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Organic news archive: January 2006

A plan by BASF, the chemicals and biotechnology company, for a field trial in Ireland of genetically modified potatoes looks likely to run into trouble from protestors. BASF has submitted an application to the country's Environmental Protection Agency to conduct field trials of potatoes that have been genetically modified to resist blight and which would avoid the need for farmers to spray the crops with larger amounts of pesticides. If this went ahead, it would be the first time genetically potatoes have been grown in Ireland, the biggest per-capita consumer of potatoes in Europe. (Financial Times 28/1/06)

From April 2006, British schools have been told to give a higher priority to education outside the classroom. This is a good opportunity for farms with visitor centres. Farm Minister Jim Knight hopes that fears will be allayed over the safety of farm visits. Farming Today talks to a spokesperson from 'Farms For Schools' who have 126 members who host a third of a million of school children each year on visits. The Soil Association has 70 organic farms UK-wide visited by over 400,000 people annually including many schools. For more information visit: www.soilassociation.org (Farming Today - 30/1/06)

A report by the UK All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group will call for the Office of Fair Trading to trigger a full-blown investigation into the British supermarket sector. Of equal concern to the giant retailers will be a series of policy recommendations, which go to the heart of the giant retailers' business model. They include measures to allow local authorities to find resources to fight planning applications by supermarkets. (The Observer 29/1/06)

Tony Blair has admitted that the risks of climate change may be more serious than previously thought. The Prime Minister's concern is revealed today in a book entitled Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, which contains evidence from some of the world's leading scientists of the growing threat to the planet. It details records of a conference held at the headquarters of the UK Meteorological Office in Exeter last year, sponsored by the British Government to bring the science of global warming up to date. The next study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the fourth assessment report, is not due until 2007. (The Independent 30/1/06)

Under new rules proposed by European agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischler Boel, organic growers must not use GM seeds in production, but may be allowed up to 0.9% GM contamination of grain. The organic lobby was split between those who accept 0.9% contamination and those who want the threshold set at 0.1%. Contamination is defined as finding stray genes from neighbouring GM farms in the final organic crop.

The Soil Association and the whole European organic movement is united in complete opposition to GM contamination of organic crops and food. Routine contamination of organic products up to 0.9%, as would be allowed by this proposal, is unacceptable - this would mean almost one in a hundred mouthfuls could be GM. We are strongly opposed to GMOs in food and assert the right of people to choose genuinely non-GM organic food. GM contamination of non-GM foods is no more socially acceptable than passive smoking is to many people.

Any contamination over the limit of detection (0.1%) is unacceptable. We condemn the weak line the European Commission is taking on this issue. The GM industry and Government who have allowed GMOs should be controlling GM contamination, not trying to change the law to force the organic sector to accept the problems of the GM industry. The current policy is not in the public interest. The Government and European Commission should be doing everything in their power, legally and practically, to prevent organic food and farming being contaminated. If GM crops cannot be properly controlled, then they should not be allowed.

There should not be any threshold specified in the regulation and instead the use of all GMOs should continue to be prohibited, and this should be implemented in line with the normal process approach of organic farming standards and certification. The Commission should therefore abandon this proposal, and instead introduce GM contamination controls for GM farmers and seeds to keep contamination in non-GM crops below the practical limit of detection, ie. 0.1%. This means a strict GM co-existence and liability regime that protects the organic sector from all contamination and limits GM contamination of seed (all seed) to 0.1%. (Farmers' Weekly - 27/1/06)

Three MP's are demanding a boycott of Cadbury chocolate because the company is buying in French sugar on a trial basis. Cadbury are the company that owns Green & Black's. The MPs are disappointed that the British company are not supporting British producers. One MP says, "Someone should stand up for British farmers and agriculture." (BBC Radio 4)

An apple a day could keep memory loss at bay because they contain high levels of antioxidants. And organic vegetables have even higher levels (between 10% and 50%) of secondary nutrients including antioxidants, which help to mop up harmful free radicals implicated in cancer. Dr Thomas B Shea, of the University of Massachusetts, says, "The study suggests that eating and drinking apples and apple juice, in conjunction with a balanced diet, can protect the brain from the effects of oxidative stress cell damage that contributes to memory loss." (Daily Mail 25/1/06)

