Make a note in your diary’s to celebrate the Soil Associations Organic Fortnight this September. The events kick off on the 6th September at Bristol’s Harborside which claims to be Europe’s biggest organic celebration.  

 

The aim of the event

 

The Soil Association are organizing events up and down the country, getting involved communities, schools, restaurants and retailers to celebrate and educate about all things organic. The message of this year’s event is ‘Love Your Planet, Choose Organic’ in which the association provides a in-depth look into how organic produce- clothes, beauty, food and farming- is an all round better option to make to make a better planet.

Events of the fortnight

Supporters of the event are planning interesting ways to get people involved with the celebration and to ultimately educate them of the benefits of choosing organic such as:

  • Organic breakfasts at work
  • Organic cookery lessons at school
  • Farm open days
  • Organic fashion shows

If you fancy creating your own event for the Organic Fortnight register your details at www.soilassociation.org/joinus .

 

 Why choose organic…

 

Food

  • Organic fruit and vegetables contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals and cancer fighting antioxidants. As well as containing few additives and using avoid pesticides in production.
  • Organic farming production has the highest animal welfare standards. It produces less pollution and carbon dioxide from sprayers- better for wildlife and the environment.

 Textiles

  • Organic cotton farmers do not use harmful chemicals in production. Non organic farmers use 25% of the world’s pesticides to produce cotton. This causes damage the environment and the health of the cotton farm workers.
  • Organic cotton farm workers in developing countries also receive higher incomes and have better health. They work in better conditions than non-organic cotton farm workers and work less hours.

 Beauty

  • Organic beauty cosmetics ban the use of synthetic fragrances so are far less likely to cause allergies and irritation.
  • No parabens, no phthalates and no GM’s are used in organic beauty products.
  • There are multiple organic cosmetic ranges on the market (e.g. balms, lotion and makeup) which are clearly marked with the Soil Association symbol making it easier to make environmentally friendly choices.

 To find out more about how your community is celebrating Organic Fortnight visit the Soil Associations website at www.soilassocation.org/organicfortnight and get involved!

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Milk it!

May 29, 2008

Image from Flickr by adamcohen

The University of Newcastle has found that organic cattle who eat high levels of fresh grass produce milk that is better for our health.

The study was a part of a European Commission funded project about minimizing the use of antibiotics in dairy production to improve the quality of milk. Scientists from the University of Newcastle and the Danish Institute for Agricultural Science collaborated together to take conduct the study. They began taking the samples of milk between 2004 and 2005 however the results have only just been published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.

They found that intensively farmed cattle produce milk with far less omega-3 and conjugated linoleic (also know as CLA9) than organic cattle. The levels of CLA9 in organic milk were found to be significantly higher (around 60%) than milk produced from of intensively farmed cows. These fatty acids are crucial for our health as they help to prevent cancer, coronary heart disease and type II diabetes.

Now the researchers have found this apparent they are now interested in improving the quality of milk so that other foods such as butter and cheese are also ‘healthier’.

They also found that cows produce higher quality milk depending on the season of year it is produced. In the winter cattle are kept indoors for the majority of the season where they are mainly fed on conserved forage rather than fresh feed which make’s the quality of the milk significantly lower.

Therefore the researchers also want to focus their future research on improving the quality of milk produced in the winter. They have already found that quality of milk produced by indoor kept cattle can be dramatically increased when soya beans, rapeseed and linseed are added to their daily diet. Finding that it increased so much so that the health benefits of the milk were incredibly similar to milk of outdoor, grass feed cows.

The scientists also used non-organic cattle in their research. The cows lived outdoors from March to November and had a diet of nearly 100% fresh grass. The researchers found that the milk that they produced had higher levels of CLA9 than organic milk. However organic milk still remained to have higher levels of omega-3.

They believe that the higher omega-3 levels in organic milk is due to the fact that organic cows are able to feed on larger amounts of clover in their fields as they do not use fertilizers. However further work in ongoing to find further proof.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association is pleased with the latest research as the association promotes organic farming and its human health benefits. He adds “Some sceptics have thrown doubts on the benefit of organic milk because scientists had not shown precisely how organic farming makes a positive difference. This latest research demonstrates that it is the cows’ organic diet that makes their milk healthier.

Coral trouble

May 26, 2008

Image from flickr by Ze Eduardo…’s

With Britain’s unreliable summer many of us are jet setting off towards sunnier climates. Our suitcases will be jam packed full of all the essentials, hat? Check, sunglasses? Check, towels? Check. However one of the main things we need whilst we laze in the sun is suntan lotion, were constantly being told to slap the stuff on and rightly so if were going to refrain from getting sun damaged skin. However yesterday a new research warned the Brit’s that suntan lotion can lead to killing off the beautiful corals off the sea.

