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Organic news archive: November 2005

Supermarkets are twice as likely to promote junk food in stores as they are fresh fruit and vegetables, despite the obesity crisis in the UK. A survey by the National Consumer Council (NCC) found that, with the exception of Marks & Spencer, the leading supermarket chains were offering double the number of deals on "fatty and sugary" foods than they were on fresh produce. The picture was even worse at Walmart-owned supermarket Morrisons, which had more than three times as many promotions for sweet and fatty food as for fruit and vegetables - 29 per cent to 9 per cent. At Somerfield the difference was four times as great - 31 per cent to 7 per cent. (Daily Telegraph; The Independent; The Times - 25/11/05)

A fierce supermarket price war will slash £1.7 billion off grocery bills in the UK next year, according to research firm Verdict. The major chains are set to launch a wave of heavy discounting as they try to beat their rivals in the cut-throat market - food and grocery prices will fall 0.6 per cent next year as a result of the deals. It means the cost of the average shopping bill is now two per cent cheaper than it was three years ago. Which sounds fantastic until you take into account that the average hourly rate of pay for British farmers is below the minimum wage. (Daily Express - 25/11/05)

Global warming is doubling the rate of sea level rise around the world, but attempts to stop it by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be futile, leading researchers will warn today. The oceans will rise nearly half a metre by the end of the century, forcing coastlines back by hundreds of metres, the US researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey claim. Scientists believe the acceleration is caused mainly by the surge in greenhouse gas emissions produced by the development of industry and introduction of fossil fuel burning. The rising tide is expected to make oceans 40cm higher by 2100. (The Guardian; The Times - 25/11/05)

The healing power of dolphins has been widely promoted, but in the first controlled trial researchers have shown that an hour a day in the water with the sociable aquatic creatures is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, and better than swimming with other humans. Psychiatrists from the University of Leicester compared two groups of patients with depression, half of whom swam and snorkelled with dolphins while the other half spent the same time snorkelling with each other on a coral reef in the absence of the dolphins. After two weeks, results showed the group who had swum with the dolphins had improved significantly more than the control group. Three months after the study, participants reported lasting improvement in their symptoms which did not need treatment. The finding confirms the importance of biophilia, the recognition that human health and wellbeing are dependent on our relationships with the environment, they say. The study is in the British Medical Journal, which has a themed issue on human and animal health. And restoring health through contact with nature, known as ecotherapy, may involve working with wildlife, on conservation projects or in a garden, according to another paper in the BMJ. (The Independent - 25/11/05)

Bernard Jarman, of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, writes: "Many of the things which organic and biodynamic agriculture are suggesting used to be carried out as a matter of course. What the biodynamic approach can offer is an opportunity to think about not only the physical-chemical processes of the soil but also the life and spiritual aspects which stand behind them." (Farmers' Weekly News)

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and the pioneering 'dinner lady' and Soil Association school meals policy adviser, Jeanette Orrey, presented the Soil Association's new School Food Awards at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham on Thursday 24 November.

The four winners of the Soil Association School Food Awards 2005 are:

  • Soil Association Food for Life School of the Year Award (£2,500 of school kitchen equipment)
    Hurlford Primary School, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire
  • The Times Body & Soul Food Education Award (£1,250 of school kitchen equipment)
    Thomas Fairchild Community School, London
  • Highland Spring School Dinner Award - two joint winners (£1,250 of school kitchen equipment each, plus a term's supply of water for pupils)
    Landscove C of E Primary School, Newton Abbott, Devon
    Lethbridge Primary School, Swindon

"There are lots of winners in the Soil Association School Food Awards - the schools which serve healthy, tasty meals, the local and organic producers who provide the ingredients, and above all the kids who are going to grow up knowing what good food is and where it comes from," says Jamie Oliver.

Jeanette Orrey says, "The quality of entries was even better than for last year's inaugural school dinners award, showing that the Soil Association's Food for Life project is really making a difference. It makes me proud to see so many schools doing such great work, but there's still a long way to go! I'd like to see all schools in Britain have meals like these in 5 years time."

The winning schools also received trophies designed and kindly donated by Bristol Blue Glass, and an electric pasta cooker worth £2500 generously donated by Hobart UK, manufacturers and suppliers of catering equipment to schools across the UK.

