator that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have sold bonds with rum tax revenue as collateral. The Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority has done so since 1988; current owners of the $1.8 billion in securities include OppenheimerFunds Inc., Franklin Advisers Inc. and UBS Asset Managers of Puerto Rico, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. But the debt is tied up in the commonwealth’s record $74 billion bankruptcy.

The nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, where rum is the second-largest industry after tourism, has issued $1.2 billion of rum bonds. The storm will have no impact on payments since the bonds are prepaid through 2018 and there is an additional year of reserves, said Lonnie Soury, spokesman for the U.S. Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority. Still, he said, “In light of the difficulties and the challenge we have moving forward, it’s very important that the rum distilleries are in production or have not been damaged severely.”

Special Access

In the case of Bacardi’s Puerto Rico distillery, the quick turnaround required a mutually beneficial agreement between the company and the government.

Bacardi had generators on hand but needed more to get the plant running. With ports jammed, it was a logistical nightmare to deliver them from Bacardi’s bottling plant in Jacksonville, Florida. The government needed generators, too, for something more essential than liquor: clean water. So authorities expedited the company’s port access.

“If we could re-establish power at the plant, we could supply them with all the water needs that they had in the communities around us,” said Ignacio del Valle, Bacardi’s regional president of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In addition to the generators, the company brought first aid, medical supplies, food and 125,000 gallons of purified water from Jacksonville. And it pledged $2 million to help fund three relief centers that will provide meals for community members, entertainment and electricity.

Some factories on the island have struggled to operate because employees have been unable to get to work. So the rum maker set up its own mini gas station inside the plant for its 180-odd workers. At its offices, there’s a room filled with jerry cans, divided by company division. Each department has an assigned day for when its members can pick up fuel.

Nelson Candelario, who builds and repairs rum barrels, now has a 2 1/2-hour commute to the plant, double what it was pre-Maria.

“It wasn’t only that everything was blocked — gasoline was limited, too” said Candelario, who was the last Bacardi worker accounted for after the hurricane hit. Emergency response crews didn’t arrive in his village until Oct. 2.

Class said the company’s health is tied up with that of the commonwealth.

“We wanted to send the message to Bacardi and to my employees and to Puerto Rico that we’re back in business,” he said.

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    Liliane Bettencourt, L’Oreal Billionaire Heiress, Dies at 94

    Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics empire and the world’s wealthiest woman, has died. She was 94.

    Her death was announced in a statement from Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive officer at L’Oreal Group. She died Wednesday at her home in Neuilly, a suburb west of Paris, according to a company spokesman. No cause was given.

    Liliane Bettencourt

    Photographer: Francois Durand/Getty Images

    Bettencourt, the only child of L’Oreal SA founder Eugene Schueller, owned about one-third of the company’s shares. During her lifetime, the Paris-based company grew from a small hair-dye supplier into the largest maker of beauty products with more than 30 brands including Lancome and Garnier sold in about 140 countries. In 2016 the company reported revenue of 25.8 billion euros ($27 billion).

    Bettencourt’s net worth was $42.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

    Her death will fuel speculation about Nestle SA’s 23 percent stake in L’Oreal, the second-largest holding after the Bettencourt family. The Swiss food company and the Bettencourt family have a shareholder agreement that limits either side from raising their respective stakes until six months after the death of Liliane Bettencourt, according to the company’s 2016 registration document. This restriction will now lift in March 2018. 

    L’Oreal in 2014 bought back 8 percent of its stock from the Swiss food company, which is free to sell the cosmetics company’s shares. Nestle’s website notes it will continue to act in concert with the Bettencourt family for the remaining duration of the shareholders’ agreement.

    “Friendship, taste for life, knowledge, health. I would say that these are the things that are the most valuable,” Bettencourt said in a rare interview with French literary magazine L’Egoiste in 1988. “Everything that isn’t measured is what matters most.”

    Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers

    Photographer: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP via Getty Images

    After the death of Bettencourt’s husband, French conservative politician Andre Bettencourt, in 2007, the media-shy heiress spent her final years embroiled in a legal spat with their only child, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.

