Category Archives: Climate change

How climate change will affect food supplies.

The cost of organic food

There is an idea around that organic food is much more expensive. It used to be but on the whole it does not cost much more that the conventional, factory farmed pesticide stuff. According to this research in the UK we spend 8.9%.

In the UK food is sold on price, as a nation we want the cheapest food but that comes with hidden costs. In the end it is down to how much you value your health and the state of planet Earth.

Low tech water saving toilet

Saw a tweet today from “Environmental technology” about waterless toilets being the way to save water “… the answer to conserving the most precious resource on our planet – water. Nicknamed the Nano-Membrane Toilet, this completely waterless unit separates waste out into solid and liquid, before recycling and disposing of it effectively.”

In 2008 we had a composting toilet at the allotment, a box with a toilet seat and a bucket underneath. The instructions were simple: 1. make a deposit, 2. cover with sawdust 3. close the lid. When the bucket was full the contents were composted. There was no smell and no flies. I would gladly have one in the house!


Rise in organic food sales

An article in The Guardian says that “Organic food and drink sales rise to record levels in the UK”. That is good news but there is still scepticism about the value of organic food. Some say it is too expensive others argue that it is a con. The thing that finally convinced me it was the only food i wanted to eat was finding the information about pesticide residues in food. That was in the early 1990s when the government stipulated a ‘safe’ minimum amount of residue for each common pesticide and fungicide. For many years two government scientists, McCance and Widdowson, produced a report of the amounts of each pesticide found in fruit and veg that they bought from supermarkets. There were items that exceeded the allowed maximum and this was included in a yearly report.

What was not recognised was that most crops received multiple applications of different products. There might be applications of fungicide, then pesticides for insect infestation followed by weed killers. There was never any limit for cocktails of chemicals.

Then in a drought year we heard about high levels of chemicals in carrots and the government  told us to wash them. The problem is that modern pesticides are systemic. That means they are taken up into the cells of the plant and cannot be removed, even by fancy veg washing products. And peeling does not help as the chemicals are in every cell.

Those of you of a certain age will remember crops of corn slowly turning a golden colour in late summer and then the harvest that followed when the weather was right. Now, cereal crops and potatoes are ‘sprayed off’ so that harvest can happen at set times. On corn they use weed killer and acid on potatoes to kill the tops.

Modern farms are part of the supermarket supply chain and if they are contracted to supply 100 tonnes of potatoes in the first week of September that is what they must do or lose the contract. It is supermarkets who control agriculture as it must be part of a production line to ensure continuous supply. There is no such thing as seasonal fruit and vegetables, we want everything all the time and we it now!

There have been arguments about organic produce being more nutritious. An idea fiercely contested by conventional farming. A study by Newcastle University found that organic milk was higher in nutrients. Such research is not so common now as universities rely on external funding.

Other groups round the world looked at simple indicators of quality in veg like the Brix reading. Although this is a simple test that anybody can do it does provide an overall indication of quality. I have a brix refractometer bought several years ago when experimenting with different growing techniques and did a random test on carrots last week. Comparing a standard carrot from Waitrose with one in our box from Riverford Organics. The results are clear

Supplier BRIX
Waitrose 6.4
Riverford 10.2

It is not all about pesticides as non-organic, or factory farming, methods also have an effect on soil, our greatest natural asset. Since the 1940s the emphasis has been on increasing production through the widespread use of chemical fertilisers. While the use of N-P-K (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium or Potash) does give rapid growth, it produces plants that do not have the strength to withstand insect attacks. Previously farms mixed and crops on land manured by the animals. That was a natural cycle and produced rich healthy soil.

A somewhat ironic side effect of not applying organic matters to soil such as compost or manure is that it results in thin soils which are easily eroded. Farmers use high cost inputs to get bigger, quicker crops and lose their soil in the process.

There is growing evidence that the strongest, healthiest and most nutritious crops are grown on good quality soils that provide the whole spectrum of minerals and nutrients. That is not surprising! The fact that the nutritional value of food has declined since the 1940s is overlooked see this report from 2002  And this one from McCance and Widdowson

This is why I decided to buy organic food nearly 30 years ago. Some will argue it is an expensive luxury but now the price of organic veg is the same or only slightly more than the other stuff. In the end it is your choice but remember one thing, your body is you, if you look after it and feed it well you will feel the benefits. Like I said to a man one day if you bought a top of the range luxury car would you put paraffin (kerosene) in the tank to save money. He told me not to be so stupid, so, I asked him why did he put the cheapest possible food down his throat. My only conclusion was that he valued his new car more than he valued himself.

The answer? Grow you own and if not have it delievered to your door.  We use Riverford as we no longer able to grow much of our own food.

Scientists link weather to Arctic sea ice loss

An article in The Guardian has linked the loss of sea ice in the Arctic to changes in weather patterns. Many climate scientists have been saying that the effect of ice melt is much more severe than first thought but the comments have been played down by governments who are preoccupied with the economy. Why do they find it so hard to accept that climate change will have a far bigger impact than any of their supposed election winning strategies to improve economic growth?

