Home » Posts tagged 'sustainable food trust'

Tag Archives: sustainable food trust

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Food and farming reads of 2021

We share some of the most interesting reads from the past year, on everything from toxic weedkillers to bringing back beavers.


Toxic legacy: How the weedkiller glyphosate is destroying our health and the environment

Stephanie Seneff

Stephanie Seneff is an MIT scientist who has now dedicated her life to debunking the myths around the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Her book, Toxic Legacy, rests on a foundation of comprehensive, objective and accessible science – the credibility of which is assured through Seneff’s impressive academic credentials, achieving four different degrees and publishing over 200 articles.

With a dry wit and powerful sincerity, Seneff takes readers on a meticulous journey that details the toxic impact of glyphosate on people and the planet. First navigating the history of glyphosate and how it works as an herbicide, Toxic Legacy unearths the roots of our glyphosate dependency and extent of our exposure. Seneff then unravels the science exposing glyphosate’s toxicity, exposing its links to the degradation of the microbiome, liver disease, infertility, antibiotic resistance, depression, soil degeneration, water contamination and mass biodiversity loss. Ending on a note of cautious optimism, Toxic Legacy concludes with a call to transition towards organic, regenerative and sustainable agriculture, offering guidance on how to ‘take control’ of our health and protect ourselves against glyphosate’s toxicity.

The tone of Seneff’s writing is understated yet powerful, scientific but accessible, providing a fresh and vigorous review of research on glyphosate. But considering such a wide scope of evidence often comes with drawbacks. While Seneff’s credentials are flawless and the evidence persuasive, Seneff often draws a correlation between rising disease rates and glyphosate use, the relationship of which is unsubstantiated in certain cases…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Finding meaning in the hard work of farming and growing: What will drive the next generation?

My husband Nathan and I run a small-scale organic farm in West Wales that specialises in edible horticulture and we are currently looking for an assistant grower. Having lost our last assistant grower after about a year and half of employment, we have been posting the job description pretty much anywhere we can for more than three months now. We had two good applications that went nowhere and a few conversations with less experienced people who didn’t really want a full-time job. In the interim, we have taken on a temporary assistant grower finishing up a postgraduate degree in Sustainable Food and Natural Resources – that’s a road that likely doesn’t lead to the field. And we don’t seem to be the only ones struggling to hire…

There’s been a lot of talk post-Brexit about where farm labour is going to come from. We all know the story – the average age of farmers is around 60 and while there are young people interested in farming and growing, especially on the organic and regenerative end of it, it’s not something that’s seen as either lucrative or easy. And the rush of interest in farming and growing that brought in many young first-generation farmers in the last decade is waning, I fear. The seminal 2014 New York Times piece, Don’t let your children grow-up to be farmers argued for the futility of the endeavour in the face of well-heeled ‘non-profit’ farms sucking up grants, ‘hobby farmers’ taking space in local farmers’ markets and the brutality of carrying heavy student loans while breaking your back in the field. While this is an American context, it is still not so very far from the reality in Britain – that economic playing field is still very uneven.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fixing overfishing

As with many other aspects of government policy, overfishing and other fishing-related environmental issues are a real problem, but it’s not clear that government intervention is the solution.

Over three billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein. About 12% of the world relies on fisheries in some form or another, with 90% of these being small-scale fishermen — think a small crew in a boat, not a ship, using small nets or even rods, reels and lures. There are 18.9 million fishermen in the world, most of them falling under this same small-scale fisherman rubric.

Countries primarily concerned with serious efforts to curb overfishing are generally not the ones who are most guilty of overfishing. What this means is that the costs of overfishing are disproportionately borne by the countries least engaged in practices that are counter to efforts to make commercial fishing more sustainable while also promoting conservation of fish biodiversity.

These are important issues not just for commercial fishermen, but also those interested in questions of conservation and sustainability in general, as well as recreational fishermen and really anyone who uses fish as a food source. As the ocean goes, so goes the planet, so it is of paramount importance for everyone to educate themselves on what is driving overfishing, what its consequences are and what meaningful steps can be taken.

