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Organic news archive: April 2005

The European Commission is to come down hard on member states continuing to ban GM crops approved by EU scientists. They must rescind these bans or be overruled by Brussels. The Commission is also struggling to introduce GM labelling regulations and to agree coexistence rules to separate GM and non-GM crops.

Organic Farmers and Growers, the UK's second largest organic certification body, is warning farmers to take note of a key rule change if they are thinking of making a switch to organic farming. Under the new rules of the new Organic Entry Level Scheme (OELS) applicants must have completed the inspection process and have a certificate before they can be considered for the new OELS payment. (Farmers Weekly)

We applaud the departure of Sir John Krebs as Head of the Food Standards Agency. He used his position to support GM corporations and undermine organic food whenever possible, despite outstanding public opinion to the contrary. And he personally creeped me out more than any other career politician I've ever met. (Food Standards Agency)

Food manufacturers are using huge quantities of water to bulk up meat products, an investigation has revealed. Up to 30 per cent of the weight of non-organic processed products like ham, turkey and hot dogs can be a cocktail of water, salts, flavourings and E-numbers, according to the Food Commission. With all the additives taken into account, some well-known brands consist of less than 50 per cent actual meat. (The Daily Mail)

Consumers have tired of been told they should eat healthy food. Research suggests that the nation is suffering fatigue from campaigns encouraging it to improve its diet. Nearly 70 per cent of people told data analysts Mintel that it was hard to choose a good diet as advice from experts had changed. (The Times)

Policy makers from key European anti-GM member states will not let the issue of the illegal import of Syngenta's BT 10 maize go. The USA is insisting trade with Europe in maize-based livestock feeds will continue. (Farmers Guardian)

A new report published by the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission states that about £100 million of public funds are spent each year on agricultural biotechnology research in the UK. The largest amount is spent by the Biotechnological and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In comparison, Defra's annual budget for research and development into organic farming is only £2 million. AEBC is an independent body set up by the Government.

Scientists have begun putting genes from human beings into food crops in a dramatic extension of genetic modification. The move, which is causing disgust and revulsion among critics, is bound to strengthen accusations that GM technology is creating "Frankenstein foods" and drive the controversy surrounding it to new heights. In the first modification of its kind, Japanese researchers have inserted a gene from the human liver into rice to enable it to digest pesticides and industrial chemicals. The gene makes an enzyme, code-named CPY2B6, which is particularly good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body. (Independent on Sunday - 24/4/05)

'If you haven't thought about organic farming before, now might be the time to consider it. Organic production may help to maintain or improve farm incomes, while managing land in an environmentally beneficial way and meeting a growing demand for organic food.' (The Farmer - April 2005)

The form of diabetes more associated with adults is much higher among children than thought, figures suggest. Research in east London has revealed 22 children under 16 have type 2 diabetes, which is largely caused by obesity. The findings suggest the latest audit of the type 2 diabetes in under 16s two years ago, which identified 100 cases in the UK, is a gross underestimate. Experts said there may be up to 1,500 cases nationally now and warned the UK was sitting on a "time-bomb". Professor Tony Barnett, head of the diabetes and obesity group at the University of Birmingham, said: "We have to address this. I would like to see food labelling being brought in and schools stop selling junk food." (BBC News - 19/4/05)

Cherie Blair overshadowed Labour's school dinners launch as she revealed the standard of meals at her son Leo's schools were so low she was thinking about giving him packed lunches. (The Independent; Daily Mail; Daily Express; Daily Telegraph; The Sun - 20/4/05)

The European Union has imposed an emergency ban on imports of US animal feeds unless they are proven to be free of illegal genetically modified maize. The ban, on corn gluten feed and brewers' grains, followed an admission by Syngenta, a Swiss-based agrochemical firm, that about 1,000 tonnes of US maize derived from its unlicensed Bt10 GM seeds had "inadvertently" entered the European food chain over the past four years. (The Guardian - 16/4/05)

A new generation of foods and drinks designed to help reduce cancers and heart disease are set to appear on Britain's supermarket shelves. A new European law will now allow food companies to make dramatic claims about the health-giving effects of their brands. The Soil Association said the measures will strengthen the "ready meals" industry. (The Independent on Sunday - 17/4/05)

Organic farmers' leaders have claimed that some multiple retailers are shunning UK-produced organic beef and pork in favour of cheaper imports. The Soil Association said a recent survey showed that only a fifth of fresh organic pork in Asda and Morrisons was from UK farms, compared with 95% of fresh non-organic pork. Half the organic beef and pork in Tesco was imported. Praise was reserved for Sainsbury, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: "They are shining examples to other supermarkets that are still letting down their customers and UK organic farmers."

