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Organic news archive: June 2006

Fabulous British Fruit

Debbie Hearn is a passionate fruit campaigner behind the Big Little Fruit Campaign. The campaign aims to turn the spotlight on some forgotten fruits from our nation's past. Hearn explains, "I don't want to suggest that all heritage fruits are superior. I'm making a social comment that we are making choices that lead us away from certain fruits and we're missing out on such a lot as a result." (The Guardian - 30/6/06)

Fordhall Farm Saved

Fordhall Farm, one of the UK's first farms to follow organic principles and practice, has been saved from development. When their father Arthur died last year, his children Charlotte (23) and Ben (21) were determined that 65 year's worth of farming with nature wouldn't be lost. So they set up the Fordhall Community Land Initiative to preserve Fordhall as a non-profit community farm, with the target of raising £800,000 through a public share option. 30 June 2006 was the deadline for achieving that target, and over 5,500 shareholders from around the world have made their dream a reality.

Asked what had motivated such a huge response, Charlotte said she thought people had been inspired by the fact that, "The farm has been chemical-free for 65 years and that Ben and I are under 25. But also because many people really want to be part of farming again. Most people don't get the opportunity to see how and where their food is produced."

Her father had always brought people to the farm to experience it first hand, but Charlotte thought he'd be "flabbergasted" by the support generated. "His focus had been on building fertility in the soil and now that will stay forever. This is just not the type of land you can find easily." The farm will now be run as a non-profit community-owned, educational and social resource.

Charlotte Hollins was featured in the Soil Association's 2005 Annual Report and Living Earth magazine promoted the share option. Soil Association director, Patrick Holden said, "There has already been one lost farming generation and we don't want to lose this one. Ben and Charlotte Hollins are a perfect example of how young people's passion can make a difference." (Fordhall Farm; The Telegraph - 30/6/06)

Please report wildlife kills

The Government's Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme are urging the public to help in the fight to reduce the amount of wildlife killed by pesticide poisoning by reporting animals carcasses found in suspicious circumstances. This follows the publication of their annual report, which shows that the number of incidents in 2005, in which wildlife were suspected of being put at risk or harmed by pesticides, were similar to 2004. (Pesticide Safety Directorate)

Bottled water slated as "Environmental Insanity"

Friends of the Earth and other leading British environmental charities have attacked Britain's £2bn thirst for bottled water as "environmental insanity" after a report showed that tap water in the UK is among the safest and purest in the world. More than two billion litres of bottled water are sold each year and sales are growing at nearly 9 per cent a year - one of the highest growth areas in retail. At an average of 95p per litre, it costs as much as petrol, while the average cost of tap water in the UK is £1 per 1,0000 litres. (The Independent - 29/6/06)

The town that said "No to Tesco"

According to a new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England the network of local traders and small suppliers in the Suffolk town of Saxmundham and surrounding area has flourished since saying No to Tesco. (The Guardian - 28/6/06)

Half of the world's soya crop is now GM

Despite the resistance to planting genetically modified crops in Europe, more than half the world's supply of soya is now GM, said Professor Alan Malcolm, Chief Executive of the Institute of Biology. There was no commercial planting of any GM crop a decade ago, yet one million square kilometres are now being grown worldwide, equivalent to four times the area of the UK. Overall the figures on GM use are rising by up to 20% a year. (Daily Telegraph - 28/6/06)

British wildflower threatened

The lesser butterfly orchid has declined by more than 33 per cent throughout Britain in the past 40 years, turning it from one of the country's most common wild flowers into one of its rarest. The ploughing of grassland, draining of fields, the widespread use of chemicals and the cutting of roadside verges have all contributed to the demise of the plant. (The Independent - 28/6/06)

Doctors say No to Supermarket Surgeries

Doctors say supermarkets must not be allowed to set up walk-in clinics on their premises because a GP's advice to patients would be undermined by the cigarettes, alcohol and junk food on sale. Although the Department of Health says the government has not specifically proposed supermarkets as locations for GP surgeries, it wants to extend access to primary healthcare in areas where GPs have not traditionally wanted to set up, and supermarkets are known to want to host them. (The Guardian - 28/6/06)

