Will new California buffer zones protect children from pesticides?

Civil Eats – Wednesday 19th October

The first ever regulation of pesticides around schools is currently being proposed in California, and unsurprisingly controversy is breaking out over its need and effectiveness. The California Farm Bureau and other agricultural bodies, think the regulation isn’t ‘science-based’ despite data on illnesses at schools that result from pesticide drift, while environmentalists feel what is proposed doesn’t go nearly far enough.

California is well-known as the fruit and vegetable basket of the US and there is extensive agriculture across the state. The proposal recommends among other things that spraying of pesticides would be banned from 6am – 6pm, Monday to Friday within a quarter mile of schools. However, there is evidence that this would do little to protect children and young people from exposure. Californians for Pesticide Reform note that poisonings have occurred at distances well over a quarter of a mile and that the regulations do nothing to address chronic pesticide exposure. The state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), acknowledges that research shows increased sensitivity of children and young people to pesticide toxicity and argues that they aim “to provide an extra margin of safety for unintended drift and other problems with pesticide applications”. That margin, however, is pretty thin and it seems unlikely that it will do much to stem pesticide poisoning, let alone reduce overall pesticide use.

Doctors ‘know too little about nutrition and exercise’ 

The Guardian – Wednesday 19th October

A group of prominent UK doctors and dieticians has called for better education of medical students on the importance of diet and exercise, especially in relation to the treatment of chronic disease. To date, this has not figured prominently in medical school curricula, but it is becoming increasingly important with the marked increase in ‘lifestyle’ diseases. It wants the Medical Schools Council as well as the General Medical Council to improve doctor training in this area.

A recent study of university medical students revealed a dearth of knowledge and training in this area, with less than 15% knowing how much exercise is recommended by the Chief Medical Officers in the UK and some 90% wanting more training on what to advise patients. Nutrition is also a critical area in treatment, often overlooked by doctors. In the US, the growing field of ‘lifestyle’ medicine is beginning to change this. It takes a holistic approach to disease prevention and treatment that encompasses diet, nutrition, exercise, stress management and other factors. But one thing that has inhibited this kind of approach, is the amount of time required by doctors to communicate this information to patients, and many fail to discuss diet and exercise which is now being understood as a significant area of treatment.

Supermarkets urged to clear up confusion on cage egg ban

Farming UK – Friday 21st October

All of Britain’s major supermarkets and a wide array of other retailers have committed to going ‘cage-free’ by 2025 on their egg production. This is a big step forward in the animal welfare of chickens in industrial agriculture, and it has been applauded by Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA. Most will further commit to moving to free-range production, although Tesco is only making the move to ‘barn production’ where chickens are kept entirely inside without access to the outdoors.

However, while any improvement in animal welfare is to be welcomed, the shift away from cages will represent a relatively small improvement in comfort for these birds. Stocking levels for both barn-raised and free-range birds is still intensive and 32,000 birds is an average ‘free-range’ flock. Margins for producers continue to push production numbers upwards and in many ‘free-range’ systems, though access to the outdoors is possible, it is not probable – it’s just not that easy for a chicken to get out the door of a barn holding thousands and thousands of birds. ‘Free-range’ often isn’t the bucolic vision of chickens foraging in the fields that retailers encourage you to imagine. Flock size should be regulated for the designation to be a meaningful indicator of animal welfare.

In push for G.M.O.s, China battles fears of 8-legged chickens

New York Times – Wednesday 19th October

The Chinese government wants to become a big player in the GMO market, but it’s got a little problem: most of its citizens don’t want to eat GMOs. It’s no surprise really, with China’s track record of dangerous food scandals – chemicals added to baby formula, tainted vegetables made to grow faster and look shinier, pork contaminated by phosphorescent bacteria, formaldehyde in food, and that’s just the short list. The case for GMOs has also not been helped by an internet rumour that circulated last year claiming Kentucky Fried Chicken was using GM chickens with six wings and eight legs.

But behind closed doors there’s a campaign forming to change thinking on GMOs as the state-owned China National Chemical Company tries to buy Syngenta – the huge agribusiness and biotech company.

China’s ambition is two-fold: to play a significant role in the wider bio-tech industry and to use GMOs to feed its growing population and modernize its farming. It’s a naïve gamble, a replay of Green Revolution thinking that is now outdated. Yields for GM crops have plateaued and their dangerous impacts are increasingly apparent in rising pesticide use, not to mention the burden of debt faced by millions of farmers. With much of China already devoted to small-scale farming, going a more sustainable shade of green would be so much wiser.

Give us business support not hand handouts, say Young Farmers

Farmers Guardian – Friday 21st October

A new survey by the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) reveals what some young farmers would like to see in a new British Agricultural Policy. The responses illuminate many of the issues facing young farmers, such as difficulties accessing capital and land.

The young farmers surveyed supported the continuation of the current subsidy system, but would like to see a shift from subsides to grants for business development. Many also felt that as young farmers, land ownership or even management, is difficult to achieve – even those with land in the family – and some felt that the subsidy system encouraged older farmers to keep ownership of farms, rather than passing them on to the next generation.

Business profitability was a clear priority for these young farmers, and while a majority of those surveyed wanted to keep environmental and animal welfare regulations set by the EU, some 39% wanted to see them repealed. It is clear that there is a division of opinions among the new generation of farmers about the role of government regulation in protecting and shaping our food and farming system. Many farmers are tied to a conventional model of production, but there is also growing concern for agroecology and sustainability in farming, and this needs to be reflected in a post-Brexit agricultural policy.

Photograph: Jerry Burke

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