The Italians fighting against an ‘invasion’ of palm oil

The Guardian – Wednesday 9th December

Italy, surprisingly, uses a lot of palm oil in food; they are the second largest importer of the controversial oil in the EU. However, a backlash against its widespread use is gaining force in Italy, with growing concerns about both the health and environmental impacts of the oil. More and more people want to see ‘palm oil free’ products.

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But a number of NGOs involved in the issue of palm oil production – Greenpeace, the WWF and the Forest Trust, particularly – have questioned how effective a ban would be in changing palm oil production, notable for slash and burn deforestation, habitat destruction and poor labour practices. More effective, they argue, is a continuing push towards sustainable palm oil production. While the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is encouraging more rigorous certification and binding commitments from palm oil producers, is this enough? Can palm oil production, effectively creating mono-crop plantations on a vast scale, ever be seen as truly sustainable? Aren’t we too over-reliant on oil imported from halfway round the world? Shouldn’t we be looking for regional sources for our fats, keeping them closer to home instead of wreaking havoc on the environments of developing nations? Sustainability must have at its heart, regional diets and local economies.

National Living Wage could scupper home grown fruit and veg

Farming Online – Wednesday 9th December

The NFU is raising concerns over the impact of the National Living Wage on farmers, particularly in horticulture. It argues that the rising cost of employment will be untenable for farmers in terms of their labour costs, raising the price of British fruit and veg to luxury levels. A new report commissioned by the NFU claims that the NLW will force horticulture production overseas as the additional costs makes UK horticulture increasingly uncompetitive.

The rising cost of labour may be hard to absorb, but isn’t better labour practice something the agricultural sector should strive for? The NLW is a necessary measure to ensure that people make enough money to survive on when they commit to work – it must be part of the contract between labourers and employers. Keeping the bottom line in the black is almost always a struggle for farmers, but that doesn’t mean compromising on labour costs is the solution.

A more equitable, regulated marketplace for farmers would be a better place to start. This government has done very little to support the struggles of the UK milk industry, shunning any measures that would ensure a fair price for producers. Other production sectors are now seeing a cascade of falling prices as the global market turns downward. More measures are needed to protect farmers, producers and workers in UK agriculture, ensuring that they receive a fair price for their labour.

Parkinson’s disease has been linked to drinking milk

Munchies – Thursday 10th December

Nothing like starting off with a sensational headline like this to get people in a right panic before they even start reading the article. To set the record straight, let’s make it clear that Parkinson’s disease is not linked to drinking milk; it’s linked to a pesticide that was found in dairy milk in Hawaii in the 1980s. Details are important. So you can continue drinking milk.

A new study, just published in the journal Neurology, however, has found out something that seems fairly obviously: pesticides are bad for you. The particular pesticide in question, heptachlor expoxide, has been banned in the US since 1988. But the study is important for the clear link it draws between the presence of the pesticide in the milk and changes that were found in the brains of men exposed to it – a damaging change in the brain, manifested in Parkinson’s. It raises a concern about eating food that contains pesticides, and a lot of our food does contain pesticides, albeit usually in small enough amounts deemed to be safe by the authorities. If this worries you, eating organic products whenever possible, is still the safest way to avoid exposure to pesticides in our food.

Feeding food waste to pigs could save vast swathes of threatened forest and savannah

EurekAlert – Wednesday 9th December

Feeding heat-treated swill – food waste – to pigs makes so much more sense than feeding pigs grain. Recent research maps a cohesive argument for why we should reintroduce this food source in the pig industry in Europe. It was banned shortly after the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, when it was identified as the source of the epidemic. One farm had been illegally feeding its pigs untreated food waste. Since the ban, grain has been the main food source for pigs in Europe, particularly soya, raising questions about the sensibility of this in terms of its environmental impact. The study claims that some 1.8 million hectares of forests and savannah could be saved if Europe reverted to the using pig swill.

Swill has been the primary feed for pigs since they became domesticated many millennia ago. Pigs are fantastic converters of food waste into a prime food source, and with more than 102 million tonnes of food wasted in Europe each year, it is mad not to lift the ban on pig swill – especially as heat-treating food waste eliminates the dangers that led to the foot and mouth outbreak. Many Asian countries use heat-treated food waste, recycling the waste into valuable food for pigs. The use of food waste is heavily regulated and the system works; so there is good evidence that pig swill can be used safely.

In all this, is the added benefit that pig swill could cut costs for European pig farmers, who are up against the wall with falling food prices in the commodities market. With researchers on the study arguing that the ban on pig swill was a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the foot and mouth crisis, some 15 years on, it is time to reconsider that decision. The Pig Idea campaign has been active for several years now in the UK and it’s really time to return to tradition and get the slop out. It’s sensible, it’s sustainable, it’s safe and we should overturn the ban.

Photograph: USDA and Rainforest Action Network

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