Will agri-business be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?
The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.
As Northern Ireland farmers combine to continue their cross-party diplomacy MP Nigel Evans has been contacted by his constituent, a Lancashire dairy farmer.
The message opens by referring to a question by Richard Arkless (SNP Dumfries & Galloway) on the 29th January to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking what steps the Government is taking to support milk producers in ensuring milk prices in supermarkets are maintained.
George Eustice (minister for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment) responded that the government is supporting the farming industry by reducing red tape. The farmer corrects this answer:
“This is untrue in the case of dairy farmers whose financial risk and responsibility is great and whose product is highly perishable”.
“In fact, dairy farmers are increasingly being required to spend precious time producing statistical information of little worth other than to help meet the targets of individuals within large and powerful organisations whose employment is indirectly funded by taxpayers or by compulsory levy imposed upon producers”.
The minister referred to a £26.6m aid package for the UK from the EU – a one-off, flat rate payment linked to milk production – administered by DEFRA’s Regional Payments Agency.
Did it arrive? FG Insight reports that once again, “Thousands of farmers across the UK are suffering frustrating and, in some cases, crippling waits for their new Basic Payments as administrations to struggle with the new scheme.”. A Freedom of Information request reveals that nearly 8,927 farmers have been placed in the late payment tranche alongside 4,722 commons farmers, 379 cross-border claims and 342 with ’multiple issues’. It revealed that the assessment about these payments had been made back in August. Computer Weekly confirms that – after successive software releases failed to resolve problems – a £154m system to process claims for EU subsidy payments to farmers hit problems has forced applicants to resort to paper forms.
Our farming correspondent points out that the RPA will be fined by the EU for this delay at British taxpayers expense, if deadlines are not met.
Describing the ‘solutions’ offered by industry advisers and financial institutions, encouraging farmers to increase borrowings, expand herd sizes and increase production, it is feared that these will “intensify an already precarious situation, as efficient non-aligned British dairy farmers struggle to meet ordinary running costs let alone make essential reinvestments”.
The Lancashire dairy farmer ends, “For dairy farmers, real progress and growth does not come from individual enterprises ruthlessly undercutting and competing with each other to counter inappropriate commercial or government interference, but by ebbing and flowing with the tide and doing what is best in their own district for their own farm, their own family, their own animals and their own environment, with the resources available, as an integral part of the wider rural community”.
Milk, fruit and vegetables will eventually be imported, unless British food producers are fairly paid
The FT reports that Asda also justified the low prices paid to farmers saying they were set by global supply and demand.
First Milk, the farmer-owned group, one of the UK’s biggest dairy co-operatives, has suspended payments to around 1,200 farmers for two weeks. The company said that returns had fallen 50% in the past year and yet – the FT reports – farm costs are 36% higher than they were in 2007 and the single largest cost component of a dairy farm, animal feed, is more than 50% higher.
A table from an 2007 overview: Snapshot of farming in the UK, on the BBC website (below), will be of interest to readers news to the subject. Recent price cuts mean that farmers are facing milk prices of just 20p a litre, the lowest since 2007 according to the NFU said, but the following graph indicates an earlier date.
‘Fiddling while Rome burns’, DEFRA promotes involvement with the volatile global casino: “It is important to remember that the long-term prospects are bright with exports at record levels.”
Is there any future for those who produce perishable food and are currently held to ransom – unless they join forces and demand prices covering production costs?
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who sees himself as a ‘moderniser’, lauding the government’s IT prowess, has faced several less-than-creditable charges according to his Wikileaks entry. After recruiting Tony Caplin, who recently resigned as head of the Treasury’s Public Works Loans Board, Maude has made a far more serious mistake.
Despite David Cameron’s Davos commitment to ‘reshoring’ British jobs, Francis Maude has appointed an offshore and outsourcing expert, Peter Swann, to supervise the export of jobs of civil servants who provide back-up facilities such as pay roll and contract details to Whitehall offices.
David Hencke records in the Tribune that these jobs handling sensitive personal pay roll details, and possibly criminal and police records, are to be moved offshore by private companies under a Cabinet Office initiative to save money.
A rising star
Under Swann’s leadership, Steria, a French international company with a presence in India, has a joint venture with the Cabinet Office: Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL) – its slogan: ‘a Trusted Transformation partner’.
The latest news on Steria’s website is that the Council of the European Union’s General Secretariat has chosen the company to secure its internal communications networks.