Unlicensed GM rice has been imported from China to the UK. The rice (containing a Bt gene) has not been approved for commercial growing and should not be used in human food. The Bt gene inserted into the rice is said to kill larvae that bores into the stalk of the crops. The rice has not been tested for human consumption and has caused an allergic reaction when fed to mice. (The Guardian - 14/4/05)

The Soil Association's annual supermarket survey show that Asda, Morrisons and Tesco are shunning British organic beef and pork in favour of cheaper imports. A Tesco spokesperson said: "Sometimes we do not need to import to meet customer expectations. All of our organic lamb, chicken, milk and eggs are from the UK." A spokesperson for Morrisons said: "Our preference is to source from the UK, however this isn't always possible." (Daily Telegraph - 11/4/05)

1 in 12 primary schools do not have cooking facilities, according to a survey by the Times Educational Supplement. Schools would need an estimated £50,000 each just to reinstate their kitchens before they could start trying to reach the recently announced Government targets for school meals. In some local education authorities, schools still have kitchens but they are not functional while others have converted them into classrooms, libraries or IT suites. (Daily Mail - 9/4/05)

Turkey twizzlers and chicken nuggets will be banned from Devon school dinners from Monday. They will be replaced by more fresh fruit, salads and yoghurt, with a vegetarian option on every menu. (Western Morning News - 9/4/05)

The 2005 Soil Association and Natural Products Magazine Organic Industry Awards winners have been announced. The winners are:

  • Organic Business Person of the Year: Gordon Tweddle, Acorn Organic Dairy, Darlington, Northumberland www.acorndairy.co.uk
  • Consumer Education Award: Gillian McKeith, nutritionist, writer and television presenter
  • Best Home Delivery Retailer: Graig Farm Organics, Llandrindod Wells, Powys, Wales www.graigfarm.co.uk
  • Best Large Store: Planet Organic, Fulham, London www.planetorganic.com
  • Best Small Store: Eastwoods of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire 01442 865012

As much as a third of the pollution that is wrecking the climate in Scotland could be blamed on farmers and landowners, according to evidence submitted to ministers. Environmental groups claim that vast volumes of greenhouse gases emitted by artificial fertilisers, farm machinery, crops and livestock have been seriously underestimated. In response, ministers are promising to make the need for reductions in emissions from farms part of their strategies for agriculture and sustainable development. (Sunday Herald - 3/4/05)

The Government is not placing enough emphasis on the safe and sustainable use of pesticides, according to a report published on 5 April by a cross-party committee of MPs. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report said that not enough progress had been made in the first four years of the voluntary initiative on pesticides. The MPs concluded that some of the targets had been insufficiently challenging and should be strengthened.

Meat, vegetable and wheat producers in Lincolnshire will be among the first to bid for a contract to feed 1800 local pupils through a consortium formed with retailers, manufacturers and local government called the Melton Mowbray Food Partnership. The contract to supply the ingredients for 350,000 meals could be worth up to £210,000 a year. Meanwhile producers in Yorkshire and the Humber could be supplying more than 200,000 primary school children with carrots, strawberries and mini-cucumbers by this autumn.

Up to £800,000 is to be spent by NIAB over the next four years in part EU-funded research into the viability of growing GM crops alongside conventional ones. With 51 partners throughout Europe, the CO-EXTRA programme will examine the steps needed for both types to co-exist, keeping their produce separate and crop rotation systems.

The Advertising Standards Authority's decision in March to uphold two complaints about organic farming was applauded by anti-organic critic Geoffrey Hollis. The ASA have ruled that organic farming cannot be described as "more humane to animals" or "healthy". Hollis says that the ASA reached its verdict because the Soil Association was unable to provide evidence to support these claims. He goes on to promise that he will, "donate £1000 to the Soil Association if anyone can produce evidence to the standards required by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate that homeopathy works in farm animals". organicfoodee.com readers may wish to take up this gauntlet. Meanwhile, The Soil Association has since submitted a significant body of evidence on health and animal welfare to the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP), which is the body responsible for providing copy advice to companies to ensure that they comply with industry guidelines. This has resulted in CAP copy approval being given for a number of statements about these issues. (Farmers' Weekly)

Children in Kensington and Chelsea are being offered organic-only school dinners in a drive to improve their health. The council will become the first authority in the country to have all its food freshly prepared and sourced from organic farms. It has redrafted its catering contracts to impose strict restrictions in response to pressure from parents over the quality of the food their children are eating. Under the new system, all eggs will have to be free-range and all ingredients free of genetically modified products. (Evening Standard - 5/4/05)

Twenty pupils who eat a packed lunch at their school are being refused beakers of tap water by a multinational catering firm. And it also costs too much to give them plates, says contract caterer Sodexho, which makes £100 million a year by serving school dinners. Sodexho provides Alderman Knight school with hot meals and two dinner ladies, who have previously put out plates and beakers of tap water to all 63 pupils. But the firm has now announced it will serve only hot-meal eaters because providing water and plates to all the children costs an extra two hours pay per week. (Daily Express; Daily Mirror - 7/4/05)

Monsanto has more than doubled its net income in the second quarter of the year to $373m and raised its earnings guidance after what it called "a breakout year in the US, Asia, Europe and Africa". The company also expressed confidence in the growing acceptance of biotech. The strongest growth came in the seed and genomics division. Revenue in the genetically modified corn seed business rose 32 per cent to $646m, while revenues were up 40 per cent for the genetically modified soybean division. (Financial Times - 7/4/05)