"We are in need of a food revolution" according to celebrity chef Raymond Blanc. "If we fail to change, we will simply pile up more misery for the nation, its environment and its health. Doctors and scientists are at last starting to calculate the true cost of Britain's love affair with cheap, over-processed junk food. Not only do we have soaring rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, but new research has linked the increased consumption over the last 50 years of additives, pesticides and highly processed foods to a significant rise in mental illness. Treating these illnesses is already costing the NHS £100bn annually, so the financial implications of failing to change our food policies now are clear. The Government must do more to influence the pace of change. It should promote sustainable non-intensive farming. Why not subsidise British farmers to grow our own varieties of apples or pears? Not everything has to be organic. But somewhere between organic and pesticide-drenched factory farming there is space for food production that is ethical, seasonal, local and commercially viable." (The Independent 23/1/06)

"We are becoming a nation of 'foodies', increasingly obsessed with what we eat," writes Sunday Times journalist Richard Fletcher in a report looking at the way Sainsbury and M&S are leading the drive to cash in on interest in better quality food. "We may not make chicken tikka masala ourselves, but we certainly want to know what goes into it. Growing numbers of us are also interested in where the chicken was raised and even whether its short life was 'happy'". M&S is ensuring that its ready meal ranges are GM free and both M&S and Sainsbury are removing man-made fats from its foods. The move follows concern about hydrogenated vegetable fats, which have been linked with heart disease, narrowing of blood vessels and diabetes. (The Sunday Times 22/1/06)

In his edible alphabet Nigel Slater, food writer for The Observer magazine writes, "O is for organic. A force to be reckoned with, the organic shopper has probably done more than anyone else to change what is on the shelves of our shops and supermarkets. Demanding, enlightened, challenging and not afraid to spend money, organic shoppers have proved that it is the customers, not the supermarkets, who are in charge." (The Observer 22/1/06)

In a feature on organic food in New Consumer magazine Melissa Kid looks at "the revolutionary shift" that is happening in organic buying and how consumers are shifting away from supermarkets towards the local. Five tips on how to join the revolution and support local organics, selected by Craig Sams, are given in an accompanying information box. (Jan/Feb 2006)

Prince Charles has ditched a plan to farm organic chickens because of bird flu fears. The Prince had hoped to sell thousands of birds through his Duchy Originals range but experts warned him that the virus is certain to hit Britain. Prince Charles said, "So many poultry farmers have struggled to get their chickens outside for the right reasons to find they might have to shut them all up. It's very worrying but you just have to pray." (Sunday Mirror 22/1/06)

Hotel Report looks at the findings of the recent Mintel survey on organic food sales. The Soil Association claims the Mintel figures were conservative. Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association, believes organic sales in the UK will grow by 15% annually over the next five years: "There are very few people out there now who aren't worried about modern agriculture, climate change, food security, animal welfare, wildlife protection or the maintenance of public health." (Jan 2006)

The 'Over Thirty Months' scheme that made it mandatory to dispose of older cattle has ended today. Cow beef is now back in the food chain. The scheme cost the UK three hundred million pounds a year. Farming Today phoned some major supermarket chains to ask what they would do with it. Waitrose said they would not sell it as fresh meat but may use it in processed food. Tesco's said they would use it but would not say in what form.

The end of the 'Over Thirty Months' scheme coincides with a proposal by the European commission to allow unrestricted exports of British beef. By the end of this year the traditional way of rearing of veal in crates will be banned in the rest of Europe, as it was in the UK 16 years ago. (Farming Today - 19/1/06)

British blackcurrants could be a vital weapon in the fight against Alzheimer's say scientists from the Horticulture and Food Research Institute in New Zealand. Antioxidants in the berries provide brain cells with a powerful protection against the disease and British varieties are likely to be most effective. (Daily Mail 20/1/06)

Scientist James Lovelock has stated that in his opinion the earth has passed the point of no return for global warming. Professor Lovelock bases his predictions on the hypothesis of the 'Gaia system'. Jonathan Porritt declined to dismiss the too-late warning out of hand.

