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Organic news archive: January 2005

A Church of England report recommends using organic bread and wine for communion, among a number of suggestions to improve the ecological impact of church services. The report - 'Sharing God's Planet. A Christian vision for a sustainable future' - will be discussed by the General Synod this month. (Church Times - 28/1/05)

The Co-op supermarket has told its suppliers worldwide to discontinue or phase out the use of almost 100 pesticides. The Co-op has involved experts, some of them members of the government's Advisory Committee on Pesticides, to develop a pesticide assessment test. It categories chemicals according to their toxicity and the potential health hazard they represent.

In the USA activists are calling for biomonitoring of breast milk to check for pesticide traces or metabolites. In California a bill for official biomonitoring was narrowly defeated recently and 11 similar bills are being contested in other states. Two hundred organisations are pursuing the issue. They hope to counter the threat caused by 40 industry bodies who have united to create the Pesticide Policy Coalition to lobby Washington.

Latest trade figures show a dramatic 12% decline over the past decade in the UK's self-sufficiency in staple foods like meat and fresh vegetables. DEFRA's annual 'Agriculture in the UK' publication shows that the UK was 86% self-sufficient in indigenous-type foods in 1994, but by 2004 this had fallen to 74%. It also shows that the value of food, animal feed and drink imported into the UK far exceeds the value exported. A rise in production costs, BSE, a decrease in the number of agricultural workers and cheaper European imports were given as reasons behind the trend.

However, Farmers Guardian reports on another study, this time by HDRA, that found the UK organic vegetable market became more stable and self-sufficient during the 2003-2004 season. The UK Organic Vegetable Market study, funded by Defra, says that some 123,500 tonnes of organic vegetables with a total retail value of £197 million were traded during this period. Consumers are willing to pay nearly 5% extra for food if it improves the welfare of pigs, according to a study. The study by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare examined willingness to pay for increases in space, environmental enrichment and for research into improved housing for pigs. 75% of respondents said that animal welfare should be an important objective for government policy.

The UK government has confirmed it has no plans to remove the remaining organophosphate sheep dips from the market, claiming there is no evidence that OP dips have affected the health of sheep farmers.

The Food Commission has requested that the Soil Association consider nutritional quality when it issues technical guidelines to its organic food processors. In its role as the consumer representative on the Processing Standards Committee of the Soil Association, the Commission has asked that organically certified processed foods take into account salt, saturated fat and sugar, and use healthy ingredients such as vegetables. (Food Magazine, January - March)

Hospitals in North Wales will serve only locally sourced beef under a £120,000-a-year deal unveiled last week. Patients and visitors will tuck into 40,000 kilogrammes of Welsh beef a year under the contract negotiated by Welsh Health Supplies, the central contracting and materials management service for the NHS. There are also pilot projects across four London hospitals to source local and where possible, organic food. (Supply Management magazine, 20/1/05)

Waitrose plans to introduce branded, locally-sourced fresh produce as part of a long term strategy to work more closely with local grocery producers. On February 7 it launches a trial of seasonal fruit and vegetables, branded 'Country Produce', in its Tonbridge store in Kent. The move follows the launch of a six line organic range under the 'Local Farm Series: Organic Farm Foods' label last week in its Cirencester, Cheltenham, Monmouth and Stroud stores in the West Country.

The Parliamentary All Party OP Group has published a report which claims there is enough evidence for a complete ban on organo-phosphate-based sheep dip products. The group of MPs has also called on the government to instruct doctors around the country in how to deal with patients suffering from the effects of exposure to OPs.

