Friday, 17 December 2010

more about the threat to mackerel

Lewis Smith in The Independent had an interesting article Iceland walks out of fishing talks (13/12/10). He wrote mostly about the recent problem of Iceland and the Faroes setting themselves large quotas for mackerel. They have chosen not to cooperate with other nations and to persue a path that will result in the decline of mackerel stocks.

Felicity Lawrence has written a good introduction to the problem of overfishing in her book Eat Your Heart Out. This book also explains many of the other problems connected to food production.

The other issue in Lewis Smith's article is UK quotas being distributed not directly by the government but by Fishing Producer Organisations. This means that the seas are being treated more as a privately owned resource and less as a publicly owned resource. This system is questionable in law and is leading to problems, such as fishermen with smaller boats losing out to those with bigger boats in getting a fair share of the quota. Fishing Producer Organisations mainly have members with bigger boats (trawlers), but the smaller boats are less damaging to fish stocks.

see my other post about mackerel fishing

Monday, 15 November 2010

recent interesting newspaper articles

There have been a number of interesting articles in newspapers recently about animal welfare and ecological issues. The first two are about the new mega dairies like the proposed one in Nocton.

The Guardian 13/11/10 A tale of two herds What's the future for dairy farming? Juliette Jowit reports on new plans for an enormous super-dairy, home to 8,000 cows. John Vidal, meanwhile, visits a tiny herd of 44 in Hertfordshire – all have names and are cherished from birth to death

The Indpendent 13/11/10 Peter Stevenson: Coalition stance on industrial dairy farms will see cows suffer
"Mega-dairies will in all likelihood become widespread if allowed and the Government is refusing to come out against them as it should."

The Indpendent 13/11/10 The great animal rights betrayal Government scraps protection for hens, game birds, pigs, cows, sheep – and circus animals

The Indpendent 15/11/10 None flew over the cuckoo's nest: A world without birds Could we be facing a future without birds? Our reliance on pesticides has cut a swathe through their numbers. We must act now, argues Kate Ravilious

The most interesting thing about the first of these articles is the taste comparison between milk from intensively-reared cows and milk as it used to be, from the Hare Krishna dairy. The two are completely different. The Hare Krishna milk had more flavour and tasted better. It was thicker and more substantial. It makes you wonder if instead of intensive dairy production we could just have watered down our milk to make it cheaper. The justification of producing milk that people can afford seems a bit of a con.

Another thing that interested me was the statement that the cows at the proposed Nocton mega dairy would not be fed on cattle feed derived from soya. The article said that soy protein is 'associated with cutting down rainforests'. It doesn't make it clear if this is a decision designed to make the critics happier. It doesn't seem to make a lot of ecological sense because soy protein can be sourced from America and Argentina instead of Brazil.

It made me wonder what these cows will be fed on. Cows used to eat grass and other meadow plants. After that they grazed on grass from 'improved' grassland. After that they ate starch from grains as well as the usual cellulose. Now intensively-reared cows eat soy protein as well as starch from grains. Cows that are highly bred to produce vast quantitites of milk cannot do so unless they eat lots of protein. Milk contains a lot of protein. That's why at times they have been fed dead animals and fish.

The answer seems to be that they will eat lucerne and maize. I wouldn't have thought that lucerne (also known as alfalfa) could provide enough protein.

See my other post about mega dairies.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

is mackerel at risk?

On Countryfile this Sunday there was a report about mackerel stocks. Mackerel stocks in Europe had been maintained sensibly but it seems all that is about to change. Mackerel could go the way of cod, with numbers becoming depleted. Fishermen from the Faroes and also Iceland intend to catch many more. This would be a great tragedy. Fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, are a wonderful nutritional resource. It really would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

This isn't just about fishermen's jobs, or about fishing communities, or even about national income. It would be a crime if in the long term fewer of these protein and omega-3 rich fish were available to humanity. There will be many more mouths to feed in the future.

I saw Elliot Morley on TV recently. He got into trouble recently over expenses and has tried to use parliamentary privilege to avoid standing trial. I remembed Elliot Morley from when he was fisheries minister years go. Someone asked him if it would not be a good idea to protect fish stocks to stop them from becoming depleted. He said it was a circular argument, because if you protected fish stocks it might protect the jobs of fishermen in the future but then again it would mean job losses now.

It's not a 'circular argument'. It's a question of short-term interests versus long-term interests. We should always do what's best for the long term. That's why we invest in the future. Even then that's only looking at it from the point of view of fishermen's jobs. Food security is a much more important issue.

I always think of Elliot Morley when people say that we need to pay MPs lots of money so that we can attract the best people. The idea is that high-flyers are the most intelligent and we need them to get the job done. However, people like him don't really understand the arguments. They're not activists, they don't have ideals. They seem to think their job is to balance the demands of different interest groups. We need people who really believe in something in Parliament. High-fliers are a waste of time, whether it's in Parliament or in the City.

