Official advice on low fat diet and cholesterol is wrong, says health charity

The Guardian – Monday 23rd May

The National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration have just published radical new advice on dietary guidelines that recommend a return to a diet of whole foods and natural saturated fats found in meat, dairy, fish and some vegetables. Low-fat diets are not the answer, they argue, and have done little to nothing to curb the growing epidemic of obesity. Even more surprisingly, they assert that “Eating fat does not make you fat.”

For some, this is a refreshing return to common sense; but it’s no surprise that many health professionals have reacted badly to the report, with Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, calling it “irresponsible”. The report has not been subject to peer review, and it goes against the long-established orthodoxy linking cholesterol and saturated fats to heart disease. However, recent research has called this into question, arguing that studies which appeared to support the diet-heart hypothesis were deeply flawed and that a more nuanced understanding of saturated fats and cholesterol in diets needs to be developed. Consumption of dairy fat, in particular, has been found to lower risk of obesity and diabetes, completely contradicting previous thinking.

The report also criticises the role the food industry has played in influencing national dietary guidelines with, for example, the development of low-fat processed food ‘products’ in which sugar replaces fat. These products have been widely recognised by many in the health sector to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. So, while telling people that saturated fat isn’t a problem is practically blasphemous, it may actually turn out to be accurate.

Finally you can see how much added sugar is hidden in your food

Mother Jones – Friday 20th May

The US Food and Drug Administration has finally labelled the added sugar in food products. New labelling will now have a further line of nutrition facts detailing how much of the ‘Total Sugar’ is added. It will also tell you what percentage this figure represents of your recommended daily intake. The new information is sure to be revealing. A recent analysis of the added sugar in flavoured coffees in the UK by Action on Sugar, revealed these drinks carried up to 25 teaspoons of sugar.

It’s an important step towards improved transparency for consumers about what’s in their food. Sugar is a critical culprit in the obesity epidemic and it is found in significant amounts in most processed foods. It had been hard for consumers to know how much they were taking in on a daily basis with the old labels – added sugar was completely left out giving an entirely skewed picture of how healthy, or not, foods were. The new labelling makes explicitly clear what sugar is ‘naturally occurring’ and what is added, illuminating what is almost always a significant discrepancy between the two.

Battle fought on more than one front: Eggs at centre stage in the war of retail

Farming UK – Friday 20th May

As UK supermarkets continue their ongoing price wars, egg production has become a key focal point. A recent push in the US towards cage-free eggs has highlighted the issue here in the UK. With a number of major corporations committing to phase out all caged egg production in their supply chains by 2025, pressure is on for UK companies to do the same.

At the moment, all the major UK supermarkets with the exception of Waitrose, still carry caged eggs in their ‘value’ ranges. Waitrose, however, has used this point of difference to make a case for the higher brand value of their produce – they have already completely phased out caged eggs. It’s a savvy tactic, no doubt inspired by Tesco’s mis-step in using fake farm names in the branding of new product lines. Waitrose wants to set itself apart by proving they deal with actual farms and not invented ones.

One hopes that Waitrose’s standards will begin to rub off on the other British supermarkets and raise the game for all involved. Similarly, the impact of US corporations – notably among them Walmart, the parent company of Asda – will drive a growing move to cage-free eggs in the UK.

Genetically engineered crops are safe, analysis finds

New York Times – Tuesday 17th May

A comprehensive review of research on the safety of GMOs asserts that they are safe, both for human consumption and for the environment. While there have been studies evidencing health impacts from GMOs, campaigners generally consider that more research is needed to provide a definitive answer on this. But the impact of GMOs on our food system remains a contentious concern on many other levels than simply that of safety.

One of the most significant issues relates to the corporate control of food. GMOs, which are largely owned and patented by large corporations, represent a critical erosion of food sovereignty, our human right to food. When Monsanto sues farmers who save seed, for patent infringement, a fundamental control over our food system is lost by the public.

And while much is made about how GM crops reduce the amount of chemicals sprayed by farmers, a number of studies show that the exact opposite is the case: herbicide-resistant weeds have actually increased herbicide use. ‘Round-up ready’ GM crops have led to an increase in the use of glyphosate, labelled by the World Health Organization as a ‘probable carcinogen’, of 527 million pounds in the 15 year period between 1996 and 2011  and the chemical is now pervasive throughout the environment.

There is much more at stake in the adoption of this technology than food safety. The wider economic, environmental and political implications of GM technology must also be considered.

Farmer suicides soar in India as deadly heat wave hits 51 degrees Celsius

The Independent – Friday 20th May

India has been hard hit this year by a vicious heatwave with temperatures rising to the hottest ever in India. The heat has been deadly both directly and indirectly. The destruction of crops has driven some farmers to commit suicide rather than leave their farms for a life of poverty in the city, as many thousands of farmers have done.

India has witnessed year on year rises in temperature over the past 15 years, making farming especially hard. This latest heat wave is widely acknowledged to be the result of global warming and climate change. Once again, 2016 is setting up to be the hottest year on record globally, a trend that has been continuing since 2013. The heat and drought in India could be the shape of things to come on a wider global basis, and with temperatures climbing above 50 degrees Celsius, what hope will there be for agriculture? Such conditions will seed not crops, but hunger, increasing poverty and dangerous social unrest. The need for the governments to commit to GHG emissions reductions as discussed during the recent COP21 talks in Paris is growing ever more urgent.

Photograph: Scott McLeod

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