Agribusiness

xorganic-farming-640x426-jpg-pagespeed-ic-thzrqz2irqWhen a business sector sees a rash of mergers and acquisitions, it’s for one of two reasons, growth or decay. The organic food industry has seen a lot of acquisitions by companies anxious to get in on the ground floor of the 5% annual growth rate in organic food and regenerative farming. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Monsanto is facing takeover by Bayer, not for any positive reasons, but because they are both looking into the abyss. Merger is one way to survive when the farmers they are competing for are spending less. Farmers aren’t stupid – they can do the maths. When they see diminishing returns on their investment in seeds and agrichemicals, they reduce their spending. Continue reading

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In June I was invited to give the keynote speech at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam. The conference programme was so advanced it made me blink in disbelief – here were a bunch of corporate executives and sustainability managers from the world’s leading corporations all working to create real standards of sustainable growth and methods of measurement in order to comply with their corporate statements of principle. Stalwarts like Clearspring and Whole Foods were there, but the general tone was very mainstream. I spoke about taking an ethical brand mainstream later in the day but for my keynote I thought I’d give it to them with both barrels. Here’s my speech:

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John Michell – a head of our times

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My first meeting with John Michell was on October 19 1967 after Mark Palmer phoned me from Glastonbury, where he, John Michell and a few other people were camped in a gypsy caravan in a field along the Wells Road or, like Brian Jones, staying in the nearby farmhouse. “You’ve got to come down, Craig” Mark said, “The UFOs are coming out every night, lots of them, over the Tor.” It wasn’t an invitation to be turned down lightly so I piled into my Thames van and headed down the A4 to Somerset. We got there in the late afternoon and John Michell was busy cooking up some curried vegetables with rice. He showed me how to add the spices to the oil before anything else, to diffuse the flavours so that they evenly coated and infused all the ingredients, an attention to the detail of form and function that was typical of his penetrative insight. As we sat outside enjoying the autumnal evening Mark shouted ‘There they are!’, pointing directly to the south. We looked skywards and saw lights moving across the sky. Any doubt about their being of military or aviation origin was dissipated when what was clearly an RAF jet fighter flew up towards the lights, at which point they disappeared beyond Glastonbury Tor and entered what seemed to be a cigar shaped vessel. There was a brief repeat appearance and it was over. John strained his eyes skywards but his vision was already deteriorating and he could barely make out the shapes. His first book: the Flying Saucer Vision, was being published at the beginning of the following week and he had a radio interview lined up. He would be able to say, if asked if he had seen flying saucers himself that he was in a field near Glastonbury only last week as they lifted over the Tor.

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Getting the Lead Out

Why were the Sixties so much fun? Could it be that we were all high on lead? Sure there was acid and grass and purple hearts, but what really got everyone loose as a goose was the lead. There is no level below which lead doesn’t have an effect. A little goes a long way. And it rots your brain, makes you prone to take risks and forgetful, while eating away at your kidneys and your liver. Kids get it worst: adults store it in their bones, but kids have it circulating in their bloodstream.

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Just Gimme the Drugs,Man – a critique of Big Pharma

Every now and then I clear my spam filter of missives from American lawyers offering me the opportunity to cash in on a bonanza from a class action lawsuit against one of the big drug companies. Huge amounts of money are being made by suing Big Pharma for peddling drugs that don’t work, that they knew didn’t work and that have awful life-destroying side effects. Respected scientists and medical researchers are shown to have conspired to distort the results so that patented drugs with few beneficial effects were prescribed to millions of gullible patients who wrongly assumed that they could trust their doctor. Just go to http://www.legaltube.com/breaking-news-hot-list.aspx for all the latest opportunities to get redress.

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Let’s Have a Nation of Shopkeepers

The other day I was thumbing through Pigot’s 1839 Directory of Sussex (as one does) when I found that in Hastings Old Town there were once 5 operating bakeries on High Street and 8 on neighbouring All Saints Street. Now only Judges Bakery our new enterprise, survives. The rest of the bread comes from factories and supermarkets. While I don’t lament the absence of competition it does seem sad that where there were once a baker’s dozen of jolly bakers, there is now just one. Those bakers were jolly because they were part of what Adam Smith and later Napoleon described as a ‘nation of shopkeepers.’ Why England in particular? Is it something to do with the individualistic and freedom-loving temperament of this culture? Or is it a natural human instinct to favour things local, fresh, privately-owned and directly answerable? Shumacher argued eloquently in ‘Small is Beautiful’ that this was so.

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Trans Fats are crap fats

Artificial fats are bad for you

People sometimes accuse the health food industry of scaremongering but they are rank amateurs compared to the slick, professional and well-organised tropical fats campaign that created national panic in the US in the 1980s. With full-page newspaper ads screaming “Stop the Poisoning of America”, the orchestrated campaign blamed palm and coconut oil for America’s heart disease epidemic. Within months every major American product had ‘no tropical fats’ on the front of the label and ‘hydrogenated fat’ on the ingredients list where natural fat had been. The American Soybean Association was pleased as punch – soya oil is the raw material for hydrogenated fat.
In Britain in the 80s health authorities and hospital dieticians encouraged people to give up butter and switch to high-polyunsaturate margarines. But to have high polyunsaturate levels you need high levels of hydrogenated fat. As a result there are millions of Britons who have heart disease (they’re the lucky ones, the rest are dead) because they followed this well-meaning but misguided advice. Continue reading

This Triple Whammy on Climate Might Just Hit Home

In 1990 my daughter Rima commented to her friend Dan as they choked their way across a fume-filled Harrow Road: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the drivers of these filthy cars had to plant trees to mop up the pollution they created?” Dan Morrell agreed and founded Future Forests to do just that. When we launched Whole Earth organic wholegrain cornflakes back in 1996, they became the first ‘carbon neutral’ food product. Dr. Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management did a lifecycle analysis of the cornflakes to establish how many trees Future Forests should plant to balance off our CO2 emissions. We were pleasantly surprised to find the cornflakes were almost carbon neutral already – because they were organic. Continue reading

Ten years of Free Trade

This month the Fairtrade Foundation, along with Green & Black’s Maya Gold, celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Fair trade hadn’t been invented in September 1991 when we launched Green & Black’s 70% cocoa solids – the first organic chocolate . Our biggest ethical dilemma was that it was made with the dreaded sugar. But it was organic, forest-friendly, sustainable and much lower in sugar than other chocolate. Ethically traded, it empowered Ewé tribal women in Togo – and, of crucial importance, it totally blew away your taste buds. “Guilt-free chocolate”, we called it. Continue reading

Knowing Your Food

Most people have little idea where food comes from, but when they do, their expectations are shattered. Once they realise the huge contrast between organic farming and factory farming, they usually forget about price differences and become committed organic consumers, end of story. If that’s what it takes to win people to the organic cause, how do we get the message across? Continue reading