"For every 10 carrots grown, seven are rejected by supermarkets simply for being the wrong size or shape, so they are dumped. If the grower has animals to feed them to at least they get used, but many must just be left to rot or are ploughed back into the fields without ever being harvested. As if this level of waste was not disgusting enough, apparently we throw away 30-40 per cent of the food we buy. Food waste makes up roughly one-third of all household waste. Some 17m tonnes of this total waste goes to landfill - even though at least a quarter of it is by any standards perfectly edible. Of course not just the actual food - estimated to have a retail value of around £20bn - is wasted, but a vast amount of energy, time and human resources to grow, harvest, package, transport and then ultimately dump it, too. At every level - moral, environmental, social and practical - it is ragingly obscene. The buck, of course, stops with us. It is yours and my fault and only we can do something about it." (Monty Don in The Observer - 20/11/05)

This week's Savvy Shopper column in the Daily Telegraph is on how to buy potatoes. Rose Prince writes, "there is a trend with organic farmers to grow many more varieties and among them are potatoes with incredible flavour. Organic growers have found that growing a greater variety prevents the spread of disease." Prince says we should worry about pesticides. In 2003, the Government tested 144 samples, finding detectable levels of aldicarb, a nerve poison, on two per cent. Seventy-three 'maincrop' potatoes were tested between July and December 2004 for 23 residues. Eighteen out of the 73 contained residues of aldicarb, chlopropham and maleic hydrazide, a plant growth regulator that prevents sprouting. No residues exceeded the government-decreed 'safe levels'. (19/11/05)

A ten-year research project to develop a genetically modified pea by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has been scrapped after it was found to trigger allergic reactions when fed to mice. Critics claim the development is a serious blow to supporters of genetic modification as it shows the technology can have unexpected and harmful results. (Daily Mail - 19/11/05)

In an 'FT Preview' of the week ahead, on Sunday 27, "Swiss voters go to the polls in a referendum that, if passed, would impose one of the strictest bans in Europe on the use of genetically modified organisms. The proposal by GMO opponents would impose a five-year moratorium on the cultivation of genetically altered plants and the import of genetically modified animals. But GMO research, including for pharmaceuticals, would still be allowed". (The Financial Times - 21/11/05)

Clothes made with Fairtrade cotton could soon be sold in UK high-street stores following the product's British launch. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, cotton could soon match the success of ethically traded coffee and tea. The group is in talks with retailers which it hopes will stock Fairtrade goods. Ten have already signed up. T-shirts, jeans and cotton wool are among the items available for sale. (Daily Telegraph; Independent - 18/11/05)

Tesco has banned all artificial ingredients from its own range of 450 ready-meals. Suppliers have been told that they must use traditional cooking techniques and cut out additives such as emulsifiers, stabilisers and hydrogenated fats that are commonly used by many food manufacturers. Earlier this year Marks & Spencer became the first High Street name to ban hydrogenated fats and artificial additives from ready meals. Tesco's additive-free ready meals are being rolled out before February. (Daily Mail; Times; Guardian; Mirror - 18/11/05)

This has been a catastrophic year for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. The enormous fish, which provides the key ingredient for sushi, Japan's unofficial national dish, is being caught in such vast numbers that scientists fear its commercial extinction is looming. (The Independent - 18/11/05)

Supermarkets are losing their grip on the organics market, figures from the Soil Association's latest annual report show. Total organic sales are growing by £2.3 million a week. Helen Browning, director of food and farming for the organisation, said growth in organic sales had not been matched by farm incomes. "The retailers are very lazy to market on price alone. Squeeze farmers too tight and they will start cutting corners like everyone else, and then the food scares begin to appear." She cited Sainsbury's recent relaunch of its SO organic range as a lesson to other retailers, after sales increased dramatically. "It shows what you can do when you get the marketing and packaging right." (Farmers' Weekly - 17/11/05)

A cull of badgers would do little to halt the spread of bovine tuberculosis throughout Great Britain, and may even make matters worse, a Reading University review of all the international evidence on the transmission of TB between cattle and wildlife has concluded. (Farmers' Weekly - 17/11/05)

Almost 50 people are quitting farming in Northern Ireland every week as low prices and red tape undermine the viability of many farms. (Farmers' Weekly - 17/11/05)