What is overfishing?

Overfishing is, in some sense, a rational reaction to increasing market needs for fish. Most people consume approximately twice as much food as they did 50 years ago and there are four times as many people on earth as there were at the close of the 1960s. This is one driver of the 30% of commercially fished waters being classified as being ‘overfished’. This means that the stock of available fishing waters are being depleted faster than they can be replaced.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Agroforestry: An ancient practice with a promising future?

How are we going to tackle agriculture’s enormous contribution to the climate and biodiversity crises? One of the few things everyone agrees on is that it won’t be easy, and part of the reason for this is the huge amount of disagreement around the viability and sustainability of many of the proposed solutions. Moving to faster-growing breeds of livestock, for example, could risk delivering carbon gains at the expense of biodiversity and animal welfare. There are, however, some measures with more universal support, and one of the most potentially significant of these is agroforestry.

Traditionally defined as the growing of commercially productive trees and agricultural crops on the same piece of land, agroforestry is, despite its new-found fame, a very old practice –  though one which has sadly been almost entirely lost from our landscape. In contrast to the prevailing mindset around trees and food production, which largely sees these two land uses as mutually exclusive, agroforestry systems are designed in a way that provides benefits to both enterprises, while also generating a range of environmental gains such as improved soil health, reduced runoff, increased biodiversity – and of course, carbon sequestration.

It’s no wonder, then, that agroforestry has received widespread support from many different quarters over recent years. But with a range of different possible approaches and few on-the-ground practitioners, what might its implementation at scale actually look like? Thanks to the pioneering work of the likes of Stephen Briggs and his alley cropping system of apples and cereals, we have proven models that show how agroforestry can work on cropland. But with the exception of some research trials carried out in the 1980s, there has, as far as I’m aware, been very little research done into how agroforestry might be best implemented in grassland areas…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the public sector needs more dynamic procurement 

Major change from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture involves a shift from monocultural (largely) grain crops towards a more diverse harvest with smaller volumes of different products, many of which are more perishable than grain, coming available at different times of the year. This makes long-distance distribution less feasible and farmers more reliant on the domestic market. It also requires purchasers to appreciate the seasonality of products and the fluctuations in supply and respond with greater flexibility through their menus. The public sector is ideally positioned to support local farmers and public sector caterers can provide regular business, considerable spend and reliable payments. However, typically they are not seen as an easy route-to-market.

The response of many would-be suppliers, as well as the public in general, is to assume that price is a barrier to sourcing more locally within the public sector. While this can be the case, especially on certain products like lamb, more often than not the real barriers are the procurement frameworks themselves. These often make it impossible for local businesses to fulfil the requirements, so many never apply in the first place. The frameworks tend to demand consistent supply and reliable distribution to cover the whole annual requirement for a range of products over a potentially large area. Local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may have excellent products and even be able to outbid national suppliers on price, but they are less likely to be able to support the volumes and distribution service required.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Here’s the catch

The journey of an agricultural pollutant from its source, along its flow path (often in surface water flooding across fields), to its end destination, where it has the potential to do damage to the natural environment, is an essential concern of Catchment Sensitive Farming officers (CSFOs) on every farm they advise. Understanding how pollutants manifest on a farm, and the journey they subsequently take into the surrounding environment, enables farm advisers including CSFOs to evaluate how to address water and air pollution from agriculture.

Successful reduction of this diffuse pollution from food production can best be achieved by the adoption of practices which stop nutrients or pesticides becoming a pollutant in the first place. This not only has benefits for the environment but also for the farmer who saves money by wasting fewer inputs. Inevitably though, some agricultural inputs (such as fertiliser and manure) escape down a field or out of a livestock shed. Here, measures to intercept the errant material along its flow path come into play.

To mitigate this, a buffer strip of grassland and trees protecting a river or a ditch from waterborne nitrates or a shelterbelt of trees trapping ammonia emanating from a poultry house are just two examples of how Catchment Sensitive Farming is helping farms to address such diffuse pollution. And in flood prone areas of farmland, these practices can also help slow the flow of surface water encountered during storm events, enough to reduce the worst of its impact further down river catchments.

