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News archive: January 2007

Prince William’s eco-romance

With its solar heating, energy-saving devices and even a reed bed sewage system, it’s the sort of place of which his father would approve. This is the environmentally-friendly mini-mansion which Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton are expected to make their first home.

The £5million house will be built on the Duchy of Cornwall’s Harewood Park Estate in the Wye Valley and, now Herefordshire Council has given it the green light, work should be completed around 2010 – just as William is expected to leave the Army.

The house will have a library, stables, an orangery, drawing room, dining room and six bedrooms. There is no nursery, but no shortage of space for one.

Prince Charles has taken a keen interest in the project and has insisted the architects marry “architectural presence” with a “strong sustainability agenda”.

A large rainwater-reservoir will be built for washing clothes, watering the garden and flushing toilets. Each bathroom will have water-saving fittings, while both the dishwasher and washing machine will be chosen from a range of energy saving devices. Waste water will be treated using a reed bed system, which breaks down sewage naturally by using the oxygen created by beds of common reeds. Heating and water will be provided by a wood-chip boiler in winter and solar panels in summer, which will be hidden on the roof. Kitchen leftovers can be turned into organic compost.

Reclaimed bricks will be used to build the house, and timber will be sourced from the Duchy’s estate. The roof, made of salvaged Welsh slate, will be insulated with sheep’s wool.

Visitors will be greeted by the sight of a large, rectangular property built around an indoor courtyard with an impressive portico entrance.

Along the outside walls are a series of triumphal arches and carvings of winged lions flanking lyres. This, according to the architect, makes reference to the Greek god Apollo who could heal, purify and promote harmony. Also dotted around the walls are several bronze classical-style heads known as caryatids, while even the four-bay garage block derives from the ‘Choragic monument of Thrysallus’ – a 4th century BC Greek monument on the slopes of the Parthenon in Athens.

News item by Rebecca English for the Daily Mail UK, January 30 2007

Brits want less packaging

75% of British consumers say products have too much packaging and that they feel bombarded by the volume of wrapping and protective material, according to an online survey out today. The survey was carried out by Ipsos MORI among 1,000 adults per country aged 16-64. Packaging has increased by 12% between 1999 and 2005, and accounts for one-third of an average household’s total waste.

Biofuels may cause famine

The Soil Association warned last week, at its annual conference, that converting more land from food to biofuel production could raise the risk of future famines. Peter Melchett said:

“This [expansion in land used for biofuels] sacrifices food security for an illusion of energy security.”

He went on to say that more could be achieved by converting 18% of arable land to organic farming. The trend for biofuels has sparked a food versus fuel debate, with concern that climate change could reduce the amount of agricultural land, coupled with a rise in the demand for food due to population growth.

John Gapper, columnist for the Financial Times, asked whether the biofuel movement is a space race or a gold rush? He suggests:

“The West wants to emulate Brazil, where cars run on ethanol refined from sugar cane. But there is no cane… [so] arable crops are being taken from people’s mouths and put into their fuel tanks instead.”

Got organic love milk?

The Welsh organic dairy co-operative Calon Wen has become the first dairy company in the UK to be awarded the Ethical Trade Organic Standards Certification by the Soil Association. This new scheme is for organic food producers who ensure fair trading and employment alongside socially and environmentally responsible practices. The certification recognises fair wages, hours of work that are not excessive, and a workforce with a say in what goes on.

Additionally, five memberrs of Calon Wen have chosen to reach out into the world of love beyond internet dating. The Welsh organic dairy farmers are looking for love by printing their photos on their milk bottles.

Ewan Jones is a director of the organic milk co-operative, and is one of the five young farmers (three men, two women) who are advertising themselves on these organic milk bottles, under the caption, ‘Fancy a Farmer?’ The lonely hearts message on a bottle is launched on the Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day, Santes Dwynwen Day, which is on 25 January. Ewan is a 30-year old organic dairy farmer, and is cute.

Peruvian potato farmers protest

A coalition of Peruvian potato farmers has written to biotech giant Syngenta urging it to drop research into terminator gene technology.

Terminator technology means that all plants grown from a genetically modified (GM) seed stock will produce seeds that are infertile. Many poor farmers in developing countries such as Peru rely on harvesting some of the seeds from their crops in order to replant them and therefore make more food for tghe next season. Terminator technology means that this age-old process is destroyed, and leaves farmers and their communities open to famine if they cannot afford seeds.

