England’s best loved wildlife still in serious decline, report shows

The Guardian – Friday 26th August

There is more depressing news for England’s key species with the release of the latest Natural Environment Indicators for England. Some 75% of the more than 200 priority species continue their decline, including farmland birds and butterflies and the much loved hedgehog. We simply aren’t doing enough to save them and we should ponder why? When the indicators were established in 2011, the government made a commitment to place “the value of nature at the centre of the choices our nation must make.” In the five ensuing years, this has not happened.

Our farming practices appear to be at the root of the decline, as so many farmland birds and butterflies have been affected – both are at their lowest levels ever. While Defra is attempting to put a positive spin on it, claiming that “we are making good progress”, it is clear this is not the case, despite progress on sustainability in fisheries, less litter in the seas and improving carbon sequestration in forests. Sandra Bell, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, commented that “…it’s clear that if we want to enjoy a thriving natural environment big changes are needed to our farming system.”

The production of post-Brexit agricultural and environmental policy offers a huge opportunity here to make bold steps towards agroecologically based farming in the UK. The public is also behind this, as a recent YouGov poll has shown – it showed, overwhelmingly that the British public wanted better or at least as strong environmental protections as under the EU, that they want the neonicontinoid ban to stay in place, and they want farm subsidies to continue to be linked to good environmental practice.

Berkeley sees a big drop in soda consumption after penny-per-ounce ‘soda tax’

LA Times – Tuesday 23rd August

An extraordinary new study on Berkeley, California’s sugar tax is showing a remarkable reduction in sugary drink consumption. The city was an early adopter of the soda tax which is based on a price increase of a penny-per-ounce in sodas – so the more sugar in it, the more expensive it is.

Five months on from the introduction of the tax and there’s evidence that the tax is making a significant dent in people’s consumption of sugary drinks. The study compares drink consumption in Berkeley with that of surrounding cities Oakland and San Francisco and the results are startling. Where Oakland and San Francisco saw consumption rise across the range of taxed drinks, Berkeley saw consumption fall, and by as much as 36% for some drinks. It also saw consumption of water rise by 63% in comparison with Oakland and San Francisco, where it only rose by 19%.

The outcome of the study makes clear how important sugar taxes can be in encouraging behaviour change; more than 20% of those who answered survey questions said that the tax made them change their drinking habits. No doubt the success of Berkeley’s soda tax will drive other American cities and states to implement similar measures – San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. all have taxes in development already – and with this, a serious sea change in what people drink could be on its way.

The villagers who fear herbicides

BBC – Monday 22nd August

The safety of glyphosate and other agricultural chemicals is coming under increasing scrutiny in Argentina, where the spraying of pesticides and other chemicals is being linked with increased incidence of illness in agricultural areas. Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of GM soya, and while producers of GMOs have long claimed the innovation lowers chemical use, this has proved often not to be the case. In Argentina, the use of herbicides like glyphosate rose 1000% between 1994 and 2010 alongside GM crops.

A new epidemiological study is evidencing the increased incidence of health problems in people living in rural areas where there is heavy agriculture. It’s found a 40% increase in respiratory problems compared with people living in urban areas – a surprising inversion of statistics with cities usually giving rise to more respiratory problems than the countryside. Additional rural cancer rates are significantly above the national average. The vast majority of the communities studied for the research live within 1000 metres of fields being sprayed with herbicides, particularly glyphosate. As Monsanto continues to insist that the chemical is safe, calls are being made to ban it in the country.

The study does not prove the toxicity of glyphosate or other chemicals but the geographic link to increased health impacts in areas where spraying regularly occurs, raises significant public health questions.

Survey shows that a majority of British people want farmers to be paid a fair price

Farming UK – Monday 29th August

A new study shows that British people are firmly on the side of farmers and better farming. The study by Globescan turned up exceedingly strong support, with 92% of those surveyed saying that food companies should make sure that its production is fair to workers and sustainable. A further 85% agreed the government had the responsibility to make it so. Further questions showed strong support for “fairer, greener, more sustainable food production” as Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation describes it. People want to see farmers and farm workers paid better in both the UK and in developing countries, and they think farmers should be protected from unfair trading practices such as the dairy industry has been subject to. A majority also wanted to see more environmentally sound farming, with a notable 74% agreeing that more needs to be done to support sustainable food production for future generations.

Attitudes towards food production are clearly changing and with Brexit demanding new policy be written on farming and food production, the government must listen to what its public wants.

Microplastics should be banned in cosmetics to save oceans, MPs say

The Guardian – Wednesday 24th August

Microbeads are, at last, being recognised as a critical threat to marine species, banned already in the US and several European countries, but still widely used in cosmetics and toothpaste. British MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee are now calling for a ban on use of the tiny plastics in these commercial products.

Microbeads are tiny plastic beads which can be used to fill, scrub and exfoliate, and over the last two decades they’ve been incorporated into all kinds of products. The problem is that, as with all plastics, they are not biodegrable and are increasingly making their way into the ocean where they are consumed by the creatures living there. Since we eat a lot of these creatures, microbeads are making their way up the food chain and into our food. Along the way, they are killing fish and other species and causing widespread pollution. The Environmental Committee Chair, Mary Creagh, noted that a single shower could send as many as 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean.

A UK ban is absolutely vital to eliminating the use of microbeads and a wide number of cosmetics companies have made voluntary commitments to reduce or eliminate their use. Unfortunately, Greenpeace reports that the pledges are often limited by the kinds of microbeads they will stop using (allowing them to use others) or the types of products they are used in (eliminated in exfoliating scrubs but still used in toothpaste). Cosmetic companies will continue to find ways to use the microbeads until a global ban ensures that they can’t.

Photograph: Niklas Morberg

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