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Organic news archive: December 2004

Patrick Holden, the chair of the Soil Association, has been awarded a CBE in the new year honours list, for services to organic farming. (The Times; Dairy Telegraph; Guardian; Independent - 31/12/04)

The Daily Mail reports that Darlington Memorial Hospital has become the first in the country to swap ordinary milk for organic, in the belief that it will aid patients' recovery. 5,000 pints of organic milk will be delivered from Acorn Dairy three miles away. Ron McKenzie, the hospital's head of catering, said a two-month trial had resulted in positive feedback: "We have a duty to our patients based on improving health and well-being, and as organic milk seems to have enhanced nutritional benefits, the small increase in cost is more than justified."

Eating fast-food can double the risk of diabetes, new research has shown. A major 15-year American study has confirmed that a junk diet, including burgers, chips and pizza, is a recipe for obesity and health problems. Not only does the food lead to weight gain, it also builds insulin resistance, triggering diabetes in adults. The University of Minnesota study involved more than 3,000 young adults who were monitored between 1985 and 2000. (Daily Express; Guardian; Daily Mail; Daily Telegraph - 31/12/04)

Elliot Morley, minister for the environment, wrote to the Guardian to deny that the AEBC is being scrapped because it has hindered the introduction of GM crops. He claims the only difference between the AEBC and the government is 'our view that the taxpayer should not pick up any liability from actions of GM cultivation, but the GM sector itself.' (The Guardian - 30/12/04)

GM news

The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, is to scrap an advisory committee after it repeatedly placed obstacles in the way of government plans to introduce genetically modified crops. The commission established by the government to monitor ethical and social issues linked to GM crops is to be disbanded after its members insisted that conventional and organic farmers should be protected from contamination by GM crops - and be compensated if safeguards fail. With the results of the latest GM trials due in February, Mrs Beckett, already known to be hostile to the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, is expected to announce its demise early next month, before it can cause further difficulties. (The Guardian; Daily Mail - 29/12/04)

Some top-selling brands of flavoured mineral or spring water contain more sugar in a litre than there is in a Mars bar. (The Sunday Times - 26/12/04)

Farmers in the South West are putting fresh pressure on NFU officials to begin drafting a legally enforceable agreement to rein in the power of the supermarkets. The new year will see them increasing demands for a statutory code of conduct which will include preventing the sale of food at prices below the cost of production. Originating from Somerset farmers, the demand will be fully debated at January's NFU council. (Western Daily Press, 22/12/04)

A new environmentally-benign insecticide from Dow should be on offer to fruit and veg growers in 2005. Developed from a natural material found in an abandoned rum factory on a Caribbean island, it offers excellent insect control with a very favourable environmental and human health profile. According to David Scorer, head of Dow's UK business, "The profile is so favourable that it even has organic approval in the USA".

Margaret Beckett has admitted the UK is lagging behind the rest of the Europe in terms of its biomass and biofuels industry - but laid the blame on the previous Conservative administration.

Figures published by the Government do not give a true representation of the numbers of reports of adverse effects from pesticide exposure. Georgina Downs, a leading pesticides campaigner, has responded to the Government's publication of figures involving the reporting of the potential effects of pesticides on human health by saying that it does not give a true representation of the real scope of the problem relating to the adverse effects of pesticide exposure. She highlights serious fundamental flaws throughout the existing regulations and monitoring system for pesticides, and has exposed a real weakness in the Government's monitoring and reporting systems, as they were only ever really set up to deal with incidents of acute exposure and poisoning. Ms. Downs says, "At present, there is no monitoring or collection of data on chronic effects at all. Therefore there is no way the Government can claim that the system is robust, as there is no system in place to monitor chronic illnesses and diseases that could be related to pesticide exposure. So the full extent of ill-health related to pesticides is not known." Go to www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk for more details.

A remote village in Mozambique has dramatically merged the problems of hunger and disease with innovation to transform organic agricultural practices through the development of the EcoSan, a latrine system which harnesses human waste into compost. Partially funded by the charity, WaterAid, the hand-dug latrine is filled with soil and ash and when full, is left for eight months, during which any harmful pathogens in the faeces die off as they compost. The result has been a marked improvement in diseases caused by improper sanitation, while the compost produced is far more effective than the expensive artificial fertilisers that were beyond the villagers' reach. (The Independent - 15/12/04)

A remote village in Mozambique has dramatically merged the problems of hunger and disease with innovation to transform organic agricultural practices through the development of the EcoSan, a latrine system which harnesses human waste into compost. Partially funded by the charity, WaterAid, the hand-dug latrine is filled with soil and ash and when full, is left for eight months, during which any harmful pathogens in the faeces die off as they compost. The result has been a marked improvement in diseases caused by improper sanitation, while the compost produced is far more effective than the expensive artificial fertilisers that were beyond the villagers' reach. (The Independent - 15/12/04)

The distillers of Islay single malt whiskey confirm beyond doubt that the quality of spirit distilled from organic barley is much superior. Testers praised its definition, fruitiness and character. From now on, they aim to use only organically grown barley. (Letters, The Daily Telegraph)

A survey by the British heart Foundation shows that 59 per cent of parents would like to see a ban on tokens from junk food that children collect to earn school equipment. (Daily Telegraph - 13/12/04)

Sales of Walkers crisps and Kellogg's Frosties have fallen amid worries about levels of obesity, according to the Daily Mail (11 Dec). However, the Daily Mirror (also 11 Dec) points out that sales of chocolate, cakes, lager and wine have soared in the past year. Sales figures come from the Grocer magazine.

