Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Farm wildlife cash 'could return'

16 February 2009 (BBC)

Farmers in England could once again receive payments for leaving uncultivated land to wildlife, the government has said.

The European Commission effectively abandoned the compulsory "set-aside" scheme last year for farmers receiving the Single Payment Scheme.

This followed widespread flooding and concerns about high global food prices.

But Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said he was looking at replacing set-aside with a voluntary scheme.

'Very proud'

Environmental groups have raised concern that the lack of uncultivated land deprives birds and other wild creatures of food and refuge.

Introduced in the early 1990s, the system of paying farmers to set aside land from production was designed to discourage over-production after years in which Europe produced mountains of surplus food and drink, threatening commodity prices.

Mr Benn secured agreement last year from fellow EU ministers that individual countries could pay farmers to restore some set-aside land.

In a speech to the National Farmers' Union in Birmingham, he said: "I'm very proud of what British farming does for our country. Farmers do so much for the environment out of love of the land.

"And we're working together to see how we can best retain the advantages of set-aside, while settling on a better approach for farmers.

"Set-aside delivered important environmental benefits and over time these benefits will be vital to maintaining levels of production."

The European Commission introduced the set-aside scheme in 1992, stipulating that at least 15% of farmers' land which was not used for growing crops had to be left for wildlife.

But it announced in July 2007 that it wanted to reduce the requirement to 0% - effectively abolishing the programme. This move was intended to deal with shortages in the EU cereals market.



Organic growers call for more fertilizer oversight

Associated Press
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Organic grower Phil McGrath plays by the rules to keep his Ventura County strawberry and vegetable farm certified organic.

So suspicions that at least two fertilizer companies have been peddling synthetic fertilizer as the natural stuff makes him fear they may cheapen the "organic" label he grows under.

"It brings the term and the industry down a couple notches," he said.

The state's major organic certifier, the California Certified Organic Farmers, said it won't penalize farmers or revoke their endorsements because it recognizes none had knowingly used the spiked fertilizer.

But the situation has resulted in a blow to the integrity of the organic market, prompting new industrywide efforts to test and verify fertilizers.

"The oversight of the organic industry from a fertilizer perspective is kind of like the wild West," said Dean Florez, D-Shafter, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture.

As the organic produce market expands from a cadre of small conscientious growers to a massive industry, some farmers are turning to low-cost and highly potent organic fertilizers to make up for shrinking margins.

That demand has resulted in allegations of products being marketed that are too good to be truly organic. Their use threatens a market based on consumers' willingness to pay a premium for products seen as better for their health and the environment.

The two products implicated had been popular fertilizers among organic growers, though information on the amount produced is not publicly available, said Michael Jarvis, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"This is a great example of a gross violation of the rules in which case consumers aren't getting what they expected," said Urvasi Rangan, a senior environmental health scientist with Consumers Union.

The most recent allegations surround Port Organic Products Inc., near Bakersfield, where county environmental health experts found thousands of gallons of aqueous ammonia, an ingredient used in synthetic fertilizers, in 2005 and 2007.

Kern County environmental health director Matthew Constantine said his staff informed the state agriculture department and California Certified Organic Farmers about the finds in September 2007.

The Port Organic factory was the target of a Jan. 22 search by FBI and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, said U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Lauren Horwood.

Horwood said she could not discuss allegations contained in the search warrant because of an ongoing USDA investigation that may involve other companies. A phone message left with Port Organic was not returned.

The California Certified Organic Farmers quickly banned the growers it endorses from using Port Organic fertilizers.

Growers earn an organic label from the CCOF or other certifying agents by showing that they manage their farms without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals.

Allegations surrounding Port Organic followed revelations that another manufacturer, the now-defunct California Liquid Fertilizer, sold fertilizer spiked with the synthetic ingredient ammonium sulfate for years before the California Food and Agriculture secured its removal.

Produce giant Natural Selection Foods LLC, which had used the California Liquid Fertilizer product, has developed a new test to evaluate the fertilizers used on the roughly 33,000 acres where its Earthbound Farm organic products are grown and has started making on-site visits to manufacturers, spokeswoman Samantha Cabaluna said.

California Certified Organic Farmers also is stepping up its inspections. The certifiers were compiling a list of makers of some liquid fertilizers with high levels of nitrogen - which are expensive to achieve using organic ingredients - and would require those producers to submit to on-site inspections that have not been previously required.

Judith Redmond, whose Full Belly Farms is outside Sacramento, said she hopes those steps keep synthetic ingredients out of the fertilizer she uses sparingly during seasons when her heirloom tomatoes and other organic vegetables need an extra kick.

She said she's spent up to $2,000 on fertilizer that she's no longer permitted to use. But even worse, she believes she's hurt the soil that she nurtures.

"We were sold a product that wasn't what they said and the CDFA was asleep at the wheel," she said.


On the Net:

California Certified Organic Farmers: http://www.ccof.org



Organic farming 'no better for the environment'

By Cahal Milmo (The Independent)
Monday, 19 February 2007

Organic food may be no better for the environment than conventional produce and in some cases is contributing more to global warming than intensive agriculture, according to a government report.

The first comprehensive study of the environmental impact of food production found there was "insufficient evidence" to say organic produce has fewer ecological side-effects than other farming methods.

The 200-page document will reignite the debate surrounding Britain's £1.6bn organic food industry which experienced a 30 per cent growth in sales last year.

