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Organic news archive: July 2006

You don't want GM foods? Too bad - by Michael Meacher MP, ex-Environment Minister

In a clear and well written piece criticising the UK Governments latest announcements about genetically modified crops, Michael Meacher says: "All of this begs the question: is genetic modification of food safe? The question remains unanswered, but a pile of new scientific evidence has produced some worrying results. Within the last few months a Russian scientist, found that an astonishing 55 per cent of the offspring of rats fed on GM soya died within three weeks of birth compared with only 9 per cent in the control group." (The Daily Telegraph)

Tesco's and Sainsbury's launch new Fake Organic Box Schemes

Organic box schemes are all about small businesses delivering fresh local organic produce, and cutting out the supermarket big boys in the process. That's why people choose organic box schemes. However, Tesco's and Sainsbury's are seeking to capture a bigger slice of the country's £1.6bn organic food market, which is growing at 30 per cent a year, by launching their own versions of real box schemes. Sainsbury's will trial its scheme to around 500,000 customers in the East Midlands and East Anglia from the end of August, while Tesco will test its vegetable boxes in south London from early September.

Sandra Bell, real food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "It will be a threat to the smaller, very genuinely local businesses that are running successful box schemes because Sainsbury's and Tesco will be able to undercut them, which could put local farmers out of business." (The Independent)

Soaring temperatures will bring food shortages and higher prices

This summer's intense heat, combined with the worst drought in 30 years, could lead to vegetable shortages and price rises reports The Telegraph. The UK's pea crop is down by 20 per cent, while cauliflower yields are down by 40 per cent, and potato and brussel sprout production has also been adversely affected. Producers have warned that the market could also face shortages of carrots, broccoli, spinach and onions after "substantial reductions" of the crops across the continent due to over-ripening. Simon Lane of Fruco, one of Britain's largest carrot importers, said "The hot weather will undoubtedly affect production, but it means that suppliers will be forced to go further afield." (The Daily Telegraph - 29/7/06)

Sexy new electric car

Finally... an electric car that sets new heights for performance and design. Which means an electric car that's a more realistic option than before for most consumers. Funded in part by the brothers Google and the bloke behind PayPal, the Tesla car looks set to 'Burn Rubber, Not Gasoline'. Okay, it's seriously pricey, but this brand is one to watch... www.teslamotors.com

Genetically Modified Crop Impoverishes Developing Countries

The Soil Association has condemned new British Government plans to promote genetically modified crops in developing countries. This announcement comes at the same time as new research showing that the GM 'miracle crop', Bt cotton, has proved an economic and environmental failure in China. Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director said:

"It is completely irresponsible of the Government to promote this unwanted technology to the developing world. GM cotton has been a complete failure in China - it has lowered the income of farmers and failed to reduced pesticide use. Consumers in Europe have overwhelmingly rejected GM food and now it appears that the GM industry, with the help of our Government, are using the developing world as a dumping ground for GMOs."

The first long-term study of the economic impact of Bt cotton - genetically modified to resist certain pests - exposes the claims of the GM industry that it can reduce pesticide use and increase farmers' profits. After seven years of growing GM cotton, farmers in China have had to use over 400% more pesticides to kill new 'secondary' pests, according to new independent research by Cornell University. The costs of increased pesticide use and expensive GM seeds have resulted in GM farmers receiving 8% less net income than conventional farmers.

In spite of these findings, the Government is determined to pour more money into promoting GM crops to developing countries. This scheme is part of a £100 million strategy from the Department for International Development (DFID), who are working with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to fund research which they claim will "make significant differences to the lives of poor people in Africa and Asia". The difference GM crops have made for China's 5 million GM cotton farmers is to reduce their income and create new pest infestations. If GM crops are adopted more widely in the developing world, it will have dire consequences for the 2.5 billion people who rely on agriculture for their income. 600 million people work on the land in India alone, as well as 400 million in Africa.

