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Organic news archive: May 2006

The Soil Association is 60!

The first inaugral meeting of the Soil Association took place on May 30th, 1946, with Lady Balfour presiding.

Chocolate Bar Saves Mayan Community

The Observer Food Monthly features an article on Green & Black's Maya Gold organic cacao project in the Toledo district of southern Belize. Organic chocolate bars are seeing a 60 per cent growth year on year - and in the US, the figure is 200 per cent. Green & Black's now finds itself with a problem. It already buys every single bean produced by the TCGA, and a third of the world's total organic crop. Soil Association chairman and founder of Green & Black's Craig Sams says: "Globally, we are talking about a desperate race to get organic up and running. In Belize alone, farmers will have to increase their output tenfold in the next five or six years, from 30 tonnes a year now to 300 by 2012, just to provide the cacao for use in Maya Gold." (The Observer - 28/5/06)

Martina Navratilova is Organic

In an interview in The Times Body & Soul section tennis star Martina Navratilova reveals she is passionately pro organic and anti GM and pesticides. (The Times - 27/5/06)

Bees in Danger

3 of the 25 species of bees traditionally found in the UK have become extinct, and conservationists fear several more are in imminent danger if action is not taken quickly. Independent environment editor Michael McCarthy blames the "demise of traditional hedgerows, hay meadows, chalk grassland and wildflowers, the intensification of farming and the widening use of pesticides." For more information on how to help combat the problem of the country's declining bumblebee population visit www.bumblebeeconservationtrust.co.uk (The Independent - 26/5/06)

The British are Eating Better

Britons' diet seems to be improving, with shoppers buying more fresh fruit and vegetables, according to figures from the annual family food expenditure survey by the Department for the Environment. A Defra spokesman said: "This year there appears to be healthy eating trends right across the board. We are obviously improving our diet. It seems that overall we are going towards a healthier lifestyle." (The Daily Mail; The Guardian - 26/5/06)

Whole milk banned in schools

Schools are to be banned from serving whole milk to children, approved by the Food Standards Agency as part of the nutritional standards for schools announced by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, last week. From September, all state schools in England must offer only semi-skimmed or skimmed milk to pupils aged 3 to 18. (The Times; Daily Mail, p.12 - 25/5/06)

Warnings of global food shortages

The Canadian National Farmers Union (CNFU) have written to UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan to warn him that the available supply of food in the world is running dangerously short. "We are consuming food faster than farmers are able to grow it," says CNFU President, Stuart Wells, citing the key factors limiting greater production as, "population growth, climate change, and intensive land-use." Food stocks have fallen to their lowest levels since 1972-3, standing at 57 day's worth of food in store to feed the global population, compared to the more normal 67 to 69 days.

CNFU also raised concerns about the increased move into growing biofuels, displacing food production for feeding cars. Farming Today pointed out that vast quantities of Canada's grain output went into protein-inefficient feeding of livestock. Mr Wells conceded that come the "protein crunch" there would, "need to be more discussion on this". Wells added that developing country farmers should be concentrating on growing crops to feed their own populations rather than producing energy-use intensive crops for export, "Absolutely there needs to be a focus on local food systems." Wells also called for a reduction in energy-wasting foodtrade 'swaps' where "wheat from Canada goes to Europe, and wheat from Europe comes to Canada." (CNFU Press release PDF; BBC Farming Today)

Climate change is the major challenge

David Attenborough talks to Michael McCarthy of The Independent about his attitude to climate change and reveals that he thinks, "climate change is the major challenge facing the world." The interview coincides with Attenborough's two-part series 'Are We Changing Planet Earth?' broadcast on BBC1. (The Independent; BBC Hot Topics - 24/5/06)

From cranky to mainstream

A report from grocery research body IGD shows that more than half of shoppers choose ethically when they buy their groceries. Jonathan Prynn of The Evening Standard writes, "The report shows how a trend seen as a cranky, middle-class fad a decade ago has grown into a powerful consumer force, with 52% of shoppers now classing themselves as 'ethical'. Of those, 33% say they buy such products because it they chimes with their beliefs, 15% because they want to boycott companies they do not approve of and 4% because it is fashionable." 28% of Londoners say organic shopping is "very important", 47% of shoppers choose organic or Fairtrade milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Save London's independent shops

Visit http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/smallshops to sign the Evening Standard's online petition to save London's small shops.