Sales of Fairtrade goods rise

Global sales of Fairtrade-certified goods grew by more than a third last year to £758m as increasing numbers of big name retailers got behind the scheme, according to figures from the Fairtrade Foundation published today. Sales of Fairtrade coffee continued to grow strongly during 2005 and other more recently certified goods including flowers and textiles made substantial gains. Britain is the biggest market for Fairtrade goods in volume terms with sales reaching £195m in 2005, a 40% rise on the year before. (The Guardian - 28/6/06)

Eco-fashion sales grow 30%

British sales of ethical clothing increased by 30% to reach a value of £43m in 2004 and 45 companies now sell organic textiles. Global sales have reached nearly £475m. William Lana, of Soil Association licensee Greenfibres and chair of the Soil Association's textiles standards committee, puts it into perspective: "Of the £23bn worth of textiles imported into the UK in 2004, organic cotton accounted for 0.01% or £25m." The downside of the resulting rapid growth could be growers, manufacturers, retailers and certification agencies being tempted to cut corners. Lana urges, "We must support frameworks which ensure the integrity of the ethical market place." (Organic and Natural Business, June/July issue)

Women's Institute challenges supermarkets over wasteful packaging

The National Federation of Women's Institutes, which has about 215,000 UK members, has challenged supermarkets to cut down on unnecessary packaging or face a boycott. WI members will be writing en masse to supermarket managers as part of the campaign. If the supermarket doesn't make improvements within a year, they have pledged to boycott them. (The Daily Mail)

Starbucks makes fat butts

A Starbucks Frappuccino contains more fat and calories than a Big Mac, with 10.9g of saturated fat and 534 calories. (The Sun, p.24 - 21/6/06)

Jules Pretty awarded OBE for services to sustainable agriculture

Professor Jules Pretty has been awarded an OBE for his services to sustainable agriculture in the UK and overseas in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Professor Pretty is Head of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, the author of a number of books on sustainable agriculture, and Chief Editor of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. He is also the Deputy-Chair of the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) and has served on a number of other government advisory committees.

Omega 3 supplements threatening global fish stocks

George Monbiot looks at an Omega 3 supplement that is derived from algae, the same place that the fish get it. Once it's launched onto the marketplace, it could save the current trajectory that "mass medication with Omega 3 would wipe out global fish stocks". (The Guardian - 20/6/06)

Doomsday seed vault

Work begins today on a vault in the frozen earth of an Arctic mountain, off northern Norway, that is hoping to safeguard a 'vast' collection of the world's seeds to prevent mass crop extinction in case of an asteroid strike or extreme climate change. The focus is initially on food crops. (Financial Times, p.10 - 19/6/06)

Ugly fruit at Waitrose

Waitrose supermarket is launching a range of "ugly" looking seasonal fruit at discounted prices for use in cooking. The "class two" produce will be either visually flawed or oddly shaped, according to Waitrose, but otherwise perfect for eating. The range goes on sale at 57 of the 179 Waitrose branches from today. Waitrose has taken several steps to "reconnect" farmers and consumers in recent months including a series of "Meet the Farmer" sessions at Waitrose branches and agricultural shows, and a programme of workshops for farmers. (The Independent; also in Daily Express, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail - 19/6/06)

Making an eco-friendly barbecue

Rose Prince looks at 'how to set up an eco-friendly barbecue' in this week's Savvy Shopper column. (Daily Telegraph - 17/6/06)

Marks & Spencer is the greenest retailer

Campaigners for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth say that Marks & Spencer is now Britain's most ethical and environmentally conscious retailer. M&S has outstripped larger competitors by selling "fair trade" cotton T-shirts, coffee and fruit, organic cotton baby clothes, phasing out GM animal feed, and selling ocean-friendly fresh fish. The country's three biggest retailers, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, are spending millions to win back control of a market for organic, fair trade and wildlife-friendly produce that is worth £2bn a year. Campaign's director of Greenpeace, Blake Lee-Harwood says, "There's a mixture of real movement and tokenism going on at present, but they can't go back. They've made these promises and they're stuck with them." (The Independent - 18/6/06)

