Monday, 25 February 2008
My book We Want Real Food has just been re-released. To grab a copy visit Amazon or visit your nearest bookshop.
Thursday, 21 February 2008
Health minister Ben Bradshaw has told the Commons that patients in west country hospitals showed faster recovery rates when offered locally-produced meat, dairy products, fish and vegetables than those given the usual anonymous hospital food. The comments are based on findings in
According to Ben Bradshaw no less than 80 per cent of the food served in
Let’s hope other government departments take note of the findings. If fresh, local produce can improve the health of people in hospital, it can bring benefits to the wider community too. Institutions like hospitals, schools and prisons are only the starting point. What this obese and sickly nation needs is a totally new food system based on well-grown, nutrient-rich produce.
Sad to see that National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall is still pushing for an expansion of large-scale, commodity food. At the union’s AGM he spoke of
I agree with the NFU president that
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
It’s good to know the importance of healthy soils to our lives and health is getting the recognition it deserves. In this age of record crop yields it’s easy to get the impression that it’s the chemists, plant breeders and GM technologists who feed us.
The truth is that, however smart our technologies, it’s the living community below ground that enables plants to grow. They supply plants with the nutrients they need, provide them with water and protect them against toxins and disease. Without the activity of soil life – from microscopic bacteria to earthworms – life above ground would quickly grind to a halt.
Sadly chemical farming subjects these living communities to a non-stop toxic barrage, wiping out whole species and disrupting the intricate subterranean network that keeps plants healthy. With their natural support systems weakened, crop plants become more dependent on pesticides to keep them growing – which is great for the chemical industry but bad news for the rest of us.
For the full story of why we owe so much to the life of the soil, take a look at Ecologist magazine. Alternatively, of course, you can read the book, We Want Real Food!
Saturday, 16 February 2008
To hear the full programme click The Farming Today This week. If you only want to hear the discussion then skip forward to approximately 11 minutes.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
Producers of GM seed have found a new way of sneaking out propaganda about their unpopular technology – they’re targeting business editors who aren’t normally too clued up on farming. How else can you explain a full page report in the world business section of The Times today warning of the possible collapse of
We’re told that shortages of grain for animal feed – together with high prices – are “wreaking havoc” on livestock production, causing pig and poultry farmers to cut back their output. According to the report the EU imports 80 per cent of its protein feeds mostly as GM soya and “corn”. It seems the main producing countries – the
To me the article looks like a classic piece of scare-mongering on behalf of the GM companies and global commodity traders. I checked with a couple of farming friends. They agreed that soya supplies were tight but said it had “naff-all” to do with GM approvals. It’s simply that rocketing Chinese demand for protein grains is putting a strain on supplies. While this may be disruptive, it’s hardly likely to lead to the destruction of civilisation as we know it.
For decades now the EU has produced vast surpluses of feed grains. It could easily substitute home-grown protein grains for the cheap American soya the livestock industry has now become addicted to. The
What’s wrong with turning over some of the land to producing our own protein feeds – traditional crops like beans and peas? These were the proteins British farmers put in their animal feeds before they acquired their
Maybe business editors should talk to farmers more often and rely less heavily on briefings from the GM industry.
Monday, 11 February 2008
I talked about this topic last July in the Comment is Free website - Reaping what we've sown. Here is an extract from the article.
"It would be comforting to think that, in the brave new world of microprocessors and nano-technology, food production would be less vulnerable to such natural disasters. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. If the recent floods and rainstorms prove anything, it's that at the start of the 21st century our food supplies remain worryingly insecure and precarious.
As far as the countryside is concerned the main accomplishment of the European Union - and its poisonous offspring, the common agricultural policy (CAP) - has been to increase massively the grain-growing area at the expense of grassland. Since we joined the EU in the early 1970s, Britain's wheat-growing area has doubled. Instead of grazing livestock on pasture, many cattle farmers concentrated their animals in sheds and fed them on the cheap, subsidised grain.
Compared with traditional pastoral farming systems, wheat-growing is highly unstable. It relies on energy-rich inputs of chemical fertilisers and sprays, many of them imported. It demands a decent spell of weather at harvest time if the crop is to be got in. And, even under favourable conditions, it depends on squadrons of diesel-burning monster machines to do the job."