Organophosphate pesticides used in sheep dip, can cause illnesses among sheep farmers and other people exposed to the chemicals, according to a report published by the all-party organophosphate parliamentary group. Although the report conceded that definitive proof of a link between the chemicals and illness in humans had not been established, it said a link had been demonstrated that should be further investigated. (Financial Times - 26/1/05)

Monsanto paid $1.4bn (£745m) on Monday to buy a fruit and vegetable seed company and said it would look at the possibility of genetically modifying the produce. The company is known for its controversial innovations in genetic modifications for crops such as soya beans and corn. Genetically modified crops are flourishing in the US but have caused an outcry elsewhere. The deal will speed up Monsanto's move into the seed market and extend its reach further into Europe and Asia, where the company, Seminis, does a large part of its business. (The Guardian; Financial Times - 25/1/05)

Abaca will launch the first range organic mattresses in the world on January 28th, certified by the Soil Association. These high quality mattresses have been developed in response to increasing concern about the use of chemicals in textiles, and the presence of pesticide residues in fabrics. Abaca's mattresses are made with organic wool from Wales and organic cotton from Tanzania. (www.abacaorganic.co.uk)

British children as young as two are being diagnosed as obese, putting them at high risk of developing serious illnesses in their early years. Doctors warn that unless parents stop overfeeding their children and improve their diets, more and more could suffer from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes. "Obesity is producing a generation of children who need to be monitored more closely to reduce the risk of premature death," said Dr Russell Viner, a researcher at University College London Hospitals who carried out a study examining the medical records of 103 youngsters classified as obese. The study found that many already had health problems normally found in adults. (Daily Mail - 21/1/05)

The British Pig Executive (BPEX) has launched a £1m advertising campaign telling consumers that two-thirds of imported pigmeat does not meet British animal welfare standards and would be illegal to produce in the UK. While the claim has provoked angry reactions from Dutch and Danish pig producers, BPEX argues that it is legitimate to raise public awareness of the fact that animal welfare standards are higher in the UK.

UK farmers' reliance on growth-promoting antibiotics to fatten chickens and pigs rose by 33%, from 27 to 36 tons, between 2002 and 2003, according to figures from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (part of Defra) - despite the government's 1999 strategy to put curbs on their use, and despite their imminent EU ban. From January 2006, avilamycin, flavomycin and monensin will be banned across the EU due to fears that their excessive use has speeded up bacterial resistance to human medicines. The government's initiative to reduce use has so far been reliant on voluntary initiatives from farmers and the food industry. (Guardian, Daily Mail)

Scientists say up to 10 new disease resistant potato varieties will lead to a major increase in UK organic potato production. The pan-European Blight-Mop project results were detailed by Newcastle university professor Carlo Liefert at the Soil Association's annual conference. Soil Association director Patrick Holden said: "Organic potato growing can be technically challenging. We hope these varieties will enable farmers to produce more." (The Grocer - 15/1/05)

The government's independent scientific advisers are stepping up the pressure on Whitehall to investigate whether the widespread use of pesticides has increased risk of disease in humans. The Advisory Committee on Pesticides' demand for studies to show whether and how the chemicals may cause Parkinson's disease coincides with a separate call from the Department of Health's Committee on Carcinogenicity, for improved measures of exposure to pesticides, because of possible links with prostate cancer. The Advisory Committee on Pesticides said it would be "useful" to set up long-term health studies of workers making or using pesticides. They also concluded in November, in a so-far unpublicised finding, that a review of the existing evidence indicated a correlation between pesticides and Parkinson's disease. Defra said that some studies had found no association between pesticide use and Parkinson's, but added, "A link between pesticides exposure and Parkinson's disease cannot be discounted based on the evidence currently available. That is why further research is required" The Pesticides Safety Directorate was investigating the best way forward. (The Guardian - 14/1/05)

Details of a new watchdog aimed at curbing the exploitation of agricultural workers and labourers have been unveiled by the government. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) will for the first time regulate those who supply workers to agricultural and shellfish businesses. It will set licensing conditions and keep a register of labour providers. Farming Minister, Lord Whitty said the GLA, which will begin work in April, would help prevent "abuse" of workers. (BBC News online 13/1/05, The Guardian - 14/1/05)

Kraft Foods, the US's largest food producer, will abandon advertising sugary snacks to children under 12 worldwide, to head off criticism about the rising level of obesity among the young. Their products will no longer be advertised on television or radio during programmes aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds. The company said the ban was in response to the health concerns of consumers and the "global public health challenge of rising obesity rates". (The Independent - 13/1/05)