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, drew a furious response from growers last month when he suggested organic food was a "lifestyle choice" with no conclusive evidence it was nutritionally superior.

Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, also told The Independent he agreed that organic food was no safer than chemically-treated food.

The report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found "many" organic products had lower ecological impacts than conventional methods using fertilisers and pesticides. But academics at the Manchester Business School (MBS), who conducted the study, said that was counterbalanced by other organic foods - such as milk, tomatoes and chicken - which are significantly less energy efficient and can be more polluting than intensively-farmed equivalents.

Ken Green, professor of environmental management at MBS, who co-wrote the report, said: "You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger."

The study did not take into account factors such as the increased biodiversity created by organic farming or the improved landscape.

The report said: "There is certainly insufficient evidence available to state that organic agriculture overall would have less of an environmental impact than conventional agriculture.

"In particular, organic agriculture poses its own environmental problems in the production of some foods, either in terms of nutrient release to water or in terms of climate change burdens."

Using data from previous studies, the researchers singled out milk as a particular example of the environmental challenges presented by organic farming. Organic milk requires 80 per cent more land and creates almost double the amount of substances that could lead to acidic soil and "eutrophication" - the pollution of water courses with excess nutrients.

The study found that producing organic milk, which has higher levels of nutrients and lower levels of pesticides, also generates more carbon dioxide than conventional methods - 1.23kg per litre compared to 1.06kg per litre. It concluded: "Organic milk production appears to require less energy input but much more land than conventional production. While eliminating pesticide use, it also gives rise to higher emissions of greenhouse gases and eutrophying substances."

Similar findings were recorded with organic chickens, where the longer growing time means it has a higher impact on all levels, including producing nearly double the amount of potentially polluting by-products and consuming 25 per cent more energy.

Vegetable production was also highlighted as a source of increased use of resources. Organic vine tomatoes require almost 10 times the amount of land needed for conventional tomatoes and nearly double the amount of energy.

Advocates of organic farming said its environmental benefits had long been established, not least by Mr Miliband who has written it is "better for biodiversity than intensive farming". The Soil Association said it recognised that in some areas, such as poultry and growing vegetables out of season, organic was less energy efficient.

But it said that was vastly outweighed by factors which the Defra study had not taken into consideration such as animal welfare, soil condition and water use.

The pitfalls


* 122sq m of land is needed to produce a tonne of organic vine tomatoes. The figure for conventionally-grown loose tomatoes is 19sq m.

* Energy needed to grow organic tomatoes is 1.9 times that of conventional methods.

* Organic tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses in Britain generate one hundred times the amount of CO2 per kilogram produced by tomatoes in unheated greenhouses in southern Spain.


* Requires 80 per cent more land to produce per unit than conventional milk.

* Produces nearly 20 per cent more carbon dioxide and almost double the amount of other by-products that can lead to acidification of soil and pollution of water courses.


* Organic birds require 25 per cent more energy to rear and grow than conventional methods.

* The amount of CO2 generated per bird is 6.7kg for organic compared to 4.6kg for conventional battery or barn hens.

* Eutrophication, the potential for nutrient-rich by-products to pollute water courses, is measured at 86 for organic compared to 49 for conventional.

* The depletion of natural resources is measured at 99 for organic birds compared to 29 for battery or barn hens.

Labels: ,

Wal-Mart promises to accelerate sustainability effort

From: World Business Council for Sustainable Development (ENN)
January 30, 2009

The incoming CEO of US retail giant Wal-Mart has reiterated the firm's commitment to sustainability, pledging to reduce packaging and environmentally-damaging detergents — but many of its critics remain to be convinced.

Mike Duke, who takes over from Lee Scott on 1 February, said at the firm's sustainability meeting on Monday: “We want to accelerate our efforts in sustainability. We want to broaden our efforts.”�

Two targets were announced at the meeting — a 70% reduction in the use of phosphates in detergents by 2011 and a 5% reduction in packaging by 2013. Both apply to the Americas region, although already in the US it only sells phosphate-free detergents.

In a message to the firm's 2 million workers, Duke said: “The leaders that get ahead in Wal-Mart will be ones that demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. You won't be able, in the future, to really be viewed in the same way if you put this on the back burner.”�

Outgoing CEO Scott had a Damascene conversion to the sustainability cause after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which affected more than 100 of the firm's stores. Scott committed the firm to source 100% of its power from renewables, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain resources and the environment.

Progress has been made in several areas; for example, 360 of its 2,000 stores are now supplied with wind energy.

However, the company is still heavily criticised, according to Antoine Mach at ethical ratings consultancy Covalence, based in Geneva, which tracks how multinationals are perceived in the social and environmental fields.

Wal-Mart has performed better in recent years, but is currently ranked 14th out of 35 retailers, Mach said. “They are in the first half of the group and, on certain topics, they have become a leader. But on others, such as labour rights, they need to improve.”�

Wal-Mart's sustainability performance has largely failed to convince investment analysts. It has, for example, never appeared in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, a leading index series compiled by researchers at Zurich-based SAM Group and widely used by sustainable asset managers.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has not made a formal report on progress towards its sustainability goals since late 2007.

Wal-Mart has set comprehensive and ambitious environmental targets, said Linda-Eling Lee, a New York-based senior analyst covering the global retail sector for Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a specialist environmental, social, and governance research company.

She said she had only just begun to delve into their performance against the targets, but noted: “They are so big that anything they do, from a world resources point-of-view, adds up to a lot.”