Even though there has been a global moratorium on field testing terminator technology since 2000, research continues on a widescale by all the biotech corporations in anticipation of a change in the law to allow them to sell these GM seeds.

Peru is home to over 4,000 potato varieties, and is the ancient land where potatoes originated. The Peruvian farmers fear the process will enter the Andean potato system and destroy their traditional trade.

GM crops grow worldwide

In 2006, worldwide plantings of Genetically Modified (GM) crops increased by 13% to 252million acres, with these crops being planted in 22 countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Six European Union countries planted GM crops in 2006 despite a widely held resistance to GM food by European consumers. They were: Slovakia, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic. Small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries account for 90% of farmers growing GM crops.

Scottish students pioneer organics

Edinburgh University Students’ Association has committed to the most radical change in food provision that the Association has ever experienced. A meeting of Committee of Management on the 25th January resolved to aim for the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’ targets of 30% Organic, 50% local and 70% unprocessed ingredients. They will be the first Students’ Union in the UK to do this.

Vice-President Services Tim Gee said:

“I know we have excellent chefs, but they often have to work with heavily processed ingredients. Many schools, and even Celtic Football Club have committed to these targets. I want Edinburgh University to lead the way on Organic and Local food in the same as we have with Fairtrade.”



Brits eating more veg

People in the UK are buying more and more fruit and vegetables. 2005-06 saw the largest increase in purchases in the last twenty years, as shown by results from the Expenditure and Food Survey published today by Defra.

The results also show that people are buying less confectionary, and soft drinks and indicate a decline in purchases of alcoholic drinks both for the household and in pubs and restaurants.

Household expenditure rose for cheese, eggs and milk, with a continuing switch from whole milk to semi skimmed milk. There was also an increase in intake of fibre.

Jeff Rooker, Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming said:

“These are national statistics produced to high professional standards and are an important addition to the evidence base on diet. These healthier trends in food purchases are promising, but we cannot be complacent, and must continue to encourage these trends, through healthy eating initiatives, like the 5 A DAY programme.

“Consumers must remember that the food choices they make can have a big difference not only to their health, but to their environment, and our countryside?

Castro’s organic revolution

The Independent UK’s Extra supplement has a feature on Fidel Castro’s Cuba in facts and figures which includes a box titled ‘Organic Revolution’.

Journalist Simon Usborne writes: “The organic revolution was seen by Castro as the only solution to the crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had subsidised Cuban agriculture, and the US embargo.”

Number of “organoponicos” (organic urban allotments) in Cuba: more than 7,000, totalling about 80,000 acres.

Number of such gardens in Havana: more than 200 (which supply the city with more than 90 per cent of its fruit and vegetables).


UK skimps on food testing

The BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme interviewed Richard Young, a Soil Association policy adviser.

The presenter, John Humphreys, asked him: “So long as the food is tested what’s the problem?”

Richard explained: “Quite a lot of these chemicals turning up as residues in food, are potentially dangerous to human health and I think most people would be appalled to learn that the vast majority of imported animal products that come into this country are not being checked for drug residues. The government has cut back funding in the area so much so that last year only seven foods were tested for. There was no testing of beef, lamb, pork, butter, milk… There was testing of imported fish, shrimps and some testing of poultry but because it [the Veterinary Residues Committee] is so short of money they were testing certain food when we know from various other sources that there are likely to be other drug residues turning up.

John Humphreys asked: ‘What kind of damage can this stuff [drug residues] do us, if it’s there?”

Young replied: “Some of these drugs are known to be carcinogenic and some of them are mutagenic. Yes [growth hormones] would be one concern…The government is concentrating on [highly toxic drugs] at the expense of other testing and our main concern is that the Committee is being kept short of funding. The food industry is not providing [needed] information and is relying on the government to identify problem areas. We have a vicious circle with no sides actually doing the work.”


British organics booming

Figures from the IGD, the grocery think-tank, predict that the value of retailers’ premium private labels will almost double during the next four years, to a shade under £9bn. A separate report from Datamonitor, the research group, today predicts that retail sales of speciality foods and drinks will hit £4.2bn by 2011, up from £3.6bn last year.

