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Food & agriculture - Feb 19

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Sugar rush

Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian
From fresh fruit to ready meals, from baby formula to sausages, the food we eat is getting sweeter. Why? And should we be worried? Felicity Lawrence examines the sugaring of the British palate
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..."Sugar is as dangerous as tobacco [and] should be classified as a hard drug, for it is harmful and addictive," according to a recent article in the British Medical Journal. Sugars in all forms are seen by many as dangerous to health and our food is packed full of them: not just sucrose (plain sugar as we know it) but other forms of refined sugars from cane, beet and corn.

Eat too much of them and you may become fat, sick and miserable. Sugars rot your teeth and encourage a calorie-rich but nutrient-low diet that contributes to obesity - and obesity is a high-risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

...The reason all these sugars are both attractive and pernicious is that our physiology is geared to eating food in its whole, natural state rather than concentrated form. Refined sugars, and highly refined carbohydrates generally, are converted very rapidly to blood sugar which gives you a burst of energy and a high - rapidly followed by a low as the pancreas releases insulin to reduce blood-sugar levels, leaving you hungry for yet more sugars. Moreover, if up to a quarter of your calories are coming from the empty calories of refined sugars, the sugars inevitably displace fresh food with vitamins and minerals. You simply don't get enough nutrition.

"The blood sugar curves are quite different with whole foods. They give you a feeling of satiety and fullness and are metabolised slowly so that energy is released steadily over a longer period," says Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of public health at University College, London. "But as you expose yourself to sugar, your liking for it increases, and your taste threshold changes. You start needing more. Manufacturers have exploited that." Intriguing evidence is also beginning to emerge that explains why high sugar consumption becomes quite so addictive. In animal experiments at Princeton University, Carlo Colantuoni has shown that rats that have been fed large amounts of sugar in their food and then have it removed show signs of opioid withdrawal. "The indices of anxiety and other symptoms were similar to withdrawal from morphine or nicotine," he reports in the journal Obesity.

...[Sugar consumption] has been on the increase for some time. At the beginning of the 18th century, per capita consumption of sugar in England was still only about 4lbs - less than two of today's packets of sugar; by the beginning of the 19th century consumption had soared to 18lbs per person per year. Sugar, produced by slaves and imported from the colonies, fuelled the industrial revolution. In the form of sweetened tea and jam, it fed the factory workers of the 19th century. By the 1890s, the price greatly reduced after the abolition of slavery by the removal of free-trade barriers, it had become a necessity in the labouring diet: consumption touched 90lbs per person per year.

...By the age of 15 boys typically have a habit of nearly 80lbs per year, the equivalent of 1,000 cans of cola or 11,800 sugar cubes, and that's only counting what gets owned up to in food diaries. Taking into account under-reporting, they are matching or exceeding the consumption of impoverished manual workers of the 19th century whose requirement for calories was determined by 14 hours or more of physical labour a day.
(15 Feb 2007)
Long, fascinating article. Note how sugar consumption spiked with industrialization (and the widespread use of fossil fuels) -- from 4 pounds/year to 90 pounds/year. Apparently, we not only become addicted to fossil fuels, but to sugar at the same time. -BA


Iraq: Now It Is Lack of Food Security

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
The lack of security in Iraq is leading now to a collapse in food supplies.

"Look at us begging for food despite the fortunes we have," 60-year-old Um Muthanna from Baghdad told IPS. Standing at a vegetable market in central Baghdad where vegetable supplies are not what they used to be, Um Mahmood despaired for Iraq.

"A country with two great rivers should have been the biggest exporter in the world, but now we beg for food from those who participated in killing us." Iraq is rich in oil and agricultural resources.

Local and international aid flooded into Iraq in 2004, the year following the invasion, but much of the supply was blocked off after the kidnapping of many aid activists in the country.

The food the Iraqis did get was often not what they needed, or wanted.

...Changes in Iraqi import laws introduced by former administrator L. Paul Bremer, dropped tariffs on import of foreign products, making it impossible for Iraqi farmers to compete. Countless Iraqi farms went bankrupt.

But now prices of imported goods have increased dramatically. And so most of the food in Iraqi markets today is imported, and more expensive due to skyrocketing fuel costs and lack of government regulation. Imported foods like chicken, fruits and vegetables now cost more than locally grown foods.
(19 Feb 2007)


Development still gobbling up California farmland

Bob Krauter, Capital Press
TULARE, Calif. - California's heartland is disappearing under housing subdivisions, shopping malls and pavement at an accelerated rate, according to new state data released at this week's World Ag Expo.

The California Department of Conservation has released preliminary data that show 18,801 acres of farmland in five valley counties has been converted to nonagricultural uses between 2002 and 2004.
(15 Feb 2007)


The real cost of bottled water

Jared Blumenfeld, Susan Leal, SF Chronicle
...Clearly, the popularity of bottled water is the result of huge marketing efforts. The global consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent in just five years. Even in areas where tap water is clean and safe to drink, such as in San Francisco, demand for bottled water is increasing -- producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. So what is the real cost of bottled water?

Most of the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. More than 5 trillion gallons of bottled water is shipped internationally each year. Here in San Francisco, we can buy water from Fiji (5,455 miles away) or Norway (5,194 miles away) and many other faraway places to satisfy our demand for the chic and exotic. These are truly the Hummers of our bottled-water generation. As further proof that the bottle is worth more than the water in it, starting in 2007, the state of California will give 5 cents for recycling a small water bottle and 10 cents for a large one.

Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In contrast, San Francisco tap water is distributed through an existing zero-carbon infrastructure: plumbing and gravity. Our water generates clean energy on its way to our tap -- powering our streetcars, fire stations, the airport and schools.

More than 1 billion plastic water bottles end up in the California's trash each year, taking up valuable landfill space, leaking toxic additives, such as phthalates, into the groundwater and taking 1,000 years to biodegrade. That means bottled water may be harming our future water supply.

The rapid growth in the bottled water industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. This can have a huge strain on the surrounding eco-system. Near Mount Shasta, the world's largest food company, Nestle, is proposing to extract billions of gallons of spring water, which could have devastating impacts on the McCloud River.

So it is clear that bottled water directly adds to environmental degradation, global warming and a large amount of unnecessary waste and litter. All this for a product that is often inferior to San Francisco's tap water. Luckily, there are better, less expensive alternatives...
(18 Feb 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

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