VEGA News Item

News Round Up at Wet and Windy Whitsun - 31/05/2007
We review some current topics that have engaged VEGA over recent weeks
We review some current topics and Whitsuntidings that have engaged VEGA over recent weeks. They emphasize our need for volunteers to engage in our campaigns and to add to the fun with well-versed contributions to our efforts and enhancement and use of our database. It is being overhauled now to make it even more freely accessible - a real Freedom Food for Thought and Action.

Here's a list of current topics that grab our attention.
  • Food Standards and Manky Meat
  • Cane or Beet – Are the Sugars the Same? No: Provenance Matters
  • Water Supply Contaminated at Food Plant
  • Dimming Views of the Milky Way
  • A Cow Yielding “Semi-skimmed” Low-Fat Milk
  • Is the Animal Welfare Act Working?
  • Avian Flu and Other Viral Diseases
  • Epidemiology, Screening and Genetics (and Epigenetics)
  • D2 or D3. Calcichew, Bisphosphonates, and Osteopenia
  • The Thyroid
  • Fishing for Complements
  • Radioactive Sheep in the UK. In the Wake of Chernobyl
  • Meat, McDonald’s, and the Meat Market. The 4 Ms
  • Freedom’s Just Another Word… The RSPCA in Shame
Food Standards and Manky Meat

Falsified records, serious breaches of hygiene, and flouting of food safety procedures at Tesco's Woodford Green store in Essex and in Sainsbury's store in Didcot were exposed by a BBC TV whistleblower program a week ago. The usual stream of explanations, unaccompanied by denials, ensued as the supermarkets tried to reassure the public in time for the weekend. The pressures of cheap food policies and the lack of supervision were evident and vigorous further investigations are promised. The Food Standards Agency is meeting local authorities to discuss preliminary findings.

The FSA is joining an emergency inspection by environmental health officers at Katsouris, a food manufacturer. The FSA is lending "moral support and fact-finding" after revelations of breaches of food safety at one of the firm's ready-meal factories. The whistleblower program showed filthy lavatories at the Ealing factory and employees failing to change their boots before, or wash their hands after using them. They also moved "product" in buckets plucked from the floor and left finished ready-meals standing for hours without chilling.

A month or two ago salmonella was found in Katsouris' houmous. The firm's biggest customer is Marks and Spencer; it also supplies Sainsbury's and Tesco. Bakkavör owns the company (which had a turnover in 2005 of £160m); it said that workers were being retrained and would be more closely supervised. It conceded that "unacceptable breaches of company policy" had occurred (The Grocer 26 May 2007). Tesco had already carried out a spot check on the plant. A spokesman of Tesco's said: "We're all over Katsouris on its food safety procedures". Disappointment over the lapses and need to ensure immediate action on the findings are promised: "we won't allow that sort of thing to go on", Tesco avers. A former director at a major multiple says: "No one has a contract with anybody in this business. Things change overnight." Is this reassuring? At least, supplies of houmous are recovering after the recall.

Another episode in the Whistleblower revelations has prompted "tightening up of Biosecurity" after "severe lapses in standards" at Crown Chicken's factory in Swansthorpe. The manager of the farm has been "transferred" after the program showed bins filled with maggot-infested carcases at the factory. On the day of filming temperatures reaching 40ºC "exacerbated conditions." Crown Chicken supplies chicken to Budgens, farm shops, and "high-end" retailers. Sainsbury's, which had sold halal poultry from Crown in a few of its stores, through Tahira Foods, said that the line had been discontinued before filming.

Fresh basil has been found contaminated with salmonella in items sold at Sainsbury's, Asda, and Somerfield supermarkets, according to the FSA (26 May 2007). Sainsbury's and Somerfield said that they had withdrawn all potentially affected stock with a best-before-date up to and including 18 May. Shoppers should return any of the herb they have from these dates to the store where it was bought. The outbreak was discovered during a routine survey. It is "being investigated." The Health Protection Agency found the salmonella in fresh basil at Asda stores in Peterlee and Bishop Auckland, Sainsbury's at Swindon and Gateshead, and Somerfield in Harpenden.