Asda going green

Supermarket group Asda yesterday pledged to stop sending any waste to landfill sites within four years as part of a plan to achieve a new clean and green image. The 307-store chain is also to test a range of energy-saving technologies including sunpipes and biomass boilers. The "zero waste" promise echoes a similar pledge made by Asda's parent group, Wal-Mart, last year and is part of a drive by all the big grocers to reinvent themselves as environmentally friendly businesses. This pledge has recently been support and reaffirmed by Al Gore, with a talk by the politician and a screening of his hard-hitting eco-awarenedd film 'An Inconvenient Truth' at Wal-Mart's AGM. (The Guardian - 26/7/06)

Heatwave brings early harvest

This year's heatwave is bringing in the earliest harvest since 1976. The barley harvest is well under way and in some parts of the country the combines are already going into wheat fields - two weeks earlier than even during the summer of 1976. Farmers believe the conditions are worse than 30 years ago, as what little rain has fallen has been in short, sharp downpours that quickly run-off and disappear. Trees are already dying in some parts of the country, although the true damage won't be seen until next spring. (Farming Today)

Biofuels may harm the environment

The Financial Times reports on the results of a study by Bank Sarasin, the Swiss bank, that biofuels can make up to no more than 5 per cent of petrol or diesel consumption in the US and the European Union without causing environmental damage. The report examined the risk that producing biofuels would leave less fertile land to devote to food production, so raising the price of staple foods. (N.B. Biofuels are vehicle fuels derived from plants such as sugar cane or soya). However, electric vehicles can use sustainable energy sources such as wind and wave power. (Financial Times)

Soya may be bad for you

In a fantastically researched article, Felicity Lawrence reports about soya foods and their potential to harm your health. (The Guardian - 25/7/06)

Genetic Modification could wipe out organic farms

The Sunday Telegraph reports how Michael Meacher, the former Labour environment minister, said the government's decision to pave the way for genetically modified food to be produced commercially would lead to organic farms being wiped out "within a few years". The article notes that Mr Meacher is supported by Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, who said the anti-GM food campaign would also certainly be resurrected. Mr Holden said that the organic food industry would be under threat if non-organic farmers switched to GM on a large scale. (The Daily Telegraph - 23/7/06)

British Public Betrayed over GM crops

Dr Caroline Lucas, MEP for the Green Party, writes to The Guardian explaining her annoyance as New Labour "ignored a clear weight of public opinion and led us down a dangerous path" by allowing conventional and organic crops to contain 0.9% of GM material.

"Just what was the point of holding the "GM nation" public consultation in 2003 if it is now going to ignore the clear result: that the majority were opposed to the growing of GM crops in the UK and that only 2% of people said they would be happy to eat GM produce. If GM farmers can't prevent the cross-contamination of neighbouring non-GM crops, then the commercial planning of GM crops spells the end of the booming UK organic industry"."

Clare Oxborr, A Friends of the Earth food campaigner, also writes in to the paper explaining that ' if coexistence measures are designed to allow routine GM contamination of crops of up to 0.9%, you are in fact planning to contaminate. If this is the case, then farmers would have to label the crop as GM'. (The Guardian - 24/7/06)

Greenpeace Victory as food giants agree to stop using Amazon rainforest soya

The Guardian reports that leading European supermarkets, food manufacturers and fast-food chains, including McDonald's, are expected to sign a moratorium today not to use soya illegally grown in the Amazon region in response to evidence that large areas of virgin forest are being felled for the crop. (The Guardian - 24/7/06)

Britain leads the world for Fairtrade food sales

They call it capitalism with a conscience and in Britain it is flourishing. According to new figures, sales of Fairtrade coffee and bananas have doubled in two years with one in five cups of filter coffee drunk in the UK now being supplied from a "fair" source. The Fairtrade movement, which began life just 18 years ago to protect Mexican coffee farmers against plummeting world prices, has transformed into a global business, with Britain the largest market. (The Independent - 24/7/06)

Solar powered boat

A shuttle boat powered entirely by the sun is to be launched on the Serpentine lake in London's Hyde Park. The 14.5m (48ft) Solarshuttle, thought to be the biggest of its kind in the UK, will carry 42 passengers between the north and south of the water. Cruising at 4mph, the boat - driven by two electric engines - is silent and pollution-free, say the makers. (BBC News - 18/7/06)

China may lift GM rice ban

China could become the first country in the developing world to allow sales of GM rice. Four companies that make GM seeds three local and one connected with Monsanto have filed applications with the Chinese Government to permit the sale of their versions of GM rice. (Farmers' Guardian - 21/7/06)

Would you eat GM food? "Not knowingly", says Conservative leader

"I don't think we should lift the moratorium [on GM crops] until we've dealt with the two issues of contamination and liability," says Conservative leader David Cameron in the Hot Seat article. "Although you say farmers are itching to grow GM crops, I don't think that right now anyone would argue that there's a big market." When asked if he would eat food which has got GM content in it, he says, "not knowingly... on the whole I'd rather make sure I'm eating locally produced and un-genetically modified food." (Farmers' Weekly - 21/7/06)

Anti-Environment Double Whammy

In an anti-environment double whammy, the Government has today (20/7/06) published proposals to allow widespread GM contamination in the British countryside, as well as failing to protect the public against the dangers of pesticides spraying.

The Government's latest proposals are in effect denying all consumers, organic or non-organic, the right to choose non-GM food. In addition, the Government has rejected key recommendations by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), designed to protect the public from unnecessary risks of pesticides spraying. These two decisions combined give a first indication of just how 'green' Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, really is.

Commenting on the Government's proposals for GM contamination, Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director said: "If the Government sticks to this policy, part of the Prime Minister's legacy will be to leave a GM-contaminated country behind him. The Prime Minister is promoting a technology that is well past its sell-by date." (listen to BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme about these issues)

Life on Earth facing catastrophic crises

Life on earth is facing a major crisis with thousands of species threatened with imminent extinction - a global emergency demanding urgent action. This is the view of 19 of the world's most eminent biodiversity specialists, who have called on governments to establish a political framework to save the planet. The article reports that birds are most are at risk from logging, intensive agriculture, trapping and habitat encroachment. For marine life pollution, overfishing, loss of marine habitats and global warming have a dramatic impact on biological diversity and many insects are wiped out by pesticide-reliant intensive agriculture. (The Independent - 20/7/06)

Organic butchers may not be certified

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News Business correspondent, reports that 'Nine in every 10 butchers claiming to be selling organic meat may be breaking the law'. He writes, "The Soil Association is warning that butchers must apply for certification before advertising meat as organic. Organic produce sales are booming - but consumers may find it hard to work out which products are genuinely organic. There are no reliable lab tests to show if a product is organic, so consumer confidence depends on regulation by bodies like the Soil Association. All food sold as organic must come from growers or processors who are registered and inspected by an approved certification body - the Soil Association is one of ten such bodies." If in doubt, ask to see your butcher's legal organic certification document. It's like a certificate, and if they have one, they will be happy to show you. If they make any excuses, simply don't trust them. (BBC News)

Food companies pushing junk food to kids online

The Financial Times reports "Food companies are increasingly using the internet to deepen children's exposure to marketing messages through online games and commercials, blurring the lines between advertising and entertainment, a new study has found. The study of 77 US-based food company websites by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation comes as governments try to crack down on the marketing of sugary and salty snacks to children to curtail rising levels of childhood obesity." (Financial Times - 20/7/06)

Wal-Mart create a fake 'MySpace'

Wal-Mart is encouraging parents to sign their children up to a MySpace-inspired website run by the retail group. The Hub is the latest attempt by Wal-Mart to harness a medium that has stoked a backlash against the world's largest retailer. (The Guardian - 20/7/06)

Wal-Mart invites Al Gore to eco-conference

Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned eco-warrior, is taking his climate change soapbox to Bentonville, Arkansas, to preach to the executives and employees at Wal-Mart. The world's biggest retailer, which owns Asda in the UK, has invited Mr Gore to be the star turn at its quarterly "sustainability conference" this week, where he will deliver a version of his lecture warning of impending environmental disaster unless we change our ways. (The Independent - 12/7/06)

Eco-charities protest at lack of controls for nanotechnology

A letter from the Soil Association, Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, Corporate Watch and others was printed in The Independent today expressing concern at "the Government's lack of regulatory control of the first generation of nanotechnology products, novel materials based on very small "nanoscale" particles." (The Independent - 12/7/06)

Meat production inhumane and inefficient

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author, with Jim Mason, of The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter writes a comment piece in The Guardian today on meat factory farming calling the methods "inhumane" and "grossly inefficient". Singer writes, "As consumers, we have the power - and the moral obligation - to refuse to support farming methods that are cruel to animals and bad for us." (The Guardian 12 July)

Scientific interest in psilocybin increases globally

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, have for the first time demonstrated that mystical experiences can be produced safely in the laboratory. They say that there is no difference between drug-induced mystical experiences and the spontaneous religious ones that believers have reported for centuries. They are "descriptively identical". Based on the results of their studies, they claim a universal mystical experience with life-changing effects can be produced by psilocybin, the hallucinogen contained in magic mushrooms. In the UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists debated their use at a conference in March for the first time in 30 years. A conference held in Basel, Switzerland, last January reviewed the growing psychedelic psychiatry movement.

In more than 60 per cent of cases studied at Johns Hopkins University, the experience qualified as a "full mystical experience" based on established psychological scales. Some likened it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent. The effects persisted for at least two months. Eighty per cent of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction. Relatives, friends and colleagues confirmed the changes. (The Independent - 11/7/06)

Genetically Modified contamination threat

GM contamination in Europe could see content threshold for accidental contamination rise to 0.9% in a proposed revision of the EU regulations. The Soil Association and Organic Farmers & Growers plan to keep their certification levels at 0.1% regardless of the new regulation. Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director is quoted, "The reason for the 0.9% threshold is global politics. They want to open global free trade and are not interested in food, farming, quality, or consumers." (Poultry World magazine, July issue)

Genetically modified ice-cream alert

The Emeritus Professor of Medical Chemistry at Sunderland University, The Emeritus Professor of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario, and geneticist Dr Mae-Wan Ho, director of the Institute of Science in Society have joined forces to warn that an American form of ice cream containing modified fish genes risks "letting off an immunological time bomb". The ice cream is manufactured by Unilever, the global corporation behind household brands such as Wall's, Magnum, Carte d'Or and Ben and Jerry's. It has been sold in the USA for the past 3 years, but is now on the brink of being allowed to be sold in the UK, despite uproar in the British and Canadian scientific communities. (The Independent - 10/7/06)

South African farm worker tells of Tesco poverty wages

In an extraordinary move, a farmer from South Africa delivered her message of poor wages to the head o Tesco's. Gertruida Baartman, 38, acquired one share in the supermarket giant, which gave her access to its AGM on 7 July. She gets L3.41 for a nine hour day, around the price of that single share, and is her extended family's only breadwinner.

She told shareholders: "Tesco has been told before about the problems workers experience and have said it isn't true. But I don't get paid enough to feed my children - and I work with my bare hands in fields full of pesticides."

She knows her actions could cost what little work she gets - her name will be known and her family could be turfed out of their home. "I'm afraid of what might happen to me and my family," she said. "But it's a chance I have to take. I have no choice. I have to think past just me and my family and about making a difference for all the farm workers. (The Mirror - 7/7/06; The Mirror - 8/7/06)

Tesco's healthy eating scheme ranked lowest in independent poll

Tesco, Morrison's and other companies that boycotted the new national food labelling scheme are under attack after research showed they have left shoppers confused. Polling of 600 people for Which? ranked Tesco's way of highlighting levels of salt, sugar and fat in processed food the least helpful of four rival options. The Government's traffic light scheme, introduced this year after the FSA surveyed 2,736 consumers, has been adopted by Sainsbury's, Asda, Waitrose and the Co-op. Advocates say it is simple to understand, and initial sales figures from Sainsbury's suggest its introduction has led to plummeting sales of junk food. (The Independent - 10/7/06)

Organic Sales soar up by 30%

Consumer affairs correspondent for The Independent, Martin Hickman reports, "Sales of organic food are rising at the fastest rate since the turn of the century, riding a wave of good publicity and a new concern with healthy eating among the less well-off." Britain's biggest certification body, the Soil Association, said in its annual report that sales of organic food leapt by 30 per cent to £1.6bn in 2005 - almost treble the 11 per cent growth the previous year. A survey for the organisation showed the appeal of organic food was spreading, with half of customers in social classes C2, D and E now buying organic food. The Soil Association said the research discredited the idea that organic food was the preserve of the "well-to-do". Helen Browning, food and farming director, described the growth in organic sales - an extra £7m a week - as "staggering".

James Meikle of The Guardian writes, "The 'healthy' image of organic food helped UK sales soar by 30% last year to nearly £1.6bn, a report by the Soil Association says today. The huge increase in sales followed the scare over the Sudan 1 food contaminant in processed foods, fears over obesity and good news about nutrients in organic milk." Meikle reports that the rise has raised concerns that UK farmers cannot keep pace with the surge in demand.

Helen Browning, food and farming director for the Soil Association said: "If public support for organic produce is not matched by supply, supermarkets and others will again be forced to look overseas. Retailers can help build processor and producer confidence by prioritising long-term trading relationships ... that recognise the costs and extra demands of organic husbandry."

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, said: "Here is an example of how every citizen can exercise their buying power to bring about a more sustainable future."

Channel 4 news at lunchtime featured a report on the rise in popularity of organic food. Alison Austin, organic brand manager at Sainsbury's was interviewed on the subject.

The Organic Market Report 2006 also got a mention by Dermot and Sian on the BBC1 breakfast show this morning.

(The Independent; The Telegraph; The Daily Mail; The Scotsman; Yahoo! News; BBC News - 7/7/06)

Consumers don't want GM crops

Responding to NFU president Peter Kendall's statement that consumers will decide whether GM crops are grown in the UK, Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth writes in the Letters page that consumers have already made their position clear. "The latest European survey states that overall Europeans think that GM food should not be encouraged. GM food is widely seen as not being useful, as morally unacceptable and as a risk for society... Instead of effectively legalising GM contamination so farmers can grow GM crops for which there is no market, surely the government and NFU should be aiming to keep the UK GM-free, enabling British farmers to meet market demands." (Farmers' Weekly - 7/7/06)

GM research is 'misleading' the public

The Soil Association has accused the John Innes Centre of overstating the significance of its research into the control of nitrogen fixation in leguminous plants by genetic manipulation. The scientists claim to have discovered that, by mutating a gene found in legumes, root cells can be converted into nodule-forming cells in the absence of the rhizobia nitrogen fixing-bacteria required to initiate the process. However, the Soil Association argue that the research is inconclusive: "They have only managed to control one small stage of a complex process... This only highlights how far they are from identifying and managing to control and transfer the complete nitrogen fixation process to non-leguminous plants." (Farmers' Guardian - 7/7/06)

Junk food adverts plan "weak"

Major junk food manufacturers and advertisers have announced their plans to reduce the impact of junk food commercials on children, however they fall far short of the 9pm watershed favoured by health and consumer groups. Instead, the industry agrees a ban on ads for all branded foods during programmes aimed at under-10s on terrestrial television, but not on cable, internet or satellite. In addition, they want to limit all food and drink adverts to 30 seconds per hour all day on dedicated children's channels. The industry's excuse is that Food Standards Agency's criteria for defining which products are junk foods is "not scientifically robust". (The Independent - 6/7/06)

