Tag Archives: Soil Association

Save our bees

In previous posts I mentioned that the UK government has excluded the use of neonicotonoid pesticides in research on bee deaths. That is still true and I expect the new coalition will not change the research remit.

An article in “Living Earth”, the journal of the Soil Association, gives more information about these pesticides. What amazed me is that they are so readily available to domestic users who may well be unaware of the danger to bees. The table below is from the article and shows just where neonicotinoids are used.





Westland Bug Attack


Wickes, B&Q


Westland Plant Rescue Bug Killer



Baby Bio House Plant Insecticide


B&Q, Morrisons


Provado Vine Weevil Killer



www.bayergarden.co.uk www.selectrons.com, www.wyevale.co.uk www.plantandlife.com

Bug Clear Ultra Vine Weevil Killer



Bug Clear Ultra For Flowering Plants



Bug Clear Gun




Provado Ultimate Bug Killer Spray



Bayer Provado Systemic Ultimate Bug Killer



Provado Lawn Grub Killer



Provado Lawn Grub Killer (for smaller lawns)


www.selections.com www.plantandlife.com

Provado Ultimate Bug Killer Ready to Use



www.bayergarden.co.uk www.selections.com www.wyevale.co.uk

Provado Ultimate Bug Killer Concentrate



www.bayergarden.co.uk www.selections.com www.wyevale.co.uk

Take action

If you care about the envioronment or are at all concerned abou the loss of the honey bee then I urge you to take action to ban the use of these products.

  • Avoid neonicotinoid based garden products and write to your local garden centre asking them to stock bee-friendly alternatives.
  • Buy organic food and support sustainable farming techniques.
  • Use organic techniques in your own garden. Use a wide variety of plants and don’t be too tidy.Leave wild flowering plants in place, ivy is a particularly important source of winter food for bees.
  • Take up beekeeping if you’ve got the space. There are some excellent courses available as part ofour Organic Farm School programme, details or which are available at www.soilassociation.org/farmschool.aspx
  • Write to your new MP asking them to put pressure on the Secretary of State at Defra to suspend the use of neonicotinoids, as France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have already done.

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?

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.

Through the back door

There is no effective campaign against the ‘back door’ introduction of GM or GMO foods in the UK. The government seem hell bent on getting it in and is supported by organisations like the NFU (National Farmer Unions.)

Biotech company executives were reported to have said that it is the ideal time to get their products accepted as NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) were too preoccupied with climate change. They were exactly right.

Having spoken to Greenpeace UK and the Soil Association recently there is little evidence of effective opposition to GM. Greenpeace are not actively campaigning and have adopted a ‘watching brief’. The Soil Association say they are opposing GM but there is little evidence of that as their GM web page was last updated in 2008. It seems that updating it is a low priority.

Should we care? A resounding YES is the answer. You might think that there are ways of avoiding GM food but once large scale imports are allowed into the UK and UK GM crops are approved we will not have a choice. It will not be a case of going to the supermarket and selecting non-GM products as it will be everywhere. Bread often contains soya flour as do many other manufactured foods and recent comments from supermarkets confirm that they want to use  GM versions to reduce costs. If the UK follows the US there will no requirement to label food products that contain GM ingredients.

There are good independent studies to show that eating GM food does cause problems for humans and farm animals. The biotech companies will refute that and say that their research shows otherwise. In the US GM food does not have to undergo any safety checks and is approved on the say so of the companies producing it, the same could easily happen here.

Growing your own will not be a guarantee of staying GM free. Pollen travels considerable distances and will inevitably cross pollinate any neighbouring crops. Forget about growing sweetcorn if you live within a few miles of miles of fields of maze.

Then there are bees. Honey bees will easily travel up to 5 miles for good nectar or pollen. If they happen to stop by your garden on the way back to the hive they will exchange pollen with anything they visit. That is their job. Bees are in enough trouble as it is without introducing other unknown and untested pollutants to their food.

What bothers me most is that we are being scared into believing that GM is the only way to avoid starvation or ‘feed the world’ as the PR people say. There are many objections to this but it takes a long time to debunk the myths and spin.

The other worrying development over the last few years is that biotech companies have been buying up seed companies. It is extremely dangerous to have the world’s seed supply in the hands of a few very large multinational companies. Why do they want to control international seed supplies?

The good news is that there are better ways to grow food. There are already very highly blight resistant potatoes around, I have been growing them for five years and have never suffered any losses from blight, more of that later. Then there is the recently developed strain of rice that can survive total submersion in flood water and still produce a crop. Both of these examples were developed normally without biotechnology although the GM companies seem to be so incensed that conventional breeding has beaten them that they  falsely claimed the new rice strain as theirs!

My appeal to you is to lobby Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association to redouble their efforts to campaign against GM food. Write to your MP, Gordon Brown and anybody else you can think of saying that you do not want GM food. Please do something or we will wake up one day to find GM food everywhere.

Organic Fortnight 5-20 September 2009

Organic Fortnight is a nationwide campaign highlighting all the great things about organic. Up and down the UK, people in shops, schools, cafes, churches and farms will be hosting events and raising awareness about why organic is the healthy choice, the best for animal welfare and the right thing for the planet.

