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Organic news archive: November 2004

The European Union's opening of its markets to genetically modified crops faces a challenge from five European nations who say they have the right to say what's safe and what's not, regardless of EU decisions. Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece today will tell regulatory authorities that they want to continue long-standing bans on types of genetically modified corn and rapeseed oil. (Wall Street Journal 29/11/04)

Britain's farmers are going on the offensive next week with the first national advertising campaign designed to shatter their "whinging and grumpy" public image. However, campaigners for organic food and animal welfare have dismissed the adverts as little more than "spin" and called for more rigorous national quality standards for food. The article fails to say which organisation these campaigners are from. (The Daily Telegraph 27/11/04)

Spy satellites are to be used to catch farmers who fraudulently claim EU subsidies worth billions of pounds and break health rules. The satellites, to be launched next year, will cover southern England but concentrate on Italy, where the Mafia specialises in farm rip-offs. (The Sun 27/11/04)

Taxpayers will have to pay an extra £600 million towards the costs of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, according to the European Commission, because of concerns about the way the epidemic was handled. The commission has decided to disqualify nearly two thirds of Britain's claim for £948 million from the "emergency" pot which Brussels holds to pay for major animal disease epidemics. The commission's concerns centre on the Government's failure to control the compensation paid for animals killed, the cost of clean-ups and the cost of the contiguous cull, which led to the deaths of millions of healthy animals. (The Daily Telegraph 25/11/04)

The Eco sounding column in The Guardian asked, "Could someone have a word with the Food Standards Agency?" This government body has long backed GM food and thrown doubt on organic foods and now has a new consumer website. The FSA does not mention one single doubt thrown up by years of government and industry research into the technology. When asked why, the FSA responds that "Defra and not the FSA is responsible for looking at the environmental impact of GM". See www.eatwell.gov.uk. (24/11/04)

The Times reports on a story in the Third Sector magazine on the Catholic church's support for GM. The Catholic Institute for International Relations say that the Vatican is being lobbied by biotech companies urging it to back GM, and it is now calling on its supporters to flood the Holy See with letters expressing concern about GM. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences responded by saying that GM foods were essential for feeding the hungry and poor. (23/11/04)

The GM industry has dropped its last attempts to get GM seeds approved for growing in Britain. Bayer CropScience has withdrawn the only two remaining applications for government permission for the seeds a winter and a oilseed rape, both modified to tolerate one of the firm's herbicides. Supporters of the technology say this will put back their commercial use in Britain for years. (Independent on Sunday - 21/11/04)

Writer Deborah Orr has made a case in favour of Afghanistan's opium farmers following suggestions that, in the war against drugs, American and British soldiers be brought in to destroy this year's crop. Orr believes that since many Afghani's rely on their opium crop to survive, the West should buy the Afghanis' crop rather than Tasmania's medically sanctioned opium but for the snag: "reluctance to transfer the power and profit knowledge confers from those with everything to those who have nothing." Her other suggestion is that Afghanistan should be given the status as the world's premier producer of genetically modified opium. Researchers in Australia and Canada have already worked out how to adapt opium poppies so that they produce substances which can combat malaria and cancer. (The Independent on Saturday - 20/11/04)

Organic food sales growing by £2 million a week

Sales of organic food in the UK have increased by over 10 per cent in the last year, according to figures released by the Soil Association. Retail sales of organic food are now worth £1.12 billion and are growing by £2 million a week. The rate of growth of organics is twice the rate of the general grocery market.

According to the Soil Association's Organic Food and Farming Report 2004, the proportion of organic food sold through the supermarkets has actually fallen by 1% for the second year running. Increasingly, consumers are turning directly to farmers: sales through box schemes, farmers' markets or farm shops have soared by 16 per cent and are now worth £108 million a year. Scotland continues to have over half of all organic land in the UK, while the Southwest of England is home to over a fifth of all organic farms and food companies.

The popularity of organic baby food continues to grow, with nearly half of all baby food sold now organic. Around a million more organic chickens were sold last year, increasing sales by 30 per cent to a total of 4.5 million birds. This was despite relatively little promotion by the supermarkets. The Soil Association predicts that organic poultry will continue to be the fastest growing area of organic livestock in the coming year.

Almost no organic chicken is imported, compared with 10 per cent of non-organic chicken, but this is not a reflection of the organic market in general. Although imports of organic food have steadily reduced over the last few years, the Soil Association found that imports have remained static at 56 per cent in 2003-04. A fifth of the organic meat sold in the UK is imported, while potatoes, carrots, onions, apples and pears are still being imported by some leading retailers even when in season here. This is despite a target set by the Government to encourage retailers to ensure that imports fall to 30% by 2010.

Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association said: "The organic market is thriving and is being driven by consumers who want to buy fresh, local, good-quality seasonal food directly from the farmer. The leading supermarkets must take note of the public's wishes and increase the amount of locally-sourced organic food in store, which should come from small and medium-sized farms."

The Soil Association says that Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose have done most to reduce their reliance on imports and stock more organic food from UK farmers. However, the organisation is warning that slashing the price of organic products to expand sales does not work convincingly and can have serious consequences for producers. "If supermarket buyers pay their suppliers significantly less, the small, mixed family farms that are the bedrock of the organic movement can no longer afford to supply them," says Patrick Holden. The Organic Food and Farming Report 2004, consisting of a 24-page printed report and 79-page CD-ROM with additional information, costs £100 and can be ordered from www.soilassociation.org. (15/11/04)

The future of nearly half of all European bird species is under threat due to intensive farming practices and the use of pesticides, according to a new report from BirdLife International. Birds are excellent environmental indicators and the continual decline of many species sends a clear signal about the health of Europe's wildlife. In the UK, the common agricultural policy is blamed for declining numbers of birds. (The Independent - 8/11/04)

'The Dutch government has paved the way for the introduction of GM crops', according to the Farmers' Guardian. This was commenting on an agreement presented by the Dutch government last Tuesday, which has been criticised by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. In a press release, IFOAM said a proposal that non-GM farmers, and taxpayers, should contribute to a fund which would compensate farmers whose crops are contaminated by GM, is 'completely unacceptable.' The group does, however, 'commend the agreement to adopt co-existence measures that should generally keep GM contamination of non-GM food at zero levels. This is a very important aim if the need for the compensation fund is to be kept minimal.' (IFOAM press release)

Peer pressure and the threat of bullying are prompting school children to choose highly processed snacks and fast foods over healthy options, a survey of pupils from nursery to secondary school by the children's charity, Barnado's has found. According to the survey, children think that boys eating salad is not cool, while healthy food is considered 'posh'. (The Guardian - 9/11/04)

William Kendall, Chief Executive of Green and Black's and Mike and Lorraine Brehme, founders of Clipper Teas, appear in the Financial Times' 2004 Creative Business 50, which recognises successful individuals and organisations in marketing, media and communications.

Friends of the Earth have accused the EU Commission of "caving in to corporate America" because Brussels is pressurising member states to rescind their bans on certain GM crops. This would bring the Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg into line with new EU rules covering the cultivation and use of approved varieties. If enough member states vote in favour of the EU Commission's proposals, then these five countries would have to lift their current bans within 20 days.

A thousand tonnes of redundant toxic pesticides will set sail for the UK in the next few months. If left where they are, the pesticides would threaten the lives of thousands of Ethiopian villagers. They are part of an estimated 3000 tonnes of pesticides collected from waste dumps across Ethiopia. (New Scientist)

One of the UK's biggest water suppliers is calling for a ban on a widely used cereal herbicide. Thames Water Utilities' Dinah Hillier has asked the Pesticides Safety Directorate to outlaw isoproturon saying that it "costs far too much to clean up".

Exposure to low levels of the pesticide rotenone makes monkeys develop Parkinson's disease, which suggests it has the same effect on people too, according to a study by Emory University in Atlanta. (New Scientist, 6/11/04)

The UK's first certified organic health and beauty centre is opening in Bath. Mimi Holistica will be the first centre of its kind to offer clients a totally organic service, as certified by the Soil Association. Set up by Dr Claire Stanford, a GP, homeopath and women's health specialist, and Christine Adams, a lecturer in hairdressing and theatrical make-up, Mimi Holistica will officially open on 18 November. The products Mimi Holistica uses in its treatment include certified organic products from Green People (www.greenpeople.co.uk), pioneers of organic health and beauty products, and Essential-Care (www.essential-care.co.uk), a family-run company that specialises in natural and organic skincare. They have also opted to use ecological cleaning products so that their cleaning procedures cause minimum environmental impact as part of their holistic ethos. In addition, Mimi Holistica use organic cotton towels./p>

Dr Claire Stanford says, "Mimi Holistica is a centre that is based on integrity. We provide clients with a tranquil, nurturing environment and have therapists who are all trained to the highest standards. All clients and patients are treated as individuals and their own particular needs addressed. Whilst many of us are careful to buy organically accredited food, we often neglect to check the products we put on our skin, which is quite an eye-opener when you take into account that on average our skin absorbs 60% of the applied product."

Mimi Holistica is based at 5 Gloucester Street, Bath, BA1 2SE, Tel: 01225 448432.

Indian farmers have come up with what they think is the real thing to keep crops free of bugs. Instead of paying hefty fees to international chemical companies for patented pesticides, they are reportedly spraying their cotton and chilli fields with Coca-Cola. (The Guardian - 2/11/04)

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