Sunday, 26 May 2013

Development of Organic Farming in the UK
1. Introduction
The development of organic food production will be traced in the UK with emphasis on the more than 95% of organic farmers that belong to the mainstream movements of which the Soil Association remains prominent. The history of the Biodynamic Farmers group, which was founded after a series of lectures given by the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner in 1924 in Austria will not be considered because it is fundamentally a belief system concerning the benefits of farming according to a timetable and methodology that that aims to maximise the influence of cosmic forces on crop growth. Moreover there are relatively few Biodynamic farmers in the UK, possibly fewer than 150.

Main organic groups in the UK
Less than 2% farmers in the UK farm organically out of a total of about 300,000 farmers. About half the organic farmers are members of the Soil Association Certification Ltd. Bristol the other half are members of Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd. Shropshire, Scottish Organic Producers Association Edinburgh, Organic Food Federation Norfolk and Quality Welsh Food Certification Ltd. Cardigan. The rationale behind, and the subtle differences that may exist between the five organic certification bodies in the UK will not be considered.

Most organic farms are animal farms
Organic farming in the UK is dominated by animal production with grassland accounting for about 80% of organically farmed land; cereals account for about 8% and vegetables about 2%.

Value of organic matter
The history of the love affair with organic matter starts in India in the first half of the 20th century and with the people who unknowingly laid the framework for the organic movement in the UK. No inorganic fertilisers were then used in India. The reliance that was placed on the utilisation of all waste materials led to work on how to maximise the value of such wastes by composting.

There is no doubt that soil organic matter has several positive attributes including acting as a store of essential crop nutrients; applications of farmyard manure and of compost can improve soil structure and water holding capacity.

Crops can be grown without organic matter
Perfect disease-free crops of high nutritional quality can be grown without the help of soil organic matter or in fact without soil at all, for example in nutrient solution cultures. Cucumbers, tomatoes, courgettes, spinach and many of the bell peppers are produced without soil in many countries; most of the home-grown tomatoes in the UK are grown in rock wool and fed with nutrient solutions.

Piccolo tomatoes grown in rock wool and fed with liquid mineral nutrients.
140 million tomatoes are harvested annually, from February to November, in this 18 ha facility at the British Sugar nursery at Wissington.

Even some of the bananas from the Canary Islands and the early peaches from Italy are grown in gravel irrigated with nutrient solutions.

Plants are unable to distinguish between nitrate, phosphate, potash and other mineral nutrients derived from the dissolving in the soil of inorganic man-made fertilisers and those derived from the microbial breakdown of organic matter. Nitrate is nitrate no matter where it comes from.
There have been many attempts to demonstrate that organic matter confers benefits on crops other than those attributable to its mineral nutrient content and the improvement of soil structue and they have failed. One such experiment has now lasted 170 years at Rothamsted Experimental Station in Hertfordshire; identical yields of winter wheat have been obtained on plots given only manure (35 tonnes/ha) or only inorganic fertilisers.

Organic farming can be attractive because it is perceived to be a more natural way and one that is claimed to be sustainable

There is no doubt that conventional, so-called industrial, agriculture using inorganic fertilisers is sustainable over the medium to long term; however the question remains as to how many hundreds of years the minerals and oil will be available to make inorganic fertilisers.

In the meantime man will remain reliant on inorganic fertilisers. Without man-made fertilisers, notably nitrogenous fertilisers, it would currently only be possible for biological nitrogen fixation (symbiotic and free-living) to sustain a world population of around 3 billion. In other words on average half the protein in our own body contains nitrogen that was fixed by man in a fertiliser plant.  

Absolute sustainability requires that all nutrients taken from the soil are returned, i.e. no crop or animal product is removed from the farm. This is only possible in subsistence farming where all the farm produce is consumed on the farm and all wastes, including human are conserved and recycled. When nutrients are removed in traded products it is inevitable that soil fertility will decline unless they are replaced by inputs of fertiliser or of animal feeding stuffs which will deplete soil fertility where they are grown.

It is not too difficult to imagine a future when scientific advances in chemistry and biology will be able to solve what appears to be the seemingly intractable problem of long term sustainability of food production. Non-leguminous crops that can fix atmospheric nitrogen symbiotically, crops that have the ability to solubilise minerals from powdered rocks and the use of renewable energy sources to generate hydrogen for use in the production of ammonia come to mind.

