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Organic news archive: July 2004

Children who eat an apple or pear a day may be exceeding the pesticide safety threshold because of residues on the fruit, according to research. Using Department of Environment data on pesticides on fruit collected from supermarkets, scientists calculated that each day some children would get a toxic level of pesticides. The research says the government repeatedly claims that the levels of pesticide are safe because, instead of measuring individual apples, researchers buy 10, mash them and take an average reading to see if they are safe. This is the internationally agreed method of checking residues. But government figures show that the pesticide is not evenly spread across the batch, and one or two apples could contain 90% or more of the pesticide in the batch. The research, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, is from Andrew Watterson of Stirling University, and Vyvyan Howard of Liverpool University. It used mathematical modelling to measure exposure to pesticides for children aged between 18 months and four years old. The pesticides involved can disrupt children's hormones and some are suspected of causing cancer. The study found that between 10 and 220 young children a day could be exposed to pesticide residues at levels which could pose immediate and long term threats to health. The good news for British fruit growers is that samples grown in this country had lower residues than imported fruit. The Food Standards Agency criticised the research, saying it could put parents off giving their children enough fruit to eat. The Soil Association's Alissa Cook is quoted in the Bristol Evening Post: "a lot of people are turning to organic food to be on the safe side." (The Guardian; The Times; Daily Mirror; Daily Express - 30/7/04)

Two of the world's biggest agribusiness companies, Syngenta and Monsanto, have filed lawsuits accusing each other of anti-competitive practices in genetically modified maize. Syngenta this week sued Monsanto for engaging in "illegal and improper activities" to maintain its "monopoly" in key types of maize. It claims Monsanto has tried to stop rival companies from producing seeds containing a trait known as GA21, which enables them to withstand glyphosate weedkillers. It alleges Monsanto has tried to force companies to destroy their GA21 inventories and has attempted to make them adhere to exclusive dealing contracts. But Monsanto claims the lawsuit is an attempt to divert attention from the complaints Syngenta faces. Monsanto has filed several claims against Syngenta for infringing patents on maize seeds and soybeans. (The Guardian - 30/7/04)

A ban on vending machines offering soft drinks, sweets and snacks in French schools will be approved by the French parliament today in an attempt to curb obesity in children. Manufacturers will also be taxed if they fail to include health warnings in television advertisements. But the measures stopped short of banning such advertisements. (The Times - 30/7/04)

Some of the foods in Tesco's healthy eating range may need to be relabelled because of the amount of salt, sugar and fat they contain. The supermarket announced in May that it was planning a "traffic lights" labelling system to give its customers more nutritional advice. The trial to begin in September will use different colours on the front of packs to highlight the levels of fat, sugar, saturated fat and salt in products. Research by the Food Commission suggests some products in Tesco's Healthy Living range will have to carry either "amber" or "red" lights. (The Guardian)

Hundreds of protesters have destroyed a field of genetically modified maize in south-west France. The demonstrators ripped up the transgenic crop plantation at Menville, near Toulouse. The activists were led by radical French farmer Jose Bove, who said the protest was being taken in the interests of consumers. About 15 policemen watched the destruction and took photographs of those involved, but did not intervene. (BBC News - 25/7/04)

Scotland on Sunday printed the Soil Association's reply to a recent claim made by the Food Standards Agency that organic baby food is contaminated. The letter by Peter Melchett states: "While the Soil Association welcomes the Food Standard Agency's investigation into the levels of dioxins and PCBs in organic and non-organic baby food, some inaccuracies in your report will have misled readers. The survey did not generally find a significant difference in levels of PCBs or dioxins between organic and non-organic products of the same type. PCBs and dioxins, mainly released by industry over a decade ago, are now found everywhere in the environment: in all food, in food packaging, and in the bodies of people around the world. They are therefore impossible to avoid, which is why the FSA's survey found PCBs and dioxins in every sample that they tested, as they would in any food, organic or non-organic. Many scientists recommend organic baby food as a sensible way for parents to avoid pesticide residues when feeding their babies."

Teresa Heinz, wife of Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry, was profiled in the Telegraph magazine (24/7/04). She urges people to "Eat organic! Eat clean!"

About 100 tonnes of Prince Charles's organic potatoes are being sold to South Gloucestershire council for school meals after being rejected by supermarkets for not being shiny enough. Supermarkets have been accused of demanding 'cosmetically perfect' fruit and veg 'at the expense of quality'. (Sunday Express)

Green & Black's Chocolate has been bought out by Cadbury's. We at organicfoodee.com believe that this is a good thing for customers and producers, with Green & Black's fairtrade policy and high quality ethos likely to inspre the rest of the Cadbury's branded products.