The UK Government has been criticised for obstructing proposals designed to stop dangerous chemicals being used in everything from food to furniture. This month the Standing Committee of European Doctors - an alliance of the continent's top medical organisations - warned: "Chemical pollution represents a serious threat to children and to Man's survival." The committee pointed out that in Europe, "one child out of seven suffers from asthma, 15 per cent of couples cannot have children, and the number of congenital malformations is rising. The development of these diseases appears to be linked mainly to the toxic role of chemical pollutants in our environment." The Government is "steadily drawing the teeth from the proposed European REACH law (REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). The directive - the first continent-wide bid to address the problem of hazardous chemicals for 25 years - aims to get companies to carry out, and report on, safety tests on their chemicals, and to control the most dangerous ones." For years, writes Geoffrey Lean, it has come under sustained assault from American companies that export chemicals worth over $20 billion to Europe each year - and the Bush administration: "Instead of telling them they had no business undermining measures to protect the health of British children, the Government predictably caved in." (Daily Mail - 15/11/05)

The Guardian's 'Label watch' looks at cheese. Rennet is most commonly obtained from the abomasum (fourth stomach) of a slaughtered newly born calf. However, due to insufficient supply of calves, as well as demands of vegetarians, rennet is also obtained from fungal and GM bacterial sources, too. The active ingredient of rennet is the enzyme chymosin, but if it is obtained from GM bacteria the consumer will not know as it is classified as a 'processing aid' and therefore need not be listed by law. "Only the bacteria are genetically modified, not the chymosin, and so the cheese has no GM content because the bacteria are not part of the cheese," states the Food Standards Agency. (The Guardian - 15/11/05)

Tesco is lobbying the Indian government to open its vast domestic market to overseas supermarket groups. Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive, will make his first business trip to India this month to promote the company's case. The supermarket chain is one of several big foreign retailers jockeying for position in India and is being backed by the British High Commission in its attempts to break into the market. Last month the US giant Wal-Mart sent a delegation to Delhi. (The Independent - 15/11/05)

The antiviral drug Tamiflu, being stockpiled by governments around the world as a defence against bird flu, is believed to have caused the death of two Japanese teenagers. According to Health Ministers and other medical sources, it appears that the drug induced hallucinations and dramatic shifts in behaviour in the boys, which led them to commit suicide. (The Times - 15/11/05)

A government commissioned report, carried out by the King's Fund thinktank, said that hospitals must do far more to develop healthy eating by staff and patients, use food lower in fat, sugar and salt, and support suppliers employing environmentally sensitive farming methods. The study found the present system used ingredients sourced internationally with little awareness of potential impacts. Researchers measuring distances travelled by ingredients found those for steak and kidney pie had covered some 20,000 miles including beef from Argentina and kidney from New Zealand. (The Guardian - 11/11/05)

The Guardian's 'Anatomy of a dish' looks at a Cornish fish pie served at the Royal Cornwall Hospital at 58p a portion. The hospital decided to source food more locally and now spends 30% of its budget (about £300,000) with local producers. The milk has a 21-mile journey from Lostwithiel where Trewithen Cornish Farm Dairy is based. They have used pollock instead of cod, as the European Environment Agency warns that North Sea cod stocks are at risk of collapsing, and also locally caught ling. The hospital is in discussions with local farmers to identify a potato that would suit its needs. (The Guardian - 11 Nov)

Supermarkets were accused of "failing" British farmers yesterday after a survey found that two thirds of apples sold in the height of the UK apple season came from overseas. Some of the apple varieties being offered over the past few weeks have travelled more than 12,000 miles, according to the survey by Friends of the Earth. Food campaigners said the reliance of cheap imported food was harming British farming and threatening traditional fruit growers. (The Daily Telegraph - 11/11/05)

The destruction of the world's rainforests will be hastened by a Government pledge to ensure that five per cent of fuel should come from "green" sources, say conservationists. Proposals to force oil companies to include five per cent of bio-fuels in all petrol and diesel by 2010 were announced by Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, in Birmingham. The new obligation is likely to stimulate imports and some fuels are not very efficient at saving carbon when their life cycle is taken into account. (The Daily Telegraph - 11/11/05)

The former boss of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has called for a new investigation into the way supermarkets dominate food retailing in Britain. John Bridgeman, who headed a competition inquiry in 2000 that cleared the big grocery chains of abusing their market position, said yesterday that the market had changed dramatically since then and another inquiry was justified. He said it was no longer appropriate to distinguish between supermarkets and convenience stores, and expressed concern that Tesco had been allowed to wade into the corner shop market. The last Competition Commission inquiry focused only on large stores, arguing that small local shops operated in a separate market. (The Guardian - 10/11/05)