See the Soil Association site for more details

The Great Climate Change Hijack

BBC Radio 4, 2100 BST, 27 August 2009.

The BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black investigates if climate change is diverting attention away from other environmental problems such as air pollution, acid oceans and species extinction.

It is a worth asking if other issues are being neglected. I was speaking to one very prominent NGO recently about their lack of coverage of GM food and their response was that they did not have the resources to do anything on that issue as their focus was climate change.

While I agree that climate change is the biggest issue around ignoring other problems leaves the door open to disaster.

Update 28 August 2009

After hearing the programme (listen now using BBC iPlayer here.) I am not totally convinced that climate change has hijacked other environmental issues. Other campaigns around which might not be getting the media attention they deserve but they are still ‘active’.  Climate change is the biggest and most serious problem facing the world and deserves its prominence. If other issues are important then it is up to us to make sure NGOs maintain the pressure on governments.

The next most serious thing is the quiet spread of GM food. The implications of allowing GM into Europe are huge and it needs to be resisted. Organisations like The Soil Association and Genewatch are campaigning on this and they need our help. Lobby your MP, challenge the government’s attitude that GM is the magic ‘silver bullet’ that will cure world hunger, do not let biotechs get away with spreading misleading information, in short tell them you don’t want it now or ever!

UK to spend £100m on supporting GM crops for world’s poor

This is from The Guardian:

Britain is planning to quietly spend up to £100m on support for genetically modified crops for the world’s poor despite not having allowed any of the controversial foods to be grown commercially at home. (Read more)

This is just an amazing, ill informed and misguided decision! The biotech PR people have done a good job in promoting the ‘GM can feed the world’ rubbish. We don’t need GM we need sustainable agriculture. Just think what £100m could do to promote sustainable growing.

My guess is that this is exactly what came out of the G8 when the leaders promised huge sums of money to fight hunger. The biotechs have brainwashed the US government to such an extent that they now insist that GM is included in any aid package.

What GM will do for developing countries is to tie them to the biotech companies i.e. make them completely dependent on supplies of seed and agrochemicals creating a good market and increased profits. What this did in India was increase the suicide rate of farmers.

If you feel as strongly as I do then please voice your concerns by joining The Soil Association campaign
This is from their site:

If you are concerned about GM crops and food, please write to your MP. You can find their name and address through the UK Parliament website. Although it takes more time, it is always far more effective to go and see your MP at their constituency surgery and ask them to find out the answers to your questions personally.

Whether you write or see them, you could ask your MP to get the Government Minister responsible for GM to confirm:

  1. that although the GM industry has been saying for 25 years that GM crops are needed to feed the world, no drought-resistance or saline-tolerant GM crops are available commercially or near to being available;
  2. that overall current commercial GM crops yields the same or less than the non-GM equivalent;
  3. that most development of new, higher yielding crops is now being done using modern non-GM techniques which are supported by environmentalists, and not by dangerous and uncertain GM technology, so why has the Government not changed their position on GM being needed to feed the world?
  4. GM crops are dependent on oil-based artificial fertiliser which is rapidly becoming too expensive to poorer farmers as oil prices rise – why are the Government supporting pushing GM technology to poor farmers when its use is becoming more and more expensive as oil gets scarcer?

» Press release – Gordon does ‘a Tony’: falls for GM hype
» Press release – New Soil Association report shows GM crops do not yield more – sometimes less
» Report – GM crops – the health effects [PDF, 169 KB]
» Summary of the report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

In the US join the The Organic Consumers Association (US) This is a link to their “Millions Against Monsanto Campaign – Join OCA’s Campaign to Mobilize One Million Consumers to End Monsanto’s Global Corporate Terrorism”

Battle over beets – GMO pollution

All the assurances, and home grown ‘science’, peddled by the GM companies is proving to be worthless. Frank Morton, a US organic seed producer, fears his worst nightmare is coming true as Roundup ready GMO sugar beet is being spread across his region. Pollen from the beet could easily render his his chard crop worthless.

Roundup Ready sugarbeets – a patented variety engineered by Monsanto to tolerate the company’s widely used Roundup herbicide – have turned up in a soil mixture being sold to gardeners at a Corvallis landscaping supply business just a few miles from Morton’s fields.

He fears some of those roots may now be sprouting in area gardens. If so, they could soon start to bolt, sending out clouds of pollen that could fertilize his crop of golden chard – a closely related plant – and render it worthless for the organic seed market. It would also negate years of breeding that went into producing an especially cold-hardy line.

Worse still, Morton says, the GMO sugarbeets could cross-pollinate the fields of other chard growers in the area who supply seed to major bagged-salad distributors in California, potentially introducing genetically modified chard into the food system without the approval of federal regulators.

(See original article here)

Opponents to GMOs have always argued that this would happen. The conspiracy theorists say if it is not an intended outcome then it serves the aims of the biotech companies who see organics as their enemy.

We have not reached this crisis point in the UK – yet! We still need to resist the spread of GMOs even if this government is blind to the problems.

Read more
See the Soil Association GM page here
There are some good GM links here
Tell supermarkets you don’t want GM here