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Organic news archive: September 2005

The Government is urging farmers to see its newly announced ban on so-called junk food in schools as a "key opportunity". While the Government, under EU rules, cannot force public bodies to source British food, it is hoped the emphasis on healthier alternatives such as fresh milk, fruit and vegetables will open the door to greater local sourcing. Gary Stokes, of Essex-based Ashlyns Organics, who already supply local schools, said the announcement was "brilliant news" for farmers, if they take advantage of the opportunity.

Millions of migrating birds face early death due to the "dramatic increase in the dangers posed by global warming, loss of traditional feeding and nesting grounds, and massive use of pesticides". Farming pressures such as the introduction of monoculture cash crops and the heavy use of pesticides are leading to massive changes to local wildlife habitats in Africa and Europe. (Independent on Sunday 25/9/05)

The move to ban sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks from school vending machines will be unveiled at this weeks Labour party conference as part of a major overhaul of school food. Ruth Kelly will also propose a ban on the worst processed foods - including Turkey Twizzlers and foods such as chips and ice cream will be restricted to stop children eating them everyday. (Daily Mail 26/9/05; also reported in The Sun and The Sunday Times)

"England could become the powerhouse of global efforts to create fuel from crops under a plan being considered by the United Nations. The UN in New York, the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome and the World Bank are all considering a proposal that a 'Global Centre for Non-Food Crops' be established in the heart of Kent." (The Daily Telegraph 26/9/05)

The current controls designed to protect the public from crop spraying are inadequate, according to a long-awaited Government-commissioned report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP). The RCEP recommends the introduction of five metre buffer strips between arable land and residential properties and other buildings, such as schools, hospitals and retirement homes. It also wants to make it a legal requirement for farmers to inform local residents when they are spraying, and that members of the public should have access to spray records (Farmers Guardian - 23/9/05; also covered in the Farmers Weekly).

Livestock farmers' feed costs could increase by 10% in the next 1-3 years if food products are to remain totally GM-free, according to a report from agriculture and industry consultants Brookes West and Neville Craddocks Associates. They argue that a decline in the availability of non-GM soya from Brazil will push up prices over GM soya by as much as 25%. (Farmers Weekly - 23/9/05)

Over 25% more pesticides found in samples of school fruit compared to shops. Research by the Soil Association reveals that Government testing found over 25% more pesticides in samples of fruit and vegetables supplied to school children, under the official School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS), than in samples of the same fruit and vegetables on sale in shops. Nearly 30% more instances of multiple pesticides were found in the school fruit and vegetable samples. In the USA, a recent study found that school children fed organic diets showed significantly reduced exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. On changing to an organic diet, levels of the pesticide metabolites in the children's urine declined dramatically and immediately. While 84% of the school fruit and vegetables samples contained pesticide residues, this rose to 97% for bananas and 100% for strawberries mandarins, satsumas and clementines. All but two of the residues found were below the Government's official 'Maximum Residue Level'. 67% of strawberries, 73% of pears and 97% of mandarins, satsumas and clementines contained multiple pesticides. No safety testing is done on the impact of a combination of pesticide residues in food.

Farmers would be better off following the Prince of Wales in growing high-value organic food than producing subsidised crops, a free market think-tank said yesterday. The Globalisation Institute says Europe's Common Agricultural Policy has been a disaster for the countryside and that the taxation used to fund it represents "theft from the common citizen". Peter Melchett from the Soil Association was quoted: "I have often wondered how long it would be before people who were interested in free markets would notice that organic farming is the only kind that is responding to the market. Look at the subsidies that have gone into GM crops. ... One of the differences farmers who have converted tell us is that they actually begin to meet their customers." (The Daily Telegraph 15/9/05)

A Guardian survey has found that the school meals service has been abandoned in many areas of the UK. Felicity Lawrence writes: "The pressure on the service has grown since Jamie Oliver's television series last spring. According to the Local Authority Caterers' Association the number of children taking school meals dropped by an average of 12% -15% around the country after the programmes. The exposure on peak time television of schools' widespread dependence on junk food provoked both an outcry and a collapse in parental confidence." Many children entitled to a free school meal now receive sandwiches. (The Guardian 14/9/05) There is also an article describing the state of many school kitchens based on a survey of more than 200 local authorities by The Guardian.