    Assigned Guardians

    Bettencourt Meyers claimed her mother was mentally unfit and had been manipulated by her entourage, especially one friend to whom she gave about 1 billion euros in gifts and cash. In 2011, a French judge assigned Bettencourt’s daughter and two grandsons as guardians over her interests.

    Liliane Bettencourt’s fortune now passes onto Bettencourt Meyers, 64, who heads the family’s investment company. An academic, she wrote books on Greek mythology and Jewish-Christian relations. As main guardian of the family’s assets, including its stake in L’Oreal, Bettencourt Meyers succeeds her mother as the world’s richest woman.

    Under French inheritance law — which dates from the Napoleonic era — Bettencourt Meyers, as the sole child, must receive at least 50 percent of her mother’s estate. She’s credited with the entire estate in Bloomberg’s analysis.

    In the 1988 magazine interview, Bettencourt discussed the role that wealth may have played in her personal relationships.

    Bettencourt with her husband Andre Bettencourt in Nov. 1973.

    Photographer: Alain Dejean/Sygma via Getty Images

    “Obviously, it’s surely more comfortable to be certain that you are loved for your soul,” she said. “But I didn’t have this concern.” She said when she sometimes wondered whether she was loved for her money, “I have smiled and said to myself, ‘If it’s more, so much the better.’”

    Secret recordings of Bettencourt, made by a former butler, spawned separate inquiries into allegations of campaign finance violations related to former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election. Bettencourt denied the reports. In 2013, French authorities dropped charges against Sarkozy.

    Bettencourt also lost money in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

    ‘Empty Pit’

    Liliane Henriette Betsy Schueller was born Oct. 21, 1922, in Paris. She was 5 years old when her mother, Louise, died, leaving Liliane with with what she called “an empty pit nothing could ever fill.” She was raised by Dominican nuns.

    Bettencourt described her childhood as dominated by a stern, workaholic father who woke up every day at 4 a.m. When she turned 15, she was sent to one of her father’s factories to glue labels on L’Oreal bottles.

    While providing his daughter with France’s biggest fortune, Eugene Schueller had embarrassed her by his politics. Before and during the World War II, he was a staunch supporter of La Cagoule, a fascist group with ties to the Nazi regime.

    During the 1930s Schueller hosted La Cagoule’s meetings at L’Oreal’s headquarters in Paris. Bettencourt’s daughter Francoise went on to marry the grandson of a rabbi who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

    L’Oreal owes its origins — and its name — to Aureole, a nontoxic hair colorant Schueller developed in 1907 and sold to Parisian beauty salons. Two years later, the young chemist registered his business under the name Safe Hair Dye Company of France.

    After her father’s death in 1957, Bettencourt entrusted L’Oreal to his best friend, Francois Dalle, who remained chief executive officer until 1984.

    Lindsay Owen-Jones, who became CEO in 1988, turned the company into the global cosmetics giant it is today.

    Bettencourt had two grandchildren. Her grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers, replaced her on L’Oreal’s board in 2012.

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      10 Human Foods You Can Safely Give Your Dog

      Before we start, remember it’s always best not to feed your dog human food unless your veterinarian advises you otherwise. But if you are having trouble saying “no” to those adorable little faces, then there is a list of the are healthier things you can feed your dog.
      Via: Sharebly

      • 1


        Via: Baby pedia

        Liver is chock full of vitamins like iron and vitamin A. Just be sure not to give them too much because too much vitamin A can be harmful to them. Eight ounces or less for a medium dog and a half ounce for small dogs is just fine.

      • 2

        Coconut Oil

        Via: All you need is pug

        Adding unsweetened coconut flakes to your dog’s food or a scoop of coconut oil can benefit their skin, fur and provide them with an extra boost of protein

      • 3

        Lean Meat

        Via: Dogster

        Lean meats are packed with protein that provides your dog with energy and they also contain vitamin B and amino acids that help boost energy and their metabolism. Just make sure that you are giving your dog meat that doesn’t have any visible fat on it and stay away from ground meat which is higher in fat. Also, raw chicken bones are OK for dogs while cooked ones can splinter and cause your dog to choke.

      • 4

        Salmon and Tuna

        Via: The Holidog Times

        These fishes contain omega-3 fatty acids that promote a shiny fur coat, improve brain function, and boost immunity.