SSCL has already taken over back offices across the country for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Environment Agency. It is now looking at taking over work at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.
Within a year, it started a closure programme of sites affecting more than 500 jobs in Sheffield, Cardiff, Newport and Leeds and is looking to relocate the work to India. Other centres such as Blackpool, Newcastle, Peterborough and York will also lose staff.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “It will be a major blow for local economies losing hundreds more jobs . . . The Government should act now to keep these jobs in the UK, rather than attempt to cynically exploit the inferior pay and employment conditions that workers abroad face.”
Government and corporates: time to introduce country-of-origin food labelling to avoid another health scare
A Lancashire farmer has drawn our attention to the call by Farmers for Action (FFA) for major UK retailers to introduce ‘honest’ country of origin labelling as they seek to regain consumer trust in the wake of the horse meat scandal. She asks that this information be added to butter labels as well. Australia does it – see the logo.
In view of the recent horse meat scandal, FFA Chairman David Handley is calling on all CEOs of the retail industry to clearly show country of origin on all purchased cheese.
On Radio West Midlands this Thursday, Food Standards Agency head, Jeff Rooker, personally supported honest labelling, but told interviewer Adrian Goldberg that this issue had been taken out of their hands and was now a matter for DEFRA.
imported cheese cell count levels should meet the standards asked of British farmers
Alistair Driver in the Farmers Guardian adds:
“Mr Handley claimed ‘double standards’ were at play as imported cheese often does not meet the standards asked of British farmers, for example, when it comes to requirements on cell count levels which measure milk quality and bacteria levels . . .
“A Morrisons spokesperson said: “All Morrisons-branded block cheeses are made using milk sourced from British farmers and carry the Red Tractor logo to help customers buy British.”
“The cheese market at the moment is in complete disarray. Cheese is being sucked in from all over the world and the consumer has no knowledge of its origin, or its production methods and for that reason it is imperative that country of origin is clearly shown on all these products.
“A large amount of cheese that is coming into the UK currently being sold under supermarket own brand is not matching the standards required by British dairy farmers but yet is being used as a tool to drive down British milk prices.
“This has to change and if retailers mean what they say, following the latest food scandal, they should address this with utmost urgency.”
Bad decisions on organophosphates – 28: why doesn’t government act on reports by DEFRA, the Lancet and toxicology research, 1999-2012?
Has the state exposed sheep farmers and soldiers to OP poisoning?
Dr Virginia Harrison (Open University), co-author of the most recent UK study (cover opposite) on the subject very briefly summarised the problem a few days ago; a number of occupational groups have expressed concern that their health has been affected by exposure to organophosphates, including sheep farmers, who between 1988 and 1991 were required by government to dip sheep yearly in pesticide formulations containing OPs. Between 1985 and 1998 more than 600 reports of ill health following exposure to sheep dip were received by a government adverse reaction surveillance scheme.
Despite this, the government appears to have ignored research findings ranging over the last fifteen years, including:
The Lancet : Volume 354, Number 9173, 10 July 1999 85-172, page 133 … Prolonged, low-dose exposure to organophosphorus sheep dips is linked with chronic ill-health—the most risky occupational activity seems to be handling of concentrated pesticide. These are the main findings of a report published by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM; Edinburgh, UK).
The Lancet Neurology, Volume 3, Issue 12, Page 702, December 2004. A top-level US advisory Panel has reported that the neurological symptoms associated with Gulf War syndrome are probably caused by low-level exposure to various toxins that soldiers were exposed to during the war in 1991. The findings of the Panel, which was appointed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2002, support those of an ongoing series of reviews undertaken by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
The finding of one of these reviews – well worth reading – was that evidence strongly and consistently indicates that one of the Gulf War neurotoxic exposures causally associated with Gulf War illness was pesticide use during deployment. Evidence includes the consistent association of Gulf War illness with pesticides across studies of Gulf War veterans, identified dose-response effects, and research findings in other populations.
Research published by DEFRA revealed the extent to which even low level exposure to organophosphate (OP) sheep dip appears to have caused health problems in farmers. An extensive study involving 132 farm workers with a history of using OPs before 1991 found they are suffering today from a range of physical, mental and emotional problems. Dr Mackenzie-Ross, of University College London, said “Defra’s advice should stress OPs should be a last resort and that other chemicals can be used.”
Defra appeared to dismiss its findings, commenting: “The results of this report do not definitively demonstrate organophosphates cause chronic ill-health, but suggest that a relationship may exist.” It ruled out using taxpayers’ money to compensate victims ‘when the current independent advice is that a link between long-term, low-level OP exposure and ill health has not been proven’.
