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How chains damage UK communities

Tesco takes one in every three pounds spent in the UK. That’s an awful lot of money that used to go to your local butcher, baker, greengrocer, hardware shop, corner shop, petrol station, clothes shop, etc.

Between 1997 and 2002, 50 specialised stores including butchers, bakers, fishmongers and newsagents closed every week. In May 2005 the Institute of Grocery Distribution revealed the loss of 2,157 owner-run corner shops. We lost 1,079 the year before, showing a disturbing rise in the rate that family-run shops like corner shops are being forced to give up the ghost.

A recent Mintel survey of shopping patterns commented that “arguably the biggest threat to smaller towns and the high street is increased provision of convenience items by major grocery superstores”.

A study in Fakenham, Norfolk, found that town-centre food retailers experienced a 64% decline in market share following the opening of an out-of-town supermarket. The number of convenience food stores fell from 18 to 13, and the number of vacant shops rose by 33%.

Friends of the Earth estimates that only 1 to 2% of supermarket turnover comes from food obtained from local providers (within 30 miles).

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops stated: “Many small shops [in the UK] will have ceased trading by 2015 with few independent businesses taking their place. Their loss, largely the result of a heavily unbalanced trading environment, will damage the UK socially, economically and environmentally.”

If this has piqued your interest, go visit www.supermarket-sweep-up.com

Exciting new Reward Card

Britain’s got a brand new reward card offering fabulous discounts and special offers when you shop at local owner-run stores and cafes.

It is a chilly morning towards the end of November, and on a narrow street in WC1 a quiet revolution is happening. On this quiet Bloomsbury back street Londoners are talking to each other.

It is happening in the gift shop, where Toni is planning drinks with a couple of her customers. Up the street, the barber turns down the jazz to hear the love-life traumas of his latest customer. Julia at the bookshop is picking out reading for some local children and, at the deli, a parcel has been delivered for a veg-box subscriber. Meanwhile, the men from the pub greet the lady from the dairy, as a girl pops in to leave a set of keys for her mum. The café owner, Fred, has been up since five. “Do you know what London looks like at 5am?” he demands, expansively. “Miserable. I love it!”

Over a complicated coffee at Marc Kennard’s delicatessen, John Bird is trying to explain why these unassuming shopkeepers are heralds of a brave new dawn. As Kennard skilfully prepares him a double decaff Americano with cold milk on the side and two plain croissants, they patiently explain why the way forward for Britain’s independent shops is something called Wedge.

Together with his daughter, Diana, Bird, the Big Issue founder, believes that the smallholders in Lambs Conduit Street have hit on something special. None is part of a chain. They do not have expensive marketing men. They don’t provide a free multistorey car park or ask customers to drive miles out of town to shop there. They have never conducted a scientific survey of how to make people spend more money and their business plans barely stretch beyond the end of the road. John and Diana Bird believe that this is worth saving. And they think a supermarket-style loyalty card is the way to do it.

Wedge is a loyalty card with a difference. For a start, supermarkets need not apply. As the scheme is slowly rolled out across the country, Wedge’s founders will not accept any shop that comprises more than 10 branches, but so far its biggest member has two. That member is Foyles bookshop, the family concern in central London that still holds its own alongside giants such as Waterstone’s.

The Wedge Card is a simple proposition. It will be sold to customers for £20. From tomorrow, it can be bought in participating shops, from local charities or from the website, www.wedgecard.co. uk. The seller keeps £5 and £5 goes to charity. The remaining £10 goes into the Wedge company, a for-profit business that seeks to build “social enterprise”. For Wedge cards bought online, 50 per cent will go to charity. For traders, it is hoped there will be new customers looking for the kind of discounts they can get on Nectar cards. Only, with Wedge, the discounts and offers will be far, far more creative. And sometimes, burlesque dancers will be involved. For now, you will get 5 per cent at Albion Wine, 10 per cent at Green Baby and up to 15 per cent at The Lamb Bookshop – plus a range of reductions at other businesses, including both Tate galleries.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is a Wedge Card partner. It represents charities from giants to local minnows. Its job is to make it easy for any charity to sign up. “The Wedge Card hits all the right buttons,” says NCVO director of enterprise, Richard Williams. “It combines social justice, sustainability, diversity and economics. It encourages sustainable development and localism and it will entice more, new people into charitable giving. I come from the environmental sector, and I think this is a great way of being more environmentally aware. Plus it’s a poke in the eye for some of the big stores that are making everything the same.”

In theory, the businesses in any given street will choose a local charity to receive 5 per cent of the card’s revenue. But as more and more customers sign up, cardholders will be able to use the website to send the money to any charity they choose.

But it’s not only about money – or charity. “It’s about having loyalty to your community and therefore to yourself,” says Bird. “Without a community you are isolated and vulnerable.”

Isn’t it going to be tricky to start the scheme in London, where people are wary of connecting with their neighbours and talking to strangers? Far from it, thinks Diana. “A lot of Londoners are quite desperate for a sense of community. It might be easier to start in London.”

Kennard’s experience seems to bear this out. “When I walk down this street with friends and family, they always ask me if I’ve set it up,” he chuckles. “I can’t walk down the street without saying ‘hi’ to someone. I’ve never had that in London before. I couldn’t live somewhere now that didn’t have a collection of local businesses. It’s what brings people together – they pop in here for a pint of milk and go over the road for something else. There are two populations around here: the people who work nearby and the people who live here. The resident population isn’t wealthy. There are no estate agents on this street. It’s a funny mix. It’s not Notting Hill.”

“But we are going to launch in Notting Hill,” adds Bird, quickly. “And Stratford [in east London],” chips in Diana. “And Brixton. There are no chain cafés there.”

“And we’d like to keep it that way!” says John.

As well as Stratford, Wedge is due to go to Marylebone, in central London, along with a small area of Covent Garden and into Southwark.

The chain café is a sensitive subject in the area surrounding Lambs Conduit Street. In fact, if you want to talk about Starbucks, you must whisper it. That is because the American conglomerate opened a store there in the summer, despite a local petition against it gathering more than 1,000 names, and the support of such local luminaries as Rupert Everett. “Starbucks is spreading like a cancer,” said Everett, now a local hero. “Nobody in the area wants it, including me. There are plenty of diners and coffee shops there already.”

