SOS Dairy: British farmers against throwaway prices

This article first appeared on the New Internationalist website on 10 August 2012.

Photo thanks to markhillary.


Fairtrade is typically seen as something done by the West for the ‘developing world’, but a recent crisis in British dairy farming has raised the question of whether a similar concept should apply closer to home.

Since July, a campaign has been gathering pace, led by a coalition of farming organizations including the NFU and the grassroots Farmers for Action (FFA), for a fairer price for milk.

The main message, aimed at milk processors and retailers, is: pay farmers more for each litre of milk they produce. From 1 August 2012, the main companies supplying British retailers were preparing to reduce the price received by farmers to below the cost of production, which is about 30 pence ($ 0.47) per litre.

On 11 July 2012 over 2,000 farmers protested in London. Other actions have included women bathing in milk in town centres and blockades of processing plants in Leeds, Shropshire and Leicestershire.

Public reaction has been largely positive and the #SOS Dairy hashtag has been a common sight on Twitter. A poll last month by YouGov and The Grocer magazine found that an impressive 83 per cent of the public were aware of the farmers’ protests, with 67 per cent thinking they should be paid more, even if it means milk becomes more expensive to buy.

But British framers have been here before. In 2010 there was a similar crisis after the collapse of the Dairy Farmers of Britain co-operative in 2009, and the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. A campaign was started by the newspaper Farmers Guardian calling for Fairtrade for British Dairy Farmers with a 50,000 strong supporting petition.

Lucy Dunne from the World Development Movement (WDM) pointed out in a recent blog: ‘What is interesting in this debate is that supermarkets agreeing to at least meet the cost of production is hailed as a “victory” for farmers.’ She calls for the current dairy campaign to feed into a bigger and more sustainable, global movement.

The Fairtrade Foundation questions whether their mark or something similar is the answer for British farmers. On their website they recognize the obstacles British farmers are facing, but say farmers in developing countries are likely to have less infrastructural support, social security or other ‘safety nets’ available.

Amy Horton, food justice campaigner at WDM says there is a growing movement that supports Fairtrade, as well as food sovereignty. She uses the example of the Cumbria Fairtrade Networkwhich has been promoting ways to align the principles of Fairtrade with supporting local food producers and local markets.

‘Fairtrade has played an important role in strengthening the movement for trade justice,’ says Horton. But she argues that it doesn’t change the structural and political problems in an unjust food system, and will not bring ‘the more radical overhaul of the food system demanded by the movement for food sovereignty’…

Read the rest at the New Internationalist website.

How to…give your cocktail a green-over

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 8 May 2012.

Shaken or stirred, recreating the bar experience at home is becoming ever more popular as the economic downturn makes staying in the new going out. But staying in doesn’t necessarily mean green. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the carbon footprint of alcohol consumed in the UK is 1.5 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The life cycle of the product adds to this and needs to be considered when making the green choice.

One of the easiest ways to go green is to go organic. Chris Parker is the owner of the Surrey-based Organic Spirits Company. ‘Normal fertilisers contain a mixture of natural phosphates, which are gradually running out,’ he says. ‘There’s also nitrates which, in terms of pollution, give off nitrous oxide which is 300 times as toxic as carbon dioxide.’ Dr Paul Taylor is a Carbon Trust advisor who specialises in food and drink. He agrees that farming practices are important. ‘If there’s an agricultural component they need to be careful of not using too many fertilisers,’ he says. Parker says that, after winning 36 international medals, the proof of the Organic Spirits Company’s product is in the drinking. ‘Independent judges who are blind tasting have been picking out our products against the world’s best,’ he says. Fans of organic cocktails say they taste smoother and fresher…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

The dark side of soya: how one supercrop lost its way

This article was first published in the Ecologist on 1 May 2012.

Once credited with power to prevent cancer and combat high cholesterol, over the last few years, evidence that soya is far from a superfood has begun to emerge. And it’s not just the potentially negative health impact of the bean that has former supporters up in arms: it’s the environmental impact. In the UK we rely heavily on soya, or soy, and it’s not just for vegetarian food. It is a hidden product in many foods and everyday items such as soap. It is a cheap source of protein for people as well as animals and according toGreenpeace, 80 per cent of soya worldwide is used for the livestock industry.  WWF add that the UK consumption alone requires an area the size of Yorkshire to be planted with soya every year. So how did soya go from super crop to super bad?

