Catering & organics – learning from Denmark

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Would love to write this up into a fuller blog post soon but for now a collection of useful and interesting links to refer back to, regarding Denmark’s approach to organics in/and the catering sector.

Organic labelling for catering

Towards 100% organic

Organic Action Plan for Denmark

Organic Denmark – NGO

Copenhagen House of Food  (interview with Anya Hultberg by Lesley Riddoch here)

Danish organic chicken

Soil Association case study – Organic policy – learning from Denmark

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Magical, mysterious, essential – and being unthinkingly destroyed

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Article found here.

By Peter Melchett – 14 April 2015

Seedling in soilSoils are magical and mysterious, essential to all life on earth, but extremely vulnerable, and being terribly damaged. We know enough about soils for them to fill us with wonder, but so little that they remain places of great mystery. We do worse than take soils for granted, we often behave as if soil, and particularly life in the soil, was not there at all.

According to a UK government report our soils have been ‘degraded’ because of ‘intensive agricultural production’, and we are losing 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil each year, costing the economy £45 million annually – nearly £10 million of which is lost food production.

The United Nations say that around 40% of all agricultural soils in the world are seriously degraded1, meaning droughts and floods have greater impact, and food production is at considerable risk. This wilful destruction is all the more incomprehensible and irresponsible, given that we know that it can take more than one thousand years for one centimetre of topsoil to form.

2015 is the United Nations’ Year of Soils, and the Soil Association is not marking this year by just talking about soils, but by campaigning and taking action to save our soils.

A key element of a healthy soil is the amount of organic matter it contains. Soil organic matter sustains the incredible variety and quantity of living organisms in soils, and allows them to hold water like a sponge, releasing slowly and helping to prevent or minimise flooding, and similarly to withstand droughts. Recent research found that invertebrates, including worms, have declined by around 45% over the last 35 years.2

The first target is that we increase organic matter in UK soil by 20% over the next 20 yearsEven more crucial to the survival of life on earth, organic matter in soils consists largely of carbon. Soils are the greatest source of carbon on our planet (more than all the forests). Soils can either release that carbon and act as a terrible instrument driving us towards catastrophic climate change, or take carbon from the air and store it safely in the ground. At the moment soils are driving climate change as we lose organic matter, but that destructive process can and must be put into reverse quickly. We must restore our soils to health by adding organic matter, so the first target of the Soil Association’s Soils Campaign is that we increase organic matter in UK arable soils by 20% over the next 20 years.

The UK has a legal obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and a 20% increase in soil organic matter would be a very significant contribution from the food and farming industries towards achieving that demanding but vital target. We are calling on the UK government to set this target, and to work with farmers to achieve change. We will also look to the UK Parliament’s official advisors on climate change, the Climate Change Committee, to encourage government action on protecting and enhancing soil carbon.

How did we set this 20% increase in 20 years target, and is it realistic? For years, scientists have known that there are simple steps farmers can take to increase soil organic matter. Organic farming practices achieve just that. These practices include: introducing crop rotations that include temporary grassland; using crops like red clover, peas and beans to increase soil fertility naturally; growing green winter cover crops to protect soil from erosion and to add to the plant material returned to the soil; and returning animal waste to the soil as a compost.

A review of studies from all over the world demonstrates that organically managed soils have significantly higher levels of organic matter – in North-West Europe an average increase of 21%. While there have been only three studies in the UK3, the differences found here for arable soils was 50% higher.

This means that every farm we encourage to convert to organic production will be a huge boost in reaching the 20% target.

Reversing the decline in organic matter in arable soils, and starting to increase it will be a challenge, but 20% is still a realistic target. We think we could do better, maybe much better, and our 20 year target may well be too modest. The Soil Association is keen to hear if others agree or indeed if we are being too ambitious in our demand.

Skylarks to tree sparrows, corn buntings to yellowhammers, have declined by 90% or moreAs our Soils Campaign continues, we will be identifying further actions that we believe are needed to save our soils. One is clear. For the last 70 years, farmers have been dumping toxic chemicals on their soils. Over the decades we have gradually come to understand the impact these chemicals have had on farm wildlife – many of what were our most common and best loved birds, from skylarks to tree sparrows, corn buntings to yellowhammers, have declined by 90% or more over the last 70 years, and we are still losing one breeding pair of farmland birds every minute.

We know agricultural chemicals are causing carnage to birds, honey bees, bumblebees and other wild pollinators above ground, but almost nobody has given a thought to the impact they will be having on life in the soil. We will be investigating, aiming to draw back the veil of secrecy over the impact of toxic pesticides on soil life and health.

Our soils are too precious to be ignored, wasted, chemically deadened and destroyed. The Soil Association will not only speak up for soils, but urge and take action to reverse their decline, and start the process of rebuilding that thin layer of living soil on our planet that all of us depend on.

Peter is Policy Director at the Soil Association.

