Monday, July 28, 2008

the dirty dozen

the "dirty dozen" are 12 fruits and veggies that, even when washed, tend to maintain high levels of pesticide residue unless they're grown organically. they are: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, spinach, strawberries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes and raspberries. eggs and dairy products should also be bought organic, to cut down on exposure to hormones, antibiotics and disease-causing agents.

but if you're rushed, or organic isn't available, non-organic versions of the following crops, which don't tend to harbor pesticide residues, aren't so bad if you need to grab one on the run: bananas, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, onions and peas. always buy whatever products you use the most of organically though, since those are the products that will affect your health- and the environment more.

for the whole article, click here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

costa rica, pay attention! uk to slow expansion of biofuels

the uk is to slow its adoption of biofuels amid fears they raise food prices and harm the environment, the transport secretary has told the bbc.

ruth kelly said biofuels had potential to cut carbon emissions but there were "increasing questions" about them. "uncontrolled" growing of fuel crops could destroy rainforest, she told mps.

a government-commissioned report recommends ministers "amend not abandon" biofuel policies. the tories said policy had to change "right now".

ms kelly said the government acknowledged "that biofuels can have an important role in reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change". but she said: "we need to proceed cautiously until we can be certain that their expanded growth and use maximises the benefits and minimises the risks to our world."

environment secretary hilary benn said: "to tackle climate change we will need to develop new, cleaner fuels - but that doesn't mean pushing forward indiscriminately on biofuels that may do more harm than good."

for the conservatives, shadow transport secretary theresa villiers said a "mere slowdown" of the targets would not address problems. she added: "the rainforest is under threat right now. the orang-utans' habitat is being wiped out right now by palm oil plantations."

a panel of government experts, chaired by professor ed gallagher, head of the renewable fuels agency, has looked at the impact of energy policy on land use. its report calls for biofuels to be introduced more slowly than planned until controls are in place to prevent higher food prices and land being switched from forests or agriculture.

it predicts that current policies could see grain prices in the eu rise by 15%, sugar by 7% and oil seed by 50%. the review estimates that an extra 10.7 million people in india could find themselves in poverty, while countries such as kenya, malawi and bangladesh could see hundreds of thousands affected.

prof gallagher said the figures did not take into account the impact of climate change on poor people if biofuels were not introduced, or the help they could provide to rural economies or the fluctuating oil price.

his review says biofuel production should be focused on idle and marginal land and the use of so-called second generation biofuels. these use waste parts of plants for energy to avoid land use change and reduce competition with food production.

for the whole article, click here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

biofuels are prime cause of food crisis, says leaked report

article from by aditya chakrabortty

biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% — far more than previously estimated — according to a confidential world bank report obtained by the guardian. the damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

the figure emphatically contradicts the us government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. it will add to pressure on governments in washington and across europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

senior development sources believe the report, completed in april, has not been published to avoid embarrassing president george bush. "it would put the world bank in a political hot-spot with the white house," said one yesterday.

the news comes at a critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy. leaders of the g8 industrialised countries meet next week in hokkaido, japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

it will also put pressure on the british government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the gallagher report. the guardian has previously reported that the british study will state that plant fuels have played a "significant" part in pushing up food prices to record levels. although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.

"political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said robert bailey, policy adviser at oxfam. "it is imperative that we have the full picture. while politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."

rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the world bank, and have sparked riots from bangladesh to egypt. government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as "the first real economic crisis of globalisation".

president bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from india and china, but the leaked world bank study disputes that: "rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."

even successive droughts in australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. instead, it argues that the eu and us drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

since april, all petrol and diesel in britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. the eu has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.

"without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. the basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this february. the report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

it argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. first, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of us corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the eu going towards the production of biodiesel. second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. but the report author, don mitchell, is a senior economist at the bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.

the report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

supporters of biofuels argue that they are a greener alternative to relying on oil and other fossil fuels, but even that claim has been disputed by some experts, who argue that it does not apply to us production of ethanol from plants.

"it is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices," said dr david king, the government's former chief scientific adviser, last night. "all we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change."

link to article here.