Ban junk food ads before 9pm

Doctors, teachers and charities are planning legal action against broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to secure a ban on all junk food ads before the 9pm watershed. The law already states that products that are harmful to health cannot be marketed specifically to children. (Daily Mail, 23/5/06)

Organic meat is not a con

A letter from Robin Maynard, Soil Association head of media and communications, was printed in The Sun: "As the leading body in the UK certifying organic farming and food, the Soil Association supports Trading Standards officers busting rogue butchers passing off meat as organic when it is not. Rogue butchers may be deceiving the public, but organic food produced to our standards is certainly not a 'con'." (The Sun, p.41)

Bananas at risk

According to reports by biologists the Cavendish variety of banana, sold in shops throughout Britain, could become extinct. Observer science editor Robin McKie writes, "All Cavendish bananas are genetically identical clones. It's as if every lamb chop sold in a supermarket was derived from fields of Dolly the sheep. Such similarity spells danger, for plantations of doppelganger bananas lack genetic diversity and are therefore at risk of succumbing to disease. Once a fungus evolves past the natural defences of one set of trees, it will spread like wildfire through the rest. (The Guardian, 21/5/06)

A black farmer in the English countryside

The government has launched a consultation on why so few disabled people, ethnic minorities and urban children visit the countryside. This follows on from the survey run by the Countryside Agency six years ago into exactly the same issue. Radio 4's Farming Today interviewed Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, an working farmer from Devon who is West Indian, who highlights his rarity by trading as 'The Black Farmer'. Last year, Mr Jones ran a series of scholarships for inner-city children to give them an experience of working and living in a rural area. Before embarking on this initiative, he wrote to "virtually every government department", but either received no reply at all or a distinct "no" in his request for help. Fortunately for Mr Jones and his inner-city visitors, HRH the Prince of Wales, Budgens the convenience chain, and local people recognised the need for this personal initiative and respond with money and offers of help.Asked for his response, Rural Affairs Minister, Barry Gardiner denied there was more talk than action from government on this issue and stated that the consultation would be short and lead to action. However, the minister put a different emphasis on the purpose and value of attracting a greater diversity of people into the countryside stating that, "what's at the heart of this, is attracting more customers into the countryside."

Street markets "more powerful than supermarkets"

Local street markets generate twice as many jobs as big supermarkets and sell goods at half the price of the supposedly cut-price retail giants, research by the think-tank the New Economics Foundation shows. On average, fruit and veg from farmers' markets and street stalls is 53% cheaper than in the supermarkets. The NEF report focused on Queen's Market in the East End of London, which is also the subject of the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Market customers felt both price and quality represented good value at the markets surveyed. (New Economics Foundation; BBC News; The Independent; The Times; Daily Mail - 22/5/06)

Government school food announcement

On Friday, Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, published new minimum nutrition standards for school food "To ensure healthier eating throughout the school day, banning meals high in salt, fat and sugar or containing low quality meat from lunchtime menus". The Evening Standard wrote about "healthy food rules on the menu from September" and "tough new limits on the amount of salt, sugar and fat in school meals". The Times wrote "parents were warned not to undermine new food standards rules yesterday by sneaking fizzy drinks and biscuits into their children's lunches." The Financial Times wrote "The Soil Association, which promotes organic food, said some schools did not spend enough on ingredients to meet the standards". The Independent commented, "The number of primary school children staying for lunch at school has dropped from 49 % last year to 44 % in the wake of Jamie's Oliver Channel 4 series aimed at improving school dinners, a survey by the Soil Association published today says." (The Times, 20/5/06; Daily Telegraph - 20/5/06; Evening Standard - 19/5/06)

Concern over creation of new life forms

The Soil Association has signed an open letter to scientists in California along with 35 other international organisations including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, over fears of 'synthetic biology'. Leading scientists are meeting today in Berkeley, California, to sign a code of conduct as a first step toward self-policing of experiments with viruses and microbes. Critics fear that without being policed properly these experiments could lead to the creation of dangerous new organisms. (The Guardian - 22/5/06)

Pesticide resistant parasite infesting bee hives

Beekeepers fear that a pesticide resistant parasite infesting their hives may trigger a chain of events that could lead to the long term decline in fruit and vegetables available to the British public. The Varroa destructor mite, which wiped out the entire UK wild bee population in the 1990s, has recently become immune to traditional methods of control and is now attacking cultivated hives. (The Telegraph - 22/5/06)

