Affordable healthy diet ‘too expensive for many’

BBC News – Thursday 1st May

With the government touting the fifth consecutive quarter of economic growth, things should be getting better on the ground. But this still doesn’t seem to be the case. The UK Faculty of Public Health has come forward to argue that having a healthy diet is still not affordable and we could be looking at a ‘malnourished generation’ in a country which has the sixth largest economy in the world.

There has been much squabbling around statistics since this story broke and the government seems unable to fathom that the country’s economy could be growing, but the people benefiting might not be those who need it. Food is, inarguably, getting more expensive and there is still a significant gap between wages and the cost of living. The past year has seen, what seems an endless series of stories on the growing demand for food banks. The Trussell Trust, one of the largest, gave out twice as many parcels than the year prior – that’s hardly evidence of things getting better. It’s time the government got real about the state of the nation and understood that a rising GDP isn’t directly reflective of a rising standard of living, particularly when the gap between rich and poor is expanding at a startling rate. Food poverty is intimately related to food justice and that’s something government needs to be thinking about a whole lot more.

Co-op’s £140m farms sale aimed at Chinese buyers

The Guardian – Saturday 3rd May

The decision by the Co-op Group to aim the sale of their farms at a single buyer means that the agricultural holdings will likely be bought for investment and whether this land will continue to be farmed is debatable.

The Group has refused to consider a community buy-out, despite several initiatives to organise this. Their move has been called a ‘panic sale’ by critics designed for a quick sale and maximised profits – not that that will make much difference to the Co-op’s vast loses of £2.5 billion. The projected £140 million raised by the sale isn’t going to fix much.

What is both sad and stupid is that with a commitment to a single buyer, these British lands will very likely go out of British ownership – to a Chinese buyer, most likely. The sale is a ‘corporate concern’ rather than a British concern, and that seems very wrong for the Co-op which has been a very British company for more than century.

French children exposed to dangerous cocktail of pesticides, campaigners say

The Guardian – Tuesday 29th April

Is Monsanto’s Roundup linked to a deadly kidney disease?

Grist – Thursday 1st May

Over the last few weeks, there have been more and more stories about the prevalence of pesticides in our food supply and their damaging impacts on health. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Round-up, is particularly insidious. It is persistent in food, remaining in, and on, food for an extended period without breaking down. This most recent story from Grist, highlights its possible role in a dangerous kidney disease affecting agricultural workers that may be exacerbated by a cocktail of chemicals coming together. 

The cocktail effect is also critical in a new study of children living in close proximity to farms in France. A shocking number of pesticides, a substantial number of them endocrine disruptors – some of which have been banned – have been found on their hair. An average of more than 20 pesticides per child were found, along with traces of 53 pesticides ‘…believed to affect mammals’ hormone systems and capable of causing cancerous tumours, birth defects, developmental disorders and learning disabilities in humans.’ You read that and you wonder what kind of mad, mad world we live in when children are exposed to such a dangerous chemical load in their daily lives?

Pesticide residue on food and in the envirionment poses a significant public health threat. It’s time to start lobbying government for much stricter regulation on what chemicals we can be exposed to, and to move towards farming systems that aren’t over-dependent on dangerous chemicals. In the meantime, when you can, eat organic!

Secret emails reveal how ministers plotted with the GM lobbyists

TheDaily Mail – Tuesday 6th May

‘Collusion between the Government and multinational firms’ – wow, that’s a shocker! Are we even surprised anymore? More and more, it’s simply the order of the day. The GM lobby has Owen Paterson well and truly in their pockets. They’re cozying up together and drafting media strategies to convince the public that GM is a must have. 

The Daily Mail details excerpts from the emails of government officials followed by the effect of these shortly after: two months after Monsanto writes to the GM team at Defra that supermarkets in the UK are banning products from animals fed on GM feed, there’s a surprise turnaround and Tesco, the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s all fall like a house of cards, revoking their stance on GM feed. That’s how it works in government – corporations call and government falls all over themselves trying to make them happy. That’s not democracy, that’s oligarchy and it’s appalling.

Genewatch deserves credit for doing the leg work to uncover the back room discussions. This behaviour reflects badly on all the involved parties and will only fuel the persistent mistrust the British public has of GM. 

Warning over ‘privatisation’ of environmental science research body

The Guardian – Monday 28th April

Owen Paterson just isn’t bothered by conflicts of interest, in fact, the more the merrier in his world. That he could blithely push ahead with his proposal to turn Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency) into a public-private partnership, clearly indicates he’s not interested in robust independent research free from the influence of vested interests. Fera does research on pesticides, GM safety and bee health among other controversial products and problems. Can’t you just see Monsanto running to the table to get involved? How is this possibly good for the British public? Remarkably, Paterson is arguing that it will ‘protect and enhance its [Fera’s] scientific capabilities in the long term.

There are some things that should never be privatised – healthcare, education and research. Commercial interest corrupts decision making in these contexts as has been shown again and again. How will the independence of a governmental research body be maintained when its bread and butter is paid by a company with commercial interests? Paterson has something to answer for here.

Superbugs: The hidden menace of antibiotics fed to farm animals

Huffington Post – Thursday 1st May

The issue of antimicrobial resistance is constantly in the news, as it should be. The disappearance of antibiotics is a truly terrifying scenario, but even though health bodies across the globe, especially the WHO (World Health Organisation) which has published yet another report on the huge public health threat antimicrobial resistance poses, significant action to turn this around has yet to happen.

The prophylactic use of antibiotics among factory farmed animals is a major contributor to anti-microbial resistance, and though antibiotics used as a growth promoter are now banned in half the world’s countries, little movement has been made towards curbing their prophylactic use. This practice must stop if we’re going to keep antibiotics in our arsenal against infection.

Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming writes astutely on the topic, outlining how we might manage disease in animals without giving them antibiotics every time it rains. But it entails changing how we farm and particularly the need to stop intensively farming animals which increases their stress levels, while keeping them uncomfortably close, thus increasing the spread of disease. Antimicrobial resistance is just one of the very serious costs of industrialised farming and is an extremely good reason that we move to sustainable farming systems. Getting animals back on the land, as Lymbery suggests, would be a good place to start.

Tomatoes by Ernest Figueras

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