FSA's warning on British lamb over-reaction

Farmers yesterday accused the Food Standards Agency of threatening the future of sheep farming by overplaying the risk to humans posed by a previously unidentified form of scrapie. The Agency's board will discuss its advice on eating lamb today because of the theoretical risk of atypical scrapie, a form of the disease identified in sheep in 2003 that has never been shown to transfer to humans. The advice from experts is that more precautions are unnecessary and would "be likely to bring into question the economic viability of sheep farming". It is the wording of its proposed new advice to consumers that has upset farmers. (The Telegraph - 15/6/06)

Healthy, fresh food boost for Londoners

London will benefit from a £3.9 million boost for its citizens' eating habits, says Mayor Ken Livingstone. The money will fund a three-year project to improve access to healthy, fresh food. The mayor wants to help farmers near London stick to high environmental standards and make their businesses more efficient. Visit www.london.gov.uk

Lawsuit filed against KFC

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit food and nutrition lobby group has filed a lawsuit this week against the operator of KFC, Yum Brands, over the chicken fast-food chain's use of trans-fat for frying foods alleging that KFC, "does not properly warn, disclose or even tell its customers that they are eating food items prepared with the worst oil available and imaginable." (Financial Times - 14/6/06)

Heinz sell Linda McCartney brand

Linda McCartney's vegetarian frozen meals firm was this week sold by Heinz to Hain Celestial, an American organic food firm, for an undisclosed sum. (The Guardian - 14/6/06)

Hawking claims future of the human race depends on other planets

Renowned astrophysicist Stephan Hawking says there is an increasing risk a massive disaster would destroy the Earth and warns that the future of the human race depends on us making new homes on other planets. He predicts there will be a permanent base on the moon in as little as 20 years with another on Mars in 2046. In the meantime, he is writing a guide to universe for children with his daughter. (Daily Mirror, p.15 - 14/6/06)

UK farmers' attitudes to going organic

Philip Jones of Reading University is one of the authors of a report which shows farmers are less keen to take up organic farming. He is interviewed about the survey in which 2300 farmers were asked about their attitude toward converting to organic production. Jones found that reasons given varied from country to country in the EU but the reluctance was mostly to do with concerns over the organic market itself particularly in the UK that it would be over supplied leading to a loss of organic premiums. When asked about organic imports Jones said farmers are aware that they would be competing with imported organic produce as well. Jones thinks it is the government's job to promote organic produce generic education campaigns, which talk of the benefits of organic food and farming and take the focus away from 'brand awareness'.

Robin Maynard, head of media and communications at the Soil Association, is also interviewed. He says, "The number of enquiries from farmers and growers coming to the Soil Association has increased by 40% over the last year ... There are more younger applicants to organic farming, pointing to a dynamic market and the fact that the next generation is interested in organics ... There is a definite air of optimism out there ... People across the social spectrum are increasingly buying organic ... We know there are biodiversity and climate change benefits so for all of that we should be seeing a push [from the government] for sustainable agriculture with organic farming at the vanguard."

New disease found in sheep

A warning is to be issued by the Food Standards Agency following the discovery of a new brain disease in sheep. The Daily Mail reports it is similar to BSE and to another sheep brain disease known as classical scrapie. The FSA is not advising the public to stop eating lamb saying there is no evidence of a health threat. But it says that consumers who want to eliminate any possible risk can do so by avoiding mutton and natural sausage casings made from sheep intestines. (14/6/06)

Organic farming is the future

Over one third - 38% - of UK farmers believe that 'organic farming is the future', according to a poll by Farmers Weekly, as published 26 May. They conducted the poll following coverage of the Soil Association policy department's Organic works report.

Inner City Farm's grassroots campaign looking optimistic...

After years of struggle against the possibility of replacing America's largest urban allotments with a cold store warehouse for Wal-Mart, South Central Farm in Los Angeles may finally be on the verge of being permanently protected. This truly grassroots project covers 14 acres of land in the ganglands of South Central LA, where it was started shortly after the LA riots of 1992 as a way to answer the unrest. Now farmed by 350 low-income families, who are mostly Latino, South Central Farm is totally organic and an unbelievable oasis of tranquility and nutrition in a wasteland of inner city decay.

