Postponement of glyphosate re-licencing will bring added uncertainty for growers

Farmers Guardian Insight – Tuesday 9th March

Plans for the European Food Safety Agency (Efsa) to re-licence the use of glyphosate for another 15 years, have been stopped as four EU member states – Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands – step forward to oppose the move. 

The Efsa’s controversial decision to re-licence the chemical after the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed it “probably carcinogenic” last autumn, came as something of a surprise to many, with the Efsa stating that despite this, it was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”. This statement was contested in an open letter to the EU Commission written by a group of notable independent academic and government scientists, arguing that this assertion was “not supported by the evidence and…was not reached in an open and transparent manner,” unlike the findings of the WHO research on glyphosate.

The EU Commission now has a number of options on the table, among them cutting the length of the licence and resubmitting it or postponing re-licensing until further research has been done on glyphosate’s toxicity. The latter is what the Netherlands is pushing for and this is clearly the most sensible and logical way forward. But industry groups are shocked that the vote was stopped and dismayed by the invocation of the precautionary principle. But as Greenpeace EU Food Policy Director Franziska Achterberg commented, “Rushing to grant a new licence now, without waiting for an evaluation by Europe’s chemical agency, would be like skydiving without checking your equipment first. As long as there is conflicting scientific advice, glyphosate should not be approved for use in the EU.”

Major British seafood brands linked to fishing in the fragile Arctic area

The Guardian – Thursday 3rd March

Research by Greenpeace has raised concerns about the sustainability of fish coming out of the Arctic Barents Sea – off the north coasts of Norway and Russia – especially in the waters around Svalbard. Some 70% of cod and haddock come from these waters and many fisheries working in this region are MSC certified. However, deeper down the supply chain, Greenpeace has found that some fishing is being done with bottom trawlers which drag vast nets across the sea bed, devastating and destroying delicate ecosystems and turning them into veritable wastelands. With Arctic seas rich with environmentally sensitive and unique sea life, this kind of activity is hugely damaging in such a fragile ecosystem and unacceptable.

Greenpeace wants to see companies like Young’s, Bird’s Eye and many others, crack down on their suppliers by ensuring they don’t take fish caught through such environmentally damaging methods and to stop the expansion of fishing into the Barents Sea. They are also urging Norway to designate the Barents Sea along with waters off of Svalbard marine protection areas.

With our oceans in critical decline and global fish stocks in a generally bad state, it is vital that we take better care of the productive and healthy waters that we have, protecting them from bad environmental practice. We must also do what we can to repair damage already done. While our oceans can be tremendously productive, we must manage our impact on them, along with our consumption, if we want them to continue as an important food source.

Slice the price of fruits and veggies, save 200,000 lives?

NPR – Wednesday 2nd March

A new study that shows lowering the price of fruit and veg means people would eat more of them, saving some 200,000 lives. Although this seems somewhat self-evident, the study shows how important measures like SNAP’s food stamp subsidy for fresh food – where the value of food stamps increases if used to buy fresh fruit and veg at farmers’ market – are at encouraging better eating.

Fresh fruit and vegetables have been shown to be more expensive than processed food, a fact that highlights the injustice of our current food pricing. Access to fresh, healthy food should be a right, not a privilege of those better off. Subsidising the cost of fresh food, for those who struggle to afford it, is a good starting point to help level the playing field.

Most significantly, this new research adds weight to the effectiveness of pricing to affect food choices – it shows cost does matter in what people eat or don’t eat. The researchers also found that reducing prices was more likely to encourage people to eat fresh food than traditional healthy eating campaigns like widespread ‘Five A Day’ promotions. It means, as shown in Mexico, that a sugar tax could well reduce consumption of fizzy drinks, just as taxes on smoking helped reduce smoking. Making fresh, whole foods affordable and accessible to everyone is a necessary first step in turning around a food system that privileges unhealthy eating over healthy eating, leaving a legacy of poor health around the globe.

The meat you eat is more likely to be antibiotic-free this year

Huffington Post – Monday 29th February

With more and more companies in the US committing to ‘antibiotic-free’ meat, it is clear that consumer demand, paired with scientific concern about the problem of rising antimicrobial resistance, is having a positive impact.

You can now get an antibiotic-free chicken sandwich from Subway, and Tyson and Purdue, two of the largest meat producers in the US, have also recently made further commitments to phasing out meat treated with antibiotics.

These changes are good and provide evidence of a significant shift in the practices of the industrial farming and processed food sectors. But there are still significant animal welfare and public health issues to address related to industrial meat production in general.

The antibiotic-free bandwagon provides a good way to make a strong public statement to consumers about better practice in the food industry, but it’s time to think more deeply about the antibiotic-free label. For example, in some situations, animal welfare concerns may trump calls for antibiotic-free meat. In organic farming in the UK and Europe, antibiotics can be used, on approval, for sick animals that would otherwise suffer or die. What is banned by organic standards in the EU is the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics – treating animals that aren’t sick.

In the US, organically raised animals become non-organic the minute they are given antibiotics, even though the antibiotics will clear their system in a relatively short time. This can lead producers to delay treatment to see if the animal gets better on its own, even if it suffers. If the animal is treated, it is sold as conventional, with the producer losing the value of its organic production. In conventional systems, antibiotic-free may disincentivise the cessation of prophylactic antibiotic use, as antibiotic-free animals would have no designation to be shifted into if they received antibiotics. Would they then be subject to a ‘treated with antibiotics’ label? It’s all a bit convoluted.

Antibiotics have a place in the treatment of sick animals. What we want to do is preserve their use as a vital tool of both human and veterinary medicine by not using them when they are not needed.

116 sheep killed in “worst attack in living memory”

Farmers Weekly – Wednesday 9th March

This sad and terrible story testifies to how hard farming can be. The loss of livestock on such a large scale takes both an economic toll and a deeply emotional one. While dog attacks are usually violent, even a dog running amongst sheep can have lethal results as this incident exemplifies. Not a sheep was touched, but the terror of a dog or dogs caused them to bunch and they were likely killed by being crushed. Dogs are always a worry to farmers and many deal with dogs on their land by shooting them, whether they have a “reasonable” right to do this or not. While most dog owners are responsible and keep their dogs on leads in the countryside, a dog off lead can be unpredictable. You may think that your dog listens to you, but wait for instinct to kick in and there is often nothing you can do. Whether it’s the livestock or the dog that’s killed, it’s devastating on either side of the equation.

Photograph: Mike Mozart

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