Compass Group, which shocked the stock market last week with its second profit warning in six months, faces further pressure as schools in England reconsider their catering contracts with the beleaguered group. Analysts have expressed concern over the company's education arm, Scolarest, which accounts for 9% of Compass's £3.1 billion UK business and provides meals for 2,500 schools, colleges and universities. But, in a straw poll last week, schools in at least three regions (Camden, County Durham and Norfolk) said they were reconsidering their contracts following revelations in the Channel 4 programme Jamie's School Dinners, which exposed the poor quality and cheapness of many school meals. The Soil Association believes that new funding promised by the government could encourage schools to stop contracting out school meals altogether. In France, £1.10 is spent on each school meal. In England, the minimum spend is as little as 37p, as revealed by the Soil Association. Compass said that costs should be 60p or 70p a meal. The second-largest provider of school meals, Initial Rentokil, has been moving away from school contracts because they are not profitable. And Sodexho, the third-largest provider, refuses to take on contracts at less than 55p. (The Observer - 3/4/05)

Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, has highlighted a study that was conducted on rats in the early 1990s as evidence of the dangers of GM food. The study found that several of the rats fed GM tomatoes developed stomach lesions and 7 out of 40 died within two weeks. He says: "No one in the USA or elsewhere monitors the human health impacts of GM foods. If the foods were creating health problems in the US population it might take years or decades before we identified the cause." (The Scotsman - 30/3/05)

A review to mark the fifth anniversary of the Food Standards Agency makes it clear that its support for GM and its attacks on organic produce has caused a widespread loss of confidence in its judgement and independence. This conclusion is all the more striking because the review - conducted by Baroness (Brenda) Dean at the agency's invitation - is otherwise notably sympathetic to the watchdog. It backs calls for the official watchdog to "revisit both areas", saying, "it is important that the agency addresses these consumer concerns." Peter Melchett from the Soil Association said: "Finally, the bias of the agency has been exposed - and by its own inquiry. Its promotion of GM foods failed to convince the public, while damaging its own reputation, but its attacks on organic produce have been constantly used by those with a commercial interest in trying to limit this environmentally friendly farming. We look forward to the agency reversing its outrageous and unscientific stance." (The Independent on Sunday - 3/4/05)

The fat in a typical British chicken now outweighs its protein, according to a London University study, and a single serving has up to 50% more calories than it did in the 1970s. The idleness imposed by factory methods is being blamed for soaring obesity levels, a problem that affects conventionally and organically produced meat. The researchers found a typical organic chicken had 17.1 grams of fat per 100 grams, although it contained more protein than fat. Phil Stocker, head of agriculture for the Soil Association, said he was concerned at the increased fat levels in organic birds. He claimed, however, that the problem was less likely to occur in birds bred according to the association's standards, which were higher than those of other organic associations. (The Sunday Times - 3/4/05)

Sheila Keating's 'Food Detective' column in The Times looked at organic eggs - and specifically the issues of 80 per cent organic feed, and non-organic pullets. The Soil Association's Anna Jonas was quoted: "When people think of organic, they have a picture of something pure, and we think that is what they should be getting." Bob Kennard, of Graig Farm, also gives his views: "we want to arrive at 100 per cent organic as soon as possible and match the perceptions of the consumer, but we have to be practical, and we need a full supply chain." Keating concludes that, with EU law changes imminent, the price of 'a dozen truly organic eggs' may rise by 15p - 'but then, is that really too much to ask?' (The Times magazine - 2/4/05)

Jamie Oliver said that Prince Charles has given him a lot of support for his school meals campaign. Last November, the Prince teamed up with the Soil Association and Business in the Community to produce a handbook showing how children's food could easily be improved. (Sunday Express)

Curbing the power of supermarkets and speeding up CAP reform are two of the main issues highlighted by the Liberal Democrat Party in their manifesto on rural affairs. A key policy in the manifesto includes ensuring fair prices for food. The Lib Dems will introduce a legal duty to trade fairly enforced by a food trade inspector. The party will also not allow commercial planting of GM crops unless they are proved to be safe for the environment and measures to promote organic farming will be introduced.

The whereabouts of tonnes of contaminated GM maize and its possible import into the UK has caused an international investigation and claims of a cover-up on both sides of the Atlantic. Defra first put out a statement saying the contamination was "on a small scale" but later retracted it, instead saying the maize was unlikely to have got into food but might have been fed to cattle. The row intensified yesterday because it emerged that the US administration had known of the contamination since December, but did not notify Britain until late last month when an article in Nature revealed the problem. One GM maize, not licensed for Europe, was found to have been mixed up with another GM maize which was licensed. A Sygenta spokesman said that 150,000 tonnes of the contaminated maize would have been marketed but it believed only a tiny amount reached Europe. (The Guardian - 1/04/05)

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