Rice and palm oil risk to mangroves

BBC News – Monday 4th January

Research on mangrove deforestation is raising awareness of its devastating impact – and once, again, agriculture is at the heart of the problem. Mangroves are salt-tolerant coastal trees. They play a critical role in the ecosystems of coastal regions moderating the impact of the sea as it hits land and reducing erosion, acting as a significant sink for carbon and creating habitat for incredibly biodiverse ecosystems. However, in the last 40 years, vital mangrove forests have been disappearing, as aquaculture and more recently – as a new study points out – rice and palm oil production have taken over.

Conservation and restoration measures for mangroves are slowly taking shape, but the scale of the deforestation across south east Asia, is alarming. The problem illustrates one of the impacts of our endlessly increasing demand for palm oil. While the deforestation that results from the expansion of this market is finally being attended to in tropical forests on land, less attention has been paid to the deforestation of mangroves which is being driven by palm oil and rice production.

The rapaciousness of global palm oil consumption continues to drive significant environmental degradation. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil must more rigorously enforce its certification, ensuring that only land which is already in agricultural use can be converted, so that no new forests are destroyed. But, at root of the problem is an over dependence on palm oil as a source of fat, used extensively for processed foods, as a cooking oil, and in industrial and cosmetic uses. There are many other fats available, both of animal and vegetable origin, and we should think more about using a wider range of these, with a focus on those produced closer to home. In the UK, this includes much maligned animal fats which are largely incinerated or put to cosmetic and industrial uses rather than being used as food.

First Milk farmers see further price reductions for January

Farmers Guardian Insight – Monday 4th January

The already sad story of milk production in the UK continues to get sadder with further reductions in the price of milk for First Milk farmers and Arla. The UK government, with its commitment to the global commodities market, has largely turned its back on protecting the domestic dairy market. It will be left to British citizens to save dairy in the UK.

The organic milk sector has fared better than conventional, but neither sector is in good health. SFT Chief Executive Patrick Holden is a long-time organic dairy producer. A year ago, he wrote eloquently on this site about how to preserve British milk production, calling for a “public contract…based on the principles of fair trade, where consumers can buy milk and dairy products knowing the price the farmer has been paid is equitable and fair.” This is the only way forward – British farmers are owed a fair price for their sweat and tears. A British fair trade label could guarantee this along with better animal welfare, responsible antibiotic use, support for rural communities and a diversity of small- and mid-scale producers. What we get in return for this is much more than just the security of a domestic milk market; we get an ethical, environmentally sustainable sector to nourish the nation.

People like food more when they make it themselves

Time – Monday 28th December

A recent study shows that people like ‘healthy’ food better when they’ve made it themselves. Researchers found that women who had made their own ‘healthy’ milkshake preferred it to the taste of a premade milkshake. This suggests that the act of putting the ingredients together and mixing them up may make people like healthy food better, “because when people prepare foods, they become more aware of the ingredients that constitute a food.”

This certainly sounds logical. When people make things, they generally like to think what they make is pretty good – especially children. Remember Ron Finley’s great line in his TED talk, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale”, and this is true of cooking kale as well. Cooking is an important route into healthy eating, since it requires fresh ingredients rather than processed food.

The problem, however, is that cooking is disdained by a time-poor society as the cost of fresh vegetables outstrips that of processed food and cookery classes are dropped from school curricula. This we must change. We must return to this most elemental activity, for cooking is, arguably, what makes us human. Most importantly, as Michael Pollan has pointed out, “cooking is all about connection” – food means more to us when we have to grapple with it in the kitchen and that is a sure route to better eating.

US repeals meat labelling law after trade rulings against it

ABC News – Sunday 3rd January

Big business triumphs again over the rights of citizens to know where their food comes from. The repeal of a law, which has stood for more than 10 years, requiring the labelling of where meat comes from and was slaughtered makes a clear statement about where the US government’s priorities lie: business must operate unfettered by consumer knowledge that might impinge on sales. Telling people that their beef was born and raised in Mexico, but slaughtered in the US reveals far too much about the movement of meat through the global food system and might make some people uncomfortable about their food purchase – much better to keep people in the dark. The repeal was given impetus by the World Trade Organisation, the giant moderator of global trade issues, which had repeatedly ruled against the labelling and has supported the economic retaliation of Mexico and Canada against the US labelling law. That an extra-governmental body like the WTO should hold sway over legislation passed by US citizens in their interest is a testament to the power of global business interests to shape what we as individuals eat. This is not how it should be.

Transparency is critical in our food system and accurate information on food production should be a right of consumers. The increasing demands of the public with regard to how their food is produced and what’s in it, appears to lead to increased efforts by the food industry to keep this knowledge from them. Whether it comes to how much added sugar is in food, or if there are genetically-modified ingredients, we need to be able to assess the wide ranging social, environmental and health impacts of our food. Without the knowledge of what goes into food production, we can’t begin to map its true costs. Accurate labelling is a fundamental step in creating this transparency.

Unrestricted access for New Zealand lamb could be ‘disastrous’ for Wales

Farmers Guardian Insight – Monday 4th January

A new global trade agreement between the EU and New Zealand could wreak havoc on sheep farming in Wales. Upwards of half of the New Zealand lamb that comes into the EU is sold in the UK already, so a loosening of trade restrictions could be devastating to Welsh sheep farming. There are calls from the Shadow Agricultural Minister in Wales, Llyr Gruffydd, for better distribution of New Zealand meat through the EU, so its impact on the sale of Welsh lamb is dispersed. With falling prices for both beef and lamb across the UK, some protection of the domestic market is strongly needed or, like dairy farming, it will cease to be profitable.

Grass-fed meat is an obvious staple for the UK but we must make our domestic markets as robust as our global markets and regulation is essential to this. Welsh lamb carries the kudos of quality, but in the face of an influx of cheap meat from the other side of the world, this may not be enough to save Welsh sheep farming. If it goes, along with British dairy, we will be seriously comproming our food security and the resilience of our food system to weather the consequences of climate change. It’s important to take the long view on this, especially in a century where the world will no doubt change drastically from the one we’re all familiar with.

Photograph: Kyle Taylor

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