There has been an extraordinary grassroots campaign from the farmers themselves, local people, eco-warriors, and high profile Angelenos such as Leonardo diCaprio, Joan Baez, Darryl Hannah and Ben Harper, who have been living in the trees and playing at the nightly candlelit vigils. The odds were heavily stacked against this farm being saved from the developers due to a history of back room deals. However, its future is looking much more likely now that the Trust for Public Land has drafted a purchase offer for the 14 imperiled acres. This offer is based on money raised by the farmers themselves from public donations which the City of Los Angeles has agreed to match penny for penny. The outstanding balance has now been offered by a private philanthropic institution called the Annenberg Foundation. (South Central Farm website; Grist article)

Cadbury's bites back

A letter from Craig Sams is printed in The Guardian today, in response to Ruth Rosselson of Ethical Consumer magazine (When big business bites, The Guardian, June 8). Craig Sams is chair of the Soil Association, an organicfoodee.com contributor, and co-founder of Green & Blacks, which is now owned by Cadbury's. Craig writes, "If you look at what Cadbury's has done, it has facilitated the planting of nearly 1 million new organic cacao trees in the past three years to help smallholder farmers keep up with escalating demand for organic chocolate." (The Guardian, 12/6/06)

Organic food to be packaged green

Packaging News magazine talks to Chris Brooks, processing standards coordinator at the Soil Association, about new packaging standards the Soil Association has been working on, "The standards will go before the Soil Association council next month and we hope to implement them by the beginning of next year." The new standards require the environmental impact of all packaging to be considered carefully in order for a product to qualify for certification. Licensees will be required to minimise packaging and maximise reuse and recycling. Soil Association licensee Yeo Valley Organic is praised for it's yoghurt pot packaging. The two-piece packaging allows the inner plastic pot to be as light as possible with the outer made up of 98% uncoated, unbleached card. (Packaging News, June issue)

Supermarkets ruling by fear

In a submission to the Competition Commission's investigation of the UK grocery market, the National Farmers' Union has accused supermarkets of creating a "climate of fear" among their suppliers and demanding unjustifiable "up-front" payments that make farming unprofitable. (Daily Telegraph, p.2 - 9/6/06)

Garden Organic is 20

Garden Organic will mark the 20th anniversaries of both its International Programme and Garden Organic Ryton, its Coventry headquarters, by holding Tropical Day on Sunday, August 20, from 10am to 5pm. The International Programme has helped thousands of farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America to grow more food organically.

EU Bird flu cases in decline

More than 740 wild birds across 13 EU states have tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian flu since early February, according to EU data, although a decline in the incidence of the disease in recent weeks suggests the worst is over for now. (Farmers' Weekly - 9/6/06)

NFU demands immediate targeted cull of badgers

The National Farmers Union has called for the government to hurry up and make a decision to go ahead with a targeted cull of badgers, citing unrest among its members in areas, like the South West, which are Bovine TB 'hotspots'. In a discussion held at the Royal Cornish Show, Trevor Lawson, spokesperson for the badger groups said this demand was, "frankly, laughable because all of the scientific community without a single voice of doubt says that will make things worse."

Farming Today put it to the NFU's Vice-President, Meurig Raymond that the 25% drop in cattle who have tested positive for Bovine TB since movement restrictions and testing had been tightened was evidence that cattle, not badgers, were to blame for the spread of the disease. Raymond disputed this saying the drop was more likely due to the seasonal factor of cattle being housed over winter and away from contact with wildlife. The concluding comment was given by former Agriculture Minister, Elliot Morley, who had sought to reconcile the opposing views when he was in post. Now outside the debate, he expressed his opinion that, "You really need to have a sound scientific basis or can I say cover to go ahead with a controversial and unpopular policy. Frankly, I don't think it's there for a badger culling strategy." (Listen again, BBC Farming Today)

Organics at Harvey Nichols

Scotland on Sunday talks to Stuart Muir, head chef at Harvey Nichols' Forth Floor Brasserie, Edinburgh. All fruit and veg for sale in Harvey Nichols is now organic and the brasserie has an all-organic set menu. Muir says, "When it comes to organic produce it's not what it looks like that's important but what's in it". The article continues, "Farmers have sprayed their crops with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides for decades, but more of us are waking up to the fact that an attractive piece of fruit or veg may not be as perfect as it first appears. The Soil Association claims that more than 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used in conventional farming." (Scotland on Sunday - 4/6/06)

The truth behind bird flu...

