Niger seed, the only major wild bird feed imported to the United States, is a jewel among the fodder spread by enthusiasts. Sometimes misnamed "thistle" or renamed Nyjer(R), niger seeds' ultimate consumers are birds, particularly finches. But folks who are trying to attract finches to their backyards, unintentionally, are not only feeding their favorite fowl but also one of the worldís most foul regimes.

Niger seed, the only major wild bird feed imported to the United States, is a jewel among the fodder spread by enthusiasts. Sometimes misnamed "thistle" or renamed Nyjer(R), niger seeds' ultimate consumers are birds, particularly finches. But folks who are trying to attract finches to their backyards, unintentionally, are not only feeding their favorite fowl but also one of the worldís most foul regimes.

By scattering Burma's produce into the global market place, the country's brutal ruling junta obtains vital cash that helps to enforce its control. In recent years, Burma has emerged one of the three top exporters of niger seed to the United States. In 2000, India was the number one source of niger seed, followed by Ethiopia, Burma, and Nepal. In a two month period (April and May 2001), US companies imported over 3,000 tons of niger seed from Burma, which they valued at $1.6 million. This projects to an annual rate of 18,000 tons and almost $10 million. At the retail level, this translates into more than $50 million in sales.

Some of the U.S.'s biggest birdseed distributors -- like wholesaler Knight Seed and retailer Kaytee -- sell mixes that contain niger seed from Burma.

Kaytee, perhaps the best-known birdseed brand, boasts on its website: "Kaytee procures ingredients for our mixes from sources in North America and all over the world!.... Thistle (also referred to as Niger seed) is magnet for attracting Gold Finches and other small, colorful finches. Thistle is imported into the United States from Burma, India and Nigeria."

Kaytee claims that "we purchase grain and see from only reputable suppliers. It may sometimes cost more, but to meet our mission, this is necessary." Visit Kaytee's web site.

But Burma is hardly a "reputable" supplier. Government watchdogs like the International Labor Organization and the U.S. Department of Labor have concluded that the use of forced labor in Burma is "widespread and systematic." Based on these findings, U.S. government agencies are prohibited from purchasing goods made in Burma.

As a Shan farmer told EarthRights International (ERI) in a recent interview, "I came to Thailand in February 2001 because where I lived in Shan State there were many Burmese soldiers. They asked us for food and to work for them. We never got paid, and if we grew something on our farms, the soldiers from the Burmese military regime (SPDC) would just take it. They forced us to move to other places, and if we went back to the old village, we would be killed by SPDC soldiers. The fences around our farms were destroyed by the soldiers..."

We urge consumers not to purchase any birdseed mixes that contain nigerseed from Burma. We also ask that you contact birdseed distributor's headquarters and local retailers and urge them to halt this practice that directly supports the repressive regime that rules Burma.

Many other outlets -- pet stores, feed stores, online retailers, mail order catalogs, retail monoliths like Wal-Mart and Lowe's, hardware and garden stores -- carry brands like Kaytee that may contain niger seed from Burma.

One place to start is Kaytee's website, which includes a "store locator" page that will tell you where you can find their "preferred Kaytee dealers closest to you." Go to Kaytee's store locator, and contact your local retailer.

Please share whatever information you receive from your correspondence with us at ERI. Kindly contact us at [email protected], and help keep the information on this page up-to-date.

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