Coasts and marine life around Britain are under pressure from pollution, coastal erosion, overfishing and climate change, experts have warned. The Environment Agency says better management of the seas and coasts could help protect their fragile ecosystems. The recommendations are published in the agency's first State of the Marine Environment report. Sir John Harman, agency chairman, said there needs to be a balance between using the coasts and protecting them. The report found many coastal waters are at risk from pollution from fertilisers and pesticides. These can change the delicate balance of marine ecosystems, which in some cases are already having to adapt as sea temperatures begin to rise. (BBC News - 10/11/05)

Alan Francis, a spokesperson for Green Party Transport writes a letter to the Independent responding to Michael McCarthy's article 'Revolution at the pumps as Government backs biofuels' (7/11/05). Alan says, "any British-grown food replaced by biomass crops will require an imported equivalent. This will add to the transport emissions while destroying traditional farming communities. Growing rape (the optimal biofuel crop) with the intensity modern farming dictates requires large amounts of nitrogenous fertiliser. Six tonnes of greenhouse gases are produced for every tonne of fertiliser which also causes the soil to release nitrous oxide, 310 times more potent than CO2 in causing global warming. Far from being the cure, biofuels could end up being part of the problem." (The Independent - 10/11/05)

Prince Charles and Camilla, returned to the UK after an 8-day official tour to the US. They toured a landmark San Francisco building renovated to showcase organic foods and followed the visit by telling California business leaders that urgent action is needed to address environmental challenges. (BBC News, Reuters - 8/11/05)

The Times reported on the visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to an organic farmers' market in Marin County, California last weekend. The county has become the first to outlaw GM crops and "organic farming is all the rage." (The Times - 7/11/05)

Hundreds of health experts meet in Geneva today to draw up a global plan to fight bird flu and stop the virus triggering a human pandemic that could kill millions. Suggestions range from financial help for some of the world's poorest countries to ways of improving detection. (Daily Mail 7/11/05)

An article by Patrick Holden from the Soil Association explains "Why GM foods pose a real risk". Although people are already eating GM food in a few products, it has only undergone one human feeding trial - and that showed negative results. In the study, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, scientists found that GM DNA is transferring to the human gut bacteria. This worrying result has not been followed up.

  • GM does not increase yields
  • GM does not reduce herbicide use. Farmers are spraying with more herbicides, sometimes reverting to older, more toxic chemicals
  • In one province of Canada, GM contamination has wiped out the whole organic oilseed rape sector
  • GM and organic cannot co-exist
  • The recall of GM StarLink maize cost an estimated $1 billion and only happened after many people reported allergic reactions
  • GM crops have destroyed trade. Within a couple of years the US and Canada lost almost $1 billion worth of agricultural exports due to GM crops

He concludes, "The well documented negative impacts of industrial agriculture on our vital life-support systems of climate, soils and water underscore the urgent need to get global food production onto a sustainable footing." (Western Daily Press - 7/11/05)

A bird flu pandemic could cost the global economy nearly £500 billion, the World Bank said yesterday. The bank believes a mass outbreak could cause global production to drop by two per cent or more. This would amount to £459 billion over a year. The figure was revealed at a crisis summit organised by the World Health Organisation in Geneva. (The Sun - 8/11/05)

Beef more than 30 months old returned to the market yesterday for the first time in nearly a decade. The ban has been replaced with a testing regime approved by the Food Standards Agency, under which every carcass will be checked for BSE. "Cow beef" is now expected to replace some imports from Argentina, Brazil, and Ireland in mince and certain processed foods. How much is unclear because only nine abattoirs have been approved so far. (The Telegraph - 8/11/05)

An analysis of deaths caused by the human form of BSE has provided further evidence that the epidemic has passed its peak. Since May 1990, 153 cases of definite or probable variant CJD have been identified in the UK. The latest annual report from the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh showed that 148 people had died from the disease up to the end of December 2004. (The Independent - 8/11/05)

Indian scientists are mapping the DNA of basmati rice because they are concerned that Western corporations may try to take out patents on the food, not in order to produce genetically modified rice. The project to prove that basmati rice is quintessentially Indian is a sign of how GM methods are transforming the agricultural industry. Today, traditional farmers are trying to fight off what is being called "gene piracy". (The Independent - 4/11/05)

Compassion in World Farming urges the public to support Britain's free range farmers by buying free range, even if farmers are forced to move their birds indoors for a period of time should there be a high risk of an avian flu outbreak. (www.ciwf.org - 4/11/05)

The Soil Association has launched a major international campaign called 'Food For Life' with a high-profile awareness and fundraising event in New York hosted by Trudie Styler, with a headline performance by Sting and addressed by HRH The Prince of Wales.