Local residents may have been right to be concerned. More than 1,000 shops in the capital have closed in the past four years – and Fred Sata, the owner of Tutti’s café, must be worried he will be next. When the builders who were working mysteriously on a new façade over the road from his business revealed that they were building a Starbucks, he didn’t believe them. “We thought he was joking,” he says, looking out at his shiny new rival. “I didn’t worry myself too much. Then there was this big petition. But they couldn’t do anything. We were sad. I thought, ‘How many streets are there like this in London?’ The builders said there will be 150 to 200 more Starbucks in the next two years, inside the M25.”

For the time being, Tutti’s café is safe. Over the course of a morning, a dizzying crush of people piles into the steamy, espresso-scented upper room, taking away coffee, tucking into freshly made pasta or thundering down the stairs yelling for Fred. “They only get the tourists,” he says, tilting his head at That Which Must Not Be Named. “You should see lunchtime. We are full and there are three people in there. Every day their staff are changing.” He lowers his voice. “And they come in here to eat food, you know that?”

At the other Wedge shops and restaurants in the street, they are looking forward to meeting the new Wedge Card owners, competitively dreaming up special offers and probably making friends. “You strike up friendships with all kinds of different people,” says Toni, at the gift shop. “Lots of people say they come in here to feel calm. They tell me about their problems with their jobs and their arguments with their bosses. They open up.”

At Badlambs hairdresser, a woman is lured in from the cold by the bergamot-scented chamber, the make-yourself-at-home music policy and the promise of a burlesque dancer in the window in time for the street’s annual Winter Festival tomorrow, at which Wedge Card will be launched. As Tony, the owner, soaps her hair, the woman leans back and stretches. “It’s the first time I’ve been here,” she tells him, conspiratorially. “It’s really lovely, isn’t it?”

Feature by Katy Guest for The Independent

Crucial new kid’s food report published

With lurid names like ‘Candymania’, ‘Malteser Munch Madness’, ‘Mini Chocolate Challenge’ and ‘Triple Treats’ dominating the menus, children’s health comes second as family restaurants promote junk food over healthier options. Chips with almost everything, eat-as-much-as-like ice cream and bottomless fizzy drinks, containing dangerous levels of fat, sugar and salt, are being served up to over 40 million children in the UK each year, new research by the Soil Association and Organix reveals today. In contrast, the research also identified examples of some restaurants and visitor attractions doing great work, offering far healthier, fresh, unprocessed food choices.

A detailed survey of ten popular family restaurants exposes a continuing prevalence of junk being served up as ‘treat food’, despite eating out being a routine weekly event for a quarter of families. Whilst schools are changing their approach to school meals and making excellent efforts to provide fresher, healthier food for children, the UK’s family restaurants are failing to offer a healthy choice to children and parents who want it.

Junk food is still king – this is how the restaurants’ ranked out of a possible 30 points, based on nutrition, food sourcing and provision, food policy and information provision:

TGI Friday’s 1st = 16 points out of 30
Harvester 2nd = 15 points out of 30
Beefeater joint 2nd = 15 points out of 30
Pizza Hut 3rd = 14 points out of 30
Brewers Fayre 4th = 13 points out of 30
Garfunkels joint 5th = 12 points out of 30
Hungry Horse joint 5th = 12 points out of 30
Little Chef 6th = 11 points out of 30
Nando’s 7th = 10 points out of 30
Café Rouge 8th = 8 points out of 30

The full report, containing both surveys, is downloadable at www.soilassociation.org/realmealdeal.

Although TGI Friday’s received the highest score overall, this only showed up the pitiful meal options in the other restaurants. TGI Friday’s average children’s meal still contains over double the school meal maximum saturated fat content. Their burger in a bun with deep fried French fries and baked beans, followed by ‘Malteser Munch Madness’, contains one and a half times a primary school child’s recommended saturated fat intake for a whole day.

Café Rouge, ranked bottom of the league, also wins the booby prize for the least healthiest meal. Its croque monsieur (toasted cheese sandwich) with deep fried French fries, washed down with cola, and followed by ice cream, failed a record 10 out of 14 nutrition standards. The almost complete absence of fruit and vegetables on their children’s menu guaranteed their embarrassing bottom position.

Meanwhile, at Hungry Horse, it’s a ‘candymaniac catastrophe’. This restaurant scoops the prize for highest sugar and salt, with desserts like their monstrous ice cream, chocolate and sweet laden ‘Candymania’. This popular pudding contained four chocolate brownies, chocolate sauce, three scoops of vanilla ice-cream, three scoops of chocolate ice-cream, four strawberries, one bag of white chocolate Minstrel’s, a handful of Malteaser’s, a handful of Milky Way Magic Stars, a Wagon Wheel, a Milky Way Crispy Roll and topped with squirty cream. Needless to say, this provides a child with well over their recommended sugar intake for a whole day.

With the startling rise of obesity in children and the eating out industry now accounting for 31% of total food and drink expenditure, families desperately need these restaurants to be prioritising healthier meals. As family dining declines, we calculate that Whitbread restaurants (Beefeater, Brewer’s Fayre and TGI Friday’s) now serve one children’s meal for every 14.5 school meals served. So they and all other family restaurant chains have a clear responsibility to provide and promote healthy, nutritious food choices.

Not one chain, other than Pizza Hut, passed the fat and sugar tests and, alarmingly, almost none of the food is homemade. Parents might wonder why they didn’t stay at home with a ready meal. The only ‘cooking’ in most of these restaurant kitchens is opening packets and re-heating frozen meals, apart from cooking the odd bit of beef and chicken. Favourite foods, mashed potato and pasta meals, all came out of a packet – with one exception which was Café Rouge.

Not one of the restaurants sources food locally and you’ll only get organic if you’re still on baby food. There is a total absence of helpful, nutritional information in all the restaurants, apart from the occasional referral to ‘five a day’.

The report is based on findings by a leading, expert nutritionist who analysed 568 possible meal options for children and ranked the restaurants according to how their food compared to the Government’s new minimum standards for school meals. Shamefully, not one restaurant chain came close to meeting the new school meal standards. The results reveal a mountain of highly processed, additive-laden, junk food that contains all the risks that may lead to obesity and diet-related illnesses. For example, the average meal at Nando’s contains eight teaspoons of added sugar, taking a primary school child close to the recommended maximum for a whole day.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said, “There is much to celebrate in the changes happening across the country to improve the quality of children’s school meals. Sadly, our survey of children’s food in restaurants reveals that all the major providers of children’s meals are simply continuing their unhealthy business of serving up junk food to children. We are not calling for a ban on junk food, but parents have a right to be provided with a choice of healthier meal options, and restaurants must take responsibility for this?.

