Monday, 15 November 2010

recent interesting newspaper articles

There have been a number of interesting articles in newspapers recently about animal welfare and ecological issues. The first two are about the new mega dairies like the proposed one in Nocton.

The Guardian 13/11/10 A tale of two herds What's the future for dairy farming? Juliette Jowit reports on new plans for an enormous super-dairy, home to 8,000 cows. John Vidal, meanwhile, visits a tiny herd of 44 in Hertfordshire – all have names and are cherished from birth to death

The Indpendent 13/11/10 Peter Stevenson: Coalition stance on industrial dairy farms will see cows suffer
"Mega-dairies will in all likelihood become widespread if allowed and the Government is refusing to come out against them as it should."

The Indpendent 13/11/10 The great animal rights betrayal Government scraps protection for hens, game birds, pigs, cows, sheep – and circus animals

The Indpendent 15/11/10 None flew over the cuckoo's nest: A world without birds Could we be facing a future without birds? Our reliance on pesticides has cut a swathe through their numbers. We must act now, argues Kate Ravilious

The most interesting thing about the first of these articles is the taste comparison between milk from intensively-reared cows and milk as it used to be, from the Hare Krishna dairy. The two are completely different. The Hare Krishna milk had more flavour and tasted better. It was thicker and more substantial. It makes you wonder if instead of intensive dairy production we could just have watered down our milk to make it cheaper. The justification of producing milk that people can afford seems a bit of a con.

Another thing that interested me was the statement that the cows at the proposed Nocton mega dairy would not be fed on cattle feed derived from soya. The article said that soy protein is 'associated with cutting down rainforests'. It doesn't make it clear if this is a decision designed to make the critics happier. It doesn't seem to make a lot of ecological sense because soy protein can be sourced from America and Argentina instead of Brazil.

It made me wonder what these cows will be fed on. Cows used to eat grass and other meadow plants. After that they grazed on grass from 'improved' grassland. After that they ate starch from grains as well as the usual cellulose. Now intensively-reared cows eat soy protein as well as starch from grains. Cows that are highly bred to produce vast quantitites of milk cannot do so unless they eat lots of protein. Milk contains a lot of protein. That's why at times they have been fed dead animals and fish.

The answer seems to be that they will eat lucerne and maize. I wouldn't have thought that lucerne (also known as alfalfa) could provide enough protein.

See my other post about mega dairies.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

is mackerel at risk?

On Countryfile this Sunday there was a report about mackerel stocks. Mackerel stocks in Europe had been maintained sensibly but it seems all that is about to change. Mackerel could go the way of cod, with numbers becoming depleted. Fishermen from the Faroes and also Iceland intend to catch many more. This would be a great tragedy. Fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, are a wonderful nutritional resource. It really would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

This isn't just about fishermen's jobs, or about fishing communities, or even about national income. It would be a crime if in the long term fewer of these protein and omega-3 rich fish were available to humanity. There will be many more mouths to feed in the future.

I saw Elliot Morley on TV recently. He got into trouble recently over expenses and has tried to use parliamentary privilege to avoid standing trial. I remembed Elliot Morley from when he was fisheries minister years go. Someone asked him if it would not be a good idea to protect fish stocks to stop them from becoming depleted. He said it was a circular argument, because if you protected fish stocks it might protect the jobs of fishermen in the future but then again it would mean job losses now.

It's not a 'circular argument'. It's a question of short-term interests versus long-term interests. We should always do what's best for the long term. That's why we invest in the future. Even then that's only looking at it from the point of view of fishermen's jobs. Food security is a much more important issue.

I always think of Elliot Morley when people say that we need to pay MPs lots of money so that we can attract the best people. The idea is that high-flyers are the most intelligent and we need them to get the job done. However, people like him don't really understand the arguments. They're not activists, they don't have ideals. They seem to think their job is to balance the demands of different interest groups. We need people who really believe in something in Parliament. High-fliers are a waste of time, whether it's in Parliament or in the City.

Monday, 8 November 2010

misleading information in the Daily Mail

I read the Daily Mail on Friday (05/11/10) and there were two articles about food that were misleading. The first was by Martin Samuel on page 18 entitled Fish oil or a load of codswallop? The second one by 'Daily Mail Reporter' was called Organic vegetables 'no better for health'.

Martin Samuel referred to a review by Dr Majid Fotuhi last year which concluded that fish oil cannot prevent or treat Alzheimer's Disease. This was interesting to me because I had no idea that anyone had ever suggested that fish oil or cod liver oil could help Alzheimer's Disease.

Fish oil contains long chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). They are known to help reduce inflammation and as such are helpful in preventing heart disease as well as things like arthritis. They are an important part of the structure of the brain, and lack of it is associated with depression.

