Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rejects Morrison’s ‘pathetic’ wonky veg trial

The Guardian – Monday 9th November

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest campaign War on Waste is raising awareness about how much food in the UK ends up being thrown away instead of eaten – some 15 million tonnes of it a year. There are many reasons why food ends up in the bin, but one of the most appalling is the fruit and vegetables which are discarded before sale for cosmetic reasons.

It is a long-standing bad habit of supermarkets to grade out produce it considers too imperfect for sale to discriminating consumers. A truly vast amount of perfectly edible food is left rotting in fields because it’s too big, too small, too ‘ugly’ or otherwise unusual in appearance. Farmers can have upwards of 30% – 40% of their produce refused, leading to a significant loss of profit.

As part of his new TV series, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall recently took a huge pile of discarded parsnips, set up shop outside a Morrisons in Wimbledon and handed them out for free. In retaliation, Morrisons ran a little survey to see who would buy its wonky veg by offering it at the same price as its stunningly perfect veg. Unsurprisingly, they found their customers bought the perfect veg, particularly as the wonky veg was also getting old – according to Morrisons this was because fewer people purchased it. Calls are growing for a law that makes supermarkets donate edible waste to food banks, as was recently legislated in France. Morrisons has, at least, recently stepped forward to make a commitment to doing this.

Illegally planted palm oil already growing on burnt land in Indonesia

The Guardian – Friday 6th November

Despite wide-spread commitments from major companies in the palm oil industry to zero-deforestation, the practice of clearing forested land by burning it is continuing at an alarming rate in parts of Southeast Asia. Some 2 million hectares of forest and peatland has been burned in Indonesia in past months, causing widespread environmental damage and significant health impacts. Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer but it also has some of the world’s most diverse habitat, which is at serious risk from the fires. Furthermore, many of the fires are burning carbon-rich peatland, releasing more GHG on a daily basis than the entire US economy – so the impact reaches far beyond Indonesia.

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The culprits in this case are primarily small-scale farmers, who are buried deep down the supply chain of the major multi-national corporations they sell their crops to. Because of this, accountability in the supply chain is hard to secure. However, conservationists think it is necessary to ensure accountability and part of this could come from enforcing the agreements of the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP). But removing small-scale suppliers that fail to meet IPOP standards from the supply chain creates other problems argues Wilmar, one of the largest palm oil producers. It can devastate the lives of small-holders who may continue to slash and burn to extend their acreage for other crops. Because of this, the Indonesian government is also reluctant to move on enforcement of the IPOP agreement.

It’s a tricky balance, but one that ultimately benefits the corporations. WWF Indonesia has argued that the problem is bred by “collective negligence” with the small-holders as only one component of the problem – government inaction and corporations throwing their hands up at the complexity of their supply chain is another even bigger one. But the power to stop slash and burn activity definitively lies in the hands of big business taking responsibility for their suppliers, as well as the government incentivising small-holders to stop the practice.

Four in 10 children have never seen a hedgehog in the wild

The Telegraph – Wednesday 4th November

This headline testifies to a terribly depressing fact: that British children are less and less engaged with nature, despite the evidence that this sort of engagement boosts both our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Sir David Attenborough, for one, recognises the devastating impact of not having enough access to nature in your childhood, arguing that children are becoming “spiritually impoverished”. Parents seem to recognise this with nine out of 10 agreeing that “access [to] nature is important to children.” But in contradiction to that statement, parents also feel children don’t get out into the wild nearly as much as they should. In an effort to rectify this, the Wildlife Trusts have published a guide on The Art of Getting Children Outdoors.

If children don’t have experiences of nature, they are unlikely to fall in love with it. And for a generation tasked with saving the planet from climate change, widespread environmental degradation and the greatest extinction since the dinosaurs, loving nature will be critical. 

Big trouble looms for California salmon – and for fisherman

NPR – Friday 6th November

The California drought is causing trouble for another big crop of the state – Chinook salmon. The fish are worth more than a billion dollars a year to California’s fishing industry. A hot summer and lower levels of water increased water temperatures in the rivers, making a difficult life even harder for the salmon.

The fish are spawned in the Sacramento River and make their way to the Pacific Ocean in the autumn. In a good year, only about 25% of the eggs survive. But this year, that has fallen to 5% because of the warmer temperatures. These have also impacted the juvenile fish swimming to the Pacific. As this is the second year in row that this has occurred, it’s looking very bad for the fish, and commercial fisherman with an all-out ban on fishing Chinook salmon in the Pacific, likely.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Chinook spawning in Lake Shasta, have been sold short by monitoring officials making a ‘mistake’ in the amount of water released from the lake to California farmers which similarly caused temperatures to rise – many environmentalists are suspicious of the broken thermometer laid to blame for this and feel that the salmon were sold short so farmers could have the water they wanted.

The role that warming water plays in the plight of the Chinook points to the looming impacts of climate change. California’s fishing industry has also been hit by a massive algae bloom caused by a warm water “blob” along the Pacific coast and possibly El Niño. The bloom has generated a neurotoxin called domoic acid that can build up in crustacean and fish, making anyone eating them ill. So California Dungeness and rock crab harvests will not be allowed until the domoic acid dissipates in seafood.

While we all know that “no one event can be associated with climate change directly”, warming waters are certainly becoming a prevalent indicator of trouble ahead.

Big and deadly: major foodborne outbreaks spike sharply

The Washington Post – Tuesday 3rd November

The last 20 years has seen a significant rise in dangerous foodborne illnesses in the US, especially since 2010. All kinds of food have been found to be contaminated, including fruits and vegetables and even candied apples, and there is much more multi-state contamination covering wider geographic regions. E-coli, salmonella and, scarily, Listeria top the list of infections.

It’s unclear what the spike is due to, but it certainly points to a lapse in food hygiene standards and the breadth of the outbreaks relates to the huge distances that food travels both within the US and outside it. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are concerned about what’s been happening. The FDA is revising food standards and protocols for production and packaging, but there is still someway to go on this.

Technology is delivering new tools for the tracking of these outbreaks with DNA ‘fingerprinting’ playing a big role. But the intricacies of the global food system, laid bare in the details that emerged from Britain’s horsemeat scandal of 2013, make clear that getting to the bottom of problems like the spread of foodborne illness will be anything but easy.

Photographs: Mark Fletcher and Rainforest Action Network

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