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Organic news archive: February 2006

Sean Poulter writes for the Daily Mail's 'campaign' column "Frankenstein Food Watch" - "The U.S. government last night claimed victory in a battle to force genetically modified food onto the dinner tables of Britain and the world [...] Currently, foods containing GM ingredients have to be labelled. However, the U.S. administration is considering bringing a second legal case to the WTO to get this abolished". (Daily Mail - 9/2/06; also reported in The Guardian)

The significance of the ruling by the World Trade Organisation's disputes panel, brought by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU moratorium, was disputed by British Shadow Environment spokesperson, Peter Ainsworth, who claimed the WTO was bowing to big US biotech companies, [who] "Need to face reality of the situation that there is effectively no demand for their products in Europe and certainly not in this country, in which public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to GMOs." The Soil Association has also responded to the World Trade Organisation ruling on EU GM moratorium, insisting that it is meaningless. (Farming Today - 9/2/06)

Thousands of packs of Heinz Farley's baby rusks and biscuits have been withdrawn because they were made with flour contaminated with the pesticide chlorpropham. Chlorpropham is a residual carbamate herbicide and potato sprout suppressant not licensed for use on cereals. Michael Green, policy officer at the Soil Association says: "It is worrying that food, particularly food for babies, is being recalled because of pesticide contamination. It highlights the inherent risk and uncertainties of using pesticides." (The Guardian - 4/2/06; Daily Mail - 3/2/06. Also in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Times and reported on Farming Today, 4/2/06)

Rose Prince looks at how to buy breakfast cereals this week in her Savvy Shopper column. On the presence of chemicals Prince writes, "Despite the intensive milling of the grain, when last tested chlormequat (a plant growth regulator) and residues of the fumigant hydrogen phosphide were found in 19 out of 66 breakfast cereal samples, which included top selling brands. The most recent results suggest that the use of pesticides is rising." On the presence of GM she writes, "organic brands are the best at policing the ingredients in their cereals for GM material." (Daily Telegraph, 4/2/06)

Latest figures show UK taxpayers contributed £3.25 billion in agricultural subsidies, enough to build 7 hospitals. Former Defra advisor, Jack Thurston, says vast sums are being sucked into the industrial farmland of East Anglia. However, the new data on organic farming shows that organic farms in England and Wales are holding their own despite market challenges. The annual survey of organic farm incomes for 2003-2004, carried out by the Institute of Rural Sciences at the University of Wales, shows that all types of organic units are maintaining incomes. Most have continued to achieve similar or even better incomes than comparable non-organic farms during the same period. For more information visit the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk

Jamie Oliver has been voted 'most inspiring political figure' of the year in the wake of his campaign to improve school meals. More than 14,000 people (37%) voted for Mr Oliver in the Channel 4 political awards. Viewers were asked to choose from a shortlist, which also included Tony Blair (7%), Bob Geldof (10%) and David Cameron (9%). (BBC News 2/2/06)

The UN has begun to promote the idea of 'natural capitol' as a way of valuing environmental goods so that they can be included in economists' equations. Klaus Topfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, says "When we damage natural capitol, we not only undermine our life support systems but the economic basis for current and future generations. Targeted investments in this natural capitol have a high rate of return in terms of development". (The Financial Times 3/2/06)

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales has launched a campaign to promote mutton, through the Mutton Renaissance Club, along with top chefs, like Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Academy of Culinary Arts and the National Sheep Association. Consumer demand for mutton, meat from older sheep and formerly a staple meat for Britons, has declined over the past 50 years due to its need for long, slow cooking. (Interview on Radio 4)

Fewer than 0.5 per cent of American consumers identify food biotechnology as a safety concern accoring to a study produced for the International Food Information Council last year. In contrast, a Eurobarometer opinion poll across the 25-nation European Union found that 54 per cent of European consumers consider GM food to be dangerous. The World Trade Organisation is expected to rule a case this month brought against the European Union in 2003 by the US, Canada and Argentina which claims an EU moratorium on the approval of GM foods and crops lacked scientific basis and created an unfair trade barrier. The WTO ruling will be important in efforts by the US to prevent European GM concerns and action from spreading, especially to Asia and Africa. (Financial Times 1/2/06)

Latest figures published by Defra show that British farm incomes have declined by 11% over the past year, averaging out to £12,500 per person in farming. Tim Bennett, NFU President puts this down to rising input costs for farmers of 'fuel, energy & fertilisers'. He also complained that processors and retailers passed their extra costs on to consumers, but did not tolerate the same from their suppliers indeed diary processor Arla has just cut farmgate milk prices further. This grim scenario brings home the reality of Jonathon Porritt's warning to farmers and the food-chain generally to reduce their dependency on oil and shift to lower energy input forms of food production, such as organic.

"Wake up and smell the carbon. Start getting to grips with what it means to live in a carbon-constrained world, with oil selling at $100 a barrel." Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, addressing the Soil Association's Conference, 6 January 2006 (Farming Today, 1/2/06)

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