Monday, 8 November 2010

misleading information in the Daily Mail

I read the Daily Mail on Friday (05/11/10) and there were two articles about food that were misleading. The first was by Martin Samuel on page 18 entitled Fish oil or a load of codswallop? The second one by 'Daily Mail Reporter' was called Organic vegetables 'no better for health'.

Martin Samuel referred to a review by Dr Majid Fotuhi last year which concluded that fish oil cannot prevent or treat Alzheimer's Disease. This was interesting to me because I had no idea that anyone had ever suggested that fish oil or cod liver oil could help Alzheimer's Disease.

Fish oil contains long chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). They are known to help reduce inflammation and as such are helpful in preventing heart disease as well as things like arthritis. They are an important part of the structure of the brain, and lack of it is associated with depression.

Martin Samuel wrote 'Fish oil is among the great modern myths. Excellent as part of a balanced diet; largely lacking in wonder-pill qualities if taken alone'. What he seems to be saying is that eating fish could be beneficial but consuming fish oil is of no value at all. This is simply wrong.

I was not aware that fish oil was supposed to help Alzheimer's, although if you look hard enough on the web you can find that some people do - or did - think that. What I do know is that vitamin B has been shown to be linked to Alzheimer's. In the New Scientist recently was an article Low levels of vitamin B12 linked to Alzheimer's.

Not long long ago there was an interesting programme on Radio 4 showing how important vitamin D is. New research shows that it is important to the body in many different ways, much more important than was thought before. Lack of vitamin D is associated with Parkinson's Disease, MS and TB. Martin Samuel railed against 'the dubious vitamin pill industry' but I am glad that for years I have take a vitamin supplement. I don't take a vitamin and mineral supplement because I don't want to take extra iron; as an adult male extra iron will not help me and could harm me.

The second article said that a 'universtity study' showed that organic vegetables have roughly the same amount of polyphenols. The article described polyphenols as 'the chemical compound in vegetables that helps fight cancer, heart disease and dementia'. Polyphenols are only one type of antioxidant. We cannot be sure that antioxidants in food have any health benefits.

Most people who buy organic food do so because the long term cumulative effects of ingesting a cocktail of small amounts of different agrochemicals are unknown. Or they don't like the effect that agrochemicals have on wildlife. Or they don't want to support an agricultural system that they don't believe in, for reasons explored elsewhere on this blog. It isn't anything to do with polyphenols.

We can see a pattern emerging in tabloid reporting on health issues. First they take some obscure research. Then they pretend that people buy a supplement or a food for a particular reason when they don't. Then they ridicule anyone who wastes their money on the supplement or the premium priced food. The annoying thing is that anyone who doesn't know anything about nutritition will believe what they are reading. They will avoid healthy food because people like Martin Samuel have cast doubt on it. I don't eat organic food but I respect people who do. This is people's health we're talking about, and these tabloid hacks are harming it.

There are three types of people when it comes to health information. There are those who take the information on board for the benefit of themselves and their family. There are those who decide to take no notice and continue as before. Both of these types of people I am happy with. I have no objection to people smoking, as long as they don't pretend to the world that smoking is not harmful.

The third type of person is the type of person who doesn't want to take the information on board but they don't want to appear to be stupid. They try to muddy the waters, to use convoluted arguments to try to cast doubts on scientific evidence. There is nothing wrong with challenging scientific evidence, that is what scientists do to each other all the time. It is a necessary part of science. But scientists use concise arguments and evidence. These people don't.

They insist that the way they were brought up must have been as good as any, that their traditional way of eating cannot be wrong in any way. They often believe that butter must be OK because it is natural and traditional. Fish oil must be wrong because Grandma never used it. Actually Grandma probably did use it, or at least cod liver oil. Maybe, in this case, Grandma knew best.

So I'm going to continue to take my fish oil capsules, and my vitamin supplement, not just because of research results but because of possible research results in the future. I want to be in a position where when more evidence comes along of the value of DHA and EPA or vitamins B and D I know that I've been taking it for years.

I don't swallow my fish oil capsules. They are quite big. I put one in my mouth and break it with my teeth. The oil tastes nice. It makes me wonder why in Grandma's generation they hated the taste of cod liver oil. It was probably because it came from a bottle and was rancid. I keep mine in the fridge. I intend to have cod liver oil in winter because it is considerably higher in vitamin D than fish oil, and we make less vitamin D in our skin in winter.

There may be a problem with Cod Liver Oil though. Some brands add vitamins A and D. It could be that some people may be taking too much vitamin A. Some would say that taking lots of vitamin A negates the benefits of taking lots of vitamin D. I don't take megadoses of any vitamin, and I like to get a lot of my vitamins from the food that I eat. RDAs (Recomended Daily Allowances) are not relevant to anything, they are just guesswork.

