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Organic news archive: May 2005

NFU chief calls for probe into pesticide link to Parkinson's. Tim Bennet, NFU president has called on DEFRA to do more research into the possible links between pesticides and Parkinson's disease after an EU report strengthened suspicions of a link. (Farmer's Weekly 27/5/05)

British Food Fortnight is being held from 24 September to 9 October. Event organisers hope to capitalise on 'Jamie's School Dinners' by encouraging 70% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools to hold a food event during the fortnight. Event organiser, Alexia Robinson said: "One of the key aims of British Food Fortnight is to increase the amount of food education in schools by encouraging teachers to hold special events for children." Other key aims of the event are to encourage producers, retailers, restaurants and tourism outlets to take a lead role in educating the public about the food and drink their region produces.

The Dunnhumby Academy of Consumer Research (DACR) at the University of Kent has just opened. This academy is a collaboration between the university, the Food Chain Centre (a UK consumer research group) and the marketing insight business dunnhumby - the company behind the Tesco Clubcard. Together these three have created a centre of research and advice into what farm products Britain buys. The great advantage this research centre has, above all others, is access to the dunnhumby data. Dunnhumby own the rights to sell the (anonymised) Clubcard data they collect. Nearly 14 million people have Tesco clubcards and to dunnhumby, to Tesco and now to the DACR, these cards are eyes into the baskets of those 14 million customers. They are an invaluable tool for market research. Thanks to the DACR, farmers will now have access to this information for free. (The Independent)

Between 2001-04 Tesco opened more space in new stores than J Sainsbury, Asda and Morrison combined. As a result, about 60 per cent of the British public now enters a Tesco store at least once a month, according to TNS, the market researcher. (Financial Times)

The Soil Association has just co-published a new toolkit aimed at people who want to start up local food enterprises like farmers' markets, farm shops or local allotment groups. The kit is called "Cultivating Cooperatives" and is a detailed and easy to read guide produced by Greg Pilley. The toolkit was co-published by the Plunkett Foundation and CooperativesUK, with funding from Cooperative Action. It covers working examples of local food enterprises, including profiles of a box scheme in Kent, a community food project in East London, and a farmers' cooperative in Lancashire. You can download "Cultivating Cooperatives" for free at http://www.soilassociation.org/localfood

The first register of GM contamination incidents across the world, which includes eight in Britain, is being published today as governments meet to discuss how to protect the environment from unauthorised releases. Details of all known contamination of food, feed for animals, seed and wild plants since GM crops were introduced in 1996 are available on a website launched by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace. More than 60 incidents of illegal or unlabelled GM contamination have been documented in 27 countries. Cases of illegal releases of GM organisms and damaging side-effects such as the development of super-weeds are also included. Governments are meeting in Montreal, Canada, to try to develop rules to allow all GM products to be traced so that if they were accidentally or deliberately released into the environment the extent of the contamination among non-GM plants or animals could be tracked. The second thorny issue governments are dealing with is liability - who pays when either the natural environment is damaged by the spread of GM genes or organic and conventional farmers lose markets through contamination. This is an issue on which the British government has so far failed to develop a policy. (The Guardian)

Farming Today continued its look at organic food and farming this morning. Geoffrey Hollis, formerly in charge of pesticide safety for the ministry of agriculture, presented an anti-organic viewpoint. He said that virtually no claims made by the organic lobby are true, that organic farming created animal welfare problems, and that organic eggs can contain high levels of dioxins. Amongst his claims was that organic broiler chickens are made to live for 81 days by which time they are fat, heavy, van't walk and can't get outdoors. He did concede that the use of fewer pesticides by organic farmers might bring environmental benefits - but only on a small scale. If you would like to hear his argument in full, or register your disagreement with his views, please go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/farmingtoday/index.shtml. Lawrence Woodward, director of the Elm Farm Research centre, presents the pro-organic viewpoint tomorrow morning. Peter Melchett is to be interviewed for the Saturday morning broadcast, which will look at issues raised during the week. (Radio 4)

Cadbury Schweppes has bought Green & Black's chocolate. The team at the top will not change. Craig Sams remains the president of the company, and is delighted that their organic chocolate with its organic message is set to become even more widespread and influential. (Cadbury Schweppes - 12/5/05)

Dinner ladies will have to pass exams to work in school kitchens under Labour's drive to make meals healthier. All canteen staff, from cooks to dinner ladies, will be expected to study for a national qualification in school catering. Education secretary, Ruth Kelly, will announce the course this week as part of attempts to improve school dinners, inspired by the campaign run by Jamie Oliver. All 15,000 dinner ladies will be expected to undergo the training from September this year. The Conservatives branded the exams 'a gimmick'. (The Daily Mail - 30/5/05. Also in The Guardian, The Sun, Daily Mirror)

An article in the Independent explored the effect that eating the right food has on brain power. It cites a report by the Soil Association and Business in the Community which found that pupils who ate school meals made with fresh ingredients and drank plenty of water had better concentration levels and were calmer and more alert than those that ate lots of processed food. (31 May)

The European Commission is facing fresh problems over GM crops. Scientists again failed to deliver the necessary majority to allow two recommendations for approval to be accepted. These were for crops to be used in livestock and human food, since a more controversial application for GM maize, which could be grown in Europe, had already been taken off the agenda. (Farmers Guardian)