The Daily Telegraph suggest the Environment Agency and Defra as candidates for its 'Regulatory Creep of the Year' award: 'The Environment Agency's decision to reclassify items like computers and fluorescent lights as hazardous, but slash the number of sites licensed to deal with such waste from 182 to 14 was a corker.' Defra only sent out new regulations affecting farmers - the 'cross compliance rules' - on 6 December. From January 1 these regulations will determine whether farmers can apply for subsidies or not. 'This performance meets two important Regulatory Creep award criteria: being both ill conceived and poorly timed.' (13/12/04)

Farm dumps of rusting machinery, barbed wire and sometimes the smoking remains of plastic sheeting have dotted the countryside for years but from today they are banned. Dumps, where paint and chemicals lie alongside unidentifiable sharp implements, have become illegal overnight, as the Government drops the exemption from EU waste regulations that farm waste has enjoyed. (The Daily Telegraph - 10/12/04)

An article advocating the health benefits of tea highlights the greater antioxidant content in organic teas compared to conventional ones. Recent research found Sainsbury's Organic Tea contained the highest levels of antioxidants (173mg a bag, compared to runner-up PG Tips, 156mg) - plus it doesn't contain the pesticides that creep into normal tea. (Daily Mirror - 9/12/04)

Sainsbury's is to relaunch its fresh produce packaging to highlight its pro-British buying policy.

The Bright project - a small-scale study of the environmental and agricultural effects of GM crops - has just been published. According to the BBC Breakfast TV programme, who have had early access, the study 'found there was no evidence that they (GM herbicide tolerant winter oil-seed rape and sugar beet crops) are harmful to the environment.'

Despite the growth in organic sales reported by the Soil Association, UK organic livestock producers are still dealing with supply and quality issues. Ralph Human, Organic Livestock Marketing Co-op's Managing Director said, "There is an increase in fruit and vegetable sales and an increase in milk consumption, but meat is the poor relation." He thinks some organic livestock producers will return to conventional production in 1-2 years leading to a further dip in supplies.

The US government's Food and Drug Administration has published plans to allow the mixing of human food crops and experimental GM crops grown in test sites. The proposals will reduce the legal liability of biotechnology companies if admixing occurs.

Supermarket suppliers received parliamentary support this week when MPs backed a motion for the strengthening of the Supermarket Code of Practice. The motion claims that the current Code of Practice is ineffective, poorly enforced, and does not cover all parts of the supply chain. MPs are calling for a stronger, legally enforced code that ensures fair play.

The Office of Fair Trading has been asked to open a new investigation into supermarket dominance in the grocery market. Four groups made the application - the campaign group Farm, Friends of the Earth, The Association of Convenience Stores and the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Collectively they argued that market concentration by the big four supermarkets has accelerated rapidly since the most recent OFT investigation in 2000.

The decision to allow beef from animals over 30 months old back into the food chain for the first time since spring 1996 has finally been announced but the timing remains uncertain. Defra have indicated that the change to a BSE testing scheme would take place in the "latter half of next year."

Organic milk contains almost three-quarters more Omega 3 than conventional milk, according to research from Aberdeen University. One pint of organic milk contains the entire daily recommended intake of Omega 3, while a matchbox-size piece of organic cheese contains 88% of the daily requirement. Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid important for nervous system development in babies. It is also reported to make schoolchildren more attentive and prevent blood clots developing in adults. Researchers found that organic milk also had a better balance of Omega 3 with Omega 6. James Robertson, livestock projects manager at Aberdeen University said that the findings are due to the higher proportion of clover forage in the diets of organic cows. (Daily Mail, 8/12/04)

In the Observer Food Monthly, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall answers back to recent press articles bashing organic food. "So what if it's got fat and sugar in it it's a bloody biscuit," he shouts, "the organic movement has never claimed to be part of WeightWatchers." He points out that consumers clearly want a choice between organic and non-organic products and that in relation to "gripes about salt levels", in organic cured meats, salt may be replacing preservatives not allowed by Soil Association standards (27 additives are allowed in Soil Association standards as opposed to 297 for non-organic products). (5/12/04)

Patrick Holden is this week's 'Food Hero' in the Times magazine: 'throughout all his work, Holden holds true to the principle that healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people are inextricably linked.' (4/12/04)

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