Lizzie Vann, founder and managing director of Organix, said, “Parents have the right to know what’s in the food being served to their children and we hope this report will give the industry a much needed shake up. It amazes me that some of the biggest and most successful restaurant chains in the country are still getting it so wrong?.

Jeanette Orrey, dinner lady and writer, said, “I have been cooking fresh, nutritious and exciting food for children for over 20 years. I know kids will eat it and there is no reason why these companies should not be providing that choice?.

Healthy meals are possible. New family restaurant chain, Leon, shows it is possible to provide children with low-cost, fresh, healthy, nutritious, food in a fun environment. The expert nutritionist rated this restaurant highly, along with other exceptions like the National Trust‘s restaurants, YHA, Garden Organic’s restaurant at Ryton, Ikea and Center Parcs, which provides an excellent children’s menu with vegetables included in nearly all main meals. Similarly, The Tower of London and Eden Project show real progress in offering freshly prepared food. And Europe’s biggest family restaurant, the Rainforest Cafe in London, serves over 3,000 children’s meals a week, many of which are organic and made from fresh ingredients.

The Soil Association has written to the restaurants recommending the following:

* Always provide free drinking water
* Provide a range of tasty healthy choices, promoted to children on the menu
* Increase the availability and desirability of fresh fruit and vegetables and incorporate vegetables in the main dish, rather than as side orders
* Enable children to have half-portions of adult meals
* Raise ingredient quality, especially meat

This survey follows on from the Soil Association and Organix research earlier in 2006, investigating 14 leading tourist attractions’ food and drink provisions, published in August. The full report, containing both surveys, is downloadable at www.soilassociation.org/realmealdeal.

Big British dairy gets bigger

Robert Wiseman Dairies will supply a quarter of the UK’s organic milk by the end of this month after announcing new contracts which increase its share of organics five-fold.

Robert Wiseman confirmed it had won new organic contracts from Tesco and Horizon Organic Diary. Later this month it will supply 60 per cent of Tesco’s organic milk, the same proportion of all liquid milk it currently supplies to the supermarket giant.

Previously only holding 5% of the organic market, these new deals increase its portion to more than 24%, roughly the same as its portion of the total UK liquid milk market.

Organic milk will represent around 3% of their total revenue, but the market grew by around 40% in the last 12 months. The chief executive, Robert Wiseman, predicted it would become a significant chunk of consumer demand within a decade: “Where will it get to? I think it will level out over a number of years, but I would like to think it will get up to something approaching double figures [of the total liquid milk market].”

For the next year the supply of organic milk will mainly be handled at the company’s dairy unit in Manchester. However, its sixth factory, the £46 million Bridgwater unit to be completed late in 2007 will be designed to be an organic “centre of excellence”.

Situated in an area with high clover growth which improves organic yields, the factory is closer to the majority of customers demanding organic milk in the south of England.

The “transformational” organic deals were announced as the company revealed a pre-tax profit of £17.1m in the six months to 30 September, a 40% increase on the first half of last year.

Turnover increased 3.8% to £291.9m as volumes rose by 3% to more than 700 million litres. The development was particularly strong south of the border, with more than 75% of the company’s milk throughput now coming from England and Wales.

Wiseman said the company would seek to further improve its profitability through more efficiency, and the development of new products and higher cost products such as organics. The company warned that plastics and energy costs “remain a concern”. While plastic costs were expected to fall with the price of oil, the company was locked into high energy costs for the next 12 months.

The East Kilbride-based company delivered interim results ahead of analysts’ forecasts which sent its shares up almost 3% to a new all-time high of 462.25p.

The increases prompted an interim dividend of 3p per share to be paid in February, 25% more than last year. Charles Hall Securities maintained its hold rating, but upgraded its full-year profit estimate from £28m to £32m.

Several other analysts upgraded their estimations and target prices. Analyst Susan Gordon said the group had been commendably nimble, selling surplus land earmarked for possible development in Durham, to focus its energies on the south of England. However, she said, despite high regard for the company, she believed the stock price “reflects its immediate prospects”.

She added: “As an industry the prospects are always uncertain. It’s not high margins, and it’s difficult to see large growth in profitability.”

Prince Charles opens Highgrove

The Prince of Wales is one of the first landowners in the UK to open up his farm to children.

The move is part of a new offensive to offer every child aged 5 to 11 at school in England the chance next year to visit a working farm and learn about food and farming methods. That’s more than one million pupils.

Prince Charles, who has agreed to be Patron of the Year, is keen that his Home Farm, part of the Highgrove estate near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, will play an integral part in the project.

Top 100 eco-activists of all time

The Environment Agency has invited experts to name the people who have done most to save the planet

From the woman who raised the alarm over the profligate use of pesticides to the doctor who discovered that chimney sweeps in 18th century London were dying because of their exposure to soot, the government’s Environment Agency has named the scientists, campaigners, writers, economists and naturalists who, in its view, have done the most to save the planet.

To help celebrate its tenth anniversary, a panel of experts listed its 100 greatest eco-heroes of all time. And it does mean all time: St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is there, as is Siddartha Gautama Buddha, who died in 483BC.

Top of the list is Rachel Carson, a US scientist whose 1962 book, Silent Spring, is credited by many with kick-starting the modern environmental movement. Her account of the damage caused by the unrestrained industrial use of pesticides provoked controversy and fury in equal measures. Barbara Young, the Environment Agency’s chief executive, said: “She started many of us off on the road to environmental protection.”

At number two is the maverick economist EF Schumacher, a German national rescued from an internment camp in the English countryside by John Keynes, who went on to achieve worldwide fame with his green-tinged economic vision.

Jonathan Porritt, head of the Sustainable Development Commission, is third, with the wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, fourth. James Lovelock, the UK scientist who developed the Gaia theory of life on earth, is fifth.

The US former vice-president turned documentary film maker Al Gore is placed ninth, while David Bellamy, the television botanist who angered some campaigners with his contrary stance on global warming, still makes the list at 18. There are journalists too, including the Guardian’s George Monbiot (23) and Paul Brown (80). And some surprises: few would consider an oil boss an eco-hero, but Lord John Browne has done enough to turn BP around to make the list at 85.

Mark Funnell, managing editor of the agency’s magazine Your Environment, which published the list, said: “We tend to get incredibly negative about people and their effect on the planet. There are some who have done fantastic things and we wanted to celebrate that.”

