Farm antibiotics creating superbugs

The Ecologist – Wednesday 15th January

In a submission to a select committee inquiry, published this week on the Parliament website, our Policy Director Richard Young, sets out evidence to show that since the last Parliamentary Inquiry into antibiotic resistance in 1998, farm antibiotic use has been responsible for the development of at least three new superbugs that infect humans and also contributed significantly to increasing levels of antibiotic resistance in five other life-threatening types of infection.

The SFT voiced particular concern that unless we reduce the levels of antibiotic resistance genes in food, it will not be long before we see the emergence of untreatable strains of diseases such as gonorrhoea.

Despite recognising the seriousness of the issue, UK Government seems unwilling to end the continuing routine use of antibiotics in healthy farms animals, the underlying cause of most antibiotic resistance problems on farms. The SFT’s evidence shows that this has not been helped by the Government handing sole responsibility for the issue of antibiotic resistance on farms, to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) in April 2011. The VMD receives over three-quarters of its funding from industry and is seeking to attract an increasing share of EU veterinary medicines licensing work from the major drug companies, which makes it institutionally vulnerable to industry lobbying and pressure.

Richard Young, who has been campaigning on this issue for the last 20 years, said, ‘Sadly it’s not just bacteria that are becoming resistant, the UK Government is also resistant to enlightened change when it comes to food production. Overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms is only part of the problem, but it is no less a concern for that. Despite all the fine words the reality is that the Government has buried its head in the sand and does not have a credible strategy for addressing the problem. The VMD is effectively taking Ministerial decisions yet it is constantly exposed to industry lobbying in ways that are simply unacceptable.’

Farmers attack ministers for not heeding own advice on buying British

The Guardian – Monday 13th January

Environment Minister, Owen Paterson was at the Oxford Farming Conference last week urging shoppers to buy more British fruit and veg. But it would appear that the government is ignoring its own advice when it comes to the procurement of food in our hospitals, schools and prisons.

The public sector spent an astonishing £2.1 billion on food and drink in the last year alone. That’s a huge amount of money, which could have been spent within the UK, supporting local farmers and strengthening our food security. Unsurprisingly, the preference for foreign imports is driven by cost. This short sighted approach to simply sourcing the cheapest products available, actually has a detrimental effect on our economy in the long-term, as short-term savings on produce margins are cancelled out by the long-term impact of failing to support our own industries. The government could do well to head its own advice and implement local procurement policies on staple-goods wherever possible.

Obesity in UK ‘could be far worse than predicted’

The Guardian – Monday 13th January

A disturbing new report has found that the UK may have underestimated the scale of the obesity crisis. Initially, a report published in 2007 suggested that half of the population of England would be obese by 2050. Since then, we have failed to take significant action to address the problem, so instead of the situation improving, it’s actually getting worse.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has sensibly made the point that encouraging the public to help themselves “goes hand in hand with government leadership, and ensuring responsible food and drink manufacturing and retailing.” It’s good to hear the government acknowledging that they need to play a bigger role in tackling the obesity crisis, especially as it’s the NHS that is left picking up the bill for the impacts of our poor diets. However unless meaningful action is taken to tackle a food industry that pursues profit at serious cost to human health, we fear the situation will only continue to get worse.

Europe lacks bees to pollinate its crops

Farmers Weekly – Thursday 9th January

Europe needs an extra 7 billion bees to pollinate our crops, with Britain in the more position of having less than a quarter of the numbers needed. The decline in bee populations, due to habitat loss and pesticide use, coupled with increases in production of crops that pollination, has begun to take its toll. New research conducted by Tom Breeze at the University of Reading found that there aren’t enough honeybees to pollinate crops in more than half of European countries. With the true value of pollination to crop production estimated at £430 million per year in the UK alone, we can’t afford to lose these vital pollinators.

Interestingly the research highlighted the role of oil-seed crops being planted for biofuels. Professor Potts, co-author of the paper, pointed-out the disconnect between agricultural and environmental policies, “Farmers are encouraged to grow oil crops, yet there is not enough joined-up thinking about how to help the insects that will pollinate them.”

Green spaces have lasting positive effect on well-being

BBC News – Sunday 12th January

Unsurprisingly UK researchers have found that green spaces in urban areas, such as parks, have a positive impact on people’s mental well-being.

Evidence from a study conducted by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people living in greener urban areas displayed fewer signs of depression and anxiety.

What’s especially significant is how long-lasting the effects can be. As Dr White points out, “What you see is that even after three years, mental health is still better which is unlike many of the other things that we think will make us happy.”

We don’t consider these findings to be particularly surprising, but they do serve to highlight the fact that human-beings come from nature and did not naturally evolve to live in concrete, urban environments without any connection to our natural environment. It is interesting to note that when separated from our natural surroundings the emotional response is increased depression and anxiety. Being outside, connecting with our environment, and remembering to put our hands in the dirt, may well be more vital for our happiness and well-being than we realise.

Photograph by Les Taylor

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