      • 5

        Yogurt and Cottage Cheese

        Via: Bunk blog

        If your pup needs a boost of calcium putting some unsweetened yogurt that doesn’t contain fruit in their food is always a good way to go. The calcium helps support their teeth and bones.

      • 6


        Via: Reader’s Digest

        Seaweed helps to provide your dog with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E and chlorophyll which helps to boost your pup’s metabolism.

      • 7


        Via: Reference

        Carrots help keep your dog’s teeth healthy by scraping away plaque when they chomp down on it. It also has lots of vitamins.

      • 8


        Via: Can dogs eat this

        This whole grain helps with digestive issues in older dogs and is an alternative for dogs who have wheat allergies

      • 9


        Via: Care2

        Dog your dog have bad breath? Chop up some parsley and add it to your dog’s food. Not only will it freshen their breath but it will also deliver some potassium and calcium to their system.

      • 10


        Via: American Kennel Club

        Putting a handful of peas in your dog’s food to your dog’s meal will pump it up with phosphorous, as well as vitamin B.

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      Chipotle is facing more questions in the criminal investigation into its food poisoning problems

      Chipotle's facing the next episode in an ongoing criminal investigation.
      Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

      Federal regulators have some serious questions for Chipotle after the chain suffered yet another food poisoning outbreak at a Virginia restaurant this month.

      The burrito shop revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Wednesday that it was served a federal grand jury subpoena last week as part of an ongoing probe into the company’s food safety practices.

      “We intend to continue to fully cooperate in the investigation,” the company wrote in the document.”It is not possible at this time to determine whetherwe will incur, or to reasonably estimate the amount of, any fines or penalties.”

      Regulators first launched the criminal investigation in 2015 after the first wave of food-borne illnesses sickened hundreds of customers across the country. It’s being conducted as a joint operation between a the U.S. Attorney’s office for central California and the Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigations team.

      Chipotle CEO Steve Ells claimed this week that the most recent incident originated with a sick employee at the Sterling, Virginia store. More than 130 people are said to have fallen ill from that contamination.

      Ells said the company’s been doubling down on emphasizing food safety rules in response.

      “We made it clear to the entire company that we have a zero-tolerance policy,” Ells told investors in a call on Tuesday.”When followed, they work perfectly.”

      The county health department said at least two of those infected have been diagnosed with norovirus, the same sickness that afflicted one of the waves of victims in the company’s previous spate of outbreaks two years ago. That contagion was also traced back to a sick worker.

      Despite the assurances of Ells, the department said it hasn’t yet determined the specific source of the most recent outbreak.

      The rash of new sicknesses come as Chipotle was still digging itself out of the public perception hole caused by its last food scare. The incident was such a crushing stroke of bad luck that one industry consultant has even hatched a conspiracy theory suggesting corporate sabotage may be at play.

      “It does beg the question: How is it that Chipotle has been struck by Norovirus, Salmonella, and E.coli in different locations throughout the country, in such short order?” independent consultant Aaron Allen wrote in a LinkedIn post.

      Foul play or not, Chipotle clearly has some more explaining to do.

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      A farm shouldnt be a factory

      Most of todays food is produced by industrial agriculture and thats a problem.

      Industrialized agriculture essentially turns farms into a factories, requiring inputs like synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, large amounts of irrigation water, and fossil fuels to produce outputs like genetically modified crops (corn, soy, wheat) and livestock (meat, poultry, pork) by mechanized production means.

      All of this leads to a unsustainable and outdated system thats heavily dependent on fossil fuels and chemical pesticides, which has dangerous hidden costs. Industrialized agriculture is depleting our nations topsoil at such an extreme rate, experts warn we have fewer than 60 harvests left if we dont shift to more sustainable farming practices.

      Plus, the continued use of pesticides on our farmlands is poisoning our soils, water systems and the air we breathe a recent study found that 93% of Americans test positive for glyphosate, the most heavily sprayed herbicide in the world and one the World Health Organization has categorized as a possible carcinogen.

      But it doesnt have to be this way, a shift to technologically driven organic farming practices could save our topsoils, lessen our dependence on synthetics and even capture 100% of todays CO2 emissions.

      How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.

      Wendell Berry

      Here are three suggestions that will help us get back to basics, but better.