The recent research showing higher levels of vitamin A, vitamin E and fatty acids in organic milk was highlighted in the Evening Standard. Joanna Blythman also looked at the improved nutritional quality of other products from outdoor reared animals. Joanna urged readers to buy milk from "independent" companies such as Yeo Valley, Rachel's Dairy, and Manor Farm. (Evening Standard - 12/1/05)

McDonald's has taken the first steps to fulfil its 2003 promise to reduce the levels of antibiotics in the millions of pounds of chicken, pork and beef that it sells. All of the chicken suppliers with whom the company has a direct relationship have already eliminated the use of human antibiotics as growth promoters in the chickens. McDonald's has been working with Environmental Defense, an advocacy group, to bring about the change, which the company says has not increased the price of the chickens. (New York Times - 12/1/05)

'You can tell that the establishment is beginning to get the message about the environment when it gives OBEs to Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, and Pooran Desai of Zedbed/BioRegional.' (The Guardian - 12/1/05). [Actually, Patrick had been awarded a CBE - a higher honour than an OBE!]

February's Ideal Home magazine, which has a circulation of 270,000, features a campaign to save your local high street. The editor, Susan Rose, swapped her weekly shop from the supermarket to her local high street and discovered it was not just quicker, but cheaper.

Prince Charles has recorded a £1m profit for the first time from the organic foods he markets from his Duchy of Cornwall estate. Sales of his 130 Duchy Originals Products topped £3.3m, pushing up profits by 40 per cent. Profits go to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. (The Independent; Daily Mail - 12/1/05)

Using information from a session at the Soil Association's annual conference, the Scotsman has run a news item looking at the implications of the forthcoming requirement for 100% organic diets to be given to animals, and the need for changes to animal welfare standards. Gillian Butler from Newcastle University said, "Feed compounders are talking in terms of a doubling of organic feed prices... but we should be able to minimise the impact with greater co-operation and communication." Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director, also revealed that more work was being undertaken to ensure that improved welfare targets set were being met as a result of work at Bristol University. "We want to be sure that consumer expectations on welfare are being met and we will be putting out these Bristol System standards across our membership gradually in the next two years," he said. As well as measuring physical welfare codes such as the presence of various diseases, this system will also consider aspects of stress and nervous tension in animals. (The Scotsman - 11/1/05)

Farmers around the world planted about 13m more hectares of biotech crops in 2004 than in 2003 - an increase of 20% - according to figures released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA).

Whole Foods Market, the world's largest natural and organic food retailer is planning to open six megastores in and around London. (The Grocer - 8/1/05)

The government committee on carcinogenicity have for the first time advised that pesticides, particularly weedkillers, might cause prostate cancer, and are calling for better monitoring of their use and for more information on occupational exposure of agricultural workers. These finding are a result of a government review of the huge increase in prostate cancer over the last 20 years. (The Guardian - 10/1/05)

'Organic milk more healthy' says the Sun, one report of several in the national press on new research revealing that milk from organic cows contains 50 per cent more vitamin E and higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, than non-organic milk. Organic milk is also 75 per cent higher in beta carotene (which our bodies convert to vitamin A) and two to three times higher in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthine, all essential for good health. The research will be presented today at the Soil Association's Annual Conference - held in conjunction with the University of Newcastle's Quality Low Impact Food (QLIF) Congress.

The Daily Mail says 'The findings will confound critics of organic food, who argue that green farming methods are based on romantic myth rather than sound science', and quotes Patrick Holden: "a number of pioneering schools are serving organic milk and there is now a strong case for the Government to ensure such initiatives are extended across the country."

The Sun quotes research leader Professor Carlo Leifert as saying the evidence convinces him it is worth paying around 9p more for a pint of organic milk. (Sun, Daily Mail, The Guardian, Farmers Weekly - 7/1/05)

The US agrochemical giant Monsanto has agreed to pay a $1.5m (£799,000) fine for bribing an Indonesian official. Monsanto admitted one of its employees paid the senior official two years ago in a bid to avoid environmental impact studies being conducted on its cotton. In addition to the penalty, Monsanto also agreed to three years' close monitoring of its business practices by the American authorities. It said it accepted full responsibility for what it called improper activities. Monsanto also has admitted to paying bribes to a number of other high-ranking officials between 1997 and 2002. (BBC News - 7/1/05)

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