The new campaign will include:

  • September 2006 United Nations Conference on sustainable food and farming to be held at the UN Headquarters in partnership with the U.S. Rodale Institute and Japanese Shumei organisation.
  • Major focus to change international trade law to prioritise Food Security over "free" trade; key lobbying targets include the World Trade Organisation and the G8.
  • Alongside key individuals, such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, The Soil Association aims to improve U.S. school children's diet and health along the same lines as it has in the UK, where new government policies on school food has eliminated junk food and introduced fresh, local, organic produce.
  • Creating a critical mass of informed public support. By building on links established over GM campaign, The Soil Association aims to form a nationwide coalition of farmers and consumers campaigning for safe, secure sustainable food and farming in the States.

Tesco has the biggest share of food sales in 57 per cent of Britain, a study by retail analysts CACI has shown. The figure was revealed as executives prepared to be questioned by MPs on the All-Party Small Shops Group, investigating supermarket growth and the resulting decimation of small independent stores. (The Daily Mail - 3/11/05)

In an article drawing attention to recent protests from the Women's Institute and Farmers for Action, Sir John Nott, farmer and former cabinet minister, writes: "It is only consumers - mainly women - who have the power to force a change back to the local sourcing of food, to British standards of quality assurance, to delicious fresh food related to our own seasons. Yes it means less choice and higher prices. You may well ask who would vote for that? I would, for one. Because, in the long run cheap food is the road to ruin for rural Britain and ultimately urban Britain too." (Daily Express - 3/11/05)

A study from consumer watchdog Which? has revealed that packaged ham can contain up to 37 per cent added water. Food giants are bulking out non-organic ham by adding water, which is held in the meat with up to 40 additives, including salt and flavourings. (The Daily Mail - 3/11/05)

The international response to the avian flu crisis threatens to spark cruelty to poultry on an unprecedented scale, warns Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) ahead of the World Avian Flu Summit 7-9 November. CIWF fears human slaughter standards will fall by the wayside as countries rush to destroy birds in the face of avian flu outbreaks. Already the organisation has logged reports of poultry burned or buried alive in countries where the virus has emerged recently. (www.ciwf.org - 3/11/05)

Jamie Oliver has warned the Government that it must deliver on its promise to improve school meals. The chef said he would not stop his crusade to banish junk food from children's lunchtime menus. (The Evening Standard - 1/11/05)

The UN official charged with preparing the world for a flu pandemic said yesterday that there was a danger of panicked countries closing their borders, withdrawing their diplomats and operating a general "lock down" as soon as the disease began to spread. David Nabarro, the senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza, painted a graphic picture of the effect of such defensive measures to the House of Lords science and technology committee, which he said would make it harder to check the spread of disease.

Completely brilliant news from Nestlé. The international corporation with one of the worst past records in terms of sustainability, human rights, etc etc seems to be genuinely seeing the light. Market forces (that's you and me, the shopping public) has led the way for Nestlé to announce that 26m of the plastic trays used to hold its chocolates will be replaced by corn starch ones, which are completely disintegrate when they come into contact with water. This comes shortly after it's launch of a fair trade coffee. Okay, these were the guys that created a lot of the problems fair trade people are trying to address. But organicfoodee.com simply sighs a huge sigh of relief that - slowly, slowly - they seem to be doing the right thing now... (The Guardian, Eco-Soundings column - 2/11/05)

Fairtrade groups have welcomed the announcement by fastfood giant McDonald's that it is partnering Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to sell Newman's Own Organics Blend coffee in more than 650 McDonald's restaurants in the eastern US. Fairtrade product certifier TransFair said it joined Oxfam America in welcoming the move with the hope that McDonald's extends the launch to its restaurants across the US. (Just-food.com)

Shops could have empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas because of a series of threatened strikes by farmers. The food producers are angry about what they say are rock-bottom prices paid by supermarkets and they plan to disrupt supplies in the coming weeks. The first action will be a three-day strike by 2,000 farmers starting tomorrow. Protest leaders from Farmers For Action want to stop animals, vegetables and other produce leaving farms for three days. (Daily Express - 1/11/05)

Farmers must pay a levy to help pay for any future disease outbreak, MPs will argue today. As farms begin to step up defences against avian flu, Edward Leigh, the chairman of the commons Public Accounts Committee, the spending watchdog, said the Government must learn from the "painful experience" of foot-and-mouth in 2001. The outbreak cost £3 billion - a "prodigious waster of taxpayers' money". (The Times - 1/11/05)

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