Not all the candidates have left their carbon footprints on the real world. Tom and Barbara from the BBC TV show the Good Life are at 91 while Father Christmas completes the list at 100, for his “sleek, no-carbon operation”.

1 Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

Seen by many as the patron saint of the green movement, Rachel Carson’s reputation was sealed by the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, a passionate and revelatory account of the damage done by the unrestrained use of pesticides.

A writer, scientist and ecologist from rural Pennsylvania, she studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and received an MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.

First hired by the US Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the depression, she supplemented her income writing features on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. A 15-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor followed from 1936, and she rose to editor in chief of all publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1952 she resigned to focus on writing, and published a prize-winning study of the ocean, The Sea Around Us, followed by The Edge of the Sea in 1955. Essentially a biography of the ocean, the books made Carson famous as a naturalist and science writer. Disturbed by the widespread use of synthetic chemical pesticides after the second world war, she switched focus and wrote Silent Spring. The book is credited with launching the concept of the environment as a system that sustains us and that we must learn to live within, rather than a mine, dump or playground. It infuriated government and industrial interests and she was attacked by lobbyists as an alarmist. She died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer.

2 EF Schumacher, Green economist

Schumacher’s 1973 book Small is Beautiful rewrote the rules by questioning whether the objectives of western economics were desirable. Ernst Friedrich was born in Bonn, but made his name in the UK after attracting the attention of John Keynes. He was feted by alternative circles in the 1960s for unorthodox thinking, and his opposition to nuclear power and the use of chemicals in agriculture. He was an early critic of economic growth as a measure of national progress and helped to found the Soil Association. Small is Beautiful catapulted him to international attention: he was invited to meet US president Jimmy Carter and he even received death threats. He died in 1977.

3 Jonathan Porritt, Government adviser

An early activist with the Green party in the 1970s (then the Ecology party) and later party chairman. He gave up teaching in 1984 to lead Friends of the Earth. In 1996 he helped to found Forum for the Future. Tony Blair made him head of the Sustainable Development Commission in 2001, but he remains a critic of government policy on nuclear power and in 2005 urged the prime minister to “bang heads” across departments to combat greenhouse gas emissions. He irked some activists with his book Capitalism As If The World Matters, in which he argued that environmentalists must embrace a “evolved, intelligent and elegant” form of capitalism.

4 David Attenborough, TV naturalist

The voice of wildlife, conservation and all things that wriggle, fly and roam across planet Earth, Sir David is still going strong at 80. His programmes have brought the natural world into the living rooms of millions over 50 years and his contribution to public awareness of natural science brought him a fellowship of the Royal Society. A Reader’s Digest poll this year voted him most trusted celebrity in Britain.

He has drawn rare criticism from some environmentalists, who have complained that his programmes do not sufficiently reflect man’s impact on the natural world, although he has become more outspoken for green causes in recent years.

5 James Lovelock, Biologist

Best known for his Gaia theory, which says the Earth’s biosphere works as a single living organism, able to manipulate the climate and chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans to keep them fit for life. The idea was hugely influential among fellow scientists and environmentalists, and religious and spiritual thinkers. An ex-Nasa scientist, his work on the Viking Mars missions sparked an interest in the way planets function.

More recently he courted controversy by public supporting nuclear power and increasingly dire predictions on the consequences of climate change for the human race. His book The Revenge of Gaia predicts that billions will die by the end of the century, with survivors forced to live in the Arctic. He argues that the phrase “global warming” fails to reflect the seriousness of the problem and wants it replaced with “global heating”.

6 Wangari Maathai, Conservationist

Africa’s “tree woman’”who founded the green belt movement in Kenya in 1977 and was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2004. The movement has since planted more than 10m trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires. Most have been planted by poor women in the villages of Kenya, restoring their environment and providing paid work. Born in 1940 in Nyeri, Wangari, she trained as a scientist in the US before returning to Kenya to do a PhD. She gained worldwide attention in 1998 by helping to defeat plans by Kenya’s president to clear hundreds of acres of forest for luxury housing. Jailed several times by previous administrations, she was elected to parliament in 2002 and is now environment minister.

7 Prince of Wales, Green royal

Once derided for talking to plants, Charles Windsor’s passion for the environment and green issues such as locally produced organic foods have won him admirers and brought the issues to public attention. Last year he spoke out on climate change, calling it the greatest challenge to face man.

He said: “We should be treating, I think, the whole issue of climate change and global warming with a far greater degree of priority than I think is happening now.”

8 William Morris, Craftsman and writer

Remembered by environmentalists for his pioneering predictions of the problems caused by unsustainable industrialisation. His utopian view of a society in harmony with nature still inspires generations of sustainable-living advocates.

9 Al Gore, US politician

US former vice president defeated by George Bush in the infamous “hanging chad” recount presidential election of 2000. His long-lasting interest in environmental matters, and climate change in particular, was sealed with this year’s release of his film An Inconvenient Truth, which has helped to drive the issue on to the mainstream agenda.

10 Gro Harlem Brundtland, Former Norwegian PM

The Scandinavian polar opposite to Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s, her views of sustainable development seemed radical at the time, but are common political language now. Her 1987 report, Our Common Future, laid the ground for the 1992 Rio Earth summit.

11 Richard Sandbrook, Campaigner

The biologist and accountant, who died last year aged 59, had a profound influence on the green movement and the world of international development. He helped to set up Friends of the Earth UK, the Eden project and Forum for the Future. At the International Institute for Environment and Development he was instrumental in bringing together the poverty and environment agendas.

12 Amory Lovins, US energy guru

Top green thinker who launched Friends of the Earth in Britain and founded the Rocky Mountain Institute, a technology thinktank that develops blueprints for low-energy devices such as the “hypercar”. He says soft technologies can cut energy use by three-quarters.

13 Vandana Shiva, Campaigner

Physicist and ecologist, founding director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in India and a leader in the International Forum on Globalisation. She has had a vast impact on a range of issues from forest conservation to GM crops,from world trade policy to organic farming.

14 Ansel Adams, Wilderness photographer

Well known for his photographs of the mountain ranges, deserts, rivers and skies of the US, Adams was a passionate lover of the outdoors and an active conservationist. He commented: “My approach to photography is based on my belief in the vigour and values of the world of nature – in the aspects of grandeur and of the minutiae all about us.”

