Category Archives: GMO

Organic outperforms conventional agriculture

Just to show that all the misguided hype about how we need huge inputs of fertiliser, pesticides and GM is just that, hype from the vested interest of the huge agrochemical companies that make a profit out of fear.

And organic gardening probably outperforms conventional food gardening. See this link to out own trials.

From: “Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World” 2018, Kindle edition, p.138.

Organic growing is the only way forward

“Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system.
(The Huffington Post)

That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late”,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.”

It has been a long time coming but now the UN are saying that organic growing is the ONLY way forward. Commercial growing in the UK is dominated and controlled by the agrochemical industry. it is not sustainable and threatens food security. We simply cannot continue to rely on farming methods that are dependent on large chemical inputs.

Soil
The biggest asset we have is soil yet 50+ years on chemical fertilizers has left a depleted soil virtually devoid of organic matter so prone to erosion. See this 2006 report on UK soil erosion.

An alternative food supply
In a time of climate emergency, we need to be aware of the perilous state of our food supply. Supermarkets work on the “just in time” supply principle. They usually have 2-3 days of stock in the local supply chain. We import around 30% of our food from the rest of Europe.  Any disruption to that through weather or politics will see the shelves empty within 24 hours as people panic.

We desperately need to separate ourselves from the supermarket food supply chain and grow food in any available space. It can be done, 25 years of organic growing often in very small spaces has proven that to me. We just need to get on and do it!

 

 

Pesticides found in more than 80% of tested European soils

A report on a respected science web site, Phys.Org, says that there is evidence of pesticides in European soils. That is not really a surprise but still worrying. The other part of that will be low organic matter in soil making it more prone to erosion.

Soil should be seen as a vital resource for growing food and not as a sterile medium for industrial agriculture. After 70 years of intensive farming soils are in a worse state and still deteriorating.

The only answer is the wide scale adoption of organic farming methods which cultivate healthy soils producing nutritious food. A good example of what can be done is Riverford Organic. 

Or, you can start growing your own organic food!


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.

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.

‘Ultra-processed’ products now half of all UK family food purchases

An article in the Guardian today reports on research on the nutritional quality of heavily processed food. The print version shows a map of Europe with the UK being the highest consuming nation of processed food (as % of household purchases) in Europe. UK – 50.7%, Ireland – 45.9%, Germany 46.2% The lowest being Portugal – 10.2%, Italy – 13.4%, Greece 13.7%

Researchers refute the often-heard mantra of the food industry and  government:

Their research shows that the adage repeated constantly by the food industry and adopted by politicians – that “there is no such thing as bad food, just too much food” – is wrong, …

The links to be obesity are also mentioned. Then are the effects of a poor diet on health and the corresponding use of resources to treat conditions which could likely be avoided.

Eating good food need not be expensive especially if you grow your own organic fruit and veg. Habits need to change, diets need to change and we need a massive education programme to reverse obesity rates and help people move to a better diet.

Bacon with banned additive among risks of US-UK trade deal

The government is increasingly desperate to get a ‘good’ trade deal with the US before we leave the EU. The US government has insisted that we scrap some EU laws about what can and cannot be used in food production. This article spells out what we are up against. I cannot believe that anybody would want to import such crap into the UK let alone actually eat it!

See this from The Guardian, 16 January 2018

Bacon with banned additive among risks of US-UK trade deal

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/16/bacon-laced-banned-additive-us-trade-deal-food-risk-list?CMP=twt_a-environment_b-gdneco

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?

Spend more on food rather than holidays

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, has caused a stir by saying that we should spend more money on food than on holidays, according to The Telegraph. That is bound to be a headline grabber and bound to get a strong reaction but is he right?

Some years ago there was a statistic floating around which said that in the UK we spend 9% of income on food whereas in France it was nearer 19%. That says a lot about how food is valued. Some would argue that cheap food is almost a right but I would counter that by saying nutritious food is a right and not the useless pap that many companies sell as ‘food’.

How much we are willing to pay for meal also says a lot about what food means to us and generally we don’t value it all. In supermarkets food is sold on price and price alone, the cheapest being seen as the best. Low prices have to come from somewhere and it is the continual screwing down of farm gate prices which keeps the shop price artificially low. That benefits nobody in the long term as it leads to a precarious supply situation which easily creaks and breaks at the slightest problem.

Then there is organic food. For a long time organic has been branded by the opposition as a niche market and as high priced food for tuffs. The perception is that, at best organic is much more expensive and at worst a con which is no different to the chemical soaked alternative. Organisations like the NFU have vigorously defended conventionally produced food and have been quick to reinforce the niche market claims. What this has done if to create confusion and an air of suspicion in the minds of consumers.

The recent debates about food security have also jumped on the organic knocking bandwagon and made wild claims about links to starvation and organic farming. The argument is that we need even more intensive chemical farming combined with unproven technologies like GM. Government has joined that camp because it gives them an easy way out of a difficult and frightening problem.

What we really need is to increase food production in the UK and diversify the way food is grown. That does not mean super farms in the East of England supplying 98% of English carrots, cabbage or anything else. That is not resilient agriculture it is sheer lunacy. The prolonged drought in the East Anglia last year and the recent disruption to supplies during the cold spell have shown just how precarious our food supply really is.

Farmers need to be seen as a crucial part of society and valued for the work they do and not constantly knocked or seen as scapegoats for the bad practices of the retail sector.  Agriculture and horticulture need to be sold to young people as worthwhile and engaging careers. There should be incentives for young people take on small holdings of land to grow food sustainably without chemicals. Land should be seen for what it is, an absolutely crucial part of keeping us alive and not as an investment opportunity.

What about organics? A large scale move to organic agriculture is not just desirable it is essential to produce a sustainable production system that is not totally reliant on oil. It is no use tinkering with the existing system in way that increase or perpetuates reliance on fossil fuels all that will do is delay the inevitable crisis. We must begin to move to a post oil agricultural system with more local production and distribution.

The days of cheap food have gone. We will have to pay more for food and I sincerely hope that we recover our respect for what we eat. A more nutritious diet could make a huge difference to public health of this country. The best thing is that people might even begin to enjoy good food again instead of scoffing plastic meals out of plastic trays while walking around our cities.

In the end it is not about whether organic food is just for rich toffs it is about the facing the realities of declining oil supplies, climate change and population growth. Food production has to become sustainable and just has to be less dependent on oil.