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Organic news archive: September 2004

Pesticides were discovered in a quarter of all food tested in Britain last year, according to the Pesticide Residue Committee. More than 4,000 food samples were analysed: fruit and veg were the worst, with a third having traces of chemicals. Of 301 apples checked, 213 contained pesticides. Bread is also one of the worst offenders, with two thirds of loaves affected. The Soil Association's Martin Cottingham says: "These results are alarming. They suggest that one in four of the foods we buy are likely to contain traces of hazardous chemicals. The Government has failed to produce an effective pesticides reduction strategy as it is required to do by European Union rules." (The Sun; The Times; Daily Express; Daily Telegraph - 27/9/04)

Cookery would be included in the national curriculum and a 30% organic target set for school meals under plans unveiled by the Liberal Democrats. Food spokeswoman, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer said: "Food policy should be a powerful force for individual health and social and environmental well being." Healthy eating habits must begin in childhood, she stressed. Calls for a single cabinet minister to take responsibility for national food policy were backed, along with targets for school meals of 30% organic, 50% locally sourced and 75% unprocessed food. (Daily Mail 23/9/04)

Adverts for junk food could become a thing of the past. Almost a third of MPs support a total ban on such ads in a bid to beat the childhood obesity epidemic. It means the Children's Food Bill, which aims to encourage children to eat more healthily, is one step closer to becoming law. The Bill will set standards for school meals including limits on sugar and salt content. (The Sun 23/9/04)

Genetically modified crops will be banned from being grown on land owned by Bradford Council. And members have reinforced their commitment to a GM-free policy on all its goods and services. Members of the two biggest parties backed a Green group motion, slightly amended by the Conservatives, demanding that the Council's executive group adopts the two positions as policy and also considers appealing against any applications for licences to grow GM plants. (Bradford Telegraph and Argus 23/9/04)

Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge has contradicted the Government's tough stance against childhood obesity by including a competition corner on her constituency report where the winner receives a book of vouchers for McDonald's. (The Independent 24/9/04)

At a meeting organised by the Wessex Organic Movement Dr Vyvyan Howard of Liverpool University spoke about the link over time of increased 'body burdens' of chemicals including pesticides. Children and foetuses are particularly vulnerable. Dr Howard showed how eating organic food can reduce the risk of exposure. His message was to 'eat organic if we want to reduce our lifetime exposure to these dangerous substances'. His findings are reinforced by the results of a new study unveiled at the first International Scientific Conference on Childhood Leukaemia. The transfer of pesticides in the bloodstream of the mother across the placenta could affect the immune system of the child and be linked with increasing incidences of leukaemia in children.

British farmers will play a key role in the production of bio-diesel as a result of a new alliance it is claimed. Global Commodities UK the countries largest manufacturer of bio-diesel, at 12 million litres per year, and Centaur Grain a large grain marketing organisation have entered into an alliance. This provides an opportunity for UK farmers to grow oilseed rape for bio-diesel.

Pollen from a genetically modified grass has been shown to travel up to 21km away from the site where it was originally planted. This may be the longest recorded distance travelled by any GM pollen, US researchers have claimed. They tracked the spread of genes from creeping bentgrass engineered to resist popular herbicides and which could be used on golf-course putting greens. The researchers found that plants growing within about 2km of the test plot were extensively contaminated with genes from the GM grasses. But the team also found evidence of transgenic seed formation up to 21km downwind in potted sentinels and up to 14km away in wild plants. Former environment minister Michael Meacher said the research was "extremely significant". He added: "What this means is that Britain is too small an island to ever grow GM crops. We would need to have exclusion-zones of around 12 miles for every farm. It just isn't practical." Details appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (BBC News; The Evening Standard 22/9/04)

Organic farmers have been warned to expect shortages of organic cereal and vegetable seed following poor August weather. The Soil Association is urging seed companies to keep their best-quality untreated conventional seed for organic farmers to use under derogation. (Western Daily Press 21/9/04)