America's appetite increases for organic hot dogs

America doesn't have nearly the same amount of awareness about eating organic as the UK. However, their appetite for organic food is rising, as seen by the increasing sales of that most American of foods, the hot dog. (New York Times - 5/7/06)

National Farmers Union Vice-President Accepting GM Hospitality

John Vidal writes in Society Guardian's Eco Soundings column, "The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has beefed up its policy on GM crops. Instead of just being cautiously in favour of coexistence as it was under 'Biotech Ben' Gill, the farmers' union now appears to be gagging for them - with a few safeguards. This shift will delight a small group of biotech enthusiasts inside the union, in particular Paul Temple who since February has been NFU vice-president. Temple grew GM oilseed rape for three years as part of the government trials and since then has been seeing Europe courtesy of the industry and arguing for farmer choice. Back in October, he visted Spanish GM farms courtesy of the Spanish biotech organisation Antama; and in November he was paid to go to Brussels to take part in a stakeholder event organised by pro-biotech lobby groups Croplife International and EuropaBio. 'To my mind it makes more sense if someone else is paying. I have never been incapable of making up my own mind about something,' says Paul Temple." To our minds, we're not so sure he'd remain impartial with all that lovely free hospitality... (The Guardian - 5/7/06)

One-Planet Farming

The newly appointed Secretary of State for Environment Farming and Rural Affairs, David Miliband MP, gave his first a speech as head of Defra on 3rd July at the Royal Agricultural Show. He explicitly stated that organic food is meeting consumer demand for high quality food: "It is not enough to just say 'Buy British'. Consumers are more discerning than that... they want to feel good about buying the food they choose. That may be because it is top quality, in season, organically produced, fair trade or because it is locally sourced."

Miliband's vision is for what he calls 'one-planet farming', which he defines as: "farming which minimises the impact on the environment of patterns of food production and consumption, and farming which maximises its contribution to renewal of the natural environment."

Organic produce 30 times higher in cancer-fighting substance

Research published in the British Naturopathic Journal looking at salvestrol levels in fruit and vegetables found that salvestrols are up to 30 times higher in organic produce, but almost absent in some commercially grown varieties. Salvestrols are a group of naturally occurring substances found in fresh fruit and vegetables that help the body fight cancer cells.

Gerry Potter, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, and Dan Burke, Emeritus Professor of Pharmaceutical Metabolism also found that small, organically grown alpine strawberries have 100 times the level of salvestrols of commercially grown (non-organic) strawberries. And that when crops are regularly treated with agrochemical fungicides the plants are rarely exposed to fungus, so they are never stimulated to make salvestrols. (The Daily Mail - 4/7/06)

Hormones in imported meat scandal

The front-page of the Daily Mail headlines "Hormones In 'Supersize' Cattle Can Trigger Cancer Claims Expert". Sean Poulter writes, "Fears about eating beef from cattle pumped up with growth hormones have been raised by government expert John Verrall who said there is alarming evidence it can trigger breast and other cancers, bring forward puberty in girls and increase the risk of genital abnormalities in boys. Mr Verrall, a member of a Government advisory committee on veterinary products, is so concerned that he has defied an official attempt to gag him... The Soil Association condemned the attempts to gag Mr Verrel as 'totally unacceptable'."

Richard Young, Soil Association policy advisor is quoted, "We are particularly concerned that no imported beef has been tested for oestradiol - or its metabolites. This serious failing must be addressed as a matter of urgency." He says the Government's Veterinary Products Committee had failed consumers by not properly assessing the latest research on hormone effects. (The Daily Mail; The Times - 3/7/06 | The Daily Mail - 4/7/06)

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