Ministers urged to introduce sugar tax in childhood obesity report

The Guardian – Thursday 22nd October

The recent report from Public Health England (PHE) has called for a sugar tax as part of a number of recommendations to help lower childhood obesity rates in Britain. But Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt did his best to delay PHE’s report and Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly dead set against such a tax.

The report delivers a comprehensive set of recommendations on reining in sugar consumption in a bid to curb Britain’s obesity epidemic, which is becoming very expensive for the National Health Service. There is clear evidence from Mexico that a sugar tax works. So why not introduce it in Britain? The country needs a multi-faceted approach to addressing sugar consumption and its impact, and a sugar tax is a sensible part of this. Furthermore, the majority of the British public support it, as evidenced by a recent poll.

Cameron’s position is looking increasingly comprised. The Food and Drink Federation understandably opposes the tax, claiming that efforts to reduce sugar in its products are progressing. But isn’t it time we got serious? Taxation was critically effective in the fight against smoking as part of a package of measures to encourage people to stop. Its impact cannot be dismissed in the obesity crisis.

Farmers are being driven to suicide by price slumps, MPs told

Farmers Weekly – Sunday 25th October

The downturn in the value of agricultural commodities is having a devastating impact on British farmers. This is not just a numbers game – there are very real people connected to the price falls who are seeing their livelihoods destroyed in a largely unregulated marketplace where, increasingly, the biggest farm wins.

The evidence given by UK farmers and growers to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reveals the depth of their despair. The plight of dairy farmers has been much in the news in the past months, but it’s not just the dairy sector that’s suffering. There has been a fall in prices for lamb and beef too, and growers are also struggling as large portions of their crops are wasted for ‘cosmetic’ reasons.

Farmers live by pennies – their margins are tight. So when downturns come they are extremely vulnerable and it’s no surprise that farmer suicides increase. There’s no way out when you are backed into such a dark economic corner. The UK government could help by offering more financial support to farmers in the short term and protecting their businesses in the longer term with stronger regulation. It’s time to listen to what farmers say. 

Ethiopia, a nation of farmers, strains under severe drought

New York Times – Sunday 18th October

The harsh realities of farming in a developing country where there are no subsidies and little governmental support has hit hard in Ethiopia, which is suffering from severe drought. Here, when your crops fail, you face hunger and major hardship. This New York Times article details the travails of farmers in a nation where 80% of people work on the land.

The El Niño weather system, which plays havoc with global weather patterns, has turned Ethiopia’s rainy season into drought. This is bringing famine, again, to the country that suffered it so severely in 1984. This time around, Ethiopia’s government is more stable and it has offered some help to farmers struggling to make ends meet – but it is not enough. The number of people in need of food assistance has almost doubled in the past three months.

Ethiopia is one of a number of countries across the globe where drought is taking hold. Although Ethiopia’s dry period is predicted to last only a year (because it’s linked to El Niño), it is still deeply impactful.

Organic farming “not enough” to address food security

Farming UK – Saturday 24th October

It’s becoming a rather hackneyed accusation that organic farming can’t possibly deliver on food security. As sustainability in farming is becoming a critical need, organic production is still seen as niche and unable to deliver on the yields required for a growing global population. This week, an anonymous EU official has been quoted as saying “Organic farming could certainly not address on its own the vast and perplexing issue of future food security.”

Following its recent reforms, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is giving more support than previously to organic and agroecological practices. The need for greater sustainability in farming clearly drove this. But we need to do more than throw a little funding to producers who are farming with a care for the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity – all severely threatened in the 21st century. We need to believe that sustainability is the best way forward. Consumers are increasingly throwing their weight behind sustainable production: demand is about to outstrip supply in Europe. EU ministers and policy-makers need to follow suit and do more to push sustainable practice.

From 2014 to 2020 the CAP priorities are focused on innovation, which means that organic practices could receive greater attention and support – but only if organics ceases to be thought of as antiquated and niche.

Patrick Holden in the United States

Next week, our Chief Executive Patrick Holden will be travelling to the United States where he will be speaking at the following events:

Monday 2nd November – The Evolution of the Sustainable Food Movement: Its Centrality to the Health and Survival of Future Generations at the University of California, Irvine.

Monday 9th November – Soil, Food and Health: How a Shift from Chemistry to Biology holds the Key to Feeding the World at the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Maryland.

Tuesday 10th November – An evening with Patrick Holden at SustainFloyd in Floyd, Virginia.

Photograph: Mike Mozart

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