MacDonald's introduces bigger burger

The Sunday Times reports that "salad days are over" for MacDonald's which is introducing a giant burger - 40% bigger than a Big Mac - to be launched in time for purchase by TV viewers during next month's World Cup. (21/5/06)

Environment New Focus for Supermarkets

"All the big chains are engaged in a battle to prove their green credentials and portray themselves as caring, sharing protectors of the planet," writes Guardian journalist Julia Finch in an article that discusses what the main supermarkets are doing to prove their green credentials. From Sainsbury's testing new compostable bags for their organic fruit and veg to the Wal-Mart President, Lee Scott, gaining a two-hour audience with Prince Charles for royal advice on how to become more ecologically sound. Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation, is not impressed. He says, "As it stands, the only truly responsible corporate act the big four could do is to ask the regulator to break them up." (Guardian - 18/5/06)

School Meals - new minimum nutrition standards announced today by DfES

Jeanette Orrey, Soil Association school meals policy advisor, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast Show TV about the Department for Education and Skills' announcement on new minimum nutrition standards for school food to ensure healthier eating throughout the school day, banning meals high in salt, fat and sugar or containing low quality meat from lunchtime menus. (See also: Times, BBC News, The Independent, Politics.co.uk - 19/5/06)

Rare hawks saved from extinction

Scientists attribute the resurgence of marsh harriers in Britain to the gradual disappearance of farm pesticides. Dr Mark Easton from the RSPB said, "Chemicals used to kill farmland pests almost certainly affected the marsh harriers' ability to hatch eggs and fledge young." (Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, p.13 - 19/5/06)

Organics reveals its younger side

Organic farming is creating hundreds of jobs, revitalising the rural economy and encouraging younger, happier people into agriculture, according to a new report Organic Works written by the Soil Association. The report claims that 93,000 on-farm jobs would be created if all UK farmers went organic an average of 32% more jobs per farm than non-organic agriculture. For further details of the report visit www.soilassociation.org/organicworks (Farmers Weekly / Farmers Guardian - 19/5/06)

Tesco aims its organics mix wider

Tesco is hoping to grow organic food sales by 25% after moving its organic offers alongside non-organic product lines in store, but it also wants to cut prices, in an effort to bring "organic to the masses". (Farmers Weekly - 19/5/06)

Soil Association licensee Barny Haughton, described by restaurant critic Matthew Fort as "one of the generals in the great organic army", talks about the imminent opening of his new eco-business venture Bordeaux Quay. He explains the idea is to have a combination of restaurant, bar, bistro, shop, bakery and cookery school all with minimum environmental impact. Winner, this week, of the Glenfiddich Independent Spirit Award for his work in promoting organic and sustainable foods, Barny hopes that Bordeaux Quay will be "a model for other restaurants in how they think about carbon, water, energy, waste and sourcing food. It's an illustration of what's possible". (The Independent, Extra, p.8 - 18/5/06)

Daily Mail political correspondent reports, "Britain is the only country in the EU which has decided to implement a new scheme aimed at promoting 'green' farming. Under the so-called 'voluntary modulation' scheme, the government will be allowed to withhold up to a fifth of farmers' CAP allowances and plough it into rural development plans." The scheme applies only to English farmers. A critic from the National Farmers Union says, "Our concern is that member states with adequate rural development funding from Brussels and who are all committed to maintaining agricultural support (such as France and Ireland) will not use this 'voluntary modulation' while our farmers will face massive modulation." (Daily Mail, p.31 - 18/5/06)

Jo Wood (Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones' wife) was interviewed in Scotland on Sunday about her commitment to an organic lifestyle, "I really notice the difference when I can't get organic food. I feel less energetic my body hates it... I sometimes think it would be great to turn the UK into the first all-organic country, for Tony Blair to have the guts to say 'Let's clean everything up'." (Scotland on Sunday - 14/5/06)

Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James has opened an organic, solar powered hamburger joint in California. (The Observer magazine, 14/5/06 - p.73)

Europe faces new pressure to open its markets to genetically modified food from the US after the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU broke international rules with its moratorium on new GM licences. If the preliminary findings are backed up in the WTO's final report, due in several months, the EU is entitled to appeal. (The Independent)

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