Questions and Answers
The development of organic farming will be traced by means of a series of questions and answers under the following headings;-.
1  Origin and Testing of Beliefs, 1920s to 1969. Diet, Health, Compost and Mycorrhizae.
2.  The Accretion of New Ideas 1970 to date
3.  Some Basic Aspects of Organic Farming
4.  Legacy and Possible Future Scenarios.
5.  Conclusion

Friday, 17 May 2013

A Method for Assessing Bias in BBC Programmes

The following method for assessing bias in BC programmes was developed when analysing programmes dealing with GM technology and organic farming. It became clear that the method can be applied to other topics.

It is believed that the method is objective as it is based on counting six different kinds of statements made by the interviewees and especially by the BBC interviewers in a programme.

Here the topic is the hypothetical X.

It will be expected that the interviewees will have views for or against X as appropriate. What is more relevant is the position of the BBC which can be judged by the number of times the BBC interviewer a) supports the different sides and b) challenges the interviewees who support the two sides.
Bias will also be evident if the BBC interviewers associate themselves with one side by the language used e.g. the use of “we” and “us”. How a BBC presenter speaks (e.g. tone of voice) and thereby shows enthusiasm for one side cannot be used as quantifiable evidence; nevertheless it is a signal that alerts the viewer/listener to the presenter’s views. Likewise the repetition of challenges and the interruptions made by the BBC presenter and the “jubilation” shown when an interviewee is browbeaten into an admission can be indicative of bias but are difficult to cater for in the methodology.  

Measurement of impartiality concerning X
Impartiality is assessed by counting the numbers of separate statements in each programme that fall into the following categories:-.

1. Statements opposing X          a) by the BBC interviewer                     
2. Statements opposing X          b) by interviewees                               
3. Statements opposing X by interviewees that are challenged by the BBC interviewer
4. Statements in favour of X       a) by the BBC interviewer                                 
5. Statements in favour of X       b) by interviewees                               
6. Statements in favour by the interviewees that are challenged by the BBC interviewer

7. Comments by BBC showing that they understand the nature of X 

BBC bias against X will be evident when:-
i)              The numbers for (1) exceed those for (4).
ii)             The numbers for (6) exceed those for (3).

Assessments made by a comparison of BBC interviewer statements and challenges are more revealing than comparison of interviewee statements.

Statements by interviewees (2 and 5) can be expected to follow their “party line” on X and the numbers will only be revealing if the interviewer allows one side more time.

It is important that bias is estimated over a number of consecutive programmes so that the assessor cannot be accused of cherry-picking.

Victor M. Shorrocks  M.A., D.Phil.,                                                                     May  2013

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Iodine nutrition in pregnancy

Iodine Nutrition in Pregnancy

Australian studies show brain impairment due to iodine deficiency in the womb is not reversible

Hannah Devlin,  Science Editor, wrote in the Times on 1 May 2013  that scientists in Tasmania  have found babies whose mothers have low levels of iodine during pregnancy have worse literacy skills in childhood. At nine years old, children who did not receive enough iodine in the womb performed worse than their peers in reading and spelling tests. Very importantly the scientists also reported:-

“Although the participants’ diet was fortified with iodine during childhood, later supplementation was not enough to reverse the impact of the deficiency during the mother’s pregnancy.”

Maybe it will now be better appreciated by the Department of Health in the UK that mild iodine deficiency of the mother (i.e. a deficiency that is not severe enough to result in cretinism in the baby, as in the Tasmania study) can have significant and lifetime effects.

Can we expect advice in the UK about iodine for women of reproductive age being brought into line with WHO recommendations in the near future?  I suspect not.

Department of Health advice and SACN position paper on Iodine

However there are signs at last that the Department of Health and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) that advises it are coming to terms with the problem of iodine deficiency in young women and with the implications for foetal brain development.

The NHS website  from November 2012 contains the following advice about iodine (search for iodine) :-
Adults need 0.14mg of iodine a day. Most people should be able to get all the iodine they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.
However, if you are pregnant, you may need to take iodine supplements. This is because an iodine deficiency during pregnancy can harm the development of your baby.
If you take iodine supplements, do not take too much because this could be harmful.
Taking 0.5mg or less a day of iodine supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

The SACN is in the late stages of producing a position paper on iodine nutrition. Gestation of the paper has been prolonged. It has been discussed in February and June 2012 and February 2013 and will again be considered in June 2013. It is presumed that it will then be finalised and presented to the Department of Health and will be posted on (where the draft paper and discussions can be read).

