Archive for the ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ Category

GMOs: What’s a consumer to do?

July 9, 2013

Presentation1GMOS are in the news yet again. The controversies re their health and economic value abound, as does the ‘evidence’ for and against their production/cultivation and release on the market.

The World Health Organisation – WHO – defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. In their 20 Questions on GM foods they specifically discuss the safety of GM foods. “Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods. GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.” Note the phrase – “not likely”.

Some argue that GMOS can solve World Hunger. Yet the FAO Director General, Jose Graziano da Silva, seems not to agree. In March 2013 he issued a warning saying that GMOs not needed to eradicate hunger.Our position as FAO is not that we are against GMOs but we are saying we don’t need them now to eradicate hunger.” He expressed concern about the impact GMOs have on the environment. “We don’t know what will happen to areas of production and the crops.”

Due to an interview I was involved in recently (see here: http://www.sundaycircle.com/2013/07/crop-wars/), I have been talking about GMOs to a couple of people and they were all asking the same question: “So as a consumer what is the bottom line?”

As a health and consumer educator —  a Home Economist — I would say that:

  • We still do not have enough data on the potential risks to human health in the long-term from consumption of GMOS.
  • We already have evidence on the impact on the environment and on social and economic aspects related to farmers. It is not always so positive.
  • So we might want to be a bit cautious still… Some people might even decide already to avoid GMOs altogether for health and ethical reasons.

My Key Messages for (Maltese) Consumers

1. Read labels on packaged foods. If the food contains GMOs it will say so; not necessarily on the front of the package; but in the ingredients list. Some companies will voluntarily put a label that their food does not contain GMOs. This will typically be on a food which consumers might think could contain GMOs (e.g. soy products). This label is often somewhere quite visible.

 2. Buy organic as much as possible. Any food which is certified organic cannot contain GMOs. Look for the official EU label. new_EU ORGANIC logo

 3. If you buy your chicken meat from a local source, ask the producer if the feed given contains GMOs.

The same goes for local eggs. Ask the producer if the layers are given feed containing GMOs.

It is more difficult to check re feed given to other local animals slaughtered for meat which we buy through the butcher or at supermarkets.

4. Avoid the ‘Big Four’ as they are often called. Most GM ingredients are products made from the ‘Big Four:’ corn, soybean, canola (also known as rape seed), and cottonseed, used in processed foods.  Some of the most common GM Big Four ingredients in processed foods are listed below*. REMEMBER: It will be stated on the label if these GM ingredients are present :

Corn
Cornflour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, gluten and corn syrup
Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose and glucose
Modified food starch

Soy
Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate and isoflavone
Vegetable oil and vegetable protein

Canola/Rapeseed oil
Canola/rapeseed oil, additives made from canola/rapeseed oil

Cottonseed
Cottonseed oil, additives made from cottonseed oil

5. For sweetened foods, check on the ingredients list for the type of sugar used. You might find GM beet sugar as one of the ingredients.

 *May be derived from other non-GM sources

Sources:

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

http://www.gmeducation.org/government-and-corporations/p207350-un’s%20food%20and%20agriculture%20organisation%20issues%20gmo%20warning%20.html

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Think. Eat. Save. Food waste is not allowed!

June 5, 2013

Image                                                           Happy World Environment Day! The UNEP theme for this special day is Think! Eat! Save!

So much food is wasted needlessly in the world. Are you part of this wasteful chain? Zero waste is a goal sought by many individuals and organisations – especially when it comes to food. Good menu and shopping planning, as well as good waste mangement are key (Does this recall Home Economics skills anyone? 🙂 ) So make that extra effort today to ensure that any food you buy or prepare to eat will be consumed 100%. And then make this a habit in your household and workplace as from tomorrow.

Here are just a few examples of what others are doing around the world:

Think.Eat.Save (International) – This initiative, launched by the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, works to reverse food loss and food waste by providing consumers, retailers, leaders and the community with advice and ways to take action to reduce their yearly food waste.  The campaign aggregates and shares different methods of conserving food, including policy recommendations and steps that consumers and households can take on their own to prevent waste.

Culinary Misfits (Berlin, Germany) –Started by two friends, Culinary Misfits seeks out the ugly vegetables at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants and turns them into delectable dishes at the events they cater in the city.

Love Food, Hate Waste (United Kingdom) – This program teaches consumers about food waste and provides them with helpful portioning and planning tips, as well as an array of recipes to make sure food doesn’t go to waste.

Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food) (Denmark) – Danish food expert Selina Juul’s campaign inspired Danish supermarket Rema 1000 to replace buy-one-get-one-free and other quantity-based discounts with general discounts in all of its stores. Such discounts, frequently implemented by grocery stores to get produce off the shelves, often result in food being wasted at home.

FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) (European Union) – After recognizing that the European Union discards approximately 89 million tons of food every year, Brussels has pledged, through the FUSIONS program, to reduce that number by half by the year 2025. Currently in development, FUSIONS hopes to tackle the issue throughout the supply chain, working with farmers so that they don’t reject less-than-perfect-looking produce. And they work with grocery stores to offer discounts to consumers on products that are nearing their expiration dates.

Songhai Centre (Sub-Saharan Africa) – The Songhai Centre is a sustainable development organization that, among other projects, teaches environmentally conscious farming practices in rural areas in Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their agricultural education is based on a policy of production totale zéro déchet (zero waste total production) – in the organization’s own words, “the byproducts of one field are valuable raw materials for another.”

