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Organic news archive: February 2005

WASHINGTON, February 23, 2005 - Farmers in developing countries who switch to organic agriculture achieve higher earnings and a better standard of living, according to a series of studies conducted in China, India and six Latin American countries by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The findings were presented today during a workshop held at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, DC. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0502/S00647.htm

Scientists found that rats fed on organic food were slimmer, slept better and had stronger immune systems than others fed on conventionally grown produce. A team from the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences worked with Newcastle University scientist, Dr Kirsten Brandt. She said: "The difference was so big that it is very unlikely to be random." (The Independent; The Guardian - 19/2/05)

"More than 350 food products were swept off UK supermarket shelves yesterday in the biggest safety scare since the BSE crisis," writes James Meikle in the Guardian (19/2/05)

Fresh and canned foods, ready meals and cooking sauces were removed from sale on the orders of government food watchdogs after the chance discovery in Italy 11 days ago of an illegal, potentially cancer-causing dye ingredient in a bottle of Crosse & Blackwell Worcester sauce. All the foods affected came from one supplier, Premier Foods, which said it had been advised by the Food Standards Agency that the levels of the dye Sudan 1 that had been detected "present no immediate risk to health".

The alert relates to 357 products with Worcester sauce flavouring, and the figure may rise. This weekend's recall of hundreds of products exposes huge gaps in the safeguards supposed to keep deadly dangers out of the food we eat. "It raises big questions over the priorities and effectiveness of the Food Standards Agency," writes Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Mail (21/2/05).

Seed and technology fees for genetically modified crops are on the up in the USA, as companies continue to invest in next generation traits. Some producers are expecting Monsanto's technology fees to rise 75% this season, as the firm seeks to recoup costs. The main reason for the price rises is the need to fund work on next generation GM varieties.

Jamie Oliver has launched a manifesto for transforming school meals. He said the Government has to spend more on school dinners, teach children how to cook and pay dinner ladies more. "Many children can tell you about drugs but do not know what celery or courgettes taste like," he said. (The Daily Telegraph)

The Social Issues Research Council, which is funded by food companies as well as the government, said average child weights have only risen slightly. The scale of childhood obesity has been exaggerated, researchers have claimed. Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of SIRC, said: "Clearly there are some children who are too fat for their own good. But there has been very little change over the last decade, contrary to the lurid warnings."

The Department of Health used both UK and international methods of assessing obesity rates. A spokeswoman said that: "There has been a rise" in childhood obesity in the UK. (BBC News - 16/2/05)

Edible vaccines could be produced in genetically-modified fruit and vegetables, researchers in New York have said. The announcement came after they used GM potatoes to make a vaccine against hepatitis B. The implications of this could be huge, as GM cross-pollination with non-GM food crops would carry the risk of releasing vaccine drugs into the environment. (Daily Mail; The Times - 15/2/05)

Hundreds of pioneering organic farmers, and organic dairy farmers, will be massively disadvantaged as a result of new CAP payments. Up to 200 longstanding organic farmers and 600 organic dairy farmers, who have converted more recently, will be affected. They will not receive the same level of payments as other farmers and will be denied access to compensation. The Soil Association is calling on Defra, SEERAD and the Welsh Assembly to address this issue by releasing the money needed. The Soil Association estimates that organic farmers typically received 40% less CAP money compared with non-organic farmers in the past. Organic farmers will now receive less money under the new scheme. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs states that farmers who decided to convert to organic production before 1994 - when organic grant aid first became available - did so purely as a "business decision", and are therefore not entitled to claim hardship funds. The Soil Association estimates that this affects up to 200 organic farmers.

Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association said, "Defra's decision is grossly unfair. These farmers pioneered sustainable agriculture and have provided environmental benefits for over 10 years. They never benefited from public money to convert to organic farming and now they will lose out yet again. Accommodating these farmers would not involve significant sums of public money; it is the principle that is important."