Farmers in England must comply with tough new standards to protect wildlife or risk losing new basic payments for looking after the land under reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. From next July they must leave two-metre strips around hedges and ditches free from crops and chemical sprays or state inspectors will order them to pay back cash to Brussels. The move is intended to reverse years of intensive farming. (The Times - 23/7/04) [To read Margaret Beckett's statement in full, go to http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/ministers/statements/mb040722.htm]

A new super agency to run rural Britain with a budget of £400m and a staff of 2,300 has been announced by Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary. The plan was greeted with suspicion by environment groups because it abolishes English Nature, the government's current adviser on wildlife which has been a thorn in the side of ministers on issues like GM crops and trying to protect sites of special scientific interest from development. English Nature with its staff of 900 and budget of £65m, will be amalgamated with the Rural Development Service, with a larger staff of 1,300 and a budget of £250mand the Countryside Agency, staff 300 and budget of £90m. The plan will require new legislation because both the Countryside Agency and English Nature have their existence and independence guaranteed by acts of parliament. Mrs Beckett made clear the government's intention that the independence of the advice from these bodies would be maintained. In addition there would be a much smaller body retaining one of the functions of the existing Countryside Agency. This would be to act as a watchdog on rural policy. Officials described it as a watchdog for the rural community - with a brief to criticise and a budget of about £10m. (The Guardian - 22/7/04)

Nearly two-thirds of the British population support tough new laws to prevent GM crops contaminating non-GM crops and food, according to a new survey. Just over 2000 Britons were interviewed by phone in the survey which was conducted by NOP World on behalf of Friends of the Earth. (www.fwi.co.uk)

Food Standards Agency Chair Sir John Krebs has told the Agency's Board of his resignation. This move follows the announcement by Jesus College Oxford that he will take up the post of Principal in October 2005. Sir John will remain as FSA Chair until April 2005. Here at organicfoodee.com we are absolutely thrilled to hear he's off, as Sir John is shockingly pro-GM for somebody representing the interests of UK voters who are 98% against GM foods. His departure simply can't come soon enough for us. (Food Standards Agency - 15/7/04)

Some bread in Britain's supermarkets contains so much fat that eating three slices gives you more fat than a Mars bar. Industry insiders have disclosed that food manufacturers are using fat to bulk up and extend the shelf life of common foods. Until traditional local bakeries closed in the 1960s and 1970s, bread rarely contained fat. But it is used in new processed versions to ensure bread stays moist and fresh longer. Research by the Sunday Times identified Marks & Spencer Organic Wholemeal Bloomer and Warburtons Seeded Batch as having some of the highest fat levels. (Sunday Times 18/7/04)

Voters in four Californian counties are expected to have anti-biotechnology measures included on their November ballot papers, after opponents to the technology were spurred on by a law passed in Mendocino County that banned genetically modified plants and animals from its land. (Just-food.com - 14/7/04)

A San Francisco radio host is suing McDonald's over its continued use of trans fat cooking oils. Katherine Fettke's suit demands the company inform consumers that it has not fulfilled a pledge to develop healthier alternatives. Fettke claims McDonald's broke its September 2002 promise to dramatically cut trans fats in its menu by February 2003, and wants McDonald's "to switch as soon as possible". Earlier this year, McDonald's said switching oils would take longer than expected and required further testing. (Just-food.com - 13/7/04)

Human trials of vaccines produced by genetically modified plants could begin within five years. Researchers have outlined proposals to grow fields of crops that have been genetically modified to produce vaccines and other pharmaceuticals to treat HIV, rabies, diabetes and TB. According to Julian Ma of St George's Hospital Medical School in London, the leader of the £8m project, the primary aim is to provide drugs for the developing world. (The Guardian; The Times - 13/7/04)

The Prince of Wales has struck a deal with South Gloucestershire council to provide local schools with 100 tons of Cara and Cosmos potatoes grown at his organic farm near Tetbury, Glos. The prince turned to the council after learning that his produce failed to meet the criteria of large supermarkets. David Wilson, the farm's manager, said there was currently a drive to achieve "cosmetic perfection" in major stores: "I have given up selling potatoes to supermarkets because they don't like the skin marks and we can't get them shiny enough for them." He said that around half the prince's carrots were rejected by superstores for cosmetic reasons. (Daily Telegraph 12/7/04)

The Prince of Wales declared that ongoing research into nanotechnology could result in thalidomide-style disaster. Writing in the Independent on Sunday, he also used the article to highlight his concern at the "self-assembly of natural processes", reviving suggestions that surfaced last year that he believes a "grey goo" could overrun the Earth. (The Independent - 11/7/04)

More than a dozen of the nation's most beloved plants and animals have vanished in just 25 years. The most extensive list of extinct flora and fauna ever released details precisely what has been lost. The list, released last week by Ben Bradshaw, the Parliamentary Secretary for DEFRA, blames the extinctions on changes to farming practices including the increased use of herbicides, a growth in water pollution and changes in the climate. (Sunday Telegraph - 11/7/04)

Organic clothing is the subject of an article in this month's Children's Wear Buyer magazine. Sue Flook, the Soil Association's Media Manager is quoted, and brands selling organic cotton children's clothing (Green Baby, Gossypium and Nurtured by Nature) are profiled.

