Helping farmers put real health on our plates

Landmark Agriculture Bill becomes law

Legislation that will unleash the potential of agriculture has passed into UK law as of 11 November.

The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change, under the Environmental Land Management scheme. These incentives will provide a powerful vehicle for achieving the goals of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and our commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Read full article: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-agriculture-bill-becomes-law

One Week Eating Organic – Glyphosate Levels Drop 70%

Credit: Sustainable Pulse

A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Research found that levels of the pesticide glyphosate in participants’ bodies dropped an average of 70% after six days on an organic diet. The study is one of the first to examine how an organic diet affects exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer’s weedkiller Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller worldwide. It also indicates that for the general population, the food they eat is a primary way they are exposed to this pesticide.

 

“It’s striking that levels of this toxic pesticide dropped so dramatically after less than a week. Given our results and related studies on how an organic diet rapidly reduces pesticide exposure, we could expect to see similar reductions in glyphosate levels in most Americans if they switched to an organic diet,” said study co-author Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of us are eating glyphosate-laden food continuously, resulting in daily doses of the chemical from breakfast through dinner.”

Genome editing: invasive and hollowing out the whole

Credit: natural products global

Genome editing is the new “sustainability” buzzword. In the recent House of Lords consideration of amendments to the Agriculture Bill there were frequent references to “precision breeding”, “new plant breeding techniques” and “modern breeding methods” for plants and livestock – all of them euphemisms for genome editing.

This latest incarnation of genetic engineering technology is not one particular method. It is a whole suite of them with differing characteristics. But you wouldn’t know that from the sweeping generalisations made about this “game-changing” technology which, it is claimed, is “akin to natural processes” but “more precise” and has such benefits and negligible risk that it should immediately be freed of regulatory oversight where it will lead the way in a transformative “bioeconomy”.

In the past, such claims for GMOs have been met with incredulity, a healthy dose of scepticism and more than a little bit of ridicule from NGOs and civil society. Not now. There is an increasing willingness to accept that genome editing has – at least the potential – to advance the cause of “sustainable” food and farming, have animal welfare benefits and more speedily tackle some of the difficult issues caused by climate change.

Some have begun accept the claims that genome editing impacts in a way that is similar to natural processes and could be accepted in regenerative, agroecological and even organic farming. One of our partners, Beyond GM, has been running a programme called “A Bigger Conversation” exploring the claims, perspectives and attitudes surrounding genome editing. Some of the findings have been surprising – from all sides.

Surprising support for genome editing

The latest event in this programme was a webinar which started out to explore the broader issues of “sustainability” – whatever that means nowadays, which all the panelists, including WHAg’s Lawrence Woodward, agreed isn’t very much.

But when the conversation got down to the potential benefits of genome editing some really controversial things emerged.

Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Lymbery was concerned that adoption of genome editing could entrench industrial farming systems but he nevertheless, supported it’s use in some circumstances. He asked:

“What if, chickens were successfully gene edited so the only eggs with female embryos are viable…If successful, this technology could be a revolution, ending at a stroke, the killing of birth of 5 billion sentient creatures a year.”

In an earlier BGM meeting, support had been expressed for the use of genome editing to deal with dehorning cattle.

Lymbery also voiced support for cell-based meat analogues. While not all of these involve genome editing some of them do.

Organic farmer Guy Singh-Watson also offered some support for gene editing, noting: “I’m not adamantly against the technology” and that “If you could give us a blight resistant potato, I would find it very hard to argue against.” He, nevertheless expressed real concerns around the system, which seems to go hand in hand with GM technology.

As the “Bigger Conversation” programme has revealed these perspectives are becoming more widely held.

The antithesis of whole health

It might be there is a role for genome editing in something that is called “sustainability” but Lawrence Woodward is adamant that it is the antithesis of a whole system approach to health, which is built on the integrity of the whole living organism, be it soil life, plants, animals and man within a living, functioning ecosystem.