An article in Saturday's Independent looked at the dilemma facing ethical shoppers whether consumers should chose sustainably produced imported food (such as organic vegetables or fish approved by the Marine Conservation Society) or reduce air miles by choosing UK products which may not meet their ethical criteria. Patrick Holden is quoted: "We do not take into account how far food has travelled, but we might well do in the future. We are sensitive to the issue." Keith Abel, of organic delivery company Abel & Cole, which has a strict no air-freight policy but imports out of season food by sea, is interviewed: "I think the Soil Association could do more. I think they should implement a no-air freight policy but they are nervous about offending supermarkets who frankly don't care where their produce comes from as long as it sells." A second, leader, article, calls on supermarkets, shops and restaurants to give shoppers 'much more information about where the food they are selling comes from'. It concludes: "The boom in demand for organic produce in recent years has shown that the public cares deeply about the environmental impact of the way our food is produced."

Jamie Oliver's crusade to improve school dinners has been widely reported following the Government's Friday announcement of a package of measures to be brought in to improve school meals. "It's a scandal", says Oliver. "It's almost impossible to produce good food at that cost. For 37p [the average budget per meal per child] you just can't afford fresh fish or fruit." Jamie's new Channel 4 series, 'School Dinners', due to start later this month, shows him trying to change the eating habits of 15,000 schoolchildren across the south London borough of Greenwich. (The Guardian, 12/2/05, News of the World, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Express, 13/2/05, Daily Express, 14/2/05)

Readers have voted Green & Black's chocolate 'Best organic product' in the Observer Food Monthly Food Awards for the second year running. Percy's Restaurant in Devon which uses only organic and local ingredients picked up the award for best Sunday lunch. (The Observer, 13/2/05)

"Organic wine has much going for it" writes Dominic Murphy the Guardian's Green Consumer column. In addition to be being made from grapes free of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, organic wine uses only half, or even a third of the amount of sulphur dioxide essential for preventing wine from spoiling thought to contribute to allergic reactions and hangovers. (The Guardian, 12/2/05)

Organic food is used as an example of how consumers can influence ethical changes in food buying patterns, in a Times article on the Marine Conservation Society's advice to reduce our consumption of fish species now threatened with extinction. (12/2/05)

The Daily Telegraph's Savvyshopper asks "Is there such a thing as organic water?" The Soil Association says spring water is too "mobile" to monitor and none has as yet been certified. Savvy shoppers can buy water bottled from springs on organic farms. Readers are warned that imported water such as Vittel and Evian clock up food miles - so local is best.

The Government has announced a package of measures designed to improve school meals. They will be developed in discussion with the food industry, caterers, nutritionists and food interest groups building on the commitments already set out in the Public Health White Paper published in November 2004. The proposals include:

  • New minimum health specifications for processed foods will be introduced in schools from September to reduce their fat, salt and sugar contents.
  • The development of a new school food trust, which would give independent support and advice to schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals.
  • In April, a new vocational qualification for school caterers will be introduced.
  • By July, more help will be available for schools and local education authorities in drawing up catering contracts to source healthy school meals services.
  • From September 2005, healthy eating to be part of the Ofsted school inspection process.
  • From September 2006, tougher minimum standards for school meals, in which the nutrient-based standards will be strongly considered.

Peter Melchett from the Soil Association welcomed these moves, saying, "These measures take us a further significant step towards ensuring that every child has a healthy and enjoyable school dinner. But there is still a long way to go. The Government still needs to be clear what additional money they will provide to schools to allow them to serve healthy meals. And for meals to be truly healthy and sustainable, all schools should be sourcing local, unprocessed, and where possible, organic food."

