No more agrochemicals please

I’ve stopped using glyphosate on our land a couple of years ago – and I think that Papatuanuku likes that I am not pouring poison on her anymore. I only sprayed paved surfaces and now my efforts at weed control are more labour intensive – but its worth it. I know when I harvest food from our land it has not been poisoned. And I know that I am not supporting the companies that make these poisons.

This post touches on three agrochemicals that we should not be using.

Glyphosate

Take glyphosate for example. According to this heavily referenced study published by the Green Party, it is probably carcinogenic, genotoxic, is a endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin  – and much more. The Greens are asking that it is not used in parks where our children play. In this video Dr Seneff discusses some of the issues with glyphosate including autism.

Organophosphates

An extensive European Union study estimated the cost of organophosphate exposure due to reduced children’s IQ levels at 125 billion euros. This Harvard article identifies chlorpyrifos and glyphosate as neurotoxins, claiming they erode intelligence. Organophosphates are damaging to the brain and to the developing foetus.

Organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos are used widely in New Zealand. Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Group Aotearoa want chlorpyrifos reassessed here as it is bioaccumulative. Here is Dr Watts presenting on pesticides. Sadly the rate of pesticide use is still on the rise.

Neonicotinoids

If you plant corn seeds, they may have been treated with a neonicotinoid dressing (the pink stuff). If you watched Dr Watt’s presentation she explains the impact of these nasty chemicals on bees. A June 2017 New Scientist magazine article reports a mountain of evidence that neonicotinoids kill bees. A 2015 estimate of the values of bees to the global economy as 265 billion euros.

The value of ecosystem services (including pollination) is about the same total global GDP, but we erode the value of bees, soil biota and aquatic life with our continued use of poisons. We also create detrimental health impacts for people and communities. Why do we do it? Follow the money.

Lets make sugar an election issue

Eight countries, several U.S. jurisdictions and eight Island countries and territories have implemented taxes on sugary drinks (Wikipedia). In 2016 the WHO urged all countries to  impose a tax recommending 20%. Yet our politicians and health authorities seem to be asleep at the wheel on this issue. Jamie Oliver sums it up nicely.

And shame on the Auckland DHB for refusing to host the FIZZ conference at Auckland Hospital finding the issue too political! This sounds more like China heavying us about the Dalai Lama! Here is an example of the advice the Minister is getting from the Ministry of Health. This recent post reveals other dodgy policy stances from our government.

The evidence

The mantra used by our politicians is that the evidence is not there. Don’t believe the spin. Its trickling in now and will soon be a flood. Here are some examples.

Meanwhile, the Obesity Update 2017 Report from the New England Journal of Medicine ranks New Zealand as third in the OECD for obesity rates at 30.7% behind the U.S. (38.2%) an Mexico (32.4%). Perhaps our politicians will wake up when we pass the Mexicans?

Spending the tax income

There are calls for the tax revenue to go to the health system, but that may be counter-productive until health professionals display more food system awareness than is evident now. Targeting the impacts of childhood poverty may generate the best impacts. In Mexico some of the revenue is spent on ensuring all schools have clean water supplies.

Ask your electoral candidates where they stand on a tax for sugary drinks.

Local chocolate

The pending closure of the Cadbury factory in Dunedin is another step on the trajectory that big corporates take in the pursuit of their addiction to delivering dividends to shareholders. The closure is reputed to be part of Mondelez’s efficiency drives as it moves production from first world sites to lower wage countries.

Some foods are more local than others. In New Zealand chocolate probably will always require imported ingredients. But Dunedin’s Cadbury’s factory has been a southern icon The Dunedin Jaffa Race is a quirky annual event down the world’s steepest street. The 2017 event may be the last.

Locals responded to the news of the loss of their factory by launching a bid to contract Mondelez to keep making the Cadbury products in Dunedin raising almost $6 million. Mondelez was not prepared to extend the deadline for the bid, so now the group is investigating setting up its own chocolate factory.

While chocolate isn’t local and includes varying amounts of sugar, it is not a top priority to promote as a local food (although dark chocolate has its virtues). But there are degrees of localness. From an economic perspective it is preferable to purchase locally produced rather than imported chocolate.