If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills?' that by itself is a meaningless question. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to stay alive?' the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to prevent deficiency diseases?' again the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to obtain the optimum amount of vitamins for all the various functions known and unknown?' that is a more difficult question to answer. It is a question I hope will be answered at some time in the future, but we are getting closer to the answer.

I went to the Daily Mail website to look for links to these two articles so that I could include them on this blog page. I didn't find them, but then I didn't look very hard. What I did find was that Martin Samuel seems to be a sports reporter. Nice to know that the Daily Mail always has an expert on hand when they need to deal with the important issue of the health of millions of people.

Monday, 25 October 2010

mega dairy in Lincolnshire

I watched Countryfile on BBC1 last night. The main subject for discussion was the proposed American style mega dairy in Nocton in Lincolnshire. Animal welfare and ecological problems were the main reasons for objections to the proposed farm. The most important objection, however, is something that was not mentioned at all. Ever larger amounts of the world's crops are fed to animals instead of to people. This sort of farm, new to Britain, is taking us further in the wrong direction.

On the programme last night Adam Henson went to America to see one of these massive dairies and interview Gordie Jones who runs one of them. Gordie said something that in itself was true, and gets to the nub of the issue.

One of the challenges, in the next 40 years, we'll have 9 billion people on this planet. In the next 40 years we have to make as much food as we've made since the beginning of time on a planet-wide scale.

The problem is that intensive dairy farms where cows are fed maize and soya instead of grazing on grass are not net producers of food. Consider it in terms of inputs and outputs. The most important input is cattle feed. Cattle feed is mostly maize and soya, with some wheat and barley. Grains and soya beans. We don't grow maize and soya in Britain, so it has to be imported. The output is milk and meat.

We feed large quantities of grain and soya to animals to get small amounts of milk and meat. Doesn't matter whether you measure it in terms of calories or of protein. You get less out of it than you put in. One statistic I've got is that it takes 6 to 8 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef. Some sources say that it is even more than that.

If people couldn't eat maize and soya, then the best thing to do with it would be to feed it to domesticated animals like chickens, pigs and cattle as we mostly do now. However, maize was domesticated in Mexico thousands of years ago as a starchy staple for humans. Soya beans were domesticated in East Asia thousands of years ago and are an excellent cheap protein source as well as starch. Cattle were domesticated so that they could eat the grass that we could not and then we could eat them or drink their milk.

You may say that people don't want to eat maize and soya beans. I would much prefer to eat beans and vegetables cooked together and flavoured with chili and coriander in a maize flour tortilla than a cheeseburger. Soya beans taste much the same as any other bean but they are probably the healthiest bean. They can also be eaten in the form of tofu or tempeh.

Gordie pointed out that people want cheap food. This is not true. If people wanted to eat cheaply they could become vegans. Animal protein is the most expensive form of protein. I am not a vegan, I am not even a vegetarian. I eat meat sometimes but I only eat it when I know that I am going to enjoy it. That might mean more expensive meat or it might not. If I pay twice as much for some tasty chicken as for tasteless intensively-reared chicken then I might eat half as much. That way I'm not paying more for my meat.

People think that they need lots of protein. They are mistaken in that. In Britain and the USA people, even poor people, eat at least double the amount of protein they need and often three times as much as they need. Grain derived foods such as bread, pasta and rice are typically 10% protein. They can provide as much protein as someone needs, and throw in a few beans and you can be sure you have enough protein.

In Britain and the USA people are used to fast food and processed food. They are used to the taste of fat, sugar and salt. They can learn to enjoy food more, save money and improve their nutrition. All at the same time.

Another thing that Gordie said was that people seem to like traditional dairy farms but they don't want to pay for them. He made fun of these small farms, likening them to a 'Fisher Price toy', and said they are 'not sustainable any more'. However, if the cows on small farms are fed on grass, and grass is the only thing that will grow on that land, then that farm is a net food producer and can help to feed the world, including the poor. Unlike Gordie's farm that makes unhealthy food for affluent Americans while poor Mexicans go hungry because they can't afford the maize to make their tortillas.

Jay Rayner on the Channel 4 programme 'Food: What Goes in your Basket' said this about intensive farming. He was talking about the increases in the price of meat and how people will respond to them.

There has to be a way of sourcing animal protein for people at price people can afford. Which leads me back to intensive farming. It's cheap meat that answers a need. The solution? There have to be improvements to provide indoor animals with a better life. But whatever you think of it, I think it's a necessary industry and it's not going away. All we can do is make it more palatable.