Friday, 8 February 2008
Today science is revealing that milk produced from cows on fast-growing spring pastures is high in fat-soluble vitamins, omega-3s and the cancer-fighting CLA, all the things that protect people from disease.
If you want to read more on this topic I wrote an article for the Guardian UK, Comment is Free website today. Click here to read more - A cheap trick.
"Supermarkets stock 50 different brands of instant coffee so there is something - so they claim - to suit all requirements. Tesco's £1.99 chicken sits alongside free range, organic and a host of other birds. It's called market fragmentation, or some such thing, and it allows the company to maximise its take at the checkout. It's also supposed to give consumers a greater choice.
In reality there's no choice at all. While the strategy may work for washing-up liquid or torch batteries - where the consumer can pretty well estimate what they're getting for their money - it's a nonsense when applied to food. Until science comes up with a way of measuring the total nutrient content of a food, there's no way the consumer can make a sensible choice."
Thursday, 7 February 2008
Methane - a greenhouse gas - is said by scientists to be 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a driver of global warming. Every cow produces up to 200 litres of the stuff a day - equivalent in its climate change effect to a 33-mile Land Rover Freelander journey.
We look forward to letting you know the findings of this research but in the meantime why not read my article on the subject from the Comment is Free website in July 2007. Click here to read the full article - Pastures new.
"Alongside our house on Exmoor we have a small, steeply-sloping pasture field known locally as The Cliff. The gradient is so lethal that no one's ever dared venture on it with a tractor. This means that - unlike most grass fields in Britain - it has never been dosed with weedkillers or nitrate fertilisers.
As I look out on the field it's currently bathed in a rare burst of summer sunshine. In the unaccustomed brightness the green sward looks a real picture. From hedgerow to hedgerow it's flecked with wild flowers - mostly white clover, rough hawkbite and the low-growing birdsfoot trefoil, known to the locals as bacon-and-egg.
A commercial farmer glancing over the hedge would shake his head in pity. The field looks more like the subject of a Constable painting than a serious place to produce food. Yet our small flock of Exmoor sheep seem to thrive on it. And in summer - when we get one - the sward comes alive with grasshoppers, bees and flickering butterflies.
Before the days of chemical agriculture, pasture fields across Britain were full of wild flowers and herbs. Old-style livestock farmers believed it was these everyday plants that kept their animals healthy. Pasture plants were thought to be rich in essential minerals and vitamins from which grazing animals could select the diets that suited them - and, presumably, which aided digestion."
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
They discovered that shoppers were far more concerned with animal welfare and fair trade than they were with climate change. According to the Co-op’s head of ethics, Paul Monaghan, this reflected shoppers’ view that they could improve animal welfare and trade justice through the choices they made in-store. On the question of climate change they felt powerless and thought this was more a matter for corporations and governments.
On the basis of their findings the Co-op has already stopped selling eggs from hens kept in cages. And the 2,700-strong supermarket chain is planning more changes to its trading practises to reflect the concerns of consumers.
Well done the Co-op we say. And here’s some good news for their customers. Buy choosing to buy poultry meat and eggs from hens raised on pasture rather than in cages you’re doing more to combat climate change than you realise.
There was a time not so long ago when most of our food animals were raised on fresh green pasture. The great thing about producing food naturally from clover-rich grassland is that the soil beneath the turf slowly takes up carbon from the air and locks it away safely as organic matter. So the more livestock that run on the pasture – dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs – the more fertile the soil becomes.
Sadly in the past few years we’ve been duped by the fertilizer companies, the energy corporations and the politicians who are supposed to be in charge of farming to raise livestock on industrially-grown grain crops. These require massive inputs of pesticides and energy-rich chemical fertilizers, and the animal foods they produce are less healthy than those raised naturally on grass. What’s more these industrial crops rob the soil of fertility and shove carbon back into the atmosphere where it hastens climate change.
Whatever the vegans say, the scandal is – not that many of us enjoy animal foods – but that two-thirds of the world’s grain is squandered on producing them.