It takes careful consideration of each field and cropping rotation, each hedge or drystone wall boundary, farm track and gateway for the full benefits of Catchment Sensitive Farming to be realised…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

David Burton , sustainable food trust, pollutants, farming, food production

Citizen power: A force for change

During the run up to the COP 26 meeting which will take place in Glasgow this November, the discussion about food related policies and practices is livelier than ever.

Currently, there are several government consultations taking place – gene editing, bovine TB, the Welsh Agriculture Bill, food trade and more, some of which the SFT has responded to and all of which are evoking strong emotions and responses. Some of these discussions relate to regulation – for instance, should the government outlaw various pesticides or designate the whole of Wales as a nitrate vulnerable zone? Should it permit gene editing which is likely to set a precedent for allowing the production of GMO crops and a further narrowing of the gene pool?

But alongside regulation, there are a range of other ways in which damaging practices can be discouraged and the right kind of farming practices encouraged, including government policy incentives, food company sourcing criteria and food labelling, certification schemes and support from the investment community.

Whatever the government decides about gene editing, the use of glyphosate or other inputs and practices which are causing damage to the environment or public health, change is coming anyway.

I say that because there is a third force at work here which will drive change in more ways than we have yet imagined – and rapidly too! The source of this third force is the growing awareness amongst millions of citizens that the consequences of continuing to farm intensively in the way that we have for the last century are unacceptable: potentially irreversible climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and massive negative impacts on public health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Sustainability Metrics

There is growing evidence that agriculture and food is one of the most significant contributors to the transgression of ‘planetary boundaries’, especially in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, soil, water, and nitrogen use. As Professor Johan Rockström pointed out at the World Economic Forum, “A transition to sustainable agriculture and forestry is a fundamental prerequisite to succeed,” yet this transition is prevented by several significant barriers to change.

One of these barriers is the lack of a unified means of measuring food system sustainability. At present, there is a diverse range of overlapping assessment tools and labelling schemes for monitoring and communicating on-farm sustainability. This makes it impossible for consumers, farmers, food businesses and policymakers to gain an accurate understanding of the comparative sustainability of products resulting from different methods of production.

We believe that there is a real opportunity to influence future policy to better reflect the values agriculture provides and its place within society. We propose that this should involve rewarding and incentivising good practice and continuous improvement, rather than the very black and white ‘you’re in or you’re out’ school of thought associated with many certification schemes including organic.

Therefore we need a new initiative, led by farmers, to encourage a move towards convergence of existing schemes for measuring on-farm sustainability. This would make the monitoring process more efficient and less costly and burdensome for farmers, help to inform decisions about farm management practices and reward every step of the journey. A common framework could also be used to provide data for certification schemes, government agencies, food business supply chains and the research and investment communities. Through working with food businesses, it could also have the potential to provide consumers with a more accessible and easily understood means of evaluating the sustainability of food products in the market place.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Co-op says #NotInMySupermarket

 

In response to a civil society appeal for UK supermarkets to back strong regulation of new gene-edited crops and animals, the Co-op has made a clear statement of its support.

The #NotInMySupermarket campaign is a response to the current UK government consultation on removing regulations and labelling from plants and animals in the food chain created using a new experimental genetic engineering technique called ‘gene editing.’

joint letter, organised by Beyond GM and Slow Food UK, and signed by more than 50 UK leading civil society groups, academics and producers, calls for UK supermarkets to respect the wishes of their customers – the majority of whom, surveys show, oppose genetically engineered foods. It also asks the retailers to show leadership by supporting strong regulation of genetically engineered crops and foods and refusing to stock unregulated, unlabelled gene-edited foods in their stores.