No. We cannot continue to feed 50% of the world's wheat, 80% of its maize and 90% of it's soya to animals. We cannot feed ever larger amount of crops to chickens, pigs and cattle. There are billions of these animals. It is an inefficient system. It is a system that converts large amounts of healthy food into a smaller amount of unhealthy food at the same time as making it more expensive. Saying that these mega farms are efficient is like buying a 4 x 4 car and saying it is efficient because it is the least gas-guzzling 4 x 4 on the market.

Jay said that people will respond to increases in the price of meat by eating less free range and organic meat and more intensively-reared meat. Some people will do this. Others, the more informed ones, will eat less meat and more bread, pasta and rice. Not only will they not pay more for their meat but their health will benefit too.

We can feed 9 billion, but it won't be on burgers and shakes. These new dairy and pig farms are taking us in the wrong direction and should not be allowed.

The Indpendent did an interesting article about the proposed dairy farms in Lincolnshire and pig farm in Derbyshire in June this year.

I am aware that before maize and soya are used for animal feed they usually have the oil extracted. Some would say that animal feed is a byproduct of the vegetable oil industy. However, maize has more starch than oil I would think and some protein. Soya contains protein, starch and oil. I would say the vegetable oil is a byproduct of the animal feed industry. In any case vegetable oil has very little positive contribution to make human nutrition. Oil from maize and soya is high in omega-6 which is not good and is used in processed foods, fast foods and unhealthy fried foods in the home.

I am also aware that much wheat is not suitable for bread or pasta making. In a cold rainy year wheat may not have developed sufficiently for human consumption. This does not alter what I have said, we should be eating more wheat not feeding half of it to animals.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

confusion over omegas

I have seen more and more products recently that are labeled as containing omega-3, 6 and 9. It's not just that they contain these but the labels state it prominently, as if it's a good thing. However, we should be consuming LESS omega-6 not MORE. This seems to be a case of manufacturers deliberately confusing people about their health so that they can increase their profits. People see the word 'omega' and they think it must be a good thing.

Oils containing lots of omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids can be beneficial to health, but omega-6 is a very different matter. Although omega-6 is an essential fatty acid (EFA), so we need some, most people in the developed world get far too much of it.

Most people know that saturated fats are not healthy. They may also know that trans fats are also unhealthy. There are also healthy fats or oils. Olive oil and fish oil can be beneficial for health. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, also known as omega-9. A fatty acid is part of a fat molecule. Fish oil contains the most beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids, long-chain fatty acids like DHA and EPA.

The problem with omega-6 is that the more of it we have the less our body can utilize omega-3. So not only do we not get enough omega-3 in our diet, especially from fish and sea food, but the large amounts of omega-6 we consume means that we can't utilize what little omega-3 we get. This leads to problems like inflammation.

We get most of our omega-6 from vegetable oil. Vegetable oil comes from various sources, often seeds such as sunflower seed. Fast food and processed food contain lots of vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is cheap, so it is easy for manufacturers to boast that their product contains omega-6. It is also easy for manufacturers to say that their product contains omega-3. Short-chain omega-3 can be obtained cheaply from vegetable sources. Not only is short-chain omega-3 of little use to the body, especially when we also eat lots of omega-6, these products contain very little omega-3.

So be very wary of manufacturers who boast about the omegas in their products. Manufacturers know what they are doing, they know that they are misleading people, but sometimes small shopkeepers get confused. In Brighton there is a new whole food shop near the station. They sell oil from stainless-steel urns. You can bring your own bottle and fill it up. They have olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils.

Their oil tastes delicious, but their labelling seems confused. They say that their rapeseed oil is high in omega 3, 6 and 9. However, the good thing about rapeseed oil is that is high in omega 3 and 9 and LOW in omega 6. If they wanted to be accurate, they should say that olive oil is high in omega 9 (or monounsaturated fatty acids), rapeseed oil is high in omega 3 and 9, and sunflower oil is high in omega 6. They could also say something about the different vitamin E levels.

I use olive oil and rapeseed oil. I am glad that rapeseed oil, especially cold pressed rapeseed oil, is becoming more available. I think it strange however that the manufacturers are marketing it as having less saturated fat than olive oil. Both olive and rapeseed oils are low in saturated fat so that it hardly makes a difference.

Could it be that the manufacturers have done a bit of research and found that the public don't know much about 'omegas'? The public don't know that a vegetable oil low in omega-6 is a good thing, but they do know that saturated fat is a bad thing. So they have decided to market the oil on the basis of it being lower in saturates than olive oil. Probably they are also calculating that they can take custom away from olive oil. They feel they are in competition with olive oil in a 'healthy oil' market.

I think it is despicable that manufacturers should try to confuse the public instead of trying to educate them. They are manipulative and care about their profits and not about public health. I think there should be stronger rules about labelling and advertizing so that they can no longer do this. I think that there should be more education of the public in these matters that are so important for their health, and this should start in schools.