March 2012: VMD and OGOP – not a dynamic duo:
An update from the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate, informed the Official Group on Organophosphates that the VMD awaits new residues data from the manufacturer of Osmond’s Goldfleece. The last update from the manufacturer suggests that their report may be ready by April 2012. The VMD reminded OGOP that the change was separate from the issue of whether the use of OPs was linked to ill-health in humans. ACTION: OGOP Secretariat to arrange the next meeting for October 2012 if the OP review was completed. Searches show no sign that the review has been completed or an October meeting held.
Earlier this month the farming press reported that a systematic review of the literature carried out by researchers at UCL, in London and the Open University, with the same lead author, found that low exposure to the chemicals damages ‘neurological and cognitive function’. The research was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
Powerbase reports that some prominent European Food Safety Authority regulators have conflicts of interest, holding positions in organisations that are funded by the same companies whose products they are supposed to regulate – pesticides, genetically modified (GM) foods, and food contaminants.
This report shows that over a period of many years, influential EFSA managers and regulators have been heavily involved with a US-based organisation called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is funded by multinational pesticide, chemical, GM seed,and food companies. The independence of EFSA’s risk assessment processes on pesticides and food safety has been seriously compromised by its close involvement with industry, chiefly represented by ILSI.
Is our government also closely involved with industry as we so often report?
Are they also bowing to the industry’s interests at the expense of many, including farmers, soldiers and pilots?
Javelin Park 2: Gloucestershire County Council’s PFI incinerator deal with Urbaser Balfour Beatty: case officer removed & consultants brought in
PCU has recorded Gloucestershire County Council’s desire to build a £500 million Urbaser Balfour Beatty Energy from Waste incinerator at Javelin Park in Haresfield. It is reported that 103 incinerator sites were licensed in 2010, that in 2011 DEFRA had 20 more applications from large power companies and that a large number of government advisers are involved in the expensive and remunerative incinerator PFI deals.
Highlighting growing concerns that there will be too many incinerators in the UK by 2015 and that they will severely hamper recycling, Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood tabled Early Day Motion 383, . . . to read on click here.
Opposition to this plan by residents, opposition groups and local authorities has been well documented in the Stroud News & Journal by journalist Chris Warne.
Update: the council removes the case officer from the Javelin Park application and brings in a team of consultants – at taxpayers’ expense
GCG says that this – done without informing a lead member of its planning committee – is perfectly normal practice, but the SNJ’s editorial comment is: “There is a school of management that keeps on asking the same question until the right answer appears”.
Geoff Wheeler, the leader of Stroud District Council, has now instructed officers to write to Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government, asking him to ‘call in’ the plans as he did with the Kings Lynn incinerator application in August.
GCG’s Lib-Dems, supported by the Labour Group, have separately called in the bid for extra scrutiny but the County Council hopes to determine the application in the New Year.
SouthWest Business reported last Friday that planning experts at Stroud District Council have warned that the £500million scheme to build a waste-to-energy plant at Javelin Park, supported by Gloucestershire County Council and incinerator firm Urbaser Balfour Beatty, could be thrown out by a Government inspector because of the impact it could have on the environment.
Irregularities in procedure
Stroud’s Councillor Marjoram points out irregularities in procedure: the council selected a contractor for the construction before planning permission had been granted, signing a contract with a penalty clause which will charge them £15 million if they renege on the agreement or don’t get planning permission.
Apply the precautionary principle
Ian Richens, spokesman for the campaigning group GlosVAIN, grimly reminds all that in the 1970s asbestos was similarly presented as posing no danger to health and adds:
“Let us not make the same mistake again”.#
United Kingdom Without Incineration Network
UKWIN has nearly 100 groups campaigning for sustainable waste management and against waste incineration. They say that the incineration of household waste:
- depresses recycling and wastes resources,
- releases greenhouse gases, and is
- often forced through against strong public opposition.
- create toxic emissions and hazardous ash, and therefore pose significant health risks.
Electoral reaction: in Kings Lynn, Labour’s Alex Kempe won a county council seat from the Conservatives. Their majority of 272 at the last election was transformed into a 400 majority for Labour. Ms Kemp said that the issue of the proposed incinerator had a major bearing on the outcome. The County Council’s decision to award a contract for the construction of an incinerator has been ‘called in’ – there will be a full public inquiry in January 2013.