Tap water can make people fat and could be fuelling obesity levels, according to a medical expert. Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield said fluoride toxins in tap water can cause hypo-thyroidism, a disorder affecting the thyroid gland controlling weight. He thinks children suffer if their mothers drank fluoridated water while pregnant and it could be to blame for obesity in the top "fat zone" the West Midlands. (Daily Express 12/7/04)

A lobby group of France's most powerful wine-makers have announce they will fight new government attempts to develop genetically modified vines, warning that they could have a "catastrophic" impact on the industry. (The Guardian 10/7/04)

Fish stocks in British rivers are in danger of collapse because male fish are changing sex in response to female hormones released into the water from sewage, according to the Environment Agency. (The Guardian - 10/7/04)

A parliamentary committee of ministers has told the government that it cannot allow genetically modified (GMO) crops to be grown until it introduces concrete rules on planting. The government is expected to launch a consultation exercise on the issue over the next few weeks. "There is huge confusion in both the government's and the European Union's position in relation to GM crops, especially in relation to thresholds of contamination of non-GM crops and thus liability," says the report, released today by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. "We recommend that the government begin the process of consultation soon, so that final details of a coexistence and liability regime for GM crop cultivation can be settled." The powerful all-party committee also recommended that any future planting regime respect the legal requirement that organic crops suffer zero contamination and not the 0.1-0.9 level currently being discussed. Last month, several European Union governments called for more concrete rules to regulate GMOs while also encouraging growth in the bloc's fledgling organic farming sector. (Reuters.com - 8/7/04)

A news flash on lasalocid residues in eggs has been published in one of the most widely read women's magazine Bella, based on information from the Soil Association. Reaching over four million readers each week, Bella quotes the Soil Association advice to parents on avoiding feeding non-organic eggs to young babies and limiting their consumption in older children. (29/6/04)

A £4 million fraud using toxic and industrial waste to make fertiliser for the farming of "organic" fruits and cereals in Tuscany has been uncovered by magistrates. Seven people have been arrested after 30 were investigated, including a small-town mayor, farmers and laboratory technicians. Investigators said farmers had knowingly used the polluted fertiliser on their fields. A compost factory supplied tons of fertiliser allegedly polluted with dioxin, lead, copper and zinc, and in some cases hospital waste. (Daily Telegraph)

The Government's system for tracing the movements of cattle, introduced after the BSE crisis of the 1990s, is obselete and in serious need of improvement, MPs warn today.It was developed in haste and is more expensive and less efficient than systems used in other EU countries, according to a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. (Daily Mail; The Times; The Independent; - 6/7/04)

A major article in the Sunday Times magazine looked at toxins in food and everyday products. One family had blood tests taken which revealed that they had been exposed to PCB chemicals and organochlorine pesticides. The family's mother concluded, "I shall buy more organic food and be more circumspect with the chemicals I use around the home." (The Sunday Times - 4/7/04)

The average five-year-old in large parts of the country has three teeth that are rotten or filled according to a nationwide survey of 12,000 children (the 2003 Dental Health Survey). The amount of sugary drinks available for toddlers appears to have created enormous levels of decay which are counteracting the positive effects of flouride in toothpaste. (The Observer - 4/7/04)

Following last week's news that Syngenta will stop all GM research from its site in Berkshire, the development of GM crops in the UK is doomed. Professor Michael Wilson, Professor of Plant Biology at Warwick University said, "I am afraid that the Luddites have effectively won. He blamed the media and "ego-tripping and propagandising" environmentalists. Peter Melchett agreed that research would whither in Britain and said that the technology had been rejected because of "deep public unease". (Independent on Sunday - 4/7/04)

Schools that are encouraging pupils to grow fruit and vegetables were the subject of a feature in the Times on Saturday (Body & Soul section). The Department of Health is funding projects in London as part of its Food in Schools programme. The article concentrated on Oliver Quibell school in Newark, Nottinghamshire where children taste everything that they grow: carrots are grated into sandwiches, and soup or vegetable bakes are also made. Cooking is rarely taught in schools and the work of the charity Kids' Cookery School (020 8992 8882) was highlighted. Based in West London, the charity works with local schools to teach children to cook. (The Times - 3/7/04)

Syngenta, the last big biotechnology company researching genetically modified crops in the UK is to transfer its work to America. Many plant scientists have already left Britain and it is thought that Syngenta's departure might prompt others to move to GM-friendly countries such as America and Australia. Professor Anthony Trewavas of Edinburgh University said that morale in the plant science community was at an all time low. (1/7/04 - Financial Times)

Friends of the Earth will publish advice on its website telling the public how they can make requests to international regulators for copies of information submitted by chemical companies who wish to have pesticides approved. Friends of the Earth has been fighting for information about safety data on pesticides from Bayer CropScience, including on the weedkiller glufosinate ammonium. Following legal action, Friends of the Earth now has access to Bayer's confidential data on the undertaking that it will not publish or copy this information. (1/7/04 - Financial Times)

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