Organic farming ‘benefits biodiversity’

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20 May 2015

Wheat field, France
Even a few organic fields on a farm may improve biodiversity, the study found

Organic farms act as a refuge for wild plants, offsetting the loss of biodiversity on conventional farms, a study suggests.

Fields around organic farms have more types of wild plants, providing benefits for wildlife, say scientists.

The research is likely to fuel the debate over the environmental benefits of organic farming.

Studies suggest that organic farming produces lower yields than conventional methods but harbours more wildlife.

The new study, by researchers at the University of Swansea and institutes in France, looked at fields sowed with winter wheat in the region of Poitou-Charente.

They found that organic farming led to higher weed diversity on surrounding conventionally farmed fields.

“Wild plants are important for birds, bees and other farmland species,” said Dr Luca Borger of the department of biosciences at Swansea University.

“Organic farming has advantages in maintaining these, but even a mixture of organic and non-organic farming in an area can help maintain this biodiversity.

“Even only 25% of fields being organically farmed can make a difference.”

Food security

Farmland provides essential habitat for many animals but intensification of agriculture has led to a loss of biodiversity.

However, in order to provide the extra food needed by the bigger human population of the future, without destroying forests and wetlands, farming needs to be made more intensive.

Supporters of organic farming say the method could be a potential compromise between meeting food security needs and providing habitat for bees, birds and other wildlife.

The researchers say land-sharing between organic farms and non-organic farms could have benefits for both crop production and biodiversity.

This theory needs to be tested in follow-up studies, they say.

The study is published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B- Biological Sciences.

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France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

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Guardian article highlighting new tactic to tackle food waste in France – see original here.

Legislation barring stores from spoiling and throwing away food is aimed at tackling epidemic of waste alongside food poverty

 According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping.

The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation asFrance battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.

Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

“It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods,” said the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister who proposed the bill.

In recent years, French media have highlighted how poor families, students, unemployed or homeless people often stealthily forage in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves, able to survive on edible products which had been thrown out just as their best-before dates approached.

But some supermarkets doused binned food in bleach to prevent potential food-poisoning by eating food from bins. Other supermarkets deliberately binned food in locked warehouses for collection by refuse trucks to stop scavengers.

The practice of foraging in supermarket bins is not without risk – some people picking through rotten fruit and rubbish to reach yoghurts, cheese platters or readymade pizzas have been stopped by police and faced criminal action for theft. In 2011, a 59-year-old father of six working for the minimum wage at a Monoprix supermarket in Marseille almost lost his job after a colleague called security when they saw him pick six melons and two lettuces out of a bin.

Pressure groups, recycling commandos and direct action foraging movements have been highlighting the issue of waste in France. Members of the Gars’pilleurs, an action group founded in Lyon, don gardening gloves to remove food from supermarket bins at night and redistribute it on the streets the next morning to raise awareness about waste, poverty and food distribution.

The group and four others issued a statement earlier this year warning that simply obliging supermarket giants to pass unsold food to charities could give a “false and dangerous idea of a magic solution” to food waste. They said it would create an illusion that supermarkets had done their bit, while failing to address the wider issue of overproduction in the food industry as well as the wastage in food distribution chains.

The law will also introduce an education programme about food waste in schools and businesses. It follows a measure in February to remove the best-before dates on fresh foods.

The measures are part of wider drive to halve the amount of food waste in France by 2025. According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping. The combined national cost of this is up to €20bn.

Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, 67% is binned by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted worldwide.

The Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution, which represents big supermarkets, criticised the plan. “The law is wrong in both target and intent, given the big stores represent only 5% of food waste but have these new obligations,” said Jacques Creyssel, head of the organisation. “They are already the pre-eminent food donors, with more than 4,500 stores having signed agreements with aid groups.”

