Tag Archives: factory farming

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.

Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets

Shrimps are the most popular seafood in the US, and heavily consumered in Europe but shrimp farms have a huge environmental  impact. The never ending appetite for shrimps might make it the number one in the US but most Americans do not know how their favourite is produced and neither do they have any idea of the quality of imports.

According to a report from OCA, Organic Consumers Association,  shrimps imported from India are produced using an array of chemicals and when inspected were found to be contaminated with bacteria:

The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.

Upon arrival in the U.S., few if any, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics…

This startling information comes from the book “Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood” by Taras Grescoeby.

Apart from the obvious public health concerns there is the environmental impact of shrimp farming.

…shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world’s mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Mangroves sequester vast amounts of carbon and serve as valuable buffers against hurricanes and tsunamis.

This is yet another example of the problems caused by factory farming used to satisfy the demand for a single product. That such destructive practices are exported to developing countries serves to hide the worst effects and keeps consumers in the dark.

Food inc.

Yesterday a film arrived from the US, Food Inc is about, well food, the way it is produced and marketed in the US which is much the same as in any other ‘developed’ country.

Some food has become universal, the same the world over. If you go in to any branch of McDonalds (or any other fast food chain) you get the same product no matter where you are. That means producing and distributing the ingredients on a massive scale.

One of the most alarming parts of the film were the US feed lots where huge numbers of cows are ‘grown’ in concrete floored pens. And then there were the equivalent chicken factories.

The point is that industrial food factories have become necessary to supply industrial scale food retailing. If we want the same food at the same outlets anywhere in the world then that needs an industrial scale supply chain.

In the UK a few supermarkets dominate; they provide the illusion of choice yet the food they sell comes from very few suppliers. That makes us vulnerable to problems in the ‘supply chain’.

This is a very powerful film and one that everybody should see. It made me think that we are teetering on the edge of disaster not just in terms of the fragility of the supply chain but also of the massive affects on human health and the destruction of the environment from factory food.

There was a small sheet of paper with the film – “10 things you can do to change our food system.”

  1. Stop drinking soda and other sweetened beverages.
  2. Eat at home instead of eating out.
  3. Support the passage of laws that require chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards.
  4. Tell schools to stop selling sodas, junk food and sports drinks.
  5. Meatless Mondays – go without meat one day a week.
  6. Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticide use.
  7. Protect family farms, visit your local farmers market.
  8. Make a point to know where your food comes from  –  READ LABELS.
  9. Tell Congress (or your government equivalent) that food safety is important to you.
  10. Demand job protection for farm workers and food processors ensuring fair wage and other protections.