The corporate addiction

Publicly listed corporations have the metabolism of a hummingbird, driven on frenetically by the imperative of generating dividends for shareholders. Shareholders typically aren’t interested in the sustainability of their investments and will shift their investment to a competitor if the numbers stack up. Mondelez’s stock has risen from a $US16.34 low in October 2012 to $44.90 in June this year. You would think that would be enough, but the voracious drive for profits spurs them on to curb expenses.

whittakers_dark_ghanaDo you care?

I assume that this news is upsetting a number of Kiwis, but what will we do about it – probably very little. Look at the amount of supermarket shelf-space that Cadbury products occupy – I imagine that it will be the same next year, with nothing more than a blip in their sales.

I like Cadbury chocolate, but I won’t be buying any more of it. Stop rewarding people that make decisions like this and don’t buy their product. Vote with your dollars! Buy Whittakers – its a local brand. The cocoa is Fair Trade and dark chocolate has lots of health-giving polyphenols!

 

Urban food policy – a new iPES-Food report

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.28.01 PMThe International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food) yesterday released a superb report What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen: Insights from Five Case Studies. You can access the reports here.

The five cities are Belo Horizonte, (Brazil) Nairobi (Kenya), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), The Golden Horseshoe (Toronto and neighbouring districts) and Detroit (U.S.A). Each city had its own recipe of successful initiatives to transform the food system. This diagram is from Belo Horizonte’s “Municipal Secretariat for Food and Nutritional Security” (SMASAN) summarises their main strategies.

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Enablers

The report gleaned “enablers” of effective food system action from the 5 cities (pages 74 – 75).

1: Background and base-line research has been carried out to inform the policy.

2: Impacts are monitored and new data are collected throughout implementation.

3: Policy is continually or regularly reviewed and renewed.

4: The necessary policy powers and responsibilities exist at the local city government level.

5: Policy at the national level is supportive.

6: The ‘institutional home’ of the policy lends it strategic importance and/or provides channels of influence.

7: A governance body has been established to oversee the policy, that promotes accountability and efficiency.

8: Multiple city govern- ment departments are engaged with and committed to the policy.

9: Policy is developed through participatory process, involving both communities and city government (regardless of top-down or bottom-up origins) and actors across the food system.

10: Conflicts and ideological differences between actors are acknowledged and managed.

11: Part-funding is provi- ded by city government.

12: Overall funds obtained are su cient for implementation.

13: There are no restrictive conditions attached to funding.

14: High-level political commitment from city government is secured and leveraged.

15: Political commitment transcends electoral cycles.

I am grateful that we have international organisations like this to research food systems initiatives across the planet and shine the light on successful models of change.

 

 

Food Folly

Food was in the news last week highlighting a woeful lack of vision and leadership. If the consequences weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. They represent a failure of the industrial food system and of the health and political orthodoxy.

1. More sugar?

SOSThe Ministry of Primary Industries wrote to the sports drink manufacturer SOS Hydration warning that “a food sold as an electrolyte drink base must contain no less than 50g/L (grams/litre) and no more than 100g/L of various sugars”. That’s a minimum of 10 teaspoons of sugar! SOS Hydration only contains 10 g/L exposing them to a $100,000 fine.

The SOS director Tom Mayo claims MPI’s food code is based on discredited science. You can read and hear more about this at Radio NZ. The SOS website also explain the science behind their products.

2. Junk food advertising

When it comes to advertising, the deck is stacked. On the one hand, you have the smartest marking minds crafting messages for greatest impact. On the other hand, you have children, docile from perhaps hours of viewing and impressionable. A recipe for manipulation. And what are they being sold? Junk food. Recent research published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal analysed over 10,000 advertisements on 3 channels in New Zealand. About 1800 were about food. More than 1200 contained products that, according to the World Health Organisation, should not be marketed to children. Nearly 90 percent were shown at peak viewing times for children.

The lead researcher, Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, calculated 2 million impacts per hour between six and seven p.m., based on the number of ads and the number of children watching. The new advertising code will probably have no impact on these figures. Read and hear more about this at Radio NZ

This video features U.S. advertisements but they products and ads. are similar here. So are the catatonic stares.

3. Dementia on the rise

At the other end of life, dementia is on the rise. Over 60,000 people suffer from dementia in New Zealand and this is expected to triple in the next 30 years (Radio NZ).

The WHO is about to a draft Global Action Plan for combating dementia. Here is the draft. There are seven actions. To the cynical eye, they look more like a plan to increase health and research budgets than to make a significant difference.