Matthew Adams, Datamonitor’s consumer markets analyst, said: “One of the key ways in which consumers are trying to eat more healthily is by purchasing organic variants of products, rather than standard versions.” IGD predicts the strongest growth in the premium sector, which makes up about 10 per cent of the food and grocery market, will come from organic and Fairtrade ranges.

UK government dismisses organics

Organic food may be no better for you than mass-produced farm food, according to the British cabinet minister responsible for the food industry. David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a “lifestyle choice? with no hard evidence that it is healthier. His comments will be a blow to the UK organic food industry, which is pressing for UK government recognition of what it describes as the nutritional and environmental benefits of its produce. Sales of organic food jumped by 30% last year, with the industry now worth £1.6 billion. A growing number of shoppers believe that it tastes better and is safer.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Miliband said: “It’s only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I would not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it’s not organic.? He insisted that ordinary food should not be thought of as “second best?, although he described the rise of organics as “exciting?.

On nutritional benefits, the minister said: “It’s a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn’t any conclusive evidence either way.? About 350 pesticides are allowed in conventional farming, with an estimated 4.5 billion litres of chemicals poured onto British crops every year. Campaigners say the average mass-produced apple has 20 to 30 chemicals on its skin.

The Soil Association, which regulates organic food, argues that meat, vegetables and dairy produced without pesticides are likely to be healthier, with some additives used in conventional farming linked to asthma and heart disease. Organic meat also has welfare benefits, guaranteeing that animals are kept in free-range conditions and fed natural diets.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused to accept these arguments. Sir John Krebs, a former chairman of the FSA, angered organic lobbyists when he said that there was no evidence that organic food was more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced food, despite its cost.

Organic produce is up to 63% more expensive than conventional food, according to recent research by Morgan Stanley, the investment bank. The Soil Association says this is because it takes longer to produce and is more labour intensive.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association Director, was invited to give his view on David Miliband’s comments on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Farming Today’ program. He said, “To be fair to the man, the Food Standards Agency do not consider there to be a sufficient body of evidence in front of them to make a definitive judgement. However there’s a whole raft of indicative evidence including there are increased levels of dry matter, vitamins, trace elements and minerals and secondary metabolites in organic food. And I think that sitting on the fence really isn’t good enough given that 75 per cent of the public are now exercising, on a regular basis, their buying power to support organic farming in the market place. To dismiss organic as a ‘lifestyle choice’ is patronising and slightly insulting to members of the public who have made a sophisticated choice to buy organic food…?

Historic urban garden fights eviction

“If the Olympic ideal means anything, it should apply to much more than four weeks of running, jumping and swimming. Friendship, tolerance, vision and healthy, sustainable living are fanfared by Manor Garden Allotments.”

That’s what Cleve West believes, garden writer for The Independent newspaper, and a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal winner.

Manor Gardens is an urban garden of allotments in Stratford, East London, that sits in the north central section of the Olympic Park. It was bequeathed to be allotments ‘in perpetuity’ by their original owner, the Right Honourable Major Villiers. However, the London Development Agency’s plan is to remove Manor Gardens to make a footpath to the Olympic stadia and now to house a public television screen, in the process destroying a century of devoted cultivation and a close-knit community rooted in this irreplaceable site.

The eviction date is set for 2nd April 2007. The planning application for the Olympic Park will be submitted to the Olympic Delivery Authority at the end of January 2007. The public can lodge their objections for the next three to four weeks by signing an online petition at:


Old timers Tom and Albert, have been growing veg and keeping fit here for 54 and 58 years respectively, taking over from their fathers. 10 year old Boris, whose parents are members, nags them to come to the plot and wants to hand his plot down to his son. Members trust in the permanence of the site, which led one plot holder to scatter his brother’s ashes on his plot.

This diverse community includes Londoners of Turkish Cypriot, Greek, Jamaican and African origin as well as people who can trace their ancestors back to the East End for generations. As a community, they welcome the potential for regeneration brought by the Olympic development. Rather than being moved out of the way, they want to offer their contribution which seems to them to be entirely consistent with the Olympic and Government ambitions. They believe to remove the allotment gardens would be to rip out the ‘healthy heart’ of the Olympic Park area as well as to fragment the community.

