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News archive: May 2007

British ethical Oscars announced

The shortlists for The Observer Ethical Awards 2007 have been announced, the Oscars of British ethical products and lifestyle.

The award category that we’re most excited about this year here at OrganicFoodee.com is Fashion Product of the Year. Our long time friend and very own fashion consultant Sarah Ratty’s eco-chic womenswear label Ciel has been shortlisted for this prestigious award. America’s future president and climate change campaigner Al Gore rubs shoulders with British journalist, blogger and political activist George Monbiot in the Campaigner of the Year shortlist. Best Online Retailer sees organic food delivery service Abel & Cole shortlisted alongside eco-fashion retailer Howies and eco-lifestyle products store The Natural Collection. And in the Best Local Retailer shortlist, we’re delighted to see Brighton’s wonderful community store Infinity Foods.

The Observer newspaper will be announcing the winners on June 8th, so check back to see the final results.

Food prices rising with global temperature

Retail food prices are heading for their biggest annual increase in as much as 30 years, raising fears that the world faces an unprecedented period of food price inflation.

Prices have soared as the expanding biofuels industry, climate change and the growing prosperity of nations such as India and China push up the costs of farm commodities including wheat, corn, milk and oils.

Food companies have started passing on these increases to consumers, but the prospect of sustained commodity price rises means the industry’s profits could be hit as it is forced to absorb the higher costs itself.

Hershey, the US chocolate maker, this month became the first big food company to cut its 2007 profits forecast because of the rising cost of milk, and Switzerland’s Nestlé warned investors last month it would not be able to cope with higher milk costs by simply raising prices.

John Parker, food analyst at Deutsche Bank, said: “There is growing concern within the food industry that the present upswing in soft commodity prices is structural rather than cyclical.”

Few countries have not felt the impact of food price rises. In the US, prices have risen by 6.7 per cent, seasonally adjusted, since the beginning of this year, compared to 2.1 per cent for all of 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If prices keep rising at these levels for the rest of the year, it would be the biggest annual increase since 1980.

The UK’s consumer price index showed annual food price inflation of 6 per cent in April – its highest level in almost six years, and well ahead of overall inflation of 2.8 per cent. Food price inflation is lower in the eurozone at 2.5 per cent but still rising more quickly than overall prices.

In China, food costs are increasing more than twice as quickly as other kinds of prices, up 7.1 per cent last month compared to a year earlier. And in India, annual food price inflation has reached its highest levels since the late 1990s, climbing above 10 per cent year-on-year.

US research firm Bernstein estimates that its Food Commodities index, which tracks a dozen agricultural raw materials including wheat, barley, cocoa and edible oils, will show cost inflation of 21 per cent this year – the biggest rise since the index started almost a decade ago.

By Jenny Wiggins, Consumer Industries Correspondent, Financial Times
May 24, 2007

Dwindling nutrients in non-organic veggies

Between 1940 and 1991, the typical British potato “lost” 47% of its copper and 45% of its iron. Carrots lost 75% of their magnesium, and broccoli 75% of its calcium. This is according to the British government’s own scientifically researched data.

The pattern was repeated for vitamins. A study in Canada showed that between 1951 and 1999, potatoes lost all of their vitamin A and 57% of their vitamin C.

Today’s consumers also have to eat as many as eight oranges to obtain the same amount of vitamin A their grandparents did from a single fruit.

This has to be one of the most troubling consequences of the agrochemical revolution. This is the proven nutritive difference between the intensively grown fruit and vegetables of today and their organically grown equivalents 60 years ago.

Roundup herbicide toxic to embryos

Roundup is the most commonly used herbicide in the world. It is widely used on genetically modified plants grown for food, clothing and animal feed. Most genetically modified crops are genetically modified specifically so that they can be sprayed and grown with Roundup. Roundup is a weedkiller, so crops grown where Roundup are sprayed are usually genetically modified so they can survive being sprayed with this poison at the same time as the weeds it is intended to kill. Roundup is found throughout the food chain in most countries, including America, India and France. It has contaminated rivers and waterways in all countries where it is sprayed onto crops, and so it can find its way into food even if the farmer has not sprayed his own fields.

A group of scientists in the University of Caen, France, has published a study on the previously unknown toxic effects of Roundup on human embryonic cells. The study is titled ‘Time and Dose-Dependent Effects of Roundup on Human Embryonic and Placental Cells’ and was authored by Nora Benachour, Herbert Sipahutar, Safa Moslemi, Céline Gasnier, Carine Travert, Gilles-Eric Séralini. It has scientifically proven that Roundup adversely affects human embryonic cells if used at doses that are currently legally recommended. It also finds that the human endocrine system is disrupted by this widely used herbicide. This means if you eat food that has been sprayed with Roundup, it can unbalance your hormones and adversely effect your fertility.

Read the full scientific report in English.

Rachel Carson is 100

On May 27, 2007 it will be 100 years since Rachel Carson was born. She was one of the very first people to alert the Western world about the benefits of organic farming and the dangers inherent in spraying farms with poisonous checmicals.

Her book, ‘Silent Spring’, was published in America in 1962, and influenced an entire generation. The silence she referred to in the title was her own observation that there was less and less birdsong every spring.

Her combination of thorough research and inspiring rhetoric makes Rachel Carson one of the world’s foremost ecologists.


English pub wins against KFC

The landlady of a small English pub on the Pennine Way has won her battle with the fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken, over her “Family Feast” traditional Christmas Day menu. The battle was joined when KFC’s lawyers at Freshfields, the leading City firm, wrote to Tracy Daly, licensee of the Tan Hill Inn, in North Yorkshire, accusing her of infringing its trademark.

Ms Daly had assumed that the letter, from one Giles Pratt, was an elaborate practical joke.

Her pub was miles from the nearest high street, and the Family Feast she served but once a year. It consisted of a traditional Christmas dinner. There was little chance, she reasoned, that it could be confused with KFC’s Family Feast, a bucket of fried chicken and chips, coleslaw, potato and gravy, with a fizzy drink?

She was wrong.

When she called Freshfields she was told that the matter was extremely serious. A spokesperson for KFC explained that Family Feast was a registered trademark to which it devoted significant resources for promotion and protection. However, the company’s professed intent to tackle the threat posed by the Christmas menu of a tiny country pub caused uproar. Firms of solicitors offered Ms Daly their services free, and commentators on Times Online weighed in behind Ms Daly as she prepared to fight her corner.

“A faceless corporation with no heart and no values . . . trying to bully hard-working pub owners over ownership of a common English phrase” wrote one Times reader.

Ms Daly suggested that the chief executive of KFC ought to make the rather long journey to her pub to experience her “Family Feast” for himself. In return she would agree to eat a KFC Family Feast.

Faced with this, and the public outcry, yesterday afternoon KFC backed down. It issued a statement: “KFC has spoken to Ms Daly . . . and confirmed that it will not take this case any further. This means Ms Daly can continue to use the phrase Family Feast on the pub’s Christmas menu. It’s an unusual situation that has been blown out of all proportion.”

Ms Daly said: “Common sense has prevailed. I’m not going to need my boxing gloves. I’ve invited KFC to come here and have a meal and shake hands.”

Story by Will Pavia for The Times, UK, May 11 2007

1990 McDonald’s served a writ against an English couple who handed out leaflets outside their restaurants, urging people not to eat there. The ‘McLibel’ battle became the longest in English legal history, ending with victory for the couple as the case went to Europe

Pesticides deform babies

I really don’t like the look of the nectarine Adam Wakeley is proffering. More specifically, I don’t like the feel of it, because it’s as hard as a bullet and, as any fool knows, that means it will taste disgusting. ‘It’s just right for eating, absolutely lovely,’ he insists, in a way that doesn’t invite dissent. So I have to take a bite. It is the nicest nectarine I’ve ever had in my life, juicy and sweet, which proves that, despite being a consumer of fruit for 30 years (although admittedly I’ve achieved the prescribed ‘five-a-day’ about twice), I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Adam Wakeley, on the other hand, knows everything about fruit. He is joint MD of Organic Farm Foods, the UK’s biggest organic-fruit wholesaler, a £26 million ($50 million) business, supplying the main UK supermarkets with imported organic produce which they sell as fast as he can supply it. Actually it’s in his blood – his father has a large apple farm in Kent (though unlike the fruit that Wakeley deals in, it’s not organic, but more on that later).

Adam is the first cousin of celebrated fashion designer Amanda Wakeley, and his early career also involved a foray into the fashion world – as a male model in the 1980s. In the Wakeleys’ 14th-century farmhouse in Ilmington, Gloucestershire – one of those ridiculously bucolic villages that make Richard Curtis films looks grittily realistic – there are only a couple of clues to this former life: photos of Adam in the downstairs bathroom. Taken by his wife, Melanie, a onetime professional photographer, they are of the slightly film noir, Athena man-holds-baby type, very popular in the 1980s, and actually now rather cool. ‘No, they are not cool,’ huffs Adam, ‘horrible, embarrassing.’ In fact, he claims the whole modelling thing was just useful to get Mel an audience with art directors who might then commission her.

It wasn’t long before he was drawn to the apple business, like his father before him. But while Mel was pregnant with Ned (now 11), something happened that was to change Adam’s whole outlook on farming and its future. Mel was on his father’s apple farm, walking through the yard, when she was inadvertently showered with pesticide; the type of pest inhibitor routinely sprayed on British fruit (the average apple is treated around 60 times before it reaches a supermarket shelf). Just weeks later the couple attended a wedding where the entire party was struck down by salmonella in a case that made the national press – the chef was later imprisoned. Heavily pregnant, Mel was rushed into hospital, and Ned was born by emergency Caesarean, underweight and with a seriously underdeveloped oesophagus. It was touch and go whether he’d survive.

In a house full of children, running between the small orchard and bouncing on a large trampoline, Ned holds his own. But his life has involved countless operations, complex rounds of visits to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, and a number of near-death experiences – he can only eat certain things, and only very, very slowly to avoid choking. There remains little conclusive evidence on the effects of pesticide. In Ned’s case, the salmonella incident didn’t help his chances, but there was little doubt in the minds of the Great Ormond Street specialists that the missing oesophagus was entirely consistent with the apple pesticides Mel had ingested.

In any case, there was absolutely no doubt in Adam Wakeley’s mind. It was a terribly cruel epiphany, but it made him adamant that the organic system, growing without recourse to a variety of agrichemicals, was the only way that farming should or could be carried out sustainably.

You will not find a more passionate advocate of the organic system than Wakeley, but you won’t find a more commercially motivated one either. ‘Look,’ he says, ‘I’m not a hemp-wearing, toe-wiggling hippy. I’m the managing director of a £26m ($50m) organic food company. My motivation is to make a profit for my shareholders. But I can do something idealistic, very green, commercially viable and actually, highly profitable.’

In fact, Adam Wakeley has a big apple plan. One he unfurls at the outside lunch table in the courtyard behind the house. Today the Wakeleys are relying on takeaway food. But this being millionaire-belt Gloucestershire, the pies, flans and unfeasibly large artichoke hearts just happen to be from nearby Daylesford Organic.

The outside table is useful, if only because it’s rather big and the Wakeleys are the sort of family who collect extra children at meal times, as their progeny appear with their friends from various corners of the gardens. Often Mel’s parents appear too – they live in a very fine house next door. Lily, dressed in Top Shop’s best, arrives with a couple of friends, Ned appears with a tall blonde (‘Ned has a huge amount of girlfriends,’ Mel informs me) and Jude appears clutching a cola ice pop (‘not sure if that is organic,’ says Adam dubiously).

‘Have some more apple, girl,’ Adam says, and I’m thinking, ‘Not more fruit’, because to be honest I’ve had a month’s quota already. Actually he’s talking to Rocky, one of the hens, who likes to sit on the table around meal times. ‘She’s a lovely, lovely girl,’ coos Adam. When Rocky has strutted off, Wakeley reveals his plan: supermarkets (and obviously consumers) are desperate for organic, UK fruit, without the chemicals and the food miles. ‘Tesco had just three days’ worth of English organic apples on their shelves last year, because that’s all they could get,’ he says. ‘Through our investors we are going to buy large chunks of the right land – normally this means Hereford and Kent and plant with the right varieties. It takes three years to grow the apples, which coincidentally is the time it takes for organic conversion. At the end you not only have home-grown apples but more land in organic conversion. And the beauty of the idea is that I know the size of my markets, because I’m already supplying them with imported fruit. In a nutshell, I will take my imported off and put English on.’

Wakeley’s scheme is now under way on acreage bought by his first investor, but he won’t be growing many of the apples generally regarded as ‘classic’ English varieties. There will be no Cox’s orange pippins for example. ‘It’s the junkie of apples,’ he says. ‘It wouldn’t last a day without chemicals. Take away its fertilisers and pesticides and it will wilt. So we need to go right back and find the varieties which are disease-resistant and have good taste. This is what we have done.’

These are, apparently, varieties from the 13th and 14th century – small trees no bigger than six feet that allow the sun to get round them. I worry that delving so far back into history might make this plan seem a little regressive, a charge often levelled at the organic community. No, insists Adam, they really knew how to grow and sustain strong varieties in those days, though they did not, it is true, have to conform to the supermarkets’ demands for an apple weighing 60-65ml, free of blemish, insect damage and scab marks. ‘Historically, you’d grow fruit and people would eat it,’ says Adam.

Meanwhile, there’s hardly a stampede of UK farmers trying to get into the buoyant organic market, although the Soil Association insists that 66 per cent of organic produce is now grown on these shores. According to Adam, English farmers just don’t get organic. ‘Granted they are up to their eyes in debt, mortgaged to the hilt and on their knees, but English farmers don’t understand why you’ve got to have ponds, hedgerows, compost. They see it as a fad, and as six per cent of the retail market, which means to them 94 per cent of the market isn’t interested.’

To Adam this means 94 per cent ripe for conversion to local, organic fruit, providing it’s done properly – ie by him and his team.

‘We’ve got a team of specialists who know more about organic apple farming than anybody in the world, including Bob Barr, the world’s foremost compost expert because it’s all about the soil. At the end of the day, my future is not challenging guidelines set up by the Soil Association or the supermarkets. That’s not my job.’ Which rather begs the question, what is his job? ‘Easy,’ he says. ‘My job is to reinvent English farming and bring local, organic food into the market place.’ Welcome to Adam’s apple revolution.

Article by Lucy Siegle for The Observer Food Monthly, UK, Sunday April 29th, 2007

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