Farmers and amateur gardeners who are exposed to pesticides run a higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to new research. Previous evidence that suggested an association with the disease was strengthened by the publication of research covering almost 3,000 people in five European countries. Scientists found that heavy exposure to pesticides increased the chances of developing Parkinson's by almost 50 per cent. "It considerably strengthens the case for pesticides being relevant to occupational risk of Parkinson's disease," said principal investigator, Anthony Seaton, from the University of Aberdeen. (The Daily Telegraph - 26/5/05)

A report by the Scottish Executive has cast a disheartening view on the growth of the organic sector, warning that it could wither on the vine unless opportunities for expansion are explored. Demand for organic food has grown to around 2% of all UK food sales, however development in Scotland is feared to be much slower than the national average. Farmers' markets could be the answer though as organic traders have yet to cash in on increasing interest in this type of shopping. Carey Coombs, Policy Manager of Soil Association Scotland said: "Price is an issue we face, and we haven't really got to the bottom of it. But I think there is still a demand for organic, and farmers' markets are one of the best ways to expand." (The Herald - 20/5/05)

Inspectors will be going into schools to report on how much junk food they find in children's packed lunches. Responding to a study in West Sussex which found that parents were filling lunchboxes with crisps and chocolate with little fruit and vegetables, the new scheme is to be piloted in Brighton and Hove later this year. (Daily Express - 27/5/05)

The most influential British naturalist of his generation, Derek Ratcliffe died on Monday. He was the first to link the decline of prey with agricultural pesticides and was the architect of the 1977 'Nature Conservation Review' which became the cornerstone document for nature conservation for the rest of the century. (The Daily Telegraph - 27/5/05)

One in five people say they would like to be more environmentally friendly but are not acting upon their good intentions because they believe there are too many barriers to "going green". A poll by the Energy Savings Trust throws up some more disturbing trends. Almost half the people surveyed feel that green products and services are prohibitively expensive and that being green is too time consuming; 38% do not think they have adequate access to local green services, such as recycling facilities; and 34% say they do not have enough information. A further 17% do not think their individual actions could make a difference to the environment. (Eco Soundings, The Guardian - 25/5/05)

Prince Charles has condemned Britain's "pill for every ill" approach to health problems and called for a radical change in the way doctors treat patients. In a speech to a Royal Society of Medicine conference in London, he called for patients to be given more say about their treatment, and singled out mental health problems, which affect one in four of the population. The Prince said that one way in which people could take an active role in managing mental and other health problems was by choosing nutritious, organic and locally-grown food. He also gave his backing to Jamie Oliver's school meals campaign. The years of processing food had caused "adverse health problems for us and worse, we were still inflicting them on our children." (Daily Express; The Guardian - 18/5/05)

The Evening Standard reports on the Queen's Speech, saying that there is likely to be a Bill to 'ban unhealthy school dinners'. (17/5/05)

A new agency for the English countryside, Natural England, will be set up by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. Formed out of English nature, the bulk of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Agency, it is intended to make it easier for farmers, landowners and land users to get advice on nature or landscape matters. (The Daily Telegraph - 18/5/05)

In the US, the market for organic foods has soared from $3.57 billion in 1997 to $10.38 billion in 2003, according to Organic Trade Association. (http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5223)

Members of the American Soybean Association have flown into the UK in an attempt to combat negative reports about genetically modified crops. Unveiling their pro-GM report, Dispelling the Myths, the ASA members described its contents as the "real facts" about GM crops. It is designed to promote the benefits of GM soya specifically and biotech crops more generally and it will be taken to countries across the EU. (Farmers Weekly - 13/5/05)

"Telly chef Jamie Oliver is set to work his magic on hospital food. After the success of Jamie's School Dinners, doctors want him to make sure the nosh dished up to patients is pukka. Plans to bring the 29 year-old on board at NHS hospitals will be heard today at a British Medical Association conference." (Daily Star - 7/5/05)

One in five of Britain's wildflower species is threatened with extinction, according to a new survey. The one overwhelming cause behind the dramatic decline is intensive farming. (The Independent; The Times; The Guardian - 9/5/05)

Last week's issue of OK! Magazine (circulation 530,000) explained why 'going organic could be good for your health'. Alongside pictures of the 'organic A-list, which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Hurley and Jodie Kidd, readers are advised on how to buy organic and the Soil Association's contact details are provided for readers who want to find out more. (OK! Magazine, 3/5/05)

Soil Association, the UK's leading organic certification body, has appointed Robert Duxbury as certification director. Robert was head of organic buying for Sainsbury's for many years before taking up this post.

The UK's biggest searchable directory of organic livestock, forage and grazing has been further updated. The site, www.soilassociation.org/organicmarketplace, now includes a new 'Wanted' section, as well as new 'Feedstuffs' option for buying and selling non-forage feeds. Farmers also can now use the site if they have an 'Ongoing supply', such as day old chicks, pullets or weaners.

A study from Oxford University's department of physiology has found that British children are suffering from behavioural and learning disorders because their diets are deficient in omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish oils. The study found that some 40 per cent of the children observed made dramatic improvements in reading and spelling when their diets were supplemented with the omega 3 oils that are largely missing from modern processed diets. (The Guardian, 2/5/05)

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