A total of £1.82 billion of taxpayers' money is missing, presumed lost, from Europe's farm subsidies programme, the EU's main financial watchdog says. The sum was part of the £2.1 billion that is known to have been overpaid, either through incompetence or fraud, in farm subsidies between 1971 and 2002. The Common Agricultural Policy is the biggest area of EU expenditure, amounting to £29.4 billion in 2002. (The Times 22/9/04)

Tesco demonstrated its position as the country's biggest supermarket chain yesterday with a 24% rise in interim profits and its fastest sales growth in almost 10 years. (The Guardian 22/9/04)

Officials from more than 100 countries are meeting in Geneva for a five-day conference on parties to the Rotterdam convention, which prevents listed hazardous chemicals and pesticides being exported to poor nations without their "prior consent." The convention ensures that only chemicals that can contribute to sustainable development without endangering human health or the environment can enter these countries. Up to 15 products, including asbestos are expected to be added to the existing list of 27. (Financial Times; International Herald Tribune - 18/9/04)

Following the crackdown on salt, a major campaign to persuade people to reduce their sugar intake is to be launched by the government, the Department of Health revealed at a conference last week. To combat obesity and childhood tooth decay, Britons will be encouraged to cut down on sugar in their diet, while the food industry will be urged to cut levels in junk food. (The Observer, 19/9/04)

According to Saturday's Guardian, the over-emphasis on meat in the western diet is one of the things that stifles sustainable food production. We should use more land to grow food for human consumption and eat less meat. Making changes to a more sustainable diet would, as detailed in 1999 by the Swedish Environmental Protection agency, by 2020 allow us to reduce energy consumption in food production by 30% and reduce artificial fertiliser use by 20-40%. (The Guardian, 18/9/04

Despite government promises that all meat will be fully traceable from farm gate to plate, we are still gravely at risk from diseased meat available in high street butchers. The shocking story was revealed on Dispatches: The Dirty Meat Scandal (Channel 4, 8pm - 20/9/04)

Andrew Turner, MP for the Isle of Wight has written to Tony Blair expressing concern about the amount of imported food sold in supermarkets. He and Sue Flook, from the Soil Association, were interviewed on BBC Radio London yesterday about the issue. (17/9/04)

Friends of the Earth and the Assembly of European Regions, which represents county councils throughout the EU, have launched a joint anti-GMO initiative. The two bodies want binding rules on separation distances, clear liability in the event of contamination and the right for regions to stay GM-free. (17/9/04)

EU environment ministers will decide in October whether to grant an import licence for Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant GM rape seed GT73. The product has been declared safe, and if environment ministers fail to make a decision, the commission may then grant a licence anyway. (17/9/04)

A study is being carried out at University College London to see if long-term low-level exposure to hazardous chemicals on farms has any adverse health effects. The study is funded by Defra and will focus on retired farm workers and working farmers in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset, Hereford and Wiltshire. Researchers would like to interview 80 people who have worked with sheep and who had long-term exposure to chemicals on the farm and who have retired due to physical, mental or emotional ill health. If you have retired (at any age) on ill health grounds over the past 20 years and would be willing to take part in the study, contact Kelly Abraham or Virginia Harrison before 1 Dec 2004 - Tel: 020 7679 1891 Email: kelly.abraham@ucl.ac.uk or virginia.harrison@ucl.ac.uk. (17/9/04)

The first international conference organised by Italy's Slow Food movement is being held in Turin next month. Over 5000 delegates from 150 different countries are expected to attend. (The Guardian - 10/9/04)

Organic farmers now have access to up-to-date information on the availability of organic seed supplies throughout the UK, via a new website. The site, www.organicXseeds.co.uk, is funded by DEFRA and managed by the Soil Association, with support from NIAB. It provides a database of live information on seed availability, a history of availability and an online application form for derogations. Growers must use the database to check whether the variety of seed they wish to use is available organically, according to European Council Regulation No. 2092/91. In the event the variety is not available, growers can apply to their certification body or the Soil Association for a derogation to use non-organic seed. Producers without internet access can contact either their own certification body, or the Soil Association on 0117 914 2400, who will undertake a search of the database on their behalf.