Joanna Blythman writes that a growing number of non-governmental organisations, bird experts and independent vets are pointing the finger at the global intensive poultry industry. A new report from Grain, an international environmental organisation, challenges the official line. "H5N1 is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices," it says. "Its epicentre is the factory farms of China and south-east Asia. Although wild birds can carry the disease, at least for short distances, [the main infection] route is the highly self-regulated transnational poultry industry, which sends its products and wastes around the world through a multitude of channels." The organisation's view is supported by the charity BirdLife International, which plots the migratory routes of wild birds. Robin Maynard, head of media and communications, at the Soil Association is quoted, "Bringing birds indoors fails to address the root cause of disease. The government should support farming that encourages animal health, so that livestock have naturally robust immune systems developed by contact with, rather than exclusion from, all disease challenge. Organic and free-range systems are the foundation stones for such a positive strategy, not, as some in the intensive industry seek to misrepresent them, as reservoirs of disease". (The Guardian, G2 - 7/6/06)

Walmart boycotted by big business

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer and owner of the Asda supermarket chain, is being boycotted by the world's largest pension fund for alleged "serious and systematic" abuses of human and employment rights. (The Guardian - 7/6/06)

Is it OK to drink cow's milk?

Bibi van de Zee takes a look at the ethics behind buying milk. She recommends milk from small, local, organic or biodynamic farms as the "ideal source". She writes: "The Soil Association suggests (but it is not a rule) that calves stay with their mothers for a minimum of two weeks or until they are naturally weaned. Organic dairy cows are milked on a far less intensive basis and given proper rest periods: they aren't given all the antibiotics and hormones routinely shoved into the industrial cow to increase milk yield and deal with the multiple infections that they are prone to, such as mastitis." Gordon Tweddle of Soil Association registered Acorn Dairy is interviewed. He says, "If you give them a bit space, a bit of light, let them be with their calf, they don't get ill anything like as much as the intensively farmed cows." (The Guardian - 6/6/06)

Younger people less likely to recycle

A poll of over 2,000 Britons found that 18-24 year olds are less likely to recycle or save energy than any other age group. The survey revealed the "true eco-warriors are the over 65s". (The Telegraph)

Once in a lifetime opportunity' to curb supermarket powers

Farmers are being urged to take a once in a lifetime opportunity to highlight the need for Government action to curb supermarket abuses of power. The Competition Commission is in the first stage of collecting evidence from interested parties for its enquiry into the grocery sector. For more info visit www.competition-commission.org.uk

Pesticides and how to avoid them

Health & Fitness magazine recommend readers "buy organic" to avoid pesticides. "Farmers in the UK spray more than 31,000 tonnes of pesticides on their crops annually, leaving our food laden with chemicals." Soil Association policy officer Mike Green is quoted, "In a recent government test, half the lettuces sampled contained residues; 50% of these had multiple traces of up to five different chemicals in them, and almost 13% contained residues over the maximum level set by the Government. The effect of these chemicals on our health hasn't been adequately tested. We don't need pesticides to produce fruit and vegetables and most people don't want them in their food." (April issue)

Organic farmed cod in Tesco's

This week Tesco introduces the No Catch range, which it claims is Britain's first farm-reared, 100% sustainable organic cod, certified by the Organic Food Federation and produced in Scotland by Johnson Seafarms. Soil Association comments that it has been working on the development of an organic cod standard. They consider Johnson Seafarms to be an innovative company which is going to considerable lengths to minimise its environmental impact and maximise the welfare of its stock. Cod farming is at a very early stage of development and the Soil Association appreciates the development work and research to which Johnson Seafarms is committed. However the Soil Association cannot currently certify cod production as it considers the use of artificial lighting (to prevent maturation in the growing fish) to be unnatural and energy intensive, and we lack suitable evidence regarding the effects of the light on the welfare of the fish. The use of lighting is also not permitted on the Soil Association's certified salmon farms. Read some other reactions to the organic cod at Tesco's in The Guardian. (1/6/06)

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