Deforestation and slavery

Brazil, the second biggest grower and the biggest exporter of soya, is such a big player in the industry that there are major concerns about how this is affecting the Amazon Rainforest. According to Greenpeace, in 2005 around 1.2 million hectares of soya was planted in the Brazilian rainforest. Sarah Shoaka from Greenpeace’s Forest Network says that deforestation has been decreasing on the whole in Brazil since 2008. This is mainly because of the enforcement of a soya moratorium that bans soya produced as a result of deforestation from entering the market place.  However, Shoraka warns that this positive trend may be changing…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

In season now: what to eat during May

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 30 April 2012.

Bank holiday weekends are becoming a regular occurrence and with the weather (hopefully) improving, it’s time to get out and explore. For the foodie, this is about more than just enjoying the scenery; there are plenty of treats to be found if you know where to look. But too many of us don’t, says Slow Food UK CEO, Cat Gazzoli, who is adamant that we need to start taking advantage of our ‘forgotten foods’. ‘Eat it or lose it’ is the motto behind Slow Food’s Ark of Taste network, which catalogues forgotten flavours. It currently stands at 700 products from 30 countries. ‘The producers of these foods swim against the tide of intensive production methods to continue the culinary traditions that have been passed down through the generations,’ says Gazzoli. ‘Every product has a fascinating story behind it.’ So what should you be eating this month? Gazzoli has a few unusual ideas.

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

Newport bites the foodie apple

First appeared on alt.cardiff on Tuesday 18 October 2011

Newport may not have an obvious foodie focus but organisers of the first Newport Food Festival, from 28 to 29 October 2011, are hoping to change that.

Newport Food Festival will include local produce

 Demonstrating Newport’s culinary diversity, the festival will feature celebrity chefs including Stephen Terry and Norman Musa, as well as local talent.

The focus is Saturday October 29 with producer stalls, free chef demonstrations and live music.

Anna Redman is the owner of Ristorante Vittorio, which will be taking part in the chef demonstration.  She says Newport has more individuality than other cities, “It’s not overloaded with chains; there are still many independent, family run businesses.”

Newport City Council and Newport Unlimited, who are running the festival, want to build the reputation of the city as a food destination.

Siop y Bobl: Cardiff’s People’s Supermarket

First appeared on alt.cardiff on Tuesday 11 October 2011.

Siop y Bobl beat Blasus (Delicious) and Broccoli to name the shop based on the London People’s Supermarket featured in a Channel 4 documentary.

Deri Reed, the Ethical Chef, was inspired by the volunteer run supermarket and wanted to try it in Cardiff. The project now has support from the Wales Co-operative Centre and over 300 people interested.

“There’s no doubt that the current food system needs improving,” saysGwion Thorpe, project leader. “Despite the growth of farmers’ markets, box schemes and community food enterprises in Cardiff, the big multiples continue to dominate.”

He says Siop y Bobl will give people more choice; “Ultimately it’s a People’s Supermarket to meet the needs of its members and the local community.”

Organisers are looking for more people to get involved. Get in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Neath Ales Brew Beer With Menace

First published in the June 2010 issue of Buzz Magazine

“Dark, foreboding and full of menace” is how Jay Thomas describes Neath Ales Black, his favourite of the ales his one man brewery business produces. 34 year old Jay operates out of a secret Neath location and set up the business after being made redundant from his job as a sociology lecturer. The brewery is the first in the area since the Vale of Neath Brewery closed in 1972.

Jay runs the business on his own managing everything from marketing the brand, brewing the beer and bottling up the product, but he says other members of the family still manage to get involved. “My poor retired father can’t keep away and I only have to pay my four and two year olds a couple of jelly beans to clean for me. Don’t tell social services!”

Like many students looking to save a few bob and try some experimentation, Jay started brewing beer while at university as he was fed up with mass marketed, bland lagers and fancied trying something different – and a little stronger.

Premium bottled beers have increased in popularity over the last few years with drinks companies seeing increased profits in this area of the market. Jay puts this down to people becoming savvier about big businesses telling them what to consume. “You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and ask for the most insipid, lowest quality thing on the menu, so why do that when you go to a bar?” he says.

Neath Ales are made lovingly with no additives and are all vegan friendly. Just Welsh water, malted barley, whole hops and yeast are included. The beers are matured for many weeks until they have reached Jay’s high standard and can be found in many shops in Neath, Swansea and the surrounding areas.

Although running a business single-handedly is a challenge, Jay says he is in it for the long haul. “It is an awesome vocation and one into which the true heroes will venture. As for taking on big big biz with their hundreds of millions of pounds advertisings might, bring it on.”