University of Cincinnati SolerCool (Ohio, United States) – Developed by MBA students at the University of Cincinnati, this solar-powered refrigerator runs on eight solar panels to keep food comfortably cool when it is being transported.

Sanford and Son (Illinois, United States) – Sanford and Son is a father-and-son company that works in the West Side of Chicago to repurpose food waste for urban farms. Ray Sanford and his son Nigel recycle food waste from restaurants and private homes and convert it into organic compost, which is then distributed to urban farms to use as fertilizer. They claim to save 226 kilograms (500 pounds) of organic waste for each family that uses their composting services.

(Source of examples — Food Tank: The Food Think Tank)

May 1: Celebrating Workers’ Day…with a twist

May 1, 2011

You might be wondering why I’m celebrating International Workers’ Day on a blog related to food. The answer is simple: Unless we are self-sufficient and produce our own food, we rely on hundreds, if not thousands of workers around the world to do it for us.

In Medieval Europe, the first day in May was celebrated as a general holiday to herald the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. During the 1880s workers used the existing holiday as a day to celebrate workers’ solidarity. In 1890, Workers’ Day was recognised internationally for the first time.

Workers’ Day reminds us that all people who work deserve a fair wage and decent working conditions. It also reminds us of the importance of establishing justice and a sense of responsibility and caring in the workplace.

Well today in Malta it’s a beautiful spring day and I wanted to take the opportunity to link this special celebration day with our food choices… especially as they apply to our islands.

Do you ever consider where your food is produced and by whom?

A basic rule is to, as much as possible, opt for local food to sustain local farmers, producers and workers.

Where feasible buy directly from farms, wayside vendors, Farmers’ markets. Read the labels on the fruit and vegetable produce crates or price tags to check the origin; or ask  the vendor.

Make the effort to learn which foods other than fruits and vegetables are produced locally. Apart from the staple fresh products such as bread, dairy, cold cuts and pastries, check out frozen, canned and dried packaged foods as well. Tomato, vegetable and fruit products, as well as frozen pizzas, pies and pasta dishes are some things which come to mind.

And do not forget the myriad of tea-time pastries and preserves. The market is being flooded with imported cakes, muffins and cookies; yet we can boast a vast array of traditional tea-time sweets which are still being produced by local bakeries. These are available directly from the bakeries (where there’s nothing which beats the aroma of these freshly baked products – particularly qagħaq tal- ħmira [sweet dough rings], my downfall), from corner shops, supermarkets, mobile vendors, open-markets and now even the soon-to-open new Artisan Market in Vittoriosa.

This Artisan Market also selling food is a fairly new concept for Malta and will offer the opportunity for local producers to market their organic or ‘aiming to be organic’ fruit, vegetables, juices, cheese, herbs, breads, eggs, preserves, wines and honey….and for us consumers to buy them. Whilst it enriches our taste palate and cultural appreciation to consume foods from around the world, acknowledging and more frequently opting for the products of local workers is a sustainable action to consider.

Of course, buying only locally produced food is something which most of us Maltese cannot envisage and practically adhere to. So when it comes to choosing imported foods what can we keep in mind? In keeping with the Workers’ Day theme, I wanted to emphasise Fairtrade products.

Buying Fairtrade foods means that you are buying foods which have been produced in a way which respects the farmers’ and workers’ rights to a fair price, good working conditions and a healthy and thriving living community.

The basic standards for a product to be certified Fairtrade are spelt out in the Fairtrade Foundation’s website as follows:

– Ensure a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price, which is agreed with producers

– Provide an additional Fairtrade premium, which can be invested in projects that enhance social, economic and environmental development

– Enable pre-financing for producers who require it

– Emphasize the idea of partnership between trade partners

– Facilitate mutually beneficial long-term trading relationships

– Set clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure that the conditions for the production and trade of a product are socially and economically fair and environmentally responsible.

(http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/what_is_fairtrade/fairtrade_certification_and_the_fairtrade_mark/fairtrade_standards.aspx)

The availability of Fairtrade food products is still limited in Malta. Here I mean both physical and economic availability. A few of the larger supermarkets and one local Fairtrade speciality shop in Valletta (http://www.l-arka.org/) will stock items such as coffee, tea, juices, wine, beer, chocolate, pasta, rice, barley, couscous, biscuits, muesli, preserves, spreads, sweets, packet snacks, sugar and spices. (Actually whilst I’m writing I’m thinking this is quite a good range of products.) The reality is that these retail outlets are not convenient for all and, perhaps, what is more restrictive is that in many cases the prices may be quite high compared to non-Fair trade products. Still, whilst you might not include such products on your weekly food shopping list, it is worth considering buying some of the more longer-lasting items. Additionally, these products will surely make a meaningful birthday, Christmas, Father or Mother’s Day gift for anyone who believes in the principles of Fairtrade, sustainability and workers’ rights.

So today, as you are drinking your coffee or juice, or nibbling on a biscuit, give a thought to all those workers who have helped to bring that product to your table. Consider how you can contribute more to their wellbeing and to sustainable development. Start consuming more local and more Fairtrade products, and encourage others to do the same. In Margaret Mead’s words “Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

(For more on Fairtrade you can also visit the DOLCETA Consumer Education website – www.dolceta.eu. Click on Sustainable Consumption and search for ‘fair trade’.)