Woodward and Hugh Jones, Professor of Translational Genomics for Plant Breeding at Aberystwyth University recently had an online exchange about these concepts and practices. The discussion can be viewed here and from it lots of background references to genome editing, plant breeding approaches, the wholistic philosophy behind the organic approach to health and perspectives on gene function can be accessed.

In the exchange Woodward notes that, “The development of the concepts of organic plant breeding and seed has been primarily driven by ideas rooted in, anthroposophical, holistic, socially focussed agroecological perspectives. From these emerge the precept to “respect the genome and the cell as an indivisible functional entity” and to “follow the concept of respecting integrity of life.”

The consequence of this precept for organic plant (and animal) breeding is that: “any technical or physical invasion into the isolated cell is refrained from and plant specific crossing barriers are respected, irrespective of potential benefit risk assessments.”

Genome editing is clearly invasive and is not wholistic. There have not been enough studies to determine how much of a risk it is to the process of health and well-being. There are no studies to indicate any benefit to the function of the process of health but as the rationale behind genome editing is to “cut and paste”, “cut and delete”, it is surely reasonable to call it “hollowing out the whole”.

Watch the full-length video recording of the webinar here.

Microplastics distribution: The disease and pollution of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.

A particularly large collembolan (almost 2mm long) found in an oak forest in Ireland. Soil collembolan species are typically much smaller, paler, and might not have eyes. Together with microbes these animals help elements like nitrogen cycle between plants and soil.              Credit: Tancredi Caruso – Author

Microscopic animals are busy distributing microplastics throughout the world’s soil

King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, lies 120km, about a day’s sail off the northernmost tip of Antarctica. It’s a rugged place – home to seals, penguins, a few scientific bases and not much else. Though the climate is mild compared to the mainland, temperatures still barely reach above freezing in the summer months and the island is almost entirely covered in ice. If microplastics can enter the food web here, they can probably do so almost anywhere on earth.

But this is exactly what colleagues and I discovered, when we searched for microplastics inside tiny creatures found on King George Island. Our results, now published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, show that microplastics are becoming an integral part of the soil food web.

Microplastics are pieces of plastics smaller than a few millimetres, and usually much smaller than that. These bits and pieces break off from the hundreds of millions of tons of plastics that are produced each year, and collectively form a huge amount of waste. And, as plastic degrades only very slowly, it has dramatically accumulated in the environment, everywhere from the deepest ocean floors to the North and South poles.

Read the full article: https://theconversation.com/microscopic-animals-are-busy-distributing-microplastics-throughout-the-worlds-soil-141353

 

Humans ‘threaten one million species with extinction’

mountains and lake

On land, in the seas, in the sky, the devastating impact of humans on nature is laid bare in a compelling UN report. 

One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction.

Nature everywhere is declining at a speed never previously seen and our need for ever more food and energy are the main drivers.

These trends can be halted, the study says, but it will take “transformative change” in every aspect of how humans interact with nature.

From the bees that pollinate our crops, to the forests that hold back flood waters, the report reveals how humans are ravaging the very ecosystems that support their societies.

Three years in the making, this global assessment of nature draws on 15,000 reference materials, and has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It runs to 1,800 pages. 

The brief, 40-page “summary for policymakers”, published today at a meeting in Paris, is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how humans have treated their only home.

It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars.

For further information……click on full article link. 

Credit: BBC (image: Getty Images)

Full article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48169783

UK Parliament declares climate change emergency

climate change protestors

MPs have approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.

This proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was “a huge step forward”. 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate “emergency” but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one.

The declaration of an emergency was one of the key demands put to the government by environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, in a series of protests over recent weeks. 

Addressing climate protesters from the top of a fire engine in Parliament Square earlier, Mr Corbyn said: “This can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe.

“We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

For further information……click on full article link. 

Credit: BBC (image: Reuters)

Full article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48126677

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