So the message for the Co-op and its ethical customers is when you buy pasture-raised poultry you’re not just being kind to the birds, you’re also doing plenty for the planet. Now having set the chicken free, the next thing is to put cattle and pigs back on pasture too. That way we’ll not just get better food and healthier animals. We’ll turn our farming from being an environmental polluter to the friend of the environment it ought to be.
Monday, 4 February 2008
In my view human beings are programmed to stay healthy – it’s the default position. Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers in a natural world well stocked with nutrient-rich foods. They were the everyday foods that promoted peak fitness. Since then our bodies have scarcely changed. We still need these naturally-grown, nutrient-dense foods to stay healthy. We need meat and dairy products from animals grazing uncontaminated, herb-rich pastures; fruits, vegetables and whole-grains from soils that are biologically-active and balanced for minerals. We’re not simply talking organic - foods grown without pesticides or sprays. We’re talking “organic plus” – foods grown in ways that enhance their nutrient content and boost human immunity.
It’s hard to believe such foods could still exist in a country dominated by chemically-dependent, industrial forms of agriculture. Yet they’re out there if you know where to look. There’s no denying that finding them may require some effort. It will mean taking over responsibility for the health of yourself and your family, not leaving the job to those who have let us down – the food giants, the supermarkets and the politicians. But you can start out in the sure knowledge that once you’ve found sources for health-protecting foods you can relax. You’ll never need to look at a diet book again.
So welcome to the world of the new hunter-gatherer. It’s going to be a great adventure. And we’ll be with you every step of the way.
Saturday, 2 February 2008
Here is an extract from that article. Click here to read more - Corporate Feed
"With a little courage, it (the competition commission) could have taken a far more creative view of the nature of competition. There's no reason why an oligopoly of giant supermarkets should be the only show in town. Why not set up the superstore culture against a thriving high street of small specialist shops? Instead of changing the planning laws to encourage more supermarkets, as it recommends, the commission could equally have proposed measures to revive the town-centre shopping and put it on a more equable trading footing with the edge of town superstore.
Britain's moribund grocery market desperately needs this kind of innovation - not just to pare down prices, but to drive up food standards, something the supermarkets have largely failed to do."
Friday, 1 February 2008
Even so, for a bunch of guys who spend most of their lives milking cows and shifting the brown stuff, there’s something of a festival atmosphere about the event. Farmers go there for a good gossip with their mates and to catch up on the latest technical developments – everything from
automatic teat dips to the latest line in dairy disinfectants.
There are plenty of market gurus on hand to speculate about the prospects for world milk prices – on the up at the moment, so everyone’s pretty cheerful. And for the tired and weary, the dairy companies’ plush stands are somewhere to sit and have a cup of tea while they tell you about their latest products and how they’re grabbing an ever bigger share of the market.
What you don’t hear at shows like this is anything about health. This is might seem surprising when you consider that milk – properly produced from cows grazing fresh, clover-rich pasture – is one of the healthiest foods you can buy. On the other hand, milk from cows fed unhealthy foods such as cereal grains and soya is best left well alone.
As I walked around the dairy fest I looked in vain for something on the health benefits of pasture feeding. There were plenty of stands promoting feeds like palm kernel expeller, soya hulls and distillers barley. But nothing to tell you that a field of good spring grass will fill your milk with CLA, one of the most powerful cancer-fighters known in nature. I doubt these farmers would have been interested.
The sad fact is that dairy farmers have been cut off from their real customers – you and me – since 1933 when the government set up the monopolistic Milk Marketing Board with powers to buy up every single drop of milk produced in the
It’s all about churning out the white stuff at a decent margin. It’s the chief reason why the standard of 90 per cent of the milk on sale in our supermarkets is so appallingly low.
Back before the days of government meddling, 50,000 British dairy farmers sold milk direct to the public. What mattered to them was, not the latest gizmo for automatic teat dipping, but how to deliver rich, fresh-tasting milk that would keep their customers happy and secure the future of their businesses. It was a different basic psychology.
If we’re going to get back to truly healthy milk in
Stay with us and help make it happen!