15 Fritjof Capra, Austrian physicist

An Austrian doctor of theoretical physics, based in California, he combines an interest in eastern mysticism with a fascination for what makes the planet tick. His most recent book, Hidden Systems: A Science for Sustainable Living, argues the need for a natural rather than a technical toolkit to tackle the impending global crisis.

16 Aldo Leopold, US ecologist

Widely acknowledged as the founder of wildlife management as a discipline and profession, he was one of the greatest US ecologists. His writings on conservation and the value of the wild to civilisation are highly regarded. The most famous, A Sand County Almanac, inspired many to follow in his footsteps.

17 Chico Mendez, Brazilian anti-logger activist

A Brazilian rubber tapper, unionist and environmental activist who fought to stop logging in the Amazon rainforest for cattle ranching. He was murdered by ranchers opposed to his activism.

18 David Bellamy, TV botanist

A formidable campaigner for green causes, including saving a Tasmanian rainforest from flooding by a dam project. In recent years his reputation has been tarnished by public statements sceptical of climate change. Fierce hater of wind farms.

19 Joseph Bazalgette, Victorian engineer

The architect of central London’s sewer system who saved the city from the cholera epidemics that had ravaged it in the early 19th century.

20 John James Audubon, US naturalist and artist

Born in 1785, his seminal work, Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-sized prints, is still a standard by which modern day bird artists are measured. While living on the family estate near Philadelphia he conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America by tying strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes.

21 Sir Peter Scott, conservationist

22 Tim Smit, record producer turned gardener

23 George Monbiot, author and Guardian columnist

24 Michael Meacher, former Labour environment minister

25 Ken Livingstone, mayor of London

26 Tony Juniper, campaigner

27 John Muir, conservationist

28 Kirkpatrick Macmillan, bicycle inventor

29 Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilder turned actor turned US politician

30 John Ruskin, Victorian critic

31 David Bower, Friends of the Earth founder

32 Jim Hansen, Nasa scientist

33 Thomas Malthus, economist

34 Percival Potts, public health pioneer

35 David Suzuki, ecologist and television presenter

36 Max Nicholson, ornithologist

37 Mayer Hillman, climate change expert

38 Octavia Hill, open spaces campaigner

39 Dai Qing, Chinese anti-dam campaigner

40 Paul Johnson, Greenpeace scientist

41 Paul de Jongh, Dutch author

42 Dionisio Ribeiro Filho, Brazilian environmentalist

43 Andrew Lees, campaigner

44 Mike Hands, tropical ecologist

45 Petra Kelly, German green politician

46 John Dower, national parks visionary

47 St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology

48 Jane Goodall, primatologist

49 Henry David Thoreau, author

50 Sunita Narain, Indian campaigner

51 Lester Brown, green policy expert

52 G K Chesterton, author

53 Swampy, roads protester

54 Sir John Banham, green industrialist

55 The people of Bougainville, eco-revolutionaries

56 Caroline Lucas, green party MEP

57 Teddy Goldsmith, Ecologist magazine founder

58 George Waterson, former RSPB director

59 Gerald Durrell, author and zoologist

60 Mark Mayer, journalist

61 Marion Shoard, writer and broadcaster

62 Nan Fairbrother, author

63 George Baker, urban conservationist

64 Dame Miriam Rothschild, scientist

65 Charlene Spretnak, US author and activist

66 Richard St Barbe Baker, forester

67 Graham Wynne, RSPB chief executive

68 Conrad Waddington, animal geneticist

69 Rudolph Bahro, author

70 Nick Hildyard, campaigner

71 Christopher Lloyd, wildlife gardener

72 Jane Jacobs, Canadian writer and activist

73 Robert Heilbronner, economist

74 Michael Braungart and Bill McDonagh, co-founders of green chemicals firm MBDC

75 Karl Henrik Robert, Swedish cancer researcher

76 Sue Clifford, campaigner

77 Colin Ward, anarchist and writer

78 Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary scientist

79 Paul Ekins, green policy expert

80 Paul Brown, journalist

81 Mahatma Gandhi, Indian leader

82 John Stewart, roads campaigner

83 Rosamund Kidman Cox, journalist

84 Bob Flowerdew, green gardener

85 Lord John Browne, BP boss

86 Colin Tudge, author

87 Charles Darwin, naturalist

88 Tony Bradshaw, urban ecologist

89 Dalai Lama, spiritual leader

90 Herman Daly, author

91 Tom and Barbara from the Good Life, TV eco warriors

92 Siddartha Gautama Buddha, spiritual leader

93 Ted Green, trees and fungi expert

94 Alfred Wallace, naturalist and rival of 87

95 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, romantic poet

96 Margot Wallstrom, EU politician

97 Dale Vince, green energy pioneer

98 Joe Strummer, former Clash frontman turned carbon offset pioneer

99 Jamie Oliver, television chef

100 Father Christmas, carbon-free delivery

Article by David Adam, environment correspondent for The Guardian

Swiss police go organic

Policemen and women in Zurich have started up a pilot project to buy organic cotton police shirts. The project is in co-operation with a non-profit organisation called Helvetas www.helvetas.ch/wEnglish/index.asp

UK’s favourite farmer’s market

As consumers become increasingly discerning about what they eat, worrying about “food miles”, excessive packaging and the health benefits of organic and locally grown produce, farmers’ markets – once a novelty – have become a destination of choice.

There are now more than 500 certified markets across the country and the best of them, according to a survey by Country Life magazine, is in Edinburgh.

Ever since the first farmers’ market opened in Bath in 1997, the demand from an increasing environmentally aware public has seen the concept take off across the country. Today, more than £166m a year is being spent on fresh, locally prepared produce at markets up and down the UK. Originally set up to provide an outlet for farmers, growers or producers from local areas to sell their own produce direct to consumers the markets have now become fashionable places to shop.

Typically, a market runs for about five hours at the weekend, weekly or monthly depending on the demand. But, as their popularity grows, more are being created on an almost daily basis.

“Local food is attracting more interest than it has for a generation and is an issue increasingly at the centre of everyone’s thinking,” said Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life magazine, which launched a competition to find Britain’s favourite farmers’ market.

The magazine, which has previously run competitions to find England’s favourite village and England’s favourite market town, drew up a shortlist of 18 outstanding markets across England, Scotland and Wales.

The 18 semi-finalists comprised three farmers’ markets from each of six regions: East of England, the Midlands, Scotland and the North, the South-west, the South-east and Wales and the public then voted for their favourite market town. These votes determined the finalists, which included Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, Moseley, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Tavistock, Devon, Deddington, Oxfordshire and Chepstow, Wales.

