Apology, food and toothpaste.

May 10, 2007 at 8:04 pm Leave a comment

I’m sorry for not updating regularly, but I’m wrestling with finals at the moment and ‘the fear’ has hit. Consequently I’ve been hiding in the library and concerns about the environment and local food may have to be put on one side for the next few weeks while I make the ‘final push’ and then I can eat, cook, knit and blog to my heart’s content.

So, what green, sustainable things have I done lately? Well, last Monday I went to a talk by John Krebs, former head of the Food Standards Agency, called ‘How safe is our food?’ It was more about the public safety aspect of food, risk management etc, than about the environmental side, but still really interesting. He talked a lot about GM and about some of the recent food scares. Unfortunately, as the email I got about the talk gave the start time as half an hour later than it really was, so I missed the beginning, but it seemed to be the part where he talked about public perceptions of risk, not food so much. Anyway, here are some thoughts about what he said in the rest of the talk.

Firstly, he insisted that GM foods were perfectly safe, and said that public opinion (or at least a vocal section of it) is vehemently against them, despite the rather rigorous screening process. I don’t really know where I stand on GM foods. Well, I do, I know that I’m against them, but mainly because they discourage biodiversity and probably taste mediocre – generally speaking, the more something is geared towards intensive production and mass consumption, the quality generally falls. I’m prepared to let scientists argue about the science, and they’re no more genetically modified than the insulin my diabetic granny injects herself with, but nobody seems to be so outspoken against genetically modified medicines.

There was also a very interesting question raised about why GM foods have taken off so well in the USA and not here. Krebs suggested two reasons: one, American foods don’t have to list the processes (as here), only the products, so the consumer wouldn’t necessarily be aware a particular tomato was genetically modified; two, American farmers are deriving a much bigger benefit from growing the crops, which farmers here aren’t, so this filters through into the public perception as ‘a good thing’, whereas here, any benefits (except in price) are for someone else, so people only perceive the risk.

Secondly, he said that organic food was a con. In many ways it probably is, and while it gives a certain amount of security when buying something from a supermarket that it’s not doused in pesticides and (supposedly) is better for the animals and the soil, I’d go for well-managed local every time. After all, as someone on downsizer pointed out, there’s no point keeping a pig outside when it’s cold and nasty just for the sake of slapping a label on something saying ‘outdoor reared pork’, when it would be far more humane to bring it indoors for a couple of days. As ever, I believe it’s better to buy from small, local and trustworthy producers, so this labelling isn’t so important.

I digress. Krebs’s main point was that any risk that comes from GM/BSE etc is INFINITESIMALLY SMALL compared to the long-term risk that your diet might contribute to heart disease or cancer. He criticised a lot of the measures, e.g. the labelling on food that is really difficult to understand, but said that a combination of promotions such as 5-a-day, adverts and a drive for healthier school meals and teaching cookery in schools might eventually lead to a change in attitudes. He drew a very interesting parallel with smoking: 50 years ago, 3/4 of the population smoked, now 3/4 of the population doesn’t. When the health risks first came to light, it would have been unthinkable to enforce a smoking ban, but the numbers of people smoking steadily fell thanks to growing public awareness, and now we are in a position where the ban is causing relatively little outcry.

General conclusion: GM food is (as far as we know) perfectly safe, but still not necessarily a good idea from the environmental point of view. People don’t spend enough money on food or enough time cooking it, the nation is in general drastically unhealthy and the government measures in place don’t go far enough, but probably can’t do much more without being vastly unpopular until people’s attitudes start to change. Overall, a good talk, with lots of interesting questions raised.


I’ve also been using this rather funky-looking toothpaste from Lush recently. Yes, that’s right – a toothpaste that isn’t minty, white or green! In fact, this was the main thing that drew me to it. I’m always in two minds about Lush. Their stuff isn’t really that ‘natural’ – still full of parabens and chemicals and the like – and I’ve been underwhelmed by some of it in the past. However, I always think it’s a really nice place to shop. The staff are always really friendly, happy to advise you and know a lot about the products they’re selling, which is refreshing in a big chain. I also like how honest they are about what goes in the products – ingredients labels are really obvious, and they always say who made the product. So, I went in for a browse a while back and saw this toothpaste and was absolutely fascinated. Judging from the ingredients, it’s a lot ‘greener’ than your average Colgate/Aquafresh etc – has natural oils and stuff in – and it really makes my teeth feel clean! So much plaque has gone since I’ve been using it. However, it’s really expensive (£2.50 for a tiny tube) and doesn’t stick together very well – I’ve lost half of it down the sink cos it’s fallen off the brush. More importantly, it doesn’t make my mouth feel very fresh. This may be cos I’ve been conditioned to associate ‘fresh’ with ‘minty’, but it seems to defeat the purpose of buying it if I have to use a chemical-filled mouthwash as well. I don’t think I’ll be buying it again, mostly cos of the price (and how quickly I got through it – I once bought a Lush moisturiser and balked at the price, and then it went and lasted about twice as long as my old one)

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Entry filed under: food, GM, health, public safety, toothpaste.

Madness! New needles

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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."

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