By Rosewood Farm, Apr 28 2018 02:21PM
What a week it’s been! It started with the 2018 State of the World’s Birds report highlighting that even familiar birds are now at risk of extinction. Among the many reasons cited for this was agricultural intensification driven by ‘global demand for commodities such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, palm oil and soya’. Also called into question was the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides, said to have a detrimental impact on seed-eating birds, causing weight loss & also affecting their ability to navigate on migration.
On a more positive note, conservationists universally cheering at the end of the week as the EU voted to ban the outdoor use of neonicotinoids. This was mainly due to the effect they have only both wild and domestic bees, vital pollinators for many of our crops. However the NFU were quick to deny this and declare that the alternative chemical assault they would release would be much worse. Insecticides that don’t harm insects seems highly unlikely to me, however, I have an alternative that is much, much better, but more of that later…
By mid-week Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started Britain’s Fat Fight by telling us that 2 out of every 3 Brits are now overweight. The culprit, for a change, is sugar, and Hugh challenged us, and the companies who make our breakfast cereals, to use less of it - well done Hugh. As it happens our consumption of sugar has actually reduced by 23% between 1961 - 2011, but the worldwide sugar beet acreage increased by 70% over that time period as we switched from cane to beet sugars. One of the main crops to