Vitamin D makes free-range eggs better for you

The Daily Mail – Monday 5th December

A study by scientists at Reading University has revealed that free-range and organic eggs have levels of vitamin D that are 30 % higher than conventionally produced eggs. The main reason for this difference is thought to be the levels of sunlight the hens are exposed to. Organic eggs also contain more 25-hydroxyvitamin D3, which is five times more valuable than vitamin D itself.

Adequate vitamin D intake reduces risk of bone disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Yet one in five people across the UK have low levels of it, due either to lack of exposure to sunlight or to lack of Vitamin D in their diet.

This study highlights the importance of eggs as a source of Vitamin D, but more importantly, points to the impact of industrial food production on our health. Almost 50% of eggs in the UK are produced using indoor housing systems for the chickens and this is clearly having a detrimental impact on the nutritional quality of the food produced. As Robert Brown of the McCarrison Society said, “Intensive farming techniques may produce cheap food but at what underlying cost to the nation’s well-being?”

Saturated fat could be good for you, study suggests

Science Daily – Friday 2nd December

A recent study showing that a high intake of total and saturated fat does not increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases follows closely on the heels of a study published a week earlier which showed that higher intake of saturated fats is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease. With every “saturated fat causes heart disease” study that tries to put the diet-heart hypothesis (which was first asserted by Ancel Keys in the 1950s) to rest, a new study soon shows that the debate is far from over.

Public confusion and the polarisation of opinions about the relative benefits or risks of saturated fat consumption seem likely to continue for some time. This is particularly the case in the field of nutrition, given the combination of poor science, the political and commercial interests at stake, and the weight given to the opinions of doctors, researchers and the media, among others. What we need is a new independent review of the evidence on dietary fats in relation to health, and for future scientific studies to focus on whole dietary patterns (since people may meet one target – low saturated fat – but fail to meet another by eating a lot of refined carbohydrates).

Big food faces annihilation unless it moves with millennials on health 

The Guardian – Thursday 1st December

Millennials are more concerned with eating well and more sustainably than previous generations, and this is driving change in the food industry. Although they’re still drawn to convenience foods, the usual processed fare pedalled by Big Food isn’t their cup of tea. Overwhelmingly, they are turning to less processed, fresher food for their fast meals, trying out meal kits and higher end prepared ‘deli’ meals. And they’re looking to small and mid-size businesses to provide them, driving growth of up to 15% in the sector, and thinking about issues of sustainability along the way.

Big Food isn’t quite up to speed with millennials, however, and they’re losing coveted market share as a result. Their struggle to make healthier food is exemplified by Pillbury’s ‘gluten-free’ chocolate chip cookies and General Mills’ high-protein Cheerios with four times as much sugar – not exactly the sort of healthy food that appeals to millennials. Could this be the end of the era of Big Food? It’s a nice thought.

Intensive land management leads to more of the same 

Farming Online – Friday 2nd December

Diversity is critically important to our ecosystems. A major new study of grassland management evidences the impact of monocultures and gives insight into why biodiversity loss is so connected to intensive farming practices. The key finding of the study was that intensified use leads to a ‘homogenisation’ of diversity – instead of all fields and meadows being distinct and different, they become more and more the same, with the same flora and fauna. Lower biodiversity leads to a breakdown in ecosystem services, affecting soil formation, pollination and pest control among other vital functions.

The study is notable in that it looks comprehensively through grassland ecosystems, from the microbial life in the soil, to plants, animals and birds. It further makes a statistical link between intensification – monocropping and other intensive farming practices – and the reduction of biodiversity. In doing this, the study makes a strong case for the need to integrate farming practices so that livestock, mixed cropping and the wider farm ecosystem are brought together into a symbiotic whole.

Palm Oil: Global brands profiting from child and forced labour

Amnesty International – Wednesday 30th November

Though the move to ‘sustainable’ palm oil has been touted by many of the largest businesses involved in palm oil production, Amnesty International has uncovered shockingly poor labour practices across Indonesian supply chains of companies including Unilever, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and several others. The report calls in to question the ‘sustainability’ of palm oil production which include gross child labour abuses, forced labour, wage sanctions and lack of adequate safety equipment, particularly in the spraying of dangerous chemicals.

The ubiquity of ‘sustainable’ palm oil on the labelling of so many supermarket products primarily references a commitment to zero deforestation that has been made by many of the largest producers and buyers of palm oil. However, as Amnesty International’s report makes clear, it does not encompass labour practice – unquestionably an area of concern that should be considered in any assessment of sustainability. But ‘sustainable’ is one of those unregulated terms like ‘natural’ which has no legislated definition, making it easy to obscure the reality behind a nice-sounding label.

Photograph: Steph French

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