The FSA has been raising more hell for major retailers (including Asda, Sainsbury's and Harrods) implicated in certain fishy findings amounting in some appraisals to fraud. The FSA has published a report concluding that some 15% of farmed fish sold as wild may have deluded customers into overpaying for fish "to the tune of millions of pounds" (The Grocer 19 May 2007). Salmon is the main fish eaten in the UK, where 4000 tons of sea bass and 1,700 tons of sea bream were consumed last year. Seafood sales are leaping across the board. Fishmongers, wholesalers, and retailers are in a frenzy of implication and blame. Waitrose, however, has avoided the recrimination by vaunting its system of traceability. Samples from Tesco and Morrisons could not be assessed. The EU's labelling regulations require description of the production method and catch area of the product: 57 out of a total of 387 (15%) samples of fish and fish products from wholesalers and retailers across the UK "either provided no information or did not meet legislative requirements." Of 57 the cases 43 occurred in smaller businesses, such as fishmongers, but retailers including Morrisons, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, and Aldi also had labelling problems. "The results are not representative of all wild fish on sale", says the FSA. Sainsbury's and Asda vigorously deny the FSA's allegations.

Various "human errors" have been adduced in excuses doubting the validity of the FSA's new tests of authenticity and provenance. Traditional visual examinations and clues apparent to experts may suffice, but the new methods have been applied in another survey of poultry fed on corn- (maize-) based diets or wheat, the former imparting a yellow hue to the flesh and thus a premium. Again significant fraudulence was revealed.

The Whistleblower program revealed examples of bad practices and poor hygiene at deli counters and the FSA has secured evidence from a 2-year investigation that has led to fines of £13,000 imposed by magistrates at Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, for breaches of regulations on meat hygiene. The firm was convicted on 13 separate counts, including breaches of health marketing requirements on meat and use of the premises for a purpose for which it was not licensed. The alarm was raised in 2005 when Chinese poultry meat was intercepted en route to Euro Freeze. The company was then suspended and the store taken over by Cool Chill. A director of Euro Freeze objected and threatened the FSA with "very serious allegations".

Cane or Beet - Are the Sugars the Same? No: Provenance Matters

The FSA's new analytical procedures entail use of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry in measurements of isotope ratios in products at various levels in the food chain (eg derived from animals or directly from plants). Carbon and nitrogen are commonly suitable elements in isotopic forms for this purpose. They are not radioactive. Thus a carnivore can be distinguished from a herbivore from, say, a protein such as keratin in a hair; therefore a strict veggie (vegan) can be identified in a collection of less abstemious human consumers. Applications of the procedure enable "pure" cane sugar to be distinguished from "pure" beet sugar, although they are beyond chemical differentiation. Biochemical systems, eg with enzymes, also react a little differently with substrates with different provenance. Further elaborations of these physical methods, allied with geological information, can yield evidence on the regional origins of foods. In medical examinations, measurements from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allied with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) can detect depositions of body fat and identify them. This is a non-invasive procedure avoiding X-rays, and applied in epidemiological studies on veggies and meat-eaters and their respective risks in the progress of syndrome X (insulin resistance).

Water Supply Contaminated at Food Plant

The FSA cannot for much longer distance itself from feedstuffs, as an incident at Masterfoods factory at Melton Mowbray forced a stop on production of Whiskas and Pedigree pet-foods when paint polluted the water supply. A bulk paint container was damaged by forklift truck at a nearby factory making windows. The paint flowed into a tributary of the Melton River that supplies water to the Masterfoods factory. The contaminant penetrated the site's drainage systems and filtered into the waterway turning it bright white. The factory, one of the world's biggest petfood plants, uses water from the Melton River in its steam and cooling processes. Masterfoods had to redirect water from the town's supply and another nearby river while the spillage was cleared. The firm declared that the quality and safety of its products were assured. Masterfoods also makes Mars and other confectionery.

Dimming Views of the Milky Way

Problems beset the dairy / beef / veal industry by the day, as British farmers quitting the job and price wars over milk and calves testify. And now "even the Queen is struggling to make money out of milk": Her Majesty has decided after advice from her managers to sell her herd of 355 pedigree Ayrshire cattle grazed on Windsor Great Park. It is "no longer a viable operation. There have been significant losses over several years with milk prices failing to cover the high cost of production" says a spokeswoman. The milk from the Ayrshires is sold to Dairy Crest, "which suggested the decision wasn't down to low milk prices alone." The NFU's chief dairy adviser Tom Hind says that "it is symptomatic of the lack of confidence among dairy farmers, and the Queen is not immune to that" (The Grocer, 26 May 2007).

The Queen's herd of Jersey cows will be retained. They provide milk for the Royal Household, as well as cream sold in the farm shop. It has remained profitable, notwithstanding all the FSA's efforts at reducing levels of animal fats in the diets of Her Majesty's subjects. However, British farmers are seeing some relief in a "sharpening" of farmgate prices by 5±2% during this year by protracted bargaining with supermarkets and in an exceptional rise in the prices across the whole of the EU and international markets of most dairy products. Unless the price of cheeses rises, milk is likely to be diverted into other co-products (or by-products). As a guide to campaigners for changes in the whole dairy / beef / veal system we give below some figures from DEFRA on the utilization of milk from UK dairies in the year ending March 2007.

Liquid use6535
   of which: 
   Whole milk powder660
   Skim milk powder (SMP)  650
   Condensed milk345

Cheese, once revered as a source of protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, especially by veggies, who became known as cheesytarians, has suffered indignities from the FSA, which emphasizes in its labelling plans the high content of animal fat and salt. Animal welfarists descry objections to cheese as strong as those to meat. Whey is a proteinaceous by-product of cheese-making, value adding of which has occupied the industry in seeking outlets in liquid feeds, especially for pigs, and in various forms, dried and liquid, in baby foods and as an ingredient in a range of food products. Buttermilk may be considered similarly. It is much used in Ireland in mixes for bakery products.

Rising dairy prices would mean Britons having to pay more for products from icecream to baby food. An interpretation in the Grocer (26 May 2007) states: "Although dairy farmers stand to gain, food manufacturers warned that hikes were inevitable as the cost of ingredients such as butter and milk powder continued to soar. This week alone butter rose €20 to €2,900/ton (£1,985/t), whole milk powder increased €50 to €3,470/t (£2,375/t), with SMP up €70 to €3,500/t (£2,400/t)." Price rises in products such as ice cream, milk chocolate, yogurts, milk drinks, ready meals, biscuits, confectionery, and cakes of about 10% can be foreseen, but they bid fair to benefit dairy- and lactose-free and whey-out alternatives and to relieve some stress on cow and calf. However, other factors are in play: zero-grazing, feed lots, enormous herds and ever-increasing yields and declining value and care for newborn calves, for instance - not to mention environmental and zoonotic diseases and epidemics and upsets to wildlife such as badgers.

These by-products have attracted objections in Whey Out campaigns and Assalt courses. Dubious means of value-adding with descriptions such as "vegetarian" whey are belittled by the enormities in the cruelties in the whole dairy/beef/veal system. In the UK, North America, Australia and other areas of intensive production cheesytarians connive in many cruelties inflicted on the cow and her calf - as well as to the short-lived sire, who's "daddy of them all" - or so it increasingly seems, free range or zero-grazed. Conditions in New Zealand are both similar and different from those in the UK; so different that the status of cheese and whey is being reversed, mainly because whey fetches a good price when sold as a component of sports and body-building drinks in health food shops. Casein is another candidate from the dairy industry for VAT (Virtue Adding Tricks), especially in application for baby-foods.

A Cow Yielding "Semi-Skimmed" Low Fat Milk

The weekend's news of this freak and her progeny - and of the developments therefrom - offer another untoward example of the exploitation perpetuated on cattle in attempts at adjusting outputs of products, co-products, and by-products. The full details of this work in New Zealand may herald more trickery in breeding and cloning.

Is the Animal Welfare Act working?