In response to the letter, which has generated media coverage and a lively awareness-raising campaign on social media, Co-op Chief Executive, Jo Whitfield says:

“Genetic editing is one of several new technologies and innovations that may in the future help us to address the challenges facing our global food system. However, as with any new technology, it is important citizens are assured about food safety and the environmental and economic impacts are thoroughly understood before any decisions on widespread adoption are made. To this end, scrutiny by independent scientists and officials, as well as engagement with civil society, is essential. We would expect government to clearly set out how it intends to regulate gene editing, whilst providing clear conditions of use and any labelling requirements…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

New research challenges scientific orthodoxy on the role of grazing livestock in relation to emission reduction targets

 

This week we are highlighting the announcement of what we think is one of the world’s first soil carbon sequestration offsetting partnerships, between Microsoft Corporation and the Australian Wilmot Cattle Co. The reason we are drawing this news to wider attention is not because of potential for offsetting, but rather the impact of the research – which highlights the fact that regenerative farming can deliver significantly in terms of carbon sequestration.

What I found particularly interesting is that the scheme involved cattle ranches and the very significant soil carbon gains made by them: 0.8% per year of organic matter; in other words double the 4 per 1000 target set by the French Minister Stéphane Le Foll at the COP21 Paris summit where he announced his ‘quatre per mille’ scheme.

If this level of soil organic matter gain can be verified through ongoing research and monitoring using evolving and ever more sophisticated techniques for measuring soil organic matter, this represents a very significant breakthrough. In combination with the new information from Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University on the reduced impact of methane on climate change, there is a compelling argument for the scientific community to reassess the role of holistic grazing systems involving ruminant livestock – which could make a very significant contribution towards reducing climate change impacts.

This potential is highlighted in the press release from Wilmot Farms, who have calculated that were these soil carbon gains to be replicated across all the cattle farming grasslands in Australia, it would have the potential to sequester just under one quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. It should also be emphasised that this is a net calculation which includes the counter benefit of the methane emissions from grazing animals, which makes it even more significant.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

Are glyphosate-based herbicides poisoning us and the environment?

A new study, published on 27th January in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, conducted by an international team of scientists led by Dr Michael Antoniou of Kings College London, found that exposure to glyphosate and its commercial Roundup formulation, can disrupt the function of gut microbiome (bacteria and fungi) and internal body systems with potentially serious effects on human health.

In controlled laboratory animal experiments, glyphosate was found to alter the composition and more importantly the biochemical function of the gut microbiome by the same mechanism through which the chemical acts to kill weeds (inhibition of the shikimate biochemical pathway), even at doses claimed to be safe by the regulators. Roundup was also shown to be more toxic than glyphosate alone, underpinning existing evidence that the additional substances present in commercial products, collectively known as “adjuvants”, are not “inert” as claimed by its manufacturers and regulators but highly toxic in their own right.

In-depth biochemical analysis of both the gut and the blood of the test animals showed that they were put under “oxidative stress”, a highly damaging process, by glyphosate and to a greater degree by Roundup.

From my reading, this research appears to go a long way towards vindicating the conclusions of the many organisations and individuals throughout the world who were convinced from the very beginning that it would be unlikely in the extreme that this herbicide, an agricultural poison which has the capacity to kill all green plant material except that which has been genetically modified to be tolerant to it, would not have adverse effects on the human health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Farming as the climate changes

The world is facing a climate crisis that is dramatically impacting farmers and growers across the world. As temperatures rise, rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather events happen more frequently and soils are eroded through desertification. These changes mean that crop yields are increasingly inconsistent, and agricultural businesses are struggling to adapt.

However, in the United States, climate change divides opinion with many still questioning its scientific validity. Former President Trump said climate change was ‘an expensive hoax’ and curried political favour by pulling the US out of the UN Paris Agreement in 2017. However, under President Biden, the new administration has put climate change at the heart of its plans. Within hours of being sworn in on January 20th, President Biden ensured that the US re-entered the Paris Agreement and he reversed President Trump’s authorisation of the Keystone XL pipeline. For many Americans, the Biden Harris administration offers hope that the US will take its climate responsibilities seriously once more, with the goal of keeping us within the two-degree Celsius limit.