The judges included celebrated high-profile Clarissa Dickson-Wright, Michelin-starred chef Shaun Hill, Mark Hix who oversees celebrated London restaurants Le Caprice and The Ivy, TV chef John Burton Race, Lady Cranbrook, a regional food advocate for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and the food critic Tom Parker Bowles.

“The competition was certainly strong, but Edinburgh was named Britain’s favourite farmers’ market because it really represents the future of farmers’ markets in Britain,” said Ms Dickson-Wright, formerly one half of the Two Fat Ladies cookery show.

“All produce is sourced from within a 50 mile radius – quite some feat for a capital city – and includes traditional farmers’ market fare, as well as specialist products and services such as the infamous Porridge Bar.”

The market opened in 2000 and is held every Saturday, attracting about 6,000 people a week. It adds some £1.16m to the rural economy and £800,000 to the city centre’s economy each year.

The six markets on the shortlist

Huntingdon

Huntingdon farmers’ market was established in April 2003 and caters almost exclusively for food producers working within a 30-mile radius

Moseley

Moseley market in Birmingham was set up by volunteers and has been running for the past four years

Edinburgh

Edinburgh market is home to abbout 65 local producers providing, along with the usual fare, game and venison, wild boar, ostrich and water buffalo

Tavistock

Six years after a pilot project was held in the Devon town, Tavistock market is now held twice a month. Shoppers are usually serenaded with a jazz band, harpist or silver band

Deddington

The Saturday market, which ran for centuries in this Oxfordshire town until it ceased in 1830, was revived in 2001

Chepstow

One of three farmers’ markets in Wales, Chepstow was conceived in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Article by Paul Kelbie for The Independent

Junk food giants target children

Big companies stand accused of selling junk food to children behind their parents’ backs with a variety of “underhand” tricks, despite claiming only to use responsible marketing methods.

A report yesterday from the consumer organisation Which? found that a dozen multinationals had been using up to 20 different marketing ploys to push unhealthy products. Some companies bypassed parental control by using new technology such as viral marketing campaigns which encourage children to e-mail each other cartoons or spoof adverts with a brand message. Others offered free toys or ran promotional tie-ins with popular children’s films.

For six months this year, researchers monitored the marketing practices of 12 companies: Coca-Cola, Kraft, Cadbury Schweppes, Kellogg’s, Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Haribo, Nestlé, Masterfoods, Weetabix and Pepsico.

Although the companies stated publicly that they carefully targeted adult customers, Which? found that promotions for sugary, fatty or salty food included “educational” worksheets on chocolate, and competition prizes that appealed to primary school children.

Although Coca-Cola said it did not advertise any of its products to under-12s, Which? found the company ran special promotional packs of the sugary drink Capri-Sunto coincide with the launch of the children’s animated film Ice Age 2. Sponsorship of the football World Cup and a website featuring Wayne Rooney enhanced Coke’s appeal to the young.

Interviews by Which? with 50 children aged between five and 15 established that the marketing had made a strong impression. Children associated Coca-Cola with the positive image of the World Cup. “They’re linked together, they stay together,” said one child, aged five. “The signs on TV say Coca-Cola and football is good for you,” said another.

KFC said it had not targeted children with advertising for years. Yet the fast-food chain gave away collectible toys with its children’s meals, sponsored Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, and had a tie-in with the Nickelodeon cartoon Barnyard.

The world’s biggest food company, Nestlé, was found to have engaged children in nine different categories of dubious marketing, from a milkshake website with children’s games, to football-related gifts in its high-sugar Golden Nuggets cereal.

Nick Stace, Which? campaigns director, said food marketers were using “sophisticated, underhand techniques” to target children behind their parents’ backs. “The approach of a number of companies is to go around the back door to go direct to children,” he said. “There is a sense that parents are left out in the cold. They can’t necessarily control the messages that their children are receiving. In many instances the companies are sticking to the letter of what they are saying but they are not sticking to the spirit of what they are saying.”Which? wants a pre-9pm ban on TV commercials for junk food – a measure rejected by Ofcom last week – and a ban on other promotions for under-16s.

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “It’s disappointing that… Which? has decided to generate cheap headlines which don’t really help to take the debate forward.”

Marketing ploys

* Burger King promoted kid’s meals with tie-ins to Superman Returns, X-Men 3and SpongeBob SquarePants

* Resource packs from Cadbury had titles including ‘mixing, melting and making’ and ‘the world of chocolate’

* Haribo encouraged children to enter a £2.99 club where they received sweets, a soft toy and news of competitions

* Masterfoods advertised its Starburst sweets in teenagers magazines

* McDonald’s ran film tie-ins and has signed a new deal with Dreamworks

* Wrappers of the Nestle chocolate bar Milky Way promised children would enjoy the ‘fun puzzle inside’.

Article by Martin Hickman for The Independent

Planet Organic gets investment

Planet Organic is set to compete with Fresh & Wild for the UK’s organic retail crown. Fresh & Wild was bought up by US giant Whole Foods Market a couple of years ago. Now a trio of British investors have got behind Rennee and Brian Elliott, founders of the original UK organic food retail chain Planet Organic. The investors are David Krantz, Alan Smith and Colin Fenn.

David Krantz is the guy behind Racing Green and Blazer, and also helped develop the leading global beauty chain Space.NK

When asked to differentiate between Planet Organic’s approach and Whole Foods Market, Mr Krantz said:

“They seem to prefer big stores and I like small ones.” He added that sourcing organic fresh produce was “more of a problem for the large players than the small ones.”

Global organic sales to reach $40bn

Global organic food and drink sales are forecast to reach US$40 billion by the end of 2006 according to research from Organic Monitor. Demand is exceeding supply in many parts of the world, particularly North America, where consumers have embraced the organic food trend.

Due to the premiums placed on organic products, most organic shoppers live in affluent countries such as Switzerland, the US and Singapore. Meanwhile, the largest increases in organic production are in developing countries, with Latin America, Asia and Africa reporting triple-digit growth in organic farmland since 2000.

Worldwide, fruit and vegetables are the most popular organic food category representing a third of global sales value; this is followed by dairy foods and then drinks.

Slovenia’s President goes organic and more

THE nearest the cheerful, obsessively tidy former Yugoslav country of Slovenia comes to hell on earth these days is when a British stag party lands in the capital, Ljubljana. But since President Janez Drnovsek experienced a spiritual rebirth, baffled Slovenians have been warned that they are living on the edge of the apocalypse.