Whilst we splash about happy as Larry in the sea without a care in the world the residues of our suntan lotions are bleaching corals which then leads to their death.

The study was conducted by the University of Pisa in Italy using controlled amounts of suntan lotion in the coral reef seas surrounding Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt. They found that chemical compounds in the UV filters of suntan lotions, even in small quantities can be dangerous to the lives of coral reefs.

The research team tested different brands of suntan lotions, different protective factors and concentrations finding that they all caused significant, harmful bleaching to the corals. The researchers are therefore called upon making new regulations to be made to limit human contact with the reefs.

According to the researchers a 20 minute splash in the sea can wash off 25% of the chemicals in the suntan lotions. The corals are already under threat by global warming however it has been estimated that 10% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by UV bleaching chemicals alone.

The corals produce coral mucous within 18 to 48 hours from exposure to even small doses of the dangerous UV chemicals. Research found that within 96 hours the corals are completely bleached.

The World Trade Organisation suggested that 10% of tourism head toward the tropics with an estimated 78 million tourist’s visiting the coral reefs each year. Up to an annual 6,000 tonnes of suntan lotion are consequently released in the reef areas seriously adding to the problem.

The full study has been published in the US journals Environmental Health Perspectives.

Image from flickr by autan

Millions of bees have died in Germany due to a family of nasty pesticides. Eight pesticides have been suspended by the German office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety used in the production of rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The use of clothianidin caused two thirds of Germanys bee’s to die earlier this month. The German Professional Beekeepers Association said that around 50-60% of Germany’s bees have been lost and that many bee keepers have lost their hives completely due to this dangerous pesticide.

How did the disaster occur?

Clothianidin is produced by Bayer Crop Science which is used in Europe under the name of poncho. The company claims that they failed to use a vital substance that aids the pesticide to stick to the seeds that it is used on. Without the glue like substance the pesticide was able to get into the air and poison the bees.

The chemical works by working its way through the plant which in return attacks the nervous system of an insect that comes into contact with the plant. It is a highly toxic chemical to honey bee’s which is why it lead to an extremely high number of deaths.

Has this occurred before?

Bayer is one of the worlds leading pesticide manufacturers however has been put to blame for killing honeybee’s before. In 1995, North Dakota in the US lost thousands of honey bee colonies. Bayer was taken to court after oilseed rape was treated with the chemical imidacloprid (Gaucho in French) which lead to the death of the colonies. Subsequently to this there has been a collapse in honeybee colonies.

Bayer’s best seller imidacloprid was also banned in France in 1999 for being used on sunflowers which caused a death of one third of French honeybees. By 2004 the use of imidacloprid was also banned as a treatment for sweetcorn, again seeing multiple deaths of honeybees.

Even though imidacloprid has been found to be extremely dangerous towards the lives of honeybees Bayer still remains to claim that it is safe. Utz Klages, a Bayer spokeman said “extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that Gaucho does not present a hazard to bees”.

Philipp Mimkes, a spokesman for the German-based Coalition Against Bayer Dangers strongly disagrees with Klages claim saying that “We have been pointing out the risks of neonicotinoids for almost 10 years now. This proves without a doubt that the chemicals can come into contact with bees and kill them. These pesticides shouldn’t be on the market.”

 

Litter bugs

May 25, 2008

Local councils are going to be using CCTV cameras to crack down on littering motorists and passengers in a bid to clean up our streets.

The litter CCTV cameras are going to be put into action for a pilot trial this summer in London. Those caught littering with registered vehicles will receive a fixed penalty of £80 if caught on the candid camera.

There is an estimated 30 million tonnes of litter collected from our streets each year with 1.3 million of which collected from road sides alone.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) the founders of the ‘Stop the Drop’ campaign is encouraging the scheme. Bill Bryson, the president of the CPRE believes that councils are still not doing enough to tackle fly-tipping with around a staggering 2.6 million incidents occurring last year. It cost £73 million pounds to clear it up however only 1,700 of the prosecutors were fined.

According to Bryson he believes that the councils should become stricter with littering offenders. That schools should offer their pupils more information about the consequences of littering and that road as well as rail authorities should have a more serious attitude toward cleaning up.