Even if the Manor Garden community could be protected by relocation, there is growing opposition from people local to the relocation site on Marsh Lane fields. If planning permission is granted, it would only be for seven years after which the Manor Garden Society may be moved again. But gardens don’t work that way. It would take at least twenty years, plus the right conditions, to re-establish the current food production levels and to create a similarly viable community.

As plot holder Armagan and her friend Cavide said:

“We could make the London Olympics different from all other Olympics. Having the allotments in the Olympic Park and preserving them for the Legacy Park would send out the message world wide that the UK really does care after all.”

It’s still to be seen if the LDA and the Mayor of London care about locally grown initiatives like Manor Garden Allotments, of if the Governments own ideas such as the London Food and the Biodiversity Strategies are just talk.

Iain Sinclair, the award-winning writer and a supporter of the campaign to incorporate the allotments, says:

“We don’t want the Olympic Park imagining for us. We don’t want it over-imagined. We want to imagine it for ourselves. Please preserve the soul of the place as represented by the beautiful Manor Garden Allotments.”

David Mackay, author of the original Stratford City plan and lead architect for the Barcelona Olympic Village and Port, flagged London as the most successful Olympics for regeneration. He recently wrote,

“Unfortunately London has lost this opportunity by deciding to agree to cover the existing recreation facilities with the silliest architecture seen for years with no real concern for a legacy. So far as legacy is concerned, we are being asked to look at the Emperor’s new clothes – so delicate that nobody can see them. If carried out, and with only five years to go, the Olympic legacy is more likely to be like a Hollywood set for a ghost town, or an abandoned Expo site.”

Restauranteurs Samantha and Samuel Clark, who own London’s fashionable restaurant Moro, have pledged to show their support by cooking fresh produce grown by the gardeners at Manor Gardens alongside in-house food heroes Hassan and Reg assisted by Adile. Their New Year Feast will be prepared live at Manor Gardens on 16th January 2007, from 3pm until 8.30pm

Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy their cookery demonstration and to show the strength of support for this precious part of Lea Valley’s heritage. Help stop the ‘Green’ Olympics plan to bulldoze 100 year old Manor Garden Allotments in order to make a television screen.

At the end of the day, the TV will be turned on in the Community Shed at Manor Gardens to show the a programme called ‘Disappearing London’, featuring Manor Garden Allotments, which will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm.


Scottish people being duped into GM

People are being urged by Scotland’s new chief scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover, to accept genetically modified (GM) food as an answer to poverty, hunger and toxic pollution. Professor Glover, herself a genetic engineer, feels that labels such as ‘Frankenstein foods’ are misleading and damaging. She also believes that the potential benefits of GM crops are “huge”.

Hugh Raven, the director of the non-profit organisation Soil Association Scotland, replied:

“There is no evidence whatever that Scottish consumers want GM products in their food supplies. If the Scottish Executive advisers can’t grasp that, in a democracy it’s not very clever to foist potentially dangerous new technologies onto reluctant consumers, God help us all.”

50 chemical additives every day

According to a study commissioned by frozen food giant Bird’s Eye, the average Briton eats 20 different food additives every day without knowing it. And for those who regularly eat snacks and ready meals, the figure is likely to be around 50 a day.

Romanian traditional farms discussed

The BBC’s ‘Farming Today’ programme continues a two-part report from a remote rural community in Romania. Both programmes are available to listen to online at the link below.

Farming Today reports from Sinca Noua, where farming practices have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Romania became a member of the European Community on January 1st 2007, so farmers in the village need to work out how to make the land pay its way without ruining a gloriously unspoiled habitat for animals, plants, insects and birds.

Moira Hickey reports on ambitious plans to encourage eco-tourism in the area, and to create a dependable income for farmers without following the rest of Europe down the road to intensive agriculture.


Food quality increases air travel

In their December 30th edition, The Guardian newspaper in the UK asked leading figures for their views on the big questions that will shape the coming year.

Commenting on ‘How quickly can we adapt to a post fossil fuel era?’ Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, states:

“The most surprising feature of the post-Stern debate was the complete absence of talk about food and farming. But food and farming are absolutely central to the debate. Why do we spend all this money flying off on Easyjet from the UK to France and Italy? Because of the food.”

“In Britain we live in a post-industrial wilderness. Changing our relationship with food and agriculture is the linchpin to the whole problem. We have to reconnect with food and through food to the earth.”


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