Frequently dressed in Indian clothes and sometimes playing the flute with laurel leaves in his hair, the president has cast off the trappings of power. After he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, Drnovsek, 56, left his presidential palace in Ljubljana, sacked most of his staff and moved with his dog to a mountain cabin near the village of Zaplana, where he grows organic food and bakes his own bread.

Having rejected conventional medicine in favour of herbal therapies and a vegan diet, he has become a tireless crusader against “all things evil?, warning that the world is about to end.

Drnovsek has embarked on a globe-trotting mission to preach positive energy, environmental awareness, spiritualism and animal rights, pledging to end the tyranny of “well-paid but inefficient international officials?.

There is no formal word on his health — the cancer is reported to have spread to his liver and lungs and he has visibly deteriorated — but he retains the same vigour in his largely ceremonial job, declaring: “I feel healthy, therefore I am healthy.?

He works full-time, seven days a week, and is constantly on the move, talking to heads of state and hippie gatherings alike. Last week he was in Vienna promoting his new book, The Essence of the World, a follow-up to his blockbuster The Thoughts on Life and Awareness which was second only to The Da Vinci Code on the Slovenian bestseller lists.

Drnovsek, who holds a PhD in economics, served as prime minister for almost a decade and is credited with having lifted his country out of the Balkan cauldron straight into the European Union. He still enjoys wide public support, but since his conversion to the simple things in life he has ditched his Liberal Democratic party to found the Movement for Justice and Development, which aims to “restrict the logic of capital and profit and provide a social as well as environmentally more balanced world?.

His criticism of the EU, the United Nations and politicians in general is harsh. “Politicians say what they think people want to hear. They don’t speak the language of a higher consciousness. They don’t really know what they’re saying,? he said. To critics, he retorted: “I have reached my inner peace and I am not afraid any more.?

Article by Bojan Pancevski in Zaplana for The Times

Conservatives support the right to choose

Jim Place, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, has tabled a new Early Day Motion (EDM) on GM crops asserting the right to choose non-GM foods.

The EDM states support for consumers’ right to choose non-GM foods, including from GM-fed livestock. The MPs, including Peter Ainsworth, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, are calling for “the Government to ban any commercial planting of GM crops until or unless the science shows that this would be safe for people and the environment, and until or unless issues of liability and crop segregation are resolved”. The EDM also says “that consumers have the right to choose non-GM foods and that all foods containing GM material, or that come from livestock fed on GM, should be clearly labelled as such; further notes that “it is scientifically established that the presence of GM can be traced down to, or close to, 0.1 per cent” and believes that “this should be the trigger point for GM labelling”

For a full wording, go to:

edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=31617&SESSION=885

If you support the right to choose non-GM foods, you can ask your local Member of Parliament to support this early day motion by going to:

www.upmystreet.com/commons/l/

San Francisco Green Festival

IMG_1428

An amazing event. GreenFestivals.org

First up, a party hosted by Grist.org where I got to hobnob with some fabulous greenies like David Roberts who then went and wrote nice things about everyone, including me gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/11/13/135029/18

Then onward to the Festival itself… Not exactly a trade fair, although there were hundreds of organic and green manufacturers showing their wares. Not really a series of talks, although some of the most progessive green thinkers were there sharing their thoughts and visions.

Definitely a place to meet folk and be inspired by the strength of the eco-conscious community. To remember just how diverse and powerful we are, how varied our approaches can be, and how urgent our message is.

There were some inspiring speakers. Ones that come to mind are:

Amy Goodman from DemocracyNow.org
Joan Blades from MoveOn.org
Alisa Gravitz from CoopAmerica.org
Paul Stamets from Fungi.com
Hunter Lovins from NatCapInc.com

The other peeps I met that got me most were:

Mitra from ZelfoAustralia.com
Eric from SierraClub.org
Gregory and Nina from TheCoffeeBook.com
Thomas InventingSolutions.org
Daniel from BreakingOpenTheHead.com
and last but not least

GlobalOrgasm.org

Australia’s worst drought in 1,000 years

Australia’s blistering summer has only just begun but reservoir levels are dropping fast, crop forecasts have been slashed, and great swaths of the continent are entering what scientists yesterday called a “one in a thousand years drought”.

With many regions in their fifth year of drought, the government yesterday called an emergency water summit in Canberra. The meeting between the prime minister, John Howard, and the leaders of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland was told that more than half of Australia’s farmland was experiencing drought.

David Dreverman, head of the Murray-Darling river basin commission, said: “This is more typical of a one in a 1,000-year drought, or possibly even drier, than it is of a one in 100-year event.” He added that the Murray-Darling river system, which receives 4% of Australia’s water, but provides three-quarters of the water consumed nationally, was already 54% below the previous record minimum. Last month it recorded its lowest ever October flows. Inflow this year was just 5% of the average.

The drought is likely to affect drinking water supplies to many areas. Sydney’s largest reservoir is now 40% full and many small rural towns in east Australia face shortages within a month.

It is also expected to have a serious impact on crops. Last week, the government forecast its lowest wheat crop for 12 years, a 62% decrease on last year. Yesterday the agriculture minister Peter McGauran announced the allocation of more than A$200m (£80m) to help businesses which service drought-stricken farmers, in addition last month to the A$910m in payments for 72,000 farmers affected by drought.

The drought has set off a fierce political debate in Australia about climate change. The country has maintained, with the US, a sceptical stance on the issue, and Mr Howard has refused to sign Australia up to the Kyoto agreement. However, polls suggest he is increasingly out of step with public and scientific opinion and the drought has forced him to demonstrate concern.

With an election due within a year and the environment emerging as a big political issue, Mr Howard last month announced several “green energy” projects. He now concedes that climate change is taking place but argues that the Kyoto process is flawed because it does not include the big polluters – India, China and the US. But last week new UN figures showed that Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases were the highest per capita in the west, apart from Luxembourg, and that they had grown by 1.5 tonnes a head since 1990.

Australia now emits almost as much carbon and other greenhouse gases as France and Italy, which each have three times its population.

In Kenya next week Australia will come under intense pressure from ministers of developing countries at the UN meeting on climate change. However, Mr Howard is not expected to change his position.

Adding to the government’s embarrassment, the leading scientific body in Australia – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – this week predicted that rainfall in parts of eastern Australia could drop by 40% by 2070, along with a 7C rise in temperature. It said that by 2030 the risk of bush fires would be higher, that droughts would be more severe and that rainfall and stream run-off would be lower.