An article in The Independent includes a response from Peter Melchett of the Soil Association - "Right from the beginning there's a been a real worry that we would hit some point where the feedback mechanisms would all work against us. But as to climate change being already unstoppable, I don't know, and I don't think Jim Lovelock knows either. There are still uncertainties about it all, and personally and instinctively I remain optimistic about the human race's ability to change direction. It's our political and, shall we say, our psychological ability that's in doubt." (The Independent)

Tony Juniper from Friends of the Earth provided a detailed comment on James Lovelock's assessment. He commented "The most recent modelling suggests the carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere needs to peak at around 450 parts per million if we are to avoid the worst consequences of rapid climate change. It is still possible to avoid breaching this threshold, if the range of technologies and policies that are already available are deployed urgently. If politicians are willing to take the necessary action, the solutions could flourish. This discredited and expensive source of electricity would take more than 15 years to make a contribution - a crucial 15 years when we need to be reducing emission, not waiting for nuclear to deliver on the false promises made half a century ago."

"While in the UK, the Friends of the Earth campaign for a Climate Change Bill - which would commit the Government to making year on year reductions in carbon dioxide - has the support of 319 MPs." (The Independent)

"Household insecticides could double child leukaemia risk." Children frequently exposed to household insecticides used on plants, lawns and in head lice shampoos appear to run double the risk of developing childhood leukaemia. A study by French doctors, published today in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, supports concerns raised in recent years about the use of toxic insecticides around the home and garden - including plant sprays, medication shampoos and mosquito repellents - and a possible correlation with increased rates of acute leukaemia in children. (The Times)

Beetroot sales are soaring due to the GI diet and claims the root vegetable is an aprodisiac. Grower, Chris Moore, claims the "x-rated vegetable gives you a lift." (Farming Today, 17/1/06; also The Guardian and The Mail)

A common pesticide sprayed on food and found in homes could harm male fertility, research by scientists from the University of Michigan and Harvard suggests. The chemical, called chlorpyrifos, can suppress levels of the male hormone testosterone by up to 10 per cent. Although the pesticide is strictly controlled in the U.S. farmers in Britain used 110,000 kilograms of it in 2004 up from 67,500 kilograms in 2003. This means there may be chemical residues on non-organic fruit and vegetables bought in shops in the UK. (Daily Mail 18/1/06)

The shadow cabinet has switched to environmentally sound companies in their latest efforts to support the green movement. (The Times 18/1/06)

Mimi Holistica is the first spa in the UK to be certified organic. Mary Holt at the Soil Association says, "There are two areas that we looked at before we could certify the spa as organic. Firstly, we needed to approve the individual treatments. Secondly, we needed to carry out an inspection of the spa to check that it's meeting our operational criteria. Just as someone who eats organic food at home wants to eat organic food when they go to restaurants, people who use organic beauty products want to be able to have organic treatments when they go to spas."

"People die of famine in nation that exports food" Kenya's drought is one of the most severe in years and questions are being asked of the UN about why Kenya continues to need food aid. Although less than a fifth of its land is arable, Kenya is a food exporter. Grain silos are still full from last year's harvest. Despite the drought, farmers predict a surplus harvest of 62,500 tons of maize this year, much of it is earmarked for export. Kenyan fresh produce is plentiful in British supermarkets, including beans, mange tout and baby sweetcorn. (The Times 18/1/06)

"The Soil Association will mark its 60th anniversary by holding its annual conference in London to draw attention to what it calls the 'crisis' of feeding cities, which use up 75 per cent of the planet's environmental resources. The choice of London is, it believes, a way of reaching beyond its farming base to urban dwellers'."

Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director, says, "London is typical of large cities around the world. Behind the complacency of attitude stemming from over 50 years of global trade in cheap, anonymous food lies a chilling reality. If oil became really scarce or expensive, or global conflict reduced food availability, most of the world's cities would reach crisis point within weeks."

Patrick Holden, the Soil Association's director says, "The words organic and sustainable agriculture are the same thing; they are synonymous." (The Guardian - 1/1/06)

"Monty Don will be talking about the city gardener as eco-warrior at the Soil Association conference on 7 January at 9am, at The Brewery, Chiswell Street, London EC1. Later that day, at 6.45pm, he'll be introducing Dr Elaine Ingham, president and director of research at Soil Foodweb Inc, who will be talking about 'Secrets of the Soil' and its vital link to the health of our food. Tickets are £10. For tickets or more information, contact 0117 9874 586, or visit www.soilassociation.org for an online booking form." (The Guardian - 1/1/06)

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