The first genetically modified seeds for planting and sale across the European Union, including the UK, have been given the go-ahead by the European commission. Green groups condemned its approval of 17 varieties of maize seed developed by Monsanto, the US biotech group, but welcomed a separate decision to drop plans for setting GM thresholds in conventional seeds. David Byrne, the health and consumer protection commissioner, said the decision to allow the Monsanto maize to be placed in the EU's common seed catalogue was a "logical step". (Guardian - 9/9/04)

The chef and cookery writer Rose Gray has set up a charity called 'Cooks in Schools' to 'educate dinner ladies and to advise schools that want to provide their own school meals'. The article states 'As a result of the Soil Association's campaign for better school food, public figures have become involved in the cause'. The Prince of Wales and Jamie Oliver are the two examples given. (The Times - 8/9/04)

Pesticides and pollution may play a role in rising rates of childhood leukaemia. A study from Bristol University's medical physics department found that environmental agents can affect the immune system of unborn children by crossing from mother to foetus through the placenta. Leukaemia accounts for a third of all cancers in children and the numbers of new cases each year has been rising for the last 40 years. It is known that cancer starts in the womb and scientists are now investigating if genetic, environmental, dietary or other factors are causing more children to be struck down. (Daily Express, Daily Mail, BBC News - 6/9/04)

New research suggests that buying organic food can make people feel better, even before they eat any of it. Supermarket chain Sainsbury's says simply making the choice to buy organic can induce a sense of well-being. Consumers told the company in focus groups that buying organic gave them more control over what they eat. (BBC News 4/9/04)

organicfoodee.com's editor Ysanne Spevack has been making waves with her latest book, Fresh & Wild Cookbook - A Real Food Adventure. Published by HarperCollins, the book has been praised from the Daily Mail to Waitrose Food Illustrated to the Observer Food Monthly. Described by Antony Worrall Thompson as "Inspiring", Ysanne's book is now available from all good book stores, Books etc, Borders, Amazon, Fresh & Wild and most other book retailers. Watch out for her interviews about this project on local and national radio and television plus in the press throughout September.

The Government has launched its Healthy Living Blueprint, which limits the amount of fat, sugar and salt levels in school dinners. The Blueprint coincides with the publication of a Soil Association poll indicating that two thirds of the public support limits on salt, sugar and fat in school meals and the inclusion of local and organic food. The Blueprint is seen as an admission of the inadequacy of the vague guidelines introduced three years ago in an attempt to tackle spiralling obesity in children. The review of standards will initially apply to secondary schools. The Soil Association's work to improve school meals was mentioned a number of times in the Daily Mail and The Guardian today (the Guardian's website also gives a link to the Soil Association's Food For Life report). Peter Melchett was quoted in both articles saying that the public clearly want significant changes to school meals, and that it is indefensible that the government is not acting immediately to protect the most vulnerable nursery and primary schoolchildren. For information about the Soil Association's survey and our full comment about the Blueprint, go to www.soilassociation.org (6/9/04)

Research by the NFU indicates that 90% of UK consumers would prefer to buy their food at farmers' markets if they had the chance. The main reason for this was the confidence inspired by the presence of the farmer as a personal guarantor of the quality of the food on offer.

There's a great new Scottish organic food business, Atholl Glens. It's a web-based producer and marketing co-operative which aims to produce beef and lamb that is "not only organic but consistently excellent in every other way". Eight farms are involved, three are already organic and the rest in conversion. Meat will be slaughtered at Millers abattoir and butchered at Highland Drovers - both Soil Association certified.

A study for the Food Standards Agency has found that three-quarters of school packed lunches prepared at home fail to meet nutritional standards set for school dinners. Most packed lunches contain double the recommended amount of fat and sugar for one meal, with crisps, processed meat and biscuits making up a large amount of the 12g of fat, and popular drinks and chocolate bars accounting for the 41g of sugar. 16 per cent of the 688 lunches, examined at schools across the UK, were filled with junk food, while only one lunch contained salad. Just under half the lunchboxes did not include any fresh fruit or vegetables. (Daily Mirror; The Guardian; The Times)

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