Mike Young, a water management expert at the University of Adelaide, told Reuters this week that Australia’s long-term climate was changing. “When the drought breaks we will not return to cooler, wetter conditions. It is the worst type of drought because we are not expecting to return back to the old regime. The last half of last century was much wetter. What we seem to have done is … built Australia on the assumption that it was going to be wetter, and we haven’t been prepared to make the change back to a much drier regime.”

South Australia’s premier, Mike Rann, said yesterday: “What we’re seeing with this drought is a frightening glimpse of the future with global warming.”

But Mr Howard played down the assessment that the drought was the worst in 1,000 years, saying he doubted if anybody really knew.

Article by John Vidal, Environment Editor of The Guardian

Chemicals ‘harm children’s brains’

Chemical pollution may have harmed the brains of millions of children around the world in what scientists are calling a “silent pandemic”.

The world is bathed in a soup of industrial chemicals which are damaging the intellectual potential of the next generation and may increase the incidence of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, they say.

One in every six children has a developmental disability, such as autism, attention deficit disorder or cerebral palsy, the effects of which may be life-long.

The role of low-level pollutants, such as lead and mercury, on the growing brain has been recognised for decades and measures taken to reduce exposure to a minimum. But scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, say at least 202 chemicals are known to have the capacity to damage the brain and their effects at low levels of exposure are unknown. They say limits for exposure to chemicals should be set for pregnant women and young children, recognising the unique sensitivity of the developing brain, which is much more susceptible to the toxic effects of chemicals.

Philippe Grandjean, visiting professor at Harvard and lead author of the review, published in the online Lancet, said: “The human brain is a precious and vulnerable organ. Even limited damage may have serious consequences. It probably is going to be difficult [to set exposure limits] but this is a classical case where there really is a lot at stake. We are talking about the brain development of future generations. There will be an enormous cost of not regulating exposure.”

Critics accused the scientists of scaremongering and said their claim of a silent pandemic was a “gross overstatement”.

The 202 chemicals listed by the authors have been shown to cause serious accidents when ingested, or have been used in suicide attempts. They include chemicals used in household products, such as aluminium in saucepans and soft-drink cans, and acetone in nail-polish remover. The main exposure to the pollutants is through contamination of the environment during manufacture, when the chemicals seep into ground water, are carried in air or contaminate food.

Commenting on the review, Professor Nigel Brown, dean of medicine at St George’s School of Medicine, University of London, said: “This is a campaigning article. In their enthusiasm, the authors verge on scaremongering.

“[Their claim] of a silent pandemic is a gross overstatement. It is possible that there is a problem, we should be aware of this and we should study it but there is currently not a shred of evidence of a pandemic.”

What chemical pollution can do:

Acrylamide
Used in adhesives, printing ink and agricultural sprays. Can cause drowsiness and hallucinations.

Cyclohexane
Used to make nylon, paint and resin removers, and fungicides. Can cause headaches and convulsions.

Acetone
Used in nail-polish remover and to make plastics, fibres and drugs. Breathing it over long periods can cause light-headedness and confusion.

Methanol
Used as a petrol additive and in spray paints. Can cause an effect similar to drunkenness followed by severe stomach, leg and back pain.

Trichloroethylene
Used in dry cleaning. Breathing it for long periods may cause dizziness, poor co-ordination and difficulty concentrating.

Aniline
Used to make pesticides, dyes and rubber. Breathing in small amounts over several years may cause cancer.

Styrene
Used in making plastics. Breathing small amounts over long periods causes alterations in vision, hearing loss and slower reaction times.

Article by Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor of The Independent

UK organic food market hits £1.6bn

Organic food sales have doubled over the past six years and shoppers’ rising demand for healthier foods means fast growth should continue, a report out today says.

Around £1.6bn was spent on organic goods last year, up from £800m in 2000, according to Datamonitor. The market analysts said concerns over safety and health were some of the main reasons why people decide to go pesticide-free. As awareness of health and environmental issues gathers steam, Datamonitor predicts the UK market will hit £2.7bn by 2010.

Organic fish farms essential for oceans

“This century is the last century of wild seafood,? says Steve Palumbi of Stanford University, California. “Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood.”

A new major scientific report he has co-authored proves there will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue. Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers says fishery decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine biodiversity.

Catch records from the open sea show declining fish stocks. In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse – defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield. Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are not bringing bigger catches. Historical records from coastal zones in North America, Europe and Australia also show declining yields, in step with declining species diversity; these are yields not just of fish, but of other kinds of seafood too.

One-third of once viable coastal fisheries are now useless. Catch records from the open ocean show widespread decline of fisheries since 1950 with the rate of decline increasing.

In the UK, the Soil Association decided in August to give full organic status to aquaculture, a decision that caused some critical comment from purists. That decision was only made after 8 years of holding aquaculture at interim status and following an extensive 3-year research project. This looked into a wide range of issues surrounding fish farming. The decline in and over-exploitation of global wild fisheries was one of the factors that convinced the Soil Association that it’s essential to engage with and bring improvements to fish-farming in order to save wild fish stocks from collapse.

Why Europe’s banned hydroponics

IMG_1355

Hydroponically-grown organic lettuce and salad leaves are everywhere in America. Every farmers’ market worth its salt offeres a selection of gourmet mixed leaves grown in an organic solution of water and minerals under bright lights. They taste lovely and look the part.

However, hydroponics are completely banned under the organic legal standards throughout Europe.

The Soil Association’s policy manager, Gundula Azeez says:

“The reason why hydroponics are not allowed in EU organic production is that organic farming is a system based on the soil, in particular that plant nutrition is based on the activities of living organisms in the soi. This was discovered by the early organic researchers to be the way plants receive their nutrients in natural ecosystems.”

“The Soil Association is interested in ensuring that farming is both sustainable and also produces healthy food. While you might be able to make a case that certain hydroponic systems are sustainable (would have to use no agro-chemicals, as that involves great use of oil), we believe that you lose out on the health side, and probably in a major way in the long term. Intensive non-organic farming can actually be likened to hydroponics, in that the soil is used simply as a substrate for the receipt of nutrients in solution, and soil biological activity is suppressed in such circumstances.”

So in effect, what the Soil Association believes is that you need soil to grow stuff organically. It’s not enough to grow plants without using chemicals, but dangling in an artificial environment or bright electric lights and a nutrient rich solution. You need micro-organisms and love and the rich smell of earth.

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