For example, there was no mention of nutrition in the document, only 2 references to food – and that was about the daily sustenance rather than any thing about therapeutic values and no mention of inflammation.

Somehow, the food policy miss isn’t working. The regulators are going after the wrong people.

Out of the (water) closet

I have finished reading Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders. It has challenged my identity. The microbes in me out-number my human cells ten times and I have about 100 trillion microbes in my gut! So am I a person, or a colony? Perhaps I should refer to myself (us) as “we”.

Given that I am out-numbered, how do these microbes influence my behaviour and my health? Rodents infected with the toxoplasmata protozoa lose their fears of cats. This is not a good for survival and Giulia Andrea reports that behaviour of humans infected with toxoplasmata changes too (we get the infection from cats). For example, the risk of being involved in a car accident is increased in infected people, especially in the early active stages of infection.

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Rodents infected with toxoplasmata lose their fear of cats (image from Nature)

My gut bacteria influence my mental and physical well-being and influence what I choose to eat. A recent Scientific American article confirms this.

Gut microbes have also been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions.

Our relationship with our gut biome has evolved over millennia. These are common to all people, with some regional variations. For example, the micro biome of Japanese have   borrowed a gene from marine microorganisms to help breakdown seaweed. Giulia Enders suggests that if we had long enough, our micro biome would adapt to the highly processed foods of the Western diet. Allergies and food intolerances may be caused by our digestive system’s inability to process the foods we are eating. Michael Pollan states the solution succinctly “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

To help us rehabilitate our digestion and repopulate the gut with a health-enhancing micro biome we have two options, probiotics and pre-biotics.

Probiotics

Most of us are familiar with these – typically fermented foods containing billions of beneficial bacteria. Common examples are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Probiotic supplements are also available. These are great, but need to be frequently  consumed to maintain the benefits.

Prebiotics

These are foods that include residues that make the journey through to the lower gut to sustain beneficial micro-organisms. Dr Frank Jackson tapes about the benefits of probiotics in this video.

His website has a list of the top 11 prebiotic foods. They are listed here with their percentage of fibre (by weight).

  1. raw chicory root (65%)
  2. raw Jerusalem artichoke (31.5%)
  3. raw dandelion greens (24.5%)
  4. raw garlic (17.5%)
  5. raw leeks (11.7%)
  6. raw onion (8.6%)
  7. cooked onion ( 5%)
  8. raw asparagus (5%)
  9. raw wheat bran (5%)
  10. baked wheat flour (4.8%)
  11. raw banana (1%)

This brings us back to local food – food you can grow in your garden.

My digestive system is approximately 7 metres long. Sometimes I am more interested in pandering to the first 100 mm or so – the bit where I can taste the food, rather than the other 6.9 metres. Giulia Anders book teaches us to take more notice of the other end of our digestive system. Perhaps we need to talk more about our digestive systems. You won’t have to go too deep in your Facebook feed to find someone talking about food – maybe we should be less embarrassed about talking about digestive system output- but no selfies please :-).

 

 

 

The Northland Food Policy Network is underway!

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These are the people that gathered at Northland Inc’s Orchard on Saturday 27 May for the inaugural meeting of the Northland Food Policy Network. Saba Issa skilfully facilitated the meeting first leading us through an exploration of why we were there. Five main motives emerged:

  • Supporting community based food systems projects, facilitated at the local level.
  • Supporting local growers and farmers ensuring the succession and growth of food production here.
  • Educating and communicating around food awareness.
  • Helping to create policy that supports sustainable food systems and fighting policy that doesn’t, from International down to whanau level.
  • Building a local network that exemplifies collaborative leadership, great engagement, communication and networking, and unity of purpose.

Policy action

We identified three policy areas to focus on, each led by sub-groups.

One group will seek questions from the network to pose to all general election candidates and disseminate the results to help voters identify the candidates who support sustainable food systems.

Sugar is the focus of a second group, who will work with health agencies and other Northland institutions to reduce the availability of sugar.

The third group will focus on supporting food producers with their first priority dealing with the advent of food safety plans to ensure that they don’t place too much burden on smaller producers.

He Kai Ora Tonu

He Kai Ora Tonu is the Māori name for the network given by Dr Benjamin Pittman. A rough translation is, vital, living, growing, healthy food in perpetuity. Ora means at once living, life, health with an inference of sustainability.

The meeting was characterised by a strong sense of shared purpose and the optimism for positive change.