The launch of the ‘Stop the Drop’ campaign took place in London’s Leicester Square this April where Bryson was accompanied by the Wombles- the ultimate litter pickers. However it seems that it’s going to take more than the Wombles to clean up our street as Bryson stated that “all the evidence shows that litter is getting worse and we need the relevant authorities to be more active, rather than rely on Litter Saints to pick it all up for us”.

The CPRE have emphasized that cleaning up our streets should be a community activity, that we should clean our streets together. They suggest setting up litter groups or by joining existing ones which you can find on www.litteraction.org.uk. The CPRE also suggests that you say no to plastic bags and use their posters to raise awareness of the campaign and to ultimately be more eco-friendly.

Bill Bryson getting involved in community litter picks

Image from flickr by iambigred 

Deposit schemes are another way in which can help towards keeping litter off the streets and generally being more eco-friendly. This encourages people to return their used drink containers which in return they receive an amount of the paid costs that they previously paid for them. This has already been a successful scheme in countries such as Germany and Denmark who achieved an 86% return for all drinks containers.

To find out more on how you can help to work towards making your community greener visit www.cpre.org.uk and join their campaign.

Image from Flickr by The hideaway

 

 If I saw sciurus carolinensis on a menu I’d conjure up images of fancy but delicious foods. It’s flying off the shelves, low in fat, low in food miles and free range. Ethical, apparently tasty and not that fattening- great! But what is it? Grey squirrel! Now my mouth is hardly watering but its apparently becoming a popular cuisine.

The green credentials of eating grey squirrel are what game shop keepers believe have influenced successful sales. Customers are drawn to the fact that the grey squirrel or should I say Sciurus carolinensis is wild, local and therefore more ethical. Patriotism has also played a part in encouraging people’s interest to this new found culinary delight. The message game sellers are using to tout squirrel sales is “eat a grey and save a red”.

The British red squirrel is endangered however the amount the grey squirrel (the red squirrels American cousin) is plentiful with almost 5 million in Britain alone. Therefore the existence of the grey squirrel is safe with the market still having room to expand.

David Ridley, who runs a fish and game shop in Northumbria has seen a success in squirrel meat sales since stocking his first load of squirrel at the beginning of the year ‘I wasn’t sure at first, and wondered would people really eat it. Now I take every squirrel I can get my hands on. I’ve had days when I have managed to get 60 and they’ve all sold straight away’. Up until now David has sold over 1,000 squirrels at £3.50 per squirrel which have sold incredibly quickly. One squirrel is supposed to be enough one-and-a half people which apparently can make lovely pasties, sausages and bacon.

It is said to taste sweet like a cross between lamb and duck however I’m still unsure whether or not I’d give it a try even though I do eat meat. Yes it seems to be a ethical meat option I know, as well as being described as tasty. However I think that these bushy tailed friends’s suit sitting on parks rather than sitting on my plate and I am yet to be convinced that squirrel chops is my idea of a scrumptious feast.

The zero-carbon home

May 24, 2008

Barratt Developments recently revealed designs for the UK’s first built zero-carbon home by a mass building company. From 2016 the government plans to make a legislation to housing buliders that all newly built houses are zero-carbon. 

What makes these houses ‘zero-carbon’?

The Building Research Establishment in Watford have created a home that has been awarded a code level six rating which means that it is completely zero-carbon. These are some of the eco-friendly features of the homes:

·        Airtight concrete walls and pre-cast concrete floor slabs- for insulation

·        An Air Source Heat Pump- using air energy from indoors and out to provide internal heat supplies.

·        Solar hot water panels- to store energy to provide hot water

·        A rainwater harvesting system to provide water for toilets

·        Solar Photo Voltaic roof panels- to provide district power supply

This sounds all very good but how much does a zero- carbon home cost?

The average cost of one of these environmentally friendly homes will be up on the market at around £500,000. Gordon Brown announced that those zero-carbon homes built before 2012 costing under £500,000 will be exempt from stamp duty and those costing over this will have a £15,000 reduction to their stamp duty bill to encourage take up.

Barratt Developments are planning to build 200 zero-carbon homes on a site at Hanham Hall hospital near Bristol by 2011, five years ahead of the Governments deadline. A third of these homes built have been claimed to be affordable to the lower-income buyer. They hope to build 3 million zero-carbon, cost effective homes by 2020.

Mark Clare, Barratt’s chief executive said that it will be difficult to reduce the costs of the houses to a commercial level however it is possible “we cannot and will not build houses that do not appeal to consumers. But they must also be affordable”. With 22,000 votes from the public in a competition in 2007 supporting the zero-carbon house Mark Clare is confident that they will be accepted by buyers.

http://twitter.com/LauraBlood