The logistics of the law must also not put an unfair burden on charities, with the unsold food given to them in a way that is ready to use, a parliamentary report has stipulated. It must not be up to charities to have to sift through the waste to set aside squashed fruit or food that had gone off. Supermarkets have said that charities must now also be properly equipped with fridges and trucks to be able to handle the food donations.

The French law goes further than the UK, where the government has a voluntary agreement with the grocery and retail sector to cut both food and packaging waste in the supply chain, but does not believe in mandatory targets.

A report earlier this year showed that in the UK, households threw away 7m tonnes of food in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Forests are ‘key feature’ of food security landscape

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6 May 2015

The study calculates that almost one-in-six people depend on forests for food and income

Forests can play a vital role in supplementing global food and nutrition security but this role is currently being overlooked, a report suggests.

The study says that tree-based farming provides resilience against extreme weather events, which can wipe out traditional food crops.

It warns that policies focusing on traditional agriculture often overlook the role forest farming could play.

The findings were presented at the UN Forum on Forests in New York, US.

The report is the result of a collaboration of more than 60 leading scientists, co-ordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

“The report is not trying to suggest that people should start relying on forests more than conventional agriculture,” explained Bhaskar Vira, the chair of the panel which compiled the report.

“It is very much about the complementary roles that forests can play alongside conventional agriculture.

“The evidence shows that a large number of people still rely on the food from forests and trees to supplement their diet,” Dr Vira, director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.

Rest of article here.

Back the Union of Genius #SoupStarter!

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Soup, glorious soup.

Scran Salon

Soup! Soup! We’ve supported various crowdsourcing projects over the course of the last few years, from Tupiniquim to Bloombox to the Edinburgh Catering Co, but always the closest to our hearts has been the original Kickstarter run by the folks at Union of Genius.

Back in 2013, with a year of booming business behind them in Scotland’s premier soup cafe, it was time to make the move to a commercial kitchen, so that the soupy needs of the city could be more effectively met.

As owners Bruce and Elaine Mason announced at last Monday’s event at the Last Word Saloon, it’s time for another expansion, and with the lot next door to their current premises having recently become available there’s a pressing need to move quickly to secure it. Soup cafe Soup cafe

Accordingly, a new Kickstarter launched today and will run until 8 June.

Amy Brewer, regular saloneer…

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Schools supporting local food

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Interesting stuff – originally published here.

Obesity and diet-related diseases are on the rise, so it’s more important than ever that children are educated about where their food comes from and the importance of eating well. Jamie Oliver is championing this in Britain with the launch of Food Revolution Day, a campaign fighting to put compulsory, practical food education on the school curriculum.

Another way of engaging children in food issues is through farm-to-school (FTS) programmes. Using Food Hubs to Create Sustainable Farm-to-School Programs is a new guide from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM), which is designed to increase the role of food hubs in the programmes.

The VAAFM facilitates and supports the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while also protecting the environment and the health of its people. As part of this commitment, it encourages the expansion of regional food hubs, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “a business or organisation that is actively coordinating the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified locally or regionally grown food products from primarily small to mid-sized producers.”

The Using Food Hubs to Create Sustainable Farm to School Programsguide was born out of a project that aimed to:

  • strengthen the regional support structure for farmers and food service staff to provide locally-grown food in schools;
  • create a community of practice among regional food hubs focused on school food procurement; and
  • demonstrate models of how regional food hubs support FTS programmes and increase purchasing of local foods by schools.

Following 18 months of collaboration with schools, VAAFM found that those engaging with a local food hub increased purchases of local food by 58%. Following the success of this scheme, the agency used the data to put together its guide for schools and food hubs across the nation: by demonstrating the many successes of hub and school partnerships in Vermont it hopes to encourage other states to follow suit.

The guide offers four case studies designed to help both food hubs and FTS programmes strengthen partnerships, increase local food procurement and engage students and community members in FTS activities. It also contains information on increasing local food sales, developing local food products and devising new recipes for schools.

Access Using Food Hubs to Create Sustainable Farm to School Programs here.