We have got to the stage where climate change is affecting the whole world and yet nothing is happening to mitigate the effects. Consider just the weather in the UK for a moment; here, in the Peak District, the local council is still battling to clear 6.5m  (20ft) snow drifts. many roads not normally affected by winter snow were blocked for several days and towns and village were cut off. Many other areas of the UK affected yet it soon ceases to be news and attention shifts to the perennial short termism that afflicts UK politics.

Maybe climate change is just not a vote winner? maybe the issue is just too big and potentially too destructive for the government and the population to comprehend? Or are we still in denial, still have our collective heads in the sand? I know there are still climate change skeptics out there and they seem to be fulled by the ‘red top’ news papers who seem intent of following the line that it is all a myth or a plot dreamed up by the left.

So far individuals have taken steps to make changes to their life to reduce CO2 but we need all governments to take this issue very seriously and to do that NOW. And we need the help of all of the scietific community to work together. I have suggested this before but is it not time to look at research budgets and divert money into climate change mitigation? Dare I suggest that some large, prestige projets should be put on hold as what is the use of understanding what happened immediately after the big bang if we have messed up the very World we are trying to understand? maybe funding the the LHC and the Square killometre array should be diverted to climate change mitigation research so that we can understand and reduce the impact that we human beings have on the world we so cherish.


GM food or die?

A major new report on the impending world food crisis was published today. While it is good to see the problems are being faced the author of the report, John Beddington, repeats the same old rhetoric that GM is the only way to solve the problem.

In an article in The Observer yesterday he is reported to have said that any objection to the use of GM is no longer valid on ethical and moral grounds. So, if we object the use of unproven and potentially dangerous products we are now unethical and immoral?

The argument is that by objecting to GM people will starve and the objectors will be responsible. Agrochemical companies, and their supporters, will use any way they can to further their cause and moral blackmail is their latest ploy.

The facts are clear; GM has never been used to ‘feed the world’ but is there to increase the profits of a very small number of multinational agrochemical companies. GM locks us into the unsustainable agrochemical industry which is part of the problem and not the solution. GM side effects are drastically played down and any opposition to the companies peddling GM products is ruthlessly eliminated.

Beddington was on UK TV today saying that we have to act now and cannot wait 20 years for a solution. On that we agree and, as I have said many times before, the answer is political. We have the means to grow huge amounts of food sustainably, now, but politicians refuse to act. We have the ability to make the UK far more self-sufficient in food but politicians choose to follow the free market model where countries grow what makes the best profit.

The same applies to the developing world. Does it make sense to import green beans from Africa rather than encourage countries to be self-sufficient? The argument is that with the money earned from exports they can buy food. How does that work when a lot of the growing is controlled by companies from the West?

The other major political step to take is to end financial speculation of food. Governments around the world cannot agree to curb banks excessive profits and bonusues so it is unlikely that they would even suggest ending profiteering from speculaion on food.

GM is not the answer and will only serve to prop up the strangle hold that the agrochemical companies have on the world food supply. Is it right that we should force a rotten system on developing countries under a smoke screen of ‘feeding the world’ when the main intent is further exploitation to make higher profits?

Use of local food boosts hospital funds

There was a piece on BBC Breakfast this morning (and on the BBC news web site)  about how City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham have switchred to using fresh local food. The story said that not only were they supporting local farmers they were saving the health trust around £6m a year.

I have sampled too much hospital food over the last few years and frankly it is, to be polite, ‘not fit for purpose’. A lot of hospitals use cook-chill meals that are sourced from large production lines and then trucked to the hospital where they are reheated as required. I often thought about the nutritional content of such food whilst trying to force down sub-standard slop. Sorry but that is what it often looked and tasted like and is not what anybody in hospital wants.

The move to ‘home cooked’ local food in Nottingham is being hailed as a major innovative project and has even won an award from the Soil Association. That is great but I have to ask if maybe it is just plain old common sense? To invoke a much over used phrase it is a win win situation. Patients get real nutritious food, the health trust saves a pot of money, the local economy gains AND 150,000 food miles are saved.

My only questions are: 1) why has it taken so long? 2) Why are more hospitals, schools and other public bodies not doing the same?  And 3) Why is it not a huge political imperative for the new government as it ‘ticks all the boxes’ in terms of saving money, stimulating the local economy, reducing imports and valuing people?

WISE appeal (Centre for Alternative Technology)

CAT is well known for its work promoting renewal energy. What a lot of people do not know is that CAT is also a big organic gardener. Growing food has long been an important part of their work.

A few years back CAT launched the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education – WISE. Over the years they have built a solid reputation for the courses in all aspects of sustainability The project was a natural extension of this and it will create a purpose built education centre at a time when there is increasing need demand for education in sustainable living.

Everything was going well until they ran into problems with their builder. Now they have won a court action and were awarded £530,000 but, you guessed, the builder has gone bust! So, CAT is in desperate trouble and needs our support. They are trying to raise the money quickly and are asking for donations. Please help by going to the donation page where you can also read the whole story.