      Organic Farming

      A primary driver of industrialized farming is to make farms more productive by growing more food per acre. To do this, in addition to reliance on synthetic inputs and mechanization, farmers use genetically modified (GM) seeds that are less prone to failure and can withstand heavy doses of chemical pesticides.

      Theres a common misnomer that organic farming, without the aid of synthetic ingredients or GM seeds, simply cannot produce equal yields to their industrialized counterparts. This is untrue, a recent long-term study not only found that yields between industrial and organic farms were similar across a variety of crops, on average, organic crops returned nearly double the revenue of the conventional crops.

      Additionally, genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate very high levels of toxic herbicides, specifically glyphosate which is the active ingredient in Monsantos Roundup. Over 2.6 billion pounds of glyphosate have been sprayed on US crops in the past 20 years. Since GM crops (94% of soybeans and 89% of corn grown in the US) are able to withstand high levels of glyphosate, the plants absorb this toxic chemical, introducing it into the food supply, water systems, air and eventually into our bodies.

      A switch to modern organic techniques will not only boost farmer profitability, but will create superior nutrient dense produce that is not genetically modified a tremendous boon for our environment.

      The Farmers Business Network is a professional social network and data-sharing platform for agronomists.

      Efficient Energy and Water Usage

      There are tremendous wins to be had when combining organic farming with 21st century tech. Innovative irrigation techniques, like using solar powered wireless tags, can water crops with extreme precision resulting in dramatic water savings with zero effect on yield. In sourcing organic tomatoes for our Thrive Market Collection products, we found a partner that saves 2,750,000 gallons of water per day and 4 million kilowatts of electricity annually by leveraging similar technology in the name of efficiency.

      There are some farmers in California using dry farming techniques to nourish plants without water using existing water content and nutrient density in healthy soil to sustain crops.

      By focusing on sustainable farming practices and a transition to more innovative uses of technology to increase water efficiencies, sustainable farms can not only survive but thrive in a future where water becomes more scarce.

      The Arable Pulsepod is installed on a farm to gather data about crops from the ground.

      Soil Stewardship

      Theres a climate component to this industrialization of our agricultural systems, its destroying our topsoil. Experts estimate that we have fewer than 60 harvests remaining if we dont move away from destructive industrialized farming practices marked by concentrated production of a single crops, reliant on fossil fuel fertilizers and chemical pesticides to more sustainable farming techniques.

      And thats where modern organic comes in. When most people think organic organic theyre usually thinking about the virtues of the produce itself, it has more flavor and is generally more ethically produced. This is true, but organic farming is also good for the environment as it promotes healthy soil.

      When soil is healthy, free from pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, its able to produce a series of vital functions nutrient cycling, water filtration and water retention. The nutrient cycling piece is primarily why organic produce tastes so much better than conventional produce its packed with nutrients. Plus, healthy soil retains significantly more water than soil laden with synthetics each 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre.

      Healthy soil also has the ability to filter carbon from the atmosphere. Its so good in fact, that according to research published by the Rodale institute, if we shifted the worlds farms tomorrow to organic farming practices we could sequester all the carbon being emitted today.

      If you consume food youre an active player in todays agricultural system, and hold the key for our farming future. By shifting your purchases from unsustainable products born of industrialized farming techniques, to organic products, we can drive resources into expanding sustainable farming infrastructures that will not only improve access and affordability, but will help create a more sustainable future for everyone.

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      Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazils farmers and loggers target national park

      The Sierra Ricardo Franco park was meant to be a conservation area protecting rare wildlife

      To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

      During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

      He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere.

      In their wildest fantasies, however, neither Fawcett nor Conan Doyle are likely to have imagined the modern reality of that plateau, which can no longer be certain of protection from geography, the law or Brazils international commitments.

      Today, orange dirt roads, cut into the forest by illegal loggers, lead you to the north-western flank of the elevated hilltop. Now called the Serra Ricardo Franco state park, this is nominally a conservation area set up with support from the World Bank. Instead of forest, however, you find swaths of land invaded by farmers, stripped of trees, and turned over to pasture for 240,000 cows. There are even private airfields inside the parks boundaries, which exist on maps only.