Obese children will suffer from such severe health problems in middle age that they will cause a 30 percent national surge in heart disease, an expert warned yesterday. That will result in an extra 900,000 people suffering from coronary disease within 30 years. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said young people needed to change their eating habits and that the recent decline in fatal heart attacks could be the "lull before the storm". (Daily Express, Daily Mail, The Guardian - 11/2/05)

An enzyme in E coli which is resistant to all penicillins has been discovered. In a letter to The Veterinary Record, Chris Teale of the Vet Lab Agency, Shrewsbury, says the discovery was made in E coli recovered from scouring calves on a Welsh dairy farm. Mr Teale believes the enzyme is of little danger while it remains in the strain of the E coli recovered from the calves, however he suggests it would be more problematic if it spread to other organisms, such as salmonella.

UK grain merchants Gleadell have said that demand for organic cereals is running at 6070 per cent higher than domestic production can currently deliver, so they are urging more UK arable farmers to consider turning to organic production.

An international moratorium on the use of one of the world's most controversial GM food technologies may be broken today if the Canadian government gets seed sterilisation backed at a UN meeting. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Canada wants all governments to accept the testing and commercialisation of "terminator" crop varieties. These are genetically engineered to produce only infertile seeds which farmers cannot replant. Jointly patented by the GM company Monsanto and the US government, the technology was condemned in the late 1990s by many African and Asian governments who called for a permanent ban. Monsanto and other GM companies which were developing similar technologies voluntarily pulled out of research after concerns were also raised about the "terminator" genes spreading to non-GM crops, and international outrage that poor farmers would not be able to use seeds from their crops, as they have always done. (The Guardian - 9/2/05)

Carrots were yesterday revealed to be the latest weapon in the fight against cancer. Scientists say tests on rats showed falcarinol - a natural pesticide found in the vegetables - lowered the chances of them developing cancer by a third. The University of Newcastle has said that the carrots used in the trial were organic. Dr Kirsten Brandt, a senior lecturer with Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, carried out the research with the University of Southern Denmark and the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences. She said: "We now need to take it a step further by finding out how much falcarinol is needed to prevent the development of cancer and if certain types of carrot are better than others, as there are many varieties in existence, of different shapes, colours and sizes." (Daily Mail; Daily Mirror)

The marine Conservation Society has produced a guide on which fish to avoid and which species are considered better to eat, based on fish stock assessments. As well as Atlantic cod, the new guide urges people to avoid swordfish, marlin, plaice from overfished stocks and tiger prawns, unless they are organically farmed. Organic-farmed salmon is also on the approved list. The full guide is available at www.FISHonline.org

The Independent devoted a full page to the issue of organic egg standards on Saturday (5/2/05). The article follows a smaller item in the Daily Mail last week. A range of issues are mentioned including the fact that the majority of chicks (pullets) spend up to 18-weeks in intensive poultry conditions; only 80% organic feed needs to be given, and that flock sizes of up to around 12,000 birds are permitted. The Soil Association's limit of 2,000 birds per flock is highlighted: ' In contrast to the large organic flock sizes permitted by Defra, the Soil Association requires its organic egg producers to limit their flocks to just 2,000 birds with access to open pasture'.

'B & Bs across the land, from medieval Scottish castles to Kent country cottages, are turning to organic produce to woo their increasingly eco-conscious guests. Over half the 700 B & Bs in Alastair Sawday's Special Places To Stay guidebook, have agreed to include organic, home grown or locally sourced food on their breakfast menus.' (The Guardian - 5/2/05)

Steve Penny, commodity buyer for wholefood wholesaler Essential Trading, was interviewed about the impact that TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith has had on sales of health-food products. Penny has seen food fetishes come and go, but believes that this is more than a fad: "In five years' time I won't remember Gillian McKeith's name, but as a result of her, our sales of organic aduki beans will be much higher." (The Times - 5/2/05)

The Ecologist asks "Is organic food healthier than conventional food?" Peter Melchett argues that because it is free of antibiotics, chemicals and GM that "nothing could be better for you" whilst Gareth Edwards-Jones, a member of the Government's Advisory Committee on Pesticides, says that science doesn't back this claim up. (February 2005)

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