Public health cuts ‘could hamper anti-obesity efforts’

BBC News – Monday 18th July

With one child in five leaving primary school obese, it seems mad that the current Government is planning cuts to public health that could affect local councils ability to deliver programmes aimed at preventing obesity. Prevention is looking more and more critical as recent research shows that it’s much harder to lose weight if you are obese: the body appears to resist weight loss. This is thought to be because weight becomes “stamped in” to our biology in childhood and behavioural changes consequently have little long-term impact.

Councils across the country have been putting a lot of funding into prevention, and the Local Government Association (LGA) which represents a wide range of local councils, is concerned about the impact of the cuts. It argues that councils are well-placed to deliver prevention measures, but they need the funding to do so. The LGA wants assurances that the new government administration is committed as much to preventing obesity as to treating it. As childhood obesity continues to rise, prevention becomes an increasing imperative.

Fake sweeteners make you crave more sweets

Mother Jones – Tuesday 12th July

Evidence is building that artificial sweeteners can be just as fattening as sugar. A new study from the University of Sydney has mapped a possible pathway in the brain that makes us want to eat more sweet stuff, when we’re denied the calories of sugar by eating artificial sweeteners. The study found that our bodies associate sugar with a hit of calories and when that’s not delivered, the body drives us to find the calories – by eating more calorie-rich food. It also appears that eating artificial sweeteners may intensify enjoyment of sugar, again leading to increased consumption. Researchers believe they trick the body into a “starvation effect” where it thinks it needs more calories.

This latest study adds to other studies mapping the unhealthy effects of artificial sweeteners which can affect the microbial community of gut, increase strokes and heart attacks if consumed regularly, and even lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. So don’t think you’re doing yourself a favour by opting for the zero calorie fizzy drink instead of the sugary one. If you’re thirsty, drink water.

NFU lodges formal complaint to trading standards over fake farm branding

Farmers Guardian Insight – Monday 18th July

Tesco isn’t the only supermarket to use fake farm names on their branded in-store products, Aldi does it as well. The difference is that Tesco is sourcing produce from around the world and packaging it with a distinctly British sounding farm name such as “Woodside Farms” and “Boswell Farms”, while Aldi, at least, is only selling British produce. An NFU-commissioned YouGov poll showed that three out of five consumers said they felt “misled” when they discovered that products with British sounding farm names weren’t necessarily of British origin, leading the NFU to lodge a formal complaint over the fake farm names with trading standards.

Tesco has defended itself vigorously, claiming that consumers are well aware these are brands and not actual farms – but that’s more than a little disingenuous: clearly many people still think the produce is British, even if they recognise the farm name as a brand. The co-opting of farm names for branding is not a new activity, but locating the country of origin information on produce isn’t particularly easy and this is being exploited by Tesco. Retail has played fast and loose with its descriptive vocabulary and it’s time better regulation was implemented by trading standards so that consumers get the transparency and accurate information they’ve been demanding.

Agriculture’s role in worrying biodiversity loss

Farming Online – Friday 15th July

A new EU-funded study shows the significant role that agriculture has in biodiversity loss. The planet is in the midst of a mass extinction with biodiversity so severely in decline that scientists at the University College London have warned that many ecosystems may collapse and be unable to support human societies. The loss is such that it represents a breach of  ‘planetary boundaries’ – nine thresholds which mark fundamental changes in how the planet functions and which may mean it ceases to support human life. We are arriving at a truly devastating scenario, very quickly.

The study maps changes in land use due to agriculture, turning up some dire statistics: agriculture is a major contributor to biodiversity loss and the three major grain crops – wheat, rice and maize – alone caused a 40% biodiversity loss across the globe. Further, while domestic crops account for most of the biodiversity loss, export crops also cause significant damage with crops exported from Indonesia and Mexico to the USA and China, causing the extinction of up to 20 species in the country of origin. This makes global trade a significant contributor to declining biodiversity. The study’s researchers have suggested that strengthening domestic production in western countries with ample agricultural land could reduce global biodiversity loss.

Stemming biodiversity loss is absolutely critical as it is part of the planet’s biosphere integrity, one of the most important ‘planetary boundaries’. How we grow our food may determine our own survival on the planet, so farming sustainably is something our lives depend on.

Why supermarkets are full of bad apples

The Times – Friday 15th July

Think that rosy, crispy apple you had at lunchtime was fresh? Think again. Supermarket apples could be stored for up to year – treated with a gas called SmartFresh which inhibits its ability to ripen further (and ultimately decay). While the gas is, apparently, completely safe, it has been shown that apples lose nutritional value over time – antioxidants and vitamin C levels decline.

Supermarkets are under no obligation to tell consumers about the use of SmartFresh or mention the date of harvest. Clearly a label that says ‘This apple was harvested in September, 2015’ when it’s July, 2016 isn’t going to be appealing, even if the apples still look good. Freshness is important in food – both taste and nutritional value diminish with time. So it actually matters a lot if your apples have been sitting in the fridge for a year sprayed with SmartFresh. It’s time to start asking questions about your apples, and focus on eating produce that is in season and grown as locally as possible.

Photograph: Anne Worner

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