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Organic news archive: August 2004

Modern farming practices and changes in the weather have altered habitats and led to a dramatic reduction in many species of songbirds including the cuckoo and even the starling, renowned for its resilience, according to leading ornithologist Michael Waterhouse. (Daily Mail 30/8/04)

Judges are to be given tough powers to protect Britain from pollution and over-development under proposals for a new environmental court. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has commissioned two reports which back the creation of a dedicated court headed by senior judges specialising in environmental law. The move follows concern that the legal system has failed to meet the growing threat posed by industry and multi-national companies. The new court would have a wide jurisdiction, hearing prosecutions against polluters, settling planning disputes as well as dealing with other potential threats to the environment, such as the siting of GM crops, wind turbines or even airports. (The Independent 28/8/04)

Green-fingered rock star Sting has gone into the fruit and veg business. The former Police frontman is supplying a local shop with produce from the [Soil Association certified] 60-acre organic garden on his country estate in Wiltshire. (Daily Express; The Sunday Times)

Friends of the Earth revealed that scientists have been called by the World Trade Organisation to debate the safety of Genetically Modified (GM) foods and crops. The move is a blow to the Bush Administration, which fought to stop any debate over scientific safety of GM, and means that the outcome of the US-Europe trade dispute on GM foods is substantially delayed and will not be known before the US presidential election. (www.organicts.com - 27/8/04)

The numbers of sufferers of brain diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease, have soared across the West in less than 20 years, scientists have discovered. The alarming rise, which includes figures showing rates of dementia have trebled in men, has been linked to rises in levels of pesticides, industrial effluents, domestic waste, car exhausts and other pollutants, says a report in the journal Public Health. In the late 1970s, there were around 3,000 deaths a year from these conditions in England and Wales. By the late 1990s, there were 10,000.

"This has really scared me," said Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University, one of the report's authors. "These are nasty diseases: people are getting more of them and they are starting earlier. We have to look at the environment and ask ourselves what we are doing."

The causes were most likely to be chemicals, from car pollution to pesticides on crops and industrial chemicals used in almost every aspect of modern life, from processed food to packaging, from electrical goods to sofa covers, Pritchard said.

Food is also a major concern because it provides the most obvious explanation for the exclusion of Japan from many of these trends. Only when Japanese people move to the other countries do their disease rates increase.

"There's no one single cause ... and most of the time we have no studies on all the multiple interactions of the combinations on the environment. I can only say there have been these major changes [in deaths]: it is suggested it's multiple pollution." (The Observer - 15/8/04)

The Times charted the increasing popularity of organic cotton with major clothing manufacturers and retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Nike and H&M. Craig Sams is quoted, "Organic clothing does not provide any real health benefits to the wearer, but it does make you feel good with your conscience." (14/08/04)

Preliminary results of research at the University of Southampton suggest that hyperactivity in children is strongly linked to the consumption of food additives and colourings. (The Independent (16/08/04)

Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, East London, will open next month as part of a Government initiative to establish publicly-funded specialist independent schools, known as city academies, in deprived areas. The facilities include an organic kitchen garden designed by Jamie Oliver. (The Times 14/08/04)

According to a survey published by the Organic Farmers & Growers, nearly two-thirds of organic farmers rate their profitability as low or borderline, and 12% said their business is no longer viable at current prices. While almost 90% of respondents said they expected to be farming organically in a year's time, 30% were undecided about whether that would be the case in five years. OF&G sent the survey to all 4,000 organic farmers and the findings are based on a 29% response rate (or 1,144 replies). Organic Farmer and Soil Association licensee Bruce Bennett insists the key to success is providing quality organic produce and encouraging people to shop at local farms. His farm, Pillars of Hercules, recently expanded to include a shop and cafe, selling homegrown produce. He explained: "It sounds like natural farmers' pessimism coming out. We grow a lot of the produce we sell, and it has to be good quality. Simply having the label 'organic' isn't good enough any longer. There's a slow movement away from the supermarket monopoly and I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry that's about as optimistic as farmers get." (9/8/04 - The Herald; The Independent)

The Organic Action Plan for England has now been relaunched. The action plan sets out the current buoyant market for organic food and outlines the work that will be undertaken by the Soil Association to develop the organic sector. For details about the action plan, see the Soil Association's press release.

The Co-op has introduced degradable plastic bags for bread, which will rot away in a maximum of four years, breaking down into a small organic residue, carbon dioxide and water. The Co-op has also brought in biodegradable bags for shoppers in which they can take home their purchases. (The Guardian - 2/8/04)

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