Martin Samuel wrote 'Fish oil is among the great modern myths. Excellent as part of a balanced diet; largely lacking in wonder-pill qualities if taken alone'. What he seems to be saying is that eating fish could be beneficial but consuming fish oil is of no value at all. This is simply wrong.

I was not aware that fish oil was supposed to help Alzheimer's, although if you look hard enough on the web you can find that some people do - or did - think that. What I do know is that vitamin B has been shown to be linked to Alzheimer's. In the New Scientist recently was an article Low levels of vitamin B12 linked to Alzheimer's.

Not long long ago there was an interesting programme on Radio 4 showing how important vitamin D is. New research shows that it is important to the body in many different ways, much more important than was thought before. Lack of vitamin D is associated with Parkinson's Disease, MS and TB. Martin Samuel railed against 'the dubious vitamin pill industry' but I am glad that for years I have take a vitamin supplement. I don't take a vitamin and mineral supplement because I don't want to take extra iron; as an adult male extra iron will not help me and could harm me.

The second article said that a 'universtity study' showed that organic vegetables have roughly the same amount of polyphenols. The article described polyphenols as 'the chemical compound in vegetables that helps fight cancer, heart disease and dementia'. Polyphenols are only one type of antioxidant. We cannot be sure that antioxidants in food have any health benefits.

Most people who buy organic food do so because the long term cumulative effects of ingesting a cocktail of small amounts of different agrochemicals are unknown. Or they don't like the effect that agrochemicals have on wildlife. Or they don't want to support an agricultural system that they don't believe in, for reasons explored elsewhere on this blog. It isn't anything to do with polyphenols.

We can see a pattern emerging in tabloid reporting on health issues. First they take some obscure research. Then they pretend that people buy a supplement or a food for a particular reason when they don't. Then they ridicule anyone who wastes their money on the supplement or the premium priced food. The annoying thing is that anyone who doesn't know anything about nutritition will believe what they are reading. They will avoid healthy food because people like Martin Samuel have cast doubt on it. I don't eat organic food but I respect people who do. This is people's health we're talking about, and these tabloid hacks are harming it.

There are three types of people when it comes to health information. There are those who take the information on board for the benefit of themselves and their family. There are those who decide to take no notice and continue as before. Both of these types of people I am happy with. I have no objection to people smoking, as long as they don't pretend to the world that smoking is not harmful.

The third type of person is the type of person who doesn't want to take the information on board but they don't want to appear to be stupid. They try to muddy the waters, to use convoluted arguments to try to cast doubts on scientific evidence. There is nothing wrong with challenging scientific evidence, that is what scientists do to each other all the time. It is a necessary part of science. But scientists use concise arguments and evidence. These people don't.

They insist that the way they were brought up must have been as good as any, that their traditional way of eating cannot be wrong in any way. They often believe that butter must be OK because it is natural and traditional. Fish oil must be wrong because Grandma never used it. Actually Grandma probably did use it, or at least cod liver oil. Maybe, in this case, Grandma knew best.

So I'm going to continue to take my fish oil capsules, and my vitamin supplement, not just because of research results but because of possible research results in the future. I want to be in a position where when more evidence comes along of the value of DHA and EPA or vitamins B and D I know that I've been taking it for years.

I don't swallow my fish oil capsules. They are quite big. I put one in my mouth and break it with my teeth. The oil tastes nice. It makes me wonder why in Grandma's generation they hated the taste of cod liver oil. It was probably because it came from a bottle and was rancid. I keep mine in the fridge. I intend to have cod liver oil in winter because it is considerably higher in vitamin D than fish oil, and we make less vitamin D in our skin in winter.

There may be a problem with Cod Liver Oil though. Some brands add vitamins A and D. It could be that some people may be taking too much vitamin A. Some would say that taking lots of vitamin A negates the benefits of taking lots of vitamin D. I don't take megadoses of any vitamin, and I like to get a lot of my vitamins from the food that I eat. RDAs (Recomended Daily Allowances) are not relevant to anything, they are just guesswork.

If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills?' that by itself is a meaningless question. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to stay alive?' the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to prevent deficiency diseases?' again the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to obtain the optimum amount of vitamins for all the various functions known and unknown?' that is a more difficult question to answer. It is a question I hope will be answered at some time in the future, but we are getting closer to the answer.

I went to the Daily Mail website to look for links to these two articles so that I could include them on this blog page. I didn't find them, but then I didn't look very hard. What I did find was that Martin Samuel seems to be a sports reporter. Nice to know that the Daily Mail always has an expert on hand when they need to deal with the important issue of the health of millions of people.