It is now in effect in England and Wales. Petting zoos and farms should come within its responsibilities as collections or gatherings of animals, whether or not for commercial purposes. VEGA is concerned that the regulations will be weakly or inadequately applied to collections outside the provisions and inspections applicable to normal farming practices and therefore missed in routine inspections. Some enterprises may be inspired by worthy religious precepts but less competent in their practices in respecting the needs of keeping non-human animals and appreciating the innate behavioral requirements of the stock. Hardly has the Act come into effect than some routine checks and tests have found suspect TB in a bull kept by a Hindu religious community, who are keeping other highly susceptible species including deer and a solitary elephant - in Wales. Some of these enterprises are in England and now here's one under Welsh supervision and in the care of a veterinary profession increasingly stretched in services to normal farm animals, still less to exotics, because pets and horses receive more attention from the profession nowadays. At least these sanctuaries are run by keepers likely "to be singing from the same ahimsa sheet", to quote an inspector involved with VEGA, but they are not immune from the harm wrought by pests and zoonotic disease and the ire of adjoining farmers, especially those with big dairy-herds.

Asian Flu and Other Viral Diseases

The finding of bird flu in a Bernard Matthew's enterprise in East Anglia, rearing turkeys, the exchanges of poultry ("product") between England and Hungary, and the cull and subsequent compensation from the government to support Bernard Matthew's recovery are far from "bootiful" aspects of this outbreak - even if the outcome seems unduly "booty full". It is another marker of cheap food policies. Subsequent outbreaks of a less virulent form of bird flu in Wales continue the threats of dangerous mutations and outbreaks of zoonotic disease even surpassing the awful post-WW1 pandemic of influenza (the so-called, erroneously, Spanish flu). Viral and tick-borne diseases are threatening in other contexts. Movements and transports of livestock are often implicated and dangers to carers, especially surgeons of all sorts (including participants in circumcision procedures and other mutilations) and the consequent need for vaccination and medication increases. Blue tongue virus, which is midge-borne, is likely to continue its advance this summer from North Africa. It has already reached the Netherlands, now in a form riskier for cattle than for sheep, whereas it is the other way round in the areas where it originated. Hepatitis C is becoming an increasingly common insidious threat emphasizing the need for vaccination, especially for travellers. Unlike blue tongue, it is a zoonosis including humans. Anita Roddick suffers from the affliction and is supporting much charitable endeavor towards research, prevention and treatments. It may be some consolation to people who find that their forebears came through the 1918 flu pandemic alive and unscathed. These disasters, like the earlier Black Death, probably eliminate families with low immunity to these challenges because they are genetically disfavored in this regard. Pandemic and devastating as the 1918 flu virus was, over 90% of the world's population survived. At the moment malaria, TB, HIV and civil strife are the threats afflicting, say, Africa and its people the most. Populations of survivors from all these pestilences furnish good leads for developments in immunization. A vaccine against avian flu seems near to realization and to availability for workers particularly at risk.

Epidemiology, Screening and Genetics (and Epigenetics)

The weekend's news of enhanced genetic means assessing risks of, say, cancer by going beyond the range of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs - "snips") poses new challenges to NHS policies and practices of prevention and care, without creating populations of the Well but Worried. Familial traits have long been recognized by obvious signs, if no more than an apparently innocent feature such as the family's Roman Nose or Habsburg Chin. Now screening will become available to detect insidious developments lowering the quality of life in aging populations and it will alert the pharmaceutical industry to the possibilities in research projects. Advice on lifestyle adjustments can also be more accurately directed. The outliers on those graphs of cause and effect who smoke to a ripe old age or stay slim while eating like a horse (or put on weight at the mere sight of food) or the vicars' wives who rosy-cheeked bicycle round the shires bright as a button still have genetic secrets that less endowed mortals must envy. Genetic counseling and projects such as BioBank will arouse controversy overtaking the present reception of GM in plants and animal husbandry.

D2 or D3. Calcichew, Biphosphonates and Osteopenia

The sunshine vitamin has gained much attention since we reviewed its functions in a VEGA News some years ago. We shall have to review the matter again. Osteopenia as rickets and osteoporosis and diseases of the bone, such as Paget's, are common, especially in an aging population (among whom periodontal disease is also common). Diet and lifestyle may still have to accommodate chronic medication. Nearly every preparation, officinal or OTC, comes in tablets or capsules formulated with gelatin, lactose, or colorings and other ingredients to which veggies object. Jews and Muslims share similar reservations, but they usually compromise their principles for the sake of their health. At the moment veggies may have to acquiesce likewise. We are striving to reduce this stress on patients at a critical time.

The Thyroid

Now that attention is turning to brain and behavioral disorders and to pre-conceptual and gestational origins of disabilities such as the extremes of goitre and cretinism to the enervating effects of hypothyroidism and the occurrence of autoimmune diseases iodine nutrition and the consequences have been more complicated - although measurements of hypoiodism may be facilitated by non-invasive screening, e.g. by ultrasound. The Food Standards Agency's strictures on the nation's salt consumption go against this vehicle as a means of dietary fortification. Marine sources come into the picture: the FSA's promotion of fish consumption and its supposed benefits must allow consideration of this component of the diet as a source of vitamin D, iodine and selenium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Fishing for Complements

The FSA's guarded encouragement of fish consumption challenges veggies with a source of the supposedly essential very long chain polyunsaturated acids (DHA and EPA). Algal sources of these are coming on to the market at the moment, though only as supplements or fortified baby foods. They are likely to impart a fishy taste. The FSA is carrying out research to find plant sources of the essential acids and precursors. We recommend veggies to take dietary supplements only after discussions with a doctor and screening, e.g. by blood tests, and to avoid resorting to multivitamins and minerals without a good cause. Current controversy over the enrichment of flour and bakery goods with folates illustrates factors of this type that must be taken into account in achieving optimal nutrition.

Radioactive Sheep. In the Wake of Chernobyl

The FSA rejected 69 British sheep from the food chain in 2005 because they were unacceptably radioactive. It is 19 years after the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The animals were in Wales and emitted twice as much radioactivity as is safe for human consumption. They became contaminated by radio-cesium 137 emitted in a toxic cloud by the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 and deposited on upland grazing areas. The FSA's "vital testing continues to protect the industry, the Welsh lamb brand and consumers". More than 197,000 sheep on 371 farms in Britain will remain under restrictions. Numbers have barely fallen since 2000; most are in north Wales, some are in south Cumbria and others in southwest Scotland. Movements of sheep from the LFAs (Less Favored Areas) to the lowlands (agistment or transhumance) offer a means of "flushing out" the contamination. The affected animals do not actually glow in the dark, but putting hefted flocks in fluorescent jackets can be useful for motorists encountering wandering sheep on bleak moorland roads at night. Lambs and sheep who fail the tests for radioactivity must not be slaughtered for human consumption or for petfood and "producers are compensated accordingly". But where are they killed and disposed of? As biofuel, perhaps? Last year 210,000 tests were carried out. "I was shocked by the figures - particularly the number of Welsh flocks still being monitored" said the CEO, Peter Morris, of the National Sheep Association, complaining of the inconvenience. "It's not good news for the producers involved. The Welsh brand has to be protected".

Meat, McDonald's, and the Meat Market. The 4Ms

All the beef used in the chain's burgers is British and Irish. In the UK it makes a vital contribution to the livestock industry, taking its beef from 16,000 farms across Great Britain and Ireland. This has been so, "apart from a brief spell during the BSE crisis", according to Dean McKenna, head of the firm's supply chain (Meat Trades Journal, 27 April 2007). "Forequarter and flank from more than 9,000 cattle a week are used to produce the famous McDonald's patties, leaving a need for a good outlet for the hindquarter", says Mr McKenna. "Carcase balance is therefore less of a problem for McDonald's suppliers". Beef is minced within 3 to 5 days of the animal's slaughter. Patties are then frozen and deliveries made 3 times a week to each of the McDonald's restaurants. The meat will be served within 3 months. "We have a rapid turnover", claims Mr McKenna. McDonald's won an award in 2005 from the RSPCA for the firm's specification for procurement of cattle which requires, for example, that no animal shall travel for more than 4 hours from farm to slaughterhouse: the maximum delay laid down by law is 8 hours. Last year McDonald's used bacon from 540,000 pigs and 4,525 tons boneless pork belly. Like the beef it is sourced from the UK, as are its 81m free-range eggs. However, in contrast to the beef and pork, only just over a third of the 14.6 million chickens supplied to McDonald's are from the UK. Of these, 4.7m are from the UK and the rest are from farms in Brazil and Europe. Mr McKenna states that "the supermarkets have led the poultry chain trade". Commenting on the British meat trade Guy Odri, CEO of the French poultry producer group Doux observes: "UK plc is a major importer of food in general and poultry in particular" (The Grocer, 26 May 2007). In the UK people eat a lot of chicken - about 23 kg per person per year, he says, although the UK still imported 530,000 tons of chicken in 2004. He advocated sourcing of poultry from the globe to support producers in Brazil and Thailand, which is "not only good for the UK market in particular, but the world poultry market in general". He cites "variety" and standards in justification. In another relevant view of British practices an American cattle expert, Temple Grandin, abhors "the UK habit of washing and clipping dirty animals live". The stress of being cleaned by high-pressure hoses and sheared increases the amount of unusable dark meat, a problem estimated to cost the UK industry 9.1m a year (The Grocer 26 May 2007). Jonathan Birnie, group agricultural research manager for Dunbia, said: "the change must happen here. It is better for farmers and it is better for animals".

Freedom's Just Another Word... RSPCA in Shame

Politicians, ministers, economists, nutritionists, doctors, and environmentalists combine in a torrent of advocacy for reduction of the demand for meat and milk. This concurrence would extend to consumption of eggs, but is less convincing over fish. The market and corporate managements accept the influence of the ethical shopper and the freedom consumer - the meat reducer, dairy-free, and seekers of free-from on food labeling. The FSA is increasingly engaged with traceability and provenance, freedom from dubious cosmetic tricks with additives and processing agents in food. Practice by all these freedom-fighters and do-gooders in their daily shopping, eating, and snacking would enormously reduce the toll of suffering avoidably and harmfully inflicted on human accomplices in wrongs that can be righted by the exercise of the discipline of self-restraint rather than connivance in the greed and indulgence of self-regard. "Cruelty-free" food is therefore a cause that effectual animal welfarists in which their campaign and practice can inspire with the cogency that the RSPCA manifested formerly in its espousal of the "cruelty-free" campaign for clothes and cosmetics. It is now sadly lacking. Its Freedom Foods scheme is suspect and it dissatisfies many of its own members. It has exhibited serious failings and has had to admit to persistent shortcomings in enforcement. That P in RSPCA must stand for Prevention in a much better way than this. The RSPCA's AGM will be held next month in Kensington Town Hall in London. This could be an occasion for a rally of united freedom-fighters pledged to manifest the alliance approaching on various fronts well-researched and authenticated initiatives to redouble the meaning of Prevention of Pain on the challenge of cruelty-free food and drink and household goods. VEGA aims at enlivening the RSPCA accordingly.

Ben Bradshaw, David Miliband, and Elliot Morley at DEFRA and the pursuit of the Animal Welfare Act are inspiring ministerial recognition and action. The old production-driven MAFF has been replaced by a consumer-driven DEFRA and FSA. We are getting nearer to joined-up thinking in Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming, with far-reaching consequences and example, farm to fork, in the pursuit of wellbeing and a "cruelty-free" existence. We can rejoice at the realization of aims we launched 30 years ago in a Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land with mottos such as Live and Let Live and Grow Food, not Feed. Politicians such as the trio above, who specifically pronounce (and, we hope, exemplify) the need to "reduce consumption of meat and milk" deserve plaudits for the frankness of their testimony and promise for their future and influence. The RSPCA and many other animal welfare, green, veggie, environmental and political groups have fudged the issues for long. Many more recognitions and awards are due from organizations such as the RSPCA to further the progress of politicians outdoing NGOs and charities in pursuit of worthy thinking and reform.  

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