Footnotes

  1. FAO 1995/U.N. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  2. IUCN (Defaunation in the Anthropocene 2014)
  3. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Switzerland October 2012

Vote for veg! Our new government must take action to support plant-based diets

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Rob Percival – 02 April 2015

Veg MarketEach year, we Britons throw away 570,000 tonnes of fresh meat. This is the equivalent of 110 million animals. Most of these are chickens. 3 million are pigs, typically intensively reared to minimum welfare standards. Over 200,000 are cattle. Globally, each year, 12 billion animals are born to be binned, an extraordinary waste of life.i

These wasted lives may also be measured in wasted water, wasted land, and wasted crops: the resources used to nourish these animals that could instead have been used to feed people. Philip Lymbery, author of Farmageddon, has argued that if all the grain destined for industrially reared animals were planted in one field, it would cover the entire land surface of the European Union. If fed directly to people, it would sustain an extra 4 billion.

This legacy of waste extends as well to habitats and forests. Thousands of acres of rainforest are felled each year to be converted into cropland for animal feed, devastating vast areas of wildlife refuge and releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Animal agriculture is consequently responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation combined.ii

These are daunting statistics. But they are also statistics that we can influence directly – the politics of food is participatory: we vote three times a day, each time we pick up a fork.

And growing numbers of us are voting for veg, choosing to cut back our daily meat consumption. The Food People, a global trendspotting and ideas agency, report a “seismic” shift in attitudes in the UK towards “celebrating vegetables and opting to eat less meat.” They propose that ‘flexitarianism’, or ‘less but better’ meat eating, is soon to become a “mega trend.”

A recent YouGov survey seems to support their suggestion. The survey found that one in three Britons (35%) say they are willing to consider eating less meat, with one in five (20%) saying they’ve already cut back their consumption. Tellingly, concern for animal welfare was the top reason given, indicating that eating less meat and eating better meat are two sides of the same coin.

Eating better meat means choosing to eat pasture-fed animals that have been raised within a climate friendly farming system, such as organic. Organic farming systems have been shown to help to protect carbon-rich soils and wildlife, while providing for higher level of animal welfare.

If ‘less but better’ meat eating is on the rise – and the thousands participating in last week’s Meat Free Week would suggest so – then we are perhaps on our way to becoming a nation of conscientious carnivores. But is the shift seismic enough? And when will Government step up and support those looking to eat and farm more sustainably?

Whoever forms a Government next month must make a concerted effort to support plant-based diets and climate friendly farming:

  • This means committing to a joined-up food strategy, aimed at ensuring that a healthy and sustainable diet is accessible and affordable for everyone.
  • Clear guidelines on sustainable eating should be issued, promoting the benefits of eating less and better meat, and supporting businesses to provide more meat-free options.
  • British farmers who produce meat in ways that benefit the environment, health and animal welfare should be supported and encouraged, and provided with a fair return for their efforts.

The millions of wasted lives, the wasted crops, the wasted forests, collectively add up to the promise of a wasted planet. Our new government must take action to support sustainable diets: we need nothing less than a fully flexitarian future.

Time for us to ask questions about where we buy food

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Agreed, we need to ask more questions about our food.

From Lancaster Guardian columnist, Anna Clayton – article originally published here.
This week Sam from Lancaster’s Sustainable Food Cities group talks about the big food buyers in the Lancaster District.

“When we think about local food, we probably think about the changes we could make to our weekly shopping.

“Could we buy a bit more local veg or bread for example?

“It is sometimes exciting to think much bigger – how many thousands of pounds of our money are spent on food in local hospitals?

“Lancaster is a city with many big public institutions. We have the hospital, the prison, a couple of universities; a couple of colleges and of course all of the schools. Just imagine what the food bill for these places must add up to – huge.

“All of these places are public services using our public money to provide services. It’s therefore good if we have a say in what food they are buying and where they are buying it from.

“It always seems strange to me that hospitals have so much hi-tech medical equipment, and yet it seems common for our hospitalised friends and families to be fed food that seems unlikely to promote good health. Giving good food to sick people seems like a very basic bit of health care.

“By giving patients and school children better and more local food, we also help the health of our local food economy. If local farmers and food producers had more substantial contracts with the hospital, school meals service etc then our local agriculture would be in a far healthier state than it currently is.

“The Soil Association’s website, http://www.soilassociation.org/Hospitalfood, provides information about hospitals and other institutions that are already providing better food for the same or even lower costs. For example ‘those running hospital trusts with unhealthy food say they cannot afford better quality [food], but the hospitals that are doing a brilliant job are not necessarily those spending the most on their food service. One hospital saved £6 million a year by cooking with fresh, local ingredients’

“The Soil Association also recommend that ‘hospital trusts should improve transparency and patient accountability by publishing information about the quality of food provided in their hospitals. This information should include measures of patient satisfaction, the food budget per patient per day and any independent verification of standards, for example by the Food for Life Catering Mark.’

“So, as well as changing what’s in our own shopping bags, let’s start asking some questions about where our public institutions are buying food from”.