Brazil faces drop in crops

The Guardian – Tuesday 3rd September

Another story in a series of recent pieces covering the projected effects of climate change on agriculture. Brazil is one of the world’s most significant food producers but this could change radically if predictions for climate change are correct. Scientists in Brazil have developed a sophisticated programme for climate change projections based specifically on the country’s own records and geographic terrain, so projections are likely to be pretty solid. Once again, it doesn’t look good – rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, falling yields, tornadoes and other extreme weather, more blight and disease.

Farmers are largely unaware of this potential future so there is little impetus to start doing anything about climate change while it might still be possible. The recommendation for creating some resilience in the agriculture of Brazil, given by one of the researchers, outlines a number of principles of sustainable agriculture. He suggests ‘investing intensively in mixed agricultural systems, and abandoning the practice of monoculture. Farmers should also increase the biological fixation of nitrogen, reduce the use of pesticides (since 2008, Brazil has been the world’s biggest consumer), and increase the rotation of crops.’

Food waste harms climate, water, land and biodiversity

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations – Wednesday 11th September

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has published a new report on the impact of food waste on the environment. In addition to the terrible moral issue of wasting food in a world where 870 million people go hungry, the FAO has now shown that there is also an environmental cost to throwing food away.

The FAO report looks at food waste at every stage of production. One-third of all the food produced on the planet is wasted. It takes water and significant environmental resources to produce food, whether or not the food is ever eaten. Waste is increasing our environmental footprint significantly, and with climate change on the move, this has got to be reigned in.

Food is wasted in a wide variety of ways, which the FAO maps – it is damaged in production, handling and storage, as well as in distribution, processing and consumption. There are particular critical areas of waste – there is tremendous waste of rice throughout Asia; retailers reject a huge amount of food because it doesn’t look like it should or the quality isn’t quite up to snuff; in wealthier countries, consumers waste by over-buying, not planning meals and giving too much mind to ‘best before’ dates.

The FAO have put together a useful toolkit to reducing waste at http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3342e/i3342e.pdf

Why cheap meat costs the Earth

The Guardian – Wednesday 4th September

Alex Renton demands we all think long and hard about our meat consumption in his new book, Planet Carnivore: why cheap meat costs the earth. This edited excerpt is difficult but necessary reading. It asks us to do something that we really don’t do and don’t want to do – think about the moral implications of our meat consumption. As a planet, we eat 59 billion animals a year for their meat. The vast majority of these are tortured through their short lives and cruelly killed. We know this; it has been well documented.

But hardly any of us want to pay a proper price for our meat. We have become accustomed to cheap meat and its wide availability. If we just don’t own the moral responsibility of our consumption, if we mitigate it by telling ourselves that animals don’t really suffer or the cruelty is exaggerated, if we just forget about what happens to animals and pretend we don’t really know, then we can continue to pay £2 for a chicken and get the 99p burgers.

Now we’re using genetic engineering to remove pain and suffering from an animal’s genome so we can ease our guilt and still get that cheap meat. What’s wrong with our moral compass?

FSA ‘endangering public health’ by ignoring concerns over GM food

The Guardian – Thursday 5th September

French researcher, Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini, has returned to the UK a year after his controversial study on the effects of Monsanto’s ‘Round-up ready’ GM corn caused a furore in the British press. Séralini’s study is the first long-term study of the GM corn, running for two-years instead of the usual 90 days of other studies, and it turned up higher levels of cancer and shorter life-spans in lab rats. No one with a vested interest in GM liked that, and Séralini’s study was roundly taken apart by an array of scientists, many with dubious links to Monsanto and other chemical companies.

Séralini had now returned to the UK to defend his research and to ‘…demand long-term mandatory safety testing on all GM foods before they are released onto the market.’ Indeed, this is a sound request. Séralini’s study was published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it’s not as flawed as many made out. Further, if a significant study turns up something as concerning as a possible threat to public health, wouldn’t it be common sense to look into it a bit more deeply? What about addressing some of the supposed flaws in the study, like the use of rats that were already prone to the development of tumours, and run the study again with more robust rats? Isn’t it better to try and find out if Séralini’s results can be replicated, than stick our heads in the sand, yelling ‘no, no, no’?

See http://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/genetically-modified-orthodoxy/ for Patrick Holden’s perspective on GMOs.

Dairy farmers warn of more milk protests

Farmers Weekly – Saturday 7th September

Dairy farmers are back fighting with the supermarkets for their fair share of the profits through a series of protests. Dairying is one of hardest sectors in farming to make a profit. It is subject to fluctuating food prices, difficult weather such as this spring’s heavy snow, which caused huge loss of life in livestock, and a middleman who has long set the purchase price for them. More regulation is needed to create some equity at the negotiating table and give farmers a better price for their milk.

Health myth of the juicing craze

The Telegraph – Saturday 7th September

The dangers of sugar continue to be raised as its critical link to obesity is increasingly evidenced. The World Health Organisation is reviewing recent research on sugar and obesity and will likely revise its 2003 recommendation that it make-up no more than 10% of our diets in a downward direction. The UK will likely resist this as it has a powerful sugar lobby, called ‘Sugar Nutrition’ (an oxymoron if we ever heard one!) set to bring out the corporate strong-arm on the sugar debate. It doesn’t help that the UK’s scientific advisory committee on nutrition has several members who receive funding from the food industry and a chair that previously sat on the advisory boards of Mars and Coca-Cola Europe.

The alarm is also being raised on the juicing of fruits and vegetables, which has been profiled as healthy weight loss technique. Sales for juicers, John Lewis reported, have gone up 2,600% in the last year. But, juicing has one critical flaw – it takes the fibre out of fruits and vegetables leaving unadulterated fructose. Fruit juices can easily have as much sugar as a can of coke, and the idea that fructose is a natural sugar and therefore somehow OK, is completely wrong.

The American endocrinologist Dr Robert Lustig argues that fructose is a poison, but ‘When God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote,” i.e. the fibre and the vitamins in natural fruit which slow down the absorption of fructose into the blood stream and also prevents us consuming too much (because the fibre fills us up). So taking out the fibre from our fruit and veg is not a healthy thing to do. Weren’t you just a little suspicious about how yummy all those smoothies were?

Photograph by Judy van der Velden

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