How Britain’s soda tax plan could spur new low-sugar drinks

New York Times –  Tuesday 29th March

Britain’s proposed tax on sugary drinks is garnering attention for incentivising the industry to develop drinks with less sugar. In contrast to laws enacted in Mexico and Berkeley, California, Britain is not invoking a one-size-fits-all tax on sugary drinks. Instead, the tax will be applied according to to total sugar content, with the main rate for drinks with more than 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml, and a higher rate for drinks with more than 8 gram per 100ml.

It is potentially a useful way of encouraging manufacturers to lower the sugar content of their drinks. However, it may also open the way for the development of new artificial sugars and additives to make up for flavour and what’s known as ‘mouth feel’, and that could bring problems of its own, as yet unknown.

Why Whole Foods wants a slower growing chicken

NPR – Wednesday 30th March

Awareness is growing about the plight of the broiler chicken in both Europe and the US. Most broiler chickens are one breed – the Ross 308 – apparently, “the world’s most popular breed”. It reaches its optimum size and weight in just 48 days, piling on the pounds at phenomenal speed. These chickens are the result of breeding programmes which select for faster and faster development. The problem is that the chickens can’t really cope with the speed of their transformation. Their bones aren’t strong enough often to cope with the weight they are putting on and this causes a number of significant animal welfare problems: up to 30% of these chickens have joint issues, splayed legs and at the worst, can’t walk. They’ve been bred solely for the purpose of industrial production and not for their own health and welfare.

Zoe Neilson recently wrote for the SFT on the ‘plofkip’ – literally, ‘exploded chicken’ – in the Netherlands, where a public campaign has convinced the country’s three major supermarkets to move to slower growing birds. In the US, Whole Foods has committed to shift to slower growing birds, phasing out their ‘plofkip’ over eight years. But it’s not going to be easy to get industrial producers to move away from their exploded chickens: breeding them is profitable though the chicken pays the price for this. In response to Whole Food’s move, The National Chicken Council, immediately contested the animal welfare issues of the typical broiler chicken, arguing that they were neither less healthy, nor suffering. Research, however, has shown otherwise.

The US chicken industry is certainly changing in response to consumer demands – evidenced by companies such as Perdue and Tyson, going ‘antibiotic-free’. It’s time consumers demanded a better chicken as well: slower growth in chickens delivers on better taste, as well as better ethics.

Farmers vent anger as Waitrose sells New Zealand lamb under Prince Charles’ ‘Duchy’ label

Farmers Guardian – Tuesday 5th April

British livestock farmers have been hard hit by a fall of 50-60% in the price of lamb over the last year, causing a crisis in the industry. Much of this has to do with an increased influx of cheaper New Zealand lamb, a large part of which is ‘over-fat’, meaning over its optimum weight and condition, and consequently cheaper. So the discovery that Waitrose, generally perceived as one of the more ethical supermarkets, is selling New Zealand lamb under their Duchy organic label, must feel like adding insult to injury. One farmer suggested going straight to Prince Charles about it – not a bad idea.

Consumers could be forgiven for not knowing that lamb has a ‘season’ just like fruit and vegetables. There are very few producers who produce lamb year-round as it’s not natural for sheep. But supermarkets give consumers the illusion that all our food is ‘season’-less because it comes in from around to world to fill the shelves all the time. Waitrose sells New Zealand lamb under the Duchy label – which normally supports British produce – when British lamb is out of season because they feel they have to have it on their shelves, all year round, even if it’s making it that much harder for British farmers to make a living. So it’s important for consumers to tune into the seasonality of their meat as well as their veg. Britain is known for producing some of the best lamb in the world, so eat it when it’s at its best in season and support British farmers. 

US organic figures show rapid growth

Farming Online – Tuesday 5th April

Organic farming is booming in the US, increasing 12% in 2014 – 15. The country boasts two-thirds of the world’s certified organic producers with nearly 22,000 operations. The organic sector has grown by some 300% since the USDA began tracking it in 2002. It’s now the fastest growing part of agriculture sector.

It’s certainly indicative of a growing consumer movement in the US towards local organic food that is evidenced also by a thriving network of farmers’ markets across the country. In the past three decades organic food has moved out of health food shops and into the mainstream of a lot of people’s eating. With the organic market now worth some $39 billion in the US, it appears that it’s ‘arrived’.

However, when looking at the big picture, less than 1% of US farms are organic and the sector makes up only 5% of global food production. The growth of the organic sector in the US is a great thing and definitely cause for optimism, but there’s still a long way to go before it becomes mainstream.

Photograph: USDA

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