In light of this new US leadership, the Sustainable Food Trust talked to farmers across the US to understand how they view climate change and what steps (if any) they were taking to address it. Over the course of 2020, the SFT interviewed a range of American farmers, growers and producers, in order to hear how they are farming as the climate changes. This report provides a summary of those conversations.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We still need alternatives to supermarkets – perhaps now more than ever

If you were a child in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you will remember that food shopping meant traipsing round several specialist shops whilst your mother chatted to the knowledgeable shop staff about what was available that week. But even by then, this way of buying food was already in decline. In March 1948, the London Co-operative Society had opened Britain’s first fully self-service store in Manor Park, East London. And this changed everything.

The massive expansion and dominance of supermarkets has had profound impacts on most aspects of our lives, sometimes positively, but certainly not always. By 2019, the traditional independent retailers made up just 5% of the entire food sector.

2019 share of UK food market:

The rise of the supermarkets had a devastating impact on the local independent specialist food shops.

Butchers – in 1960, there were some 43,000 butcher’s shops in the UK; by 2019, it was nearer 6,000.

Fishmongers – in the late 1940s, there were around 8,000 fishmongers, and today there are about 950.

Greengrocers – from 43,000 in 1950, by 2018 there were 2,500.

And, as the national economy grew, so the average proportion of household income we spent on food dwindled from 33% in 1957 to 16% in 2019, although this masks significantly higher proportions for low income families.

Food as a Social Event

Past generations had a far better understanding of how their food was produced than we do and eating together was a major social event to be savoured. Being the first industrialised country, in the UK we have had more time to lose the folk memory of rural life and producing food, and with it the social aspect of eating together as families…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the Climate Change Committee have got it wrong on land, food and farming

Last week I spent what I must admit to have been two rather depressing sessions participating in a zoom conference convened by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in order to share their vision and strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, with a particular focus on the role of land use and agriculture.

Outside of food and farming, much of what the CCC are proposing seems eminently reasonable. It’s the kind of thing one would imagine – a massive and rapid move towards renewable energy generation, moving away from internal combustion engines, improving building insulation to reduce energy loss, reduction in car travel and slowing of demand for flights. But when it comes to land use, farming and food, in my opinion they’ve got it completely wrong.

A rather crude summary of what they’re envisaging includes the following – a very significant increase in agricultural biofuel production; 10% of the farmed area planted with trees; an increase in afforestation rates to at least 30,000 hectares per year across the U.K. by 2025 and an average of 40,000 hectares per year in the 2030s, plus a “land sparing” agenda including dramatic increase in yields from arable crops, a significant reduction in livestock including ruminants, and no presumption of any increase in soil carbon.

To add insult to injury, on the diet side, they propose a significant switch towards plant-based diets without making any differentiation between livestock which are part of the problem (intensive chickens, pig and dairy units) and those which are absolutely a necessary part of the solution (grass fed and mainly grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy cows).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who eats local food?

The question of who eats local food is a tricky one to pin down.

There is first the question of what constitutes ‘local food’ – if you’re a farmer raising grass-fed beef or lamb in Wales that you then sell across country, most people would say that’s local enough; but what if you sold across the UK? How about the local jam producer that sells locally at farmers’ markets in their region but buys in fruit from Spain to make the jam? It’s something of a conundrum. You’ll also find that distance is yet another variable – many would agree that ‘local’ in the UK is within 50 miles, but in a big country like the US, food 500 miles away can also be ‘local’. So, it’s complicated and to a certain extent, how we define it may be idiosyncratic and particular to how each individual feels about the food they are eating.

‘Local food’ also suffers from an image problem – it’s assumed to be niche, more expensive and the purview of the upper middle-classes. A number of years ago, food critic Jay Rayner had a notable go at farmers’ markets, touting them as selling ‘over-priced fare’ as a ‘status symbol’, angering Welsh food producers. But ‘local food’ isn’t what many people posit it is – I know, because I’m a local food producer. While my evidence is inevitably anecdotal, I know we feed a diverse range of people. We run a box scheme serving well over 100 households and also do a weekly producer’s market in Newport, Pembrokeshire. The people who buy from us are anything but uniform in terms of their demographic make-up – I say this because we know a lot of our customers…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase