Omega-3 oils in farmed salmon ‘halve in five years’

BBC – Thursday 5th October

The decline of Omega-3 fatty acids in farmed salmon, raises more systemic issues about fish farming. The reason there is less of this vital fatty acid has to do with the feeding of anchovies, which are rich in Omega-3, to farmed fish. The small fish were being overfished as salmon aquaculture expanded and as a result, the amount of oily fish in feed was reduced with the direct impact of lowering the amount of Omega-3 in the farmed salmon.

The hunt is now on for something to replace the lost Omega-3 but the answer isn’t easy to find – the most financially viable replacement is to genetically modify rapeseed to produce Omega-3 fish oil. However, taking a step back, there looms a larger question: why are we so dependent on farmed salmon for Omega-3? There is an array of other sources of this vital fatty acid that can be obtained from a broad range of foods – if we eat a varied, balanced diet. Omega-3 is present in a range of other fish including mackerel, herring and trout. It’s also found in dark leafy vegetables like kale, nuts, eggs and rapeseed oil. The levels of Omega-3 that had been present in farmed salmon when fed anchovies, 3.5 g, was higher than it was in wild salmon (who don’t eat anchovies or other small fish).

The lowered levels of Omega-3 in the farmed salmon has set-off something of a panic, but should we really be devouring the amounts of farmed salmon that we do, just for the Omega-3? The knock on effect of aquaculture to other fish populations, more generally, is deeply problematic, impacting on the industry’s sustainability. Maybe we should just eat a wider range of foods?

Can agroecology feed the world and save the planet?

The Guardian – Sunday 9th October

Agroecology is increasingly centre stage in discussions about the future of agriculture. As the environmental and health impacts of our current industrial farming practices become ever more apparent, finding a different way forward is critical. Agroecology is a broad approach to agriculture premised on adopting farming practices based on ecological principles and addressing socio-economic issues in food production. It’s a sound, common-sense concept. And as yields for our major grain crops decline because of soil degradation, salinisation, resistant pests and other problems of intensive farming, agroecology offers an obvious answer to how we feed the world.

Feeding the world will be harder to do in the next few decades with the global population rising to a projected 9 billion. Much of that population growth will come from the African continent. But the drought, currently gripping large areas of Africa, means that 50 million more people are at risk of hunger. There is a surprising level of intensive farming across Africa – 70% of the continent’s farmland is devoted to corn, much of which is monocropped across large swathes of land. But the productivity of the land is wearing thin, dropping by as much as 40% in Kenya.

There is growing evidence that agroecology can turn this declining productivity around, especially for smaller-scale farmers, where yields can increase as much as 50–100% when sustainable practices are used. With the bulk of the world’s farmers working on a small scale, there’s tremendous productivity to be gained from long-standing farming practices such as fertility building with animal manures and plants, crop rotation, growing cover crops and supporting the natural balance of the farm ecosystem.

The dizzying grandeur of 21st Century agriculture

New York Times – Wednesday 5th October

Photographer George Steinmetz captures the vast scale of industrial agriculture in this photo-essay for the New York Times Magazine’s latest Food Issue. His photographs are stunning, spectacular but also quietly depressing. We’ve all read about industrial agriculture, but seeing it in pictures really brings its realities home.

Whether it’s the 4,896 hutches for dairy calves in row after row after row, or 60,000 turkeys stuffed cheek to jowl into a vast shed, or the neat rows of Earthbound’s organic lettuces laid out in acres, it is hard to take in. The images of the animals subject to this kind of production are inevitably the saddest – while there is no overt suffering pictured, it provides a stark picture of life on a production line, where they are entirely unable to pursue their natural predilections. There is indeed grandeur in these images, both breath-taking and terrible.

US embargo leave Cuban farmers waiting for modernity

BBC News – Sunday 9th October

Small-scale, urban farming based largely on organic practices has flourished in Cuba during the US embargo. With limited resources for fuel and agricultural chemicals after the fall of the USSR in 1991, and the beginning of the so-called ‘Special Period’, Cuba was forced to prioritise low-input agricultural techniques. The embargo also made it difficult to mechanise farming, which, even in the organic sector, is critical to farm efficiency. Repairs to what machinery there is for farm work and food processing can be tricky – while Cubans have become masters of repair and refurbishment, there are still limits on what can be done. As machinery becomes more sophisticated and reliant on digital technologies, it also becomes harder to fix – digital components must mostly be replaced with new parts.

While the lifting of the embargo has not yet been agreed, it does appear a likelihood. With this will be a rush into modernity for Cuban industry and agriculture. While this brings the promise of better economic returns, there are also questions about the impact on its agricultural sector and whether it will embrace the damaging practices of industrial agriculture that modernity may bring.

Farmers still concerned about uncertainties of Brexit financial support despite government reassurances

Farming UK – Saturday 8th October

There is still widespread mistrust among farmers and farmers’ unions that UK government commitments to continuing subsidies will be seen through. Glyn Roberts, President of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, pointed out small discrepancies in the language of ministers discussing the subsidy, which as Roberts comments, “is not welcome and does not help individuals plan their businesses. Careful and precise statements are needed now more than ever.”

The ongoing uncertainty about future support for farming makes it harder than ever for farmers to develop sound financial planning in a post-Brexit Britain, and a ‘hard-Brexit’ which might constrain access to European markets, is a deeply concerning prospect for many.

But there is also a wider question of future agricultural policy and funding schemes. Leaving the CAP, could open new doors or firmly close them. There is always opportunity in crisis and change but the fear is, the UK government may squander it, leaving farmers at a loss. Clarity and detail from the government about what post-Brexit UK Agricultural Policy will look like is imperative.

Photograph: Natalie Maynor

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