SACN seem to have accepted, somewhat reluctantly, that urinary iodine levels are worthy of investigation in the UK and it is likely that their use will be included somehow with the Nutritional Diet and Nutrition Survey; it is the NDNS which is based on food analysis combined with information on “typical” diets that has been traditionally used to estimate, by calculation, the adequacy of diets of different sectors of the population.

The SACN would seem to have fully appreciated the importance of iodine for the foetus. It is hoped that it will not take many years before women of reproductive age are advised to ensure they have adequate iodine intakes ideally in their diet but if necessary by iodine supplements. It is not possible to envisage that widespread iodisation of salt or of bread would ever be possible in the UK. Too many people would object that their rights/freedom would be being impinged by supplementing a foodstuff.

Unfortunately it seems that the inevitable requests for further funds for research may impede unequivocal advice being given for iodine supplementation before and during pregnancy. On the one hand the research workers do not want to give the impression that they know enough of the answers and thereby need no more funds and on the other the bureaucrats are likely to be happy not to have to make a decision.

Although the scientists working on iodine deficiency disorders across the world have known for many years that foetal brain damage caused by the deficiency is irreversible it would seem that scientists in the UK are not prepared to use the word irreversible because it is likely to frighten people. Perhaps we, the research workers and the   Department of Health need scaring into action.  

Meanwhile please pass this on to all friends and relatives for whom it might it be relevant.

Vic Shorrocks                                                                                                 9th May 2013

Friday, 12 October 2012

Iodine Nutrition of Humans

Situation  the UK.

It has been established around the world that severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can cause irreversible brain damage in the foetus. It is important that Iodine intakes are sufficient during pregnancy; it is thus a serious matter for women of reproductive age.

It was disappointing enough to learn in 2011 from a small survey that 2/3 schoolgirls in the UK were iodine deficient but I am shocked by the finding, reported in early 2012, that of 193 countries worldwide the UK is one of the 10 worst iodine deficient countries that have the most school age children with insufficient iodine intake.

These findings are those of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders who over the last 40 years has been instrumental in helping third world countries combat iodine deficiency with salt iodisation programs. I have followed their successes across the part of my activities with my Micronutrient Bureau since 1980.

It is sad to realise that the UK is now a “third world country” with regard to iodine.

The World Health Organisation recommendations (2007) are:
250 micrograms of iodine per day for pregnant women,
150 micrograms for adults,
120 micrograms for children 5-13 years and
90 micrograms for children under 5 years.
These iodine intakes can be achieved by including iodine-rich food in the diet, such as sea fish and sea foods but these are seldom eaten regularly.
The higher iodine requirement in pregnancy and lactation may necessitate the taking of supplements. Women may consider taking a daily pregnancy supplement, typically containing about 150 micrograms iodine.  It is important that kelp or seaweed supplements are not used as iodine sources as these products have very variable, and often extremely high, concentrations of iodine that could lead to problems caused by excessive intake.

Most of the iodine in the typical UK diet comes from milk and dairy products. This is the result of the inclusion of iodine in animal feed (mostly fed indoors and not used by organic farmers) and from the contamination of dairy equipment with the iodophors used as disinfectants.

Iodine concentrations in milk vary with summer milk containing less iodine than winter milk. Organic milk contains up to 40% less iodine than conventional milk.

Two glasses of conventional milk, 1 egg, cereals and bread and butter is a good start, which together with the iodine in meat, vegetables, fruit and beverages (possibly totaling up to 100 micrograms) may be sufficient.

It is advisable that iodine nutrition in pregnancy is discussed with the GP and health adviser.

Iodine deficiency and sufficiency can be easily assessed by urine analysis and can be readily prevented and corrected by eating sufficient iodine-rich food. At the very least the message that iodine is required for brain development needs to be got across to all planning a family.

It is hoped that one day a nation-wide survey of the iodine situation will be carried out in the UK by urine analysis. At present the nutritional adequacy of the national diet is assessed by analysis of food combined with quantities of food consumed by different groups of people. It is accepted that young women in the UK are unlikely to get sufficient iodine because their diets are inadequate but this does not seem to have led to any advice regarding iodine in pregnancy.    

October 2012