      Far from being an isolated area where a wanderer might starve, this is now despite its dubious legal status one of the worlds great centres of food production. In recent months, it has also emerged as a symbol of the resurgent influence of a landowning class in Brazil who, even more than in the US under Donald Trump, are cashing in on the destruction of the wild.

      Locals say a member of President Michel Temers cabinet chief of staff Eliseu Padilha owns ranches here on hillsides stripped of forest in a supposedly protected park. The municipal ombudsmen told the Observer the cattle raised here are then sold in contravention of pledges to prosecutors and international consumers to JBS, the worlds biggest meat-packing company, which is at the centre of a huge bribery scandal.

      These allegations are denied by farmers but there is no doubt the government is easing controls as it opens up more land for ranches, dams, roads and soy fields to meet the growing appetite of China. Last year, Brazil reported an alarming 29% increase of deforestation, raising doubts that the country will be able to meet its global commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Rather than an aberration, this appears to mark a return to historical norms for a country that has been built on 500 years of land seizures that were later legalised by the politicians who benefited from them.

      The concurrent erosion of legal authority and natural habitat can be seen in many Brazilian states: the newest soy frontiers of Maranho, Tocantins and Bahia; the hydropower heartland of Par and the wild west mining and logging regions of Rondnia and Acre. But it is in Mato Grosso that the political forces behind deforestation associated with corruption, violence, weak regulation and deliberate obfuscation of land ownership reveal themselves most clearly.

      The 158,000-hectare Serra Ricardo Franco state park is supposed to be a conservation area, but farmers and loggers moved in to clear the land. Photograph: Phil Clarke Hill/Corbis via Getty Images

      The 158,000-hectare Serra Ricardo Franco state park sits at the intersection of three great biomes; the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado tropical savanna and the Pantanal wetlands. Its western neighbour, separated only by the narrow Rio Verde, is Bolivias dense Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, which covers an area five times larger. Together, they make up one of the worlds biggest and most biodiverse ecological reserves.

      To the east are the light green plains of Mato Grosso a state bigger than the combined area of the UK and France which was named after the once thick bushland that has now mostly been cleared for soy fields and cattle ranches.

      The plan to establish a park in this geologically and biologically important landscape was agreed amid the giddy optimism of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which was hailed as a breakthrough for international cooperation on the environment.

      Ricardo Franco was one of nine conservation areas promised by the Mato Grosso government in return for a $205m loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The primary source of funds was the World Bank, which noted at the time that the money was to be used for vehicles, staff training and salaries, office construction and research. The envisaged Ricardo Franco park was supposed to cover 400,000 hectares.

      The reality was very different. After several years of studies, the park that was eventually established in 1997 was less than half the expected size. At least 20,000 hectares of it had already been cleared by farmers who were supposed to be compensated and removed. This never happened. Nor could the Observer find evidence of fences ever being erected, or administrative centres built either in the park nor the nearest town of Vila Bela da Santssima Trindade.

      The only signs and boundary markers are for fazendas (plantations). Although the park is supposed to be publicly owned and used only for ecotourism or scientific research, many areas could only be accessed after paying an entrance fee or requesting a key from the owner of the farm occupying the property.

      Serro Ricardo Franco is in one of the worlds biggest and most diverse ecological reserves. But reality on the ground is different, putting many animals at risk, such as Yacare caiman and giant river otters. Photograph: Angelo Gandolfi/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

      A quarter of the land has been cleared over the past four decades, but there are still areas of immense natural beauty and biodiversity that have changed little since Fawcetts time. Over two half-days, the Observer spotted an armadillo, spider monkeys, capuchins, otters, fish leaping a waterfall, clouds of butterflies, and a hand-sized spider that was slowly succumbing to the sting of a giant vespa wasp. Local guides report sightings of panthers, pumas, anaconda, pink dolphins and six-metre long alligators.

      Trails now lead up to the previously undisturbed heights, but they are rarely used. The 5km hiking route to the 248-metre high Jatoba waterfall was deserted, as were the sapphire waters of the Agua Azul canyon. It was not, however, well maintained. Rubbish and used toilet paper littered one area. Another clearing was scarred with the charred remains of a barbecue (likely to be prohibited as a fire hazard in a well-run conservation area). On the banks of the Rio Verde, fishing lines were tangled on the rocks despite signs declaring Strictly no fishing or hunting. But it is undoubtedly the 20,000 to 39,000 hectares of farmland (the size is disputed) that has had the biggest environmental impact.