The British charity Sustain has published a new free guide to what fish are best for UK consumers in terms of both their health and the environment. With fish stocks seriously in danger and fish oils increasingly recommended for human health, choosing which fish to eat has never been more confusing. Now Sustain's guide lets you know clearly which fish to eat. Download your free copy at www.sustainweb.org

Jeannette Orrey, the UK's favourite dinner lady, was interviewed in The Times about 'the good school meals movement'. She said: "You have to be careful that you don't frighten children about food - they need to see that no one food is unhealthy; it's about the balance. It's no good just changing the food on the plates and telling children this is your meal and not giving them anything to back that up. Getting cookery back on the curriculum and improving understanding of the food behind it is important." (13/9/05)

"Schools are still being built without proper kitchens, despite the governments pledge to improve school meals. A study suggests that as many as one in four schools being developed or renovated under the controversial Private Finance Initiative will only be able to heat up pre-prepared food." (Daily Mail 13/9/05; also in The Daily Telegraph)

Farmer's could be forced to curb spraying of toxic pesticides after a report from leading scientists warning that the chemicals could be poisoning tens of thousands of people living or working in the countryside. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has spent the last year investigating claims that the 31,000 tons of chemicals sprayed on Britain's farms each year are a toxic threat to humans. Until now government scientists and the pesticides industry have dismissed reports of miscarriages, elevated cancer rates and other diseases among those exposed to pesticides. Next week, however, the RCEP's final report will say that such fears could be justified. (The Sunday Times 11/9/05)

Good Food Magazine has a 5-minute guide to eggs and recommends Soil Association eggs which, "come from flocks of no more than 500, which must have constant access to pasture during daylight hours. Their feed must be 80% organic and welfare standards are the highest in the UK. Other British organic standards are more variable." (10/05)

Jamie Oliver's school meals revolution is under threat - from dinner ladies who may go on strike. They are furious at not being paid for extra hours they are forced to work to provide his new menu for school kids. They say they are working 25% more hours, without being paid overtime, to bring the star's freshly cooked food to pupil's plates. The crisis could explode into strikes in the London borough of Greenwich where the chef filmed his hit TV series 'Jamie's School Dinners'. (Sunday Mirror - 11/9/05)

When Monsanto's chief executive Hugh Grant announced that the biotech giant had produced the first "consumer benefit" GM crop in March this year, they claimed that the new soya bean would enable food manufacturers to make products low in the transfatty acids which clog up our arteries and win over a health conscious public. However, several world renowned nutrition experts are preparing to publish a statement condemning Monsanto's new soya bean, claiming that far from being a "consumer benefit", it will have a negative effect on public health. (The Scotsman 27/8/05)

According to a study by the Pesticide Residues Committee nearly half of lettuces bought on the high street contain traces of more than one pesticide. Most of the residues were within legal safety limits but levels in some were above permitted levels. (Daily Mail 9/9/05)

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has issued a report today, 'Your countryside, your choice', urging town and country dwellers to stand up and fight for the protection of the countryside or risk losing most of it within 30 years. (The Times 9/9/05; Also reported in the Daily Telegraph)

Sainsbury's is set to launch a multi-million pound organic push as part of chief executive Justin King's effort to turn the company around.

Mounting evidence against organophosphates continues to be disputed by the Government despite the serious risk to farmers being openly acknowledged by the Heath and Safety Executive, say organophosphate campaigners. (Farmers Weekly (9/9/05)

Babies in the womb are being exposed to cocktails of toxic chemicals according to new research. Their blood is swimming with dangerous compounds found in everyday household cleaners, perfumes and even pans and furniture. The chemicals, passed from the mother through the umbilical cord, have been linked to cancers, genital abnormalities and birth defects. Researchers checked for 35 common chemicals in blood taken from the umbilical cords of 30 newborn babies and from more than 40 new mothers. All the babies had at least five compounds in their blood and some had as many as 14. The study revealed that mothers can pass on up to a third of the pollutants which may have built up in their bodies over long periods. Among the chemicals were phthalates, which are used in soap, make-up and plastics and were shown earlier this year to disrupt the development of baby boys' reproductive organs. The study, by scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, was commissioned by Greenpeace and WWF. (Daily Mail - 8/9/05)

The Times tells readers 'how to find a corker of a healthy, happy porker':

  • Buy British; our welfare standards are higher than other countries generally
  • Buy from your local butcher and quiz him about the provenance of his meat
  • Buy organic meat that has accreditation from the Soil Association
  • Buy direct from the farm shop or farmer's market stall after you have seen how the animals are raised
  • Buy pork raised in woodland - if you can find it. (8/9/05)

Farmers are threatening to leave shop shelves bare with a week of industrial action. Hundreds of dairy and livestock farmers could down tools for seven days in a protest over plummeting prices paid by supermarkets for beef and milk. Farmers for Action is planning a meeting next week at which the idea of a strike will be discussed. (Daily Express - 8/9/05)

Supplies of organic milk could dry up this winter because farmers are struggling to meet demand. Sales of organic milk have soared by 50 per cent in the past six months. But experts fear there will be a shortage when dairy cows are bought in from the fields this autumn. Industry producers say the shortage has been made worse by too few dairy farmers switching to organic production. They say the extra money they would receive from retailers is not enough.' (Daily Express - 7/9/05)

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