      What is happening in the park is very sad, said a local biologist, who asked for her name to be withheld because she fears repercussions. This area is very important. There are species here not found anywhere else. But its degrading year by year.

      Ranchers inside the park disagree. Ademir Talini, the manager of the Fazenda de Serra, boasts of boosting production of soy and beef on what he claims is the third most fertile land in the world.

      Our municipality has the biggest abattoir in Brazil, the best beef comes from here and farms here contribute greatly to GDP, he says. He then points toward the nearby border with Bolivia. Over there is the biggest conservation area in the world. So what difference does 39,000 hectares make?

      He points out that many of the farms preceded the creation of the park a refrain echoed by other ranchers.

      The state government created a virtual park to get money, said Donizete dos Reis Lima, who owns the farm next to the border. Nobody here is against the park. I want a future for my children. But lets have a decent park. If we go, who is going to pay us compensation.

      About 240,000 cattle graze within the cleared forest in the park. This farm is owned by government chief of staff Eliseu Padilha. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Observer

      The issue is not black and white. The burly farmer says he is the legal owner of the land, having arrived in the area long before it was a park. But he also recounts how he opened up the roads to the region as part of his work as a logger. The area he cleared was later regularised by the land agency (Incra).

      Then, as now, this process often involved corruption and collusion with the authorities. Elsio Ferreira de Souza, a retired municipal employee, recalls the illegal origins of land clearances in the 1970s. It was done with the connivance of local politicians and only later legalised, he says.

      Regiane Soares de Aguiar, the public prosecutor who has filed multiple lawsuits against the farmers, agrees. All of the land was cleared illegally, she says. Even the landowners that were there before the creation of the park would not have had permission to deforest the land. Satellite data shows the problem has since worsened, she said, as more farmers moved inside the park, bringing more cattle that needed more pasture.

      This illegal activity has done spectacular damage to forest and water sources. According to the prosecutor, JBS should share the blame because the meat company has bought livestock from inside the park despite a pledge to public prosecutors, foreign buyers and environmental NGOs not to source cattle from illegally cleared land. To get around this, it briefly launders the animals at untainted farms outside the park before taking them to the slaughter.

      In a statement to the Observer, JBS said it had blocked sales from farms inside the park after being requested to do so by the prosecutors office. The company said it used data from satellites, the environment agency, ministry of labour and other sources to monitor its 70,000 cattle suppliers. The results, it said, were independently audited.

      Since 2013, more than 99.9% of direct suppliers located purchases of cattle in the Amazon region comply with the Public Commitment of Livestock and agreements signed with federal prosecutors, it noted.

      But cattle laundering is rife. Regulation is a challenge at the best of times. Even when the authorities impose a penalty for forest clearances or other violations, very few fines are ever paid.

      I penalise them, but they challenge me in the courts and justice is so slow, says Laerte Marques, from the State Secretariat for the Environment (Sema). It has been very difficult. There is pressure from all sides. On one side there is the public prosecutor, on the other are the farmers.

      The landowners have launched a campaign for the park to be abolished. Prosecutors, however, have urged the conservation area be administered on a more formal footing. Last month, they appeared to have won a victory when the Mato Grosso government announced a two-year study to determine the status of the park and what should become of its farms. But there are fears this will simply shrink the boundaries and allow the farms to be excluded.

      Powerful landowners are trying to use this opportunity to reduce the limits of the park, said Aguiar. That would only benefit those who cleared forest. But there is a lot of economic power behind them, she warned.

      Near the entrance of the Paredon 1 Fazenda is an overgrown airstrip and a dirt road that cuts through the state park to fields of cattle grazing among tree stumps on an otherwise bare hillside overlooking the Bolivian forest. This is one of several farms in the park owned directly or indirectly by Eliseu Padilha, the chief of staff. Locals in Vila Bela say he is an intimidating presence. He is not the only one. Several of Brazils richest businessmen as well as local politicians own land inside the park.

      The forces lined up against conservation have deep roots. The post-colonial history of Brazil is, to a large extent, the history of deforestation. Following the arrival of European ships, settlers carved out roads into the jungle in search of gold. Since then, massive fortunes have been made by the clearance of forest, initially for coffee and rubber plantations and more recently for cattle and soy. Landowners happily backed the 1964-85 military dictatorship, which ensured that campaigners for indigenous rights and agrarian reform did not get in the way of farm and ranch expansions. The return of democracy initially made little difference. The first president under the new constitution was Jos Sarney, an old-school coronel who ruled the northern state of Maranho as if it were his personal fiefdom. Deforestation surged to new peaks at the turn of the 21st century.

      The first time the problem came close to being brought under control was during the initial Workers party administration of Luiz Incio Lula da Silva (2003-06). His environment minister at the time, Marina Silva, put in place tougher penalties and a monitoring system that used satellites in the sky and rangers on the ground to identify farmers who burned or cut down forests. This resulted in an impressive slowdown that lasted nearly a decade, winning kudos from the international community and putting Brazil in an influential position in global climate talks.

      But the effectiveness of this system weakened under Lulas Workers party successor as president Dilma Rousseff, who was much closer to the ruralista lobby than her predecessor. She had little choice. Increased demand for soy and beef, particularly from China, had made agriculture the main driver for economic growth and a political force to be reckoned with.

      With 200 seats, the bancada ruralista had become the most powerful caucus in Congress. To placate them, Rousseff approved a relaxation of the Forest Code, which was the main legal tool against tree felling. It was a disaster for the Amazon.

      Before that change in 2012, deforestation rates had been creeping down. After it, rates increased by 75%, according to Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at Imazon, an independent monitoring organisation. He said this put at risk the commitments Brazil had made in international climate talks to reduce annual clearance to 3,800 square kilometres per year by 2020. At one point, we were on the right path. But last year, 8,000 square kilometres were cleared, double the goal for 2020, he points out. Two-thirds of Brazils carbon emissions come from this source.

      Meanwhile, beef and soy barons have strengthened their grip on power. After last years impeachment of Rousseff, her replacement, Michel Temer, appointed several ruralistas to his cabinet and moved to dismantle and dilute the institutions and laws that slowed forest clearance.

      His pick as agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, the owner of the countrys biggest soy producer, Amaggi Group, and a former governor of Mato Grosso, who supported moves to abolish the Ricardo Franco park. The justice minister, Osmar Serraglio, is at the forefront of the beef lobby, which was his main campaign donor, and a fierce opponent of indigenous land demarcation (the most effective method of forest protection).

      Under his watch, the National Indian Foundation (Funai) has seen its finances and personnel gutted. The foundations president, Antnio Costa, was sacked earlier this year. In a parting speech, he described Serraglio as a dictator. He is the minister of one cause: agro-business, he warned.

      The counterbalance ought to be the environment ministry, which is headed by Jos Sarney Filho, the son of the top landowner in Maranho state. Although his ideals are widely praised by conservationists, his ability to act has been neutered. Last year, the environment budget was cut by 51% (compared to a 31% reduction of the Environmental Protection Agency in the US under Trump).

      In March, the ministers weak position was apparent when he issued a grovelling public apology to JBS after inspectors embargoed two meat-processing factories that were alleged to have bought tens of thousands of cattle from illegally deforested areas of the Amazon. Rather than assess the rights and wrongs of the case, the minister said the action was badly timed because it could hurt a major exporter that was already bogged down in scandal.

      Almost every week, there is a new roll back of forest protections. Last Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that slashed protected areas in the Amazon by 597,000 hectares (about four times the area of Greater London). The previous week, the lower house of Congress paved the way for the legalisation of land that had been illegally occupied by grileiro a move that is likely to encourage more seizures and forest clearance. Environmental licensing requirements for agriculture have been emasculated.

      Temers unhealthily close ties to the agriculture lobby may yet, however, come to be his undoing.

      Earlier this month, the attorney-general formally accused the president and his aides of accepting bribes and colluding with top executives from JBS to buy the silence of witnesses in a corruption scandal. Temer has denied all wrongdoing. The evidence was provided in a plea-bargain by the owners of the beef company, which is reportedly looking for a clean bill of legal health so that it can relocate its headquarters to the US. If so, its links to Padilha and the cattle raised inside Ricardo Franco and numerous other conservation areas also deserves more scrutiny, as does the process for deciding whether farms will be excluded from the soon-to-be regularised park.

      Foreign adventurers and Brazilian bandeirantes helped to pave the way for this development, even if their intention was to escape fazendas and cities alike. As Fawcett said: Deep down inside me a tiny voice was calling. At first scarcely audible, it persisted until I could no longer ignore it. It was the voice of the wild places, and I knew that it was now part of me forever.

      With each day that passes, that voice is becoming harder to hear.

      The tatu-bola armadillo was last year reclassified as at risk of extinction. Photograph: belizar73/Getty Images/iStockphoto

      World Cup mascot is now at risk as forests disappear

      The tatu-bola armadillo, the mascot for the 2014 World Cup, is now a symbol for a very different phenomenon in Brazil: the growing impact of deforestation on biodiversity.

      The small armoured mammal was chosen to represent the tournament because it rolls up into the shape of a football when threatened, but its ability to protect itself has been undermined by a loss of habitat that is also devastating thousands of other species.

      Late last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature raised the alarm by reclassifying the creature also known as the three-banded armadillo from vulnerable to at risk of extinction.

      This has prompted the group that led the campaign for its selection as a mascot to launch a crowdfunding drive last month to raise $500,000 to save the animal.

      Samuel Portela, co-ordinator of protected areas at the Caatinga Association, estimates the tatu-bola population has declined by 30% in the past decade due to deforestation and hunting.It is fundamental that steps be taken towards the conservation of this species and its habitat, because under the present conditions, the tatu-bola could be extinct in 50 years, he said.

      The animal is mainly found in the northeastern Brazil in the caatinga (an indigenous term for white or desert forest) and cerrado tropical savannas. Even more than the Amazon, these two ecosystems have been diminished by the expansion of farmland.

      Scientists warn that many other animals face similar or worse threats and the risks are rising along with the pace of land clearance in Brazil, the worlds most biodiverse nation. Last year, the government reported a 29% increase in deforestation the sharpest rise in more than a decade. Forest clearing in Brazil has already condemned at least 20 species of birds, 10 species of mammals and eight of amphibians to regional extinction. Scientists estimate this is just a fifth of those that will die out due to habitat loss. Among the most endangered are giant otters and bare-faced tamarins. A 2015 study predicted half of the 15,000 tree species in the Amazon could be lost if current rates of deforestation continue.

      According to the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, the tatu-bola faces a particularly hard struggle to recover its population because of the animals low metabolic rate, small litter size, prolonged parental care and long gestation periods.


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      appy Monday everyone!

      Continuing to help raise awareness on the dangers of heart disease during the month of February (Heart Health Month), today’s video is all about the best foods to eat to help lower your blood pressure.

      A couple of weeks ago I shared a video on 9 Habits to Help Lower Blood Pressure. If you’ve not watched that video, go back and do so because it gives an overview of what lifestyle factors you can embrace to help you manage your blood pressure naturally. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making one or two shifts in your habits that can lead to your success.

      Food is medicine and medicine is food. There is no distinction and unfortunately, we’ve been taught differently. Through marketing and misleading information, we’ve been told we can eat virtually whatever we want and then, when something goes awry with our health, there is a pill out there that can help us manage it.

      But all medications come with side effects and sometimes those side effects can mean having to take more and more pills! This never happens when you clean up your diet and use a balanced approach to health. When you change the way you eat and the way you live your life, you not only often get the results you intended, but the side effect is often that you feel and look better too!

      Once you’ve checked out today’s video, I want to hear from you! Specifically, did you use dietary changes successfully as a means to lower blood pressure? How many of these foods did you include? And have you ever tasted the bonus food mentioned at the end of the video? I would love to hear your feedback.

      I am wishing you all a happy and healthy week~

      Foods To Lower High Blood Pressure

      Lower Your High Blood Pressure Quickly & Naturally Within Days

      The New High Blood Pressure Healing Discovery!


      Discover The 100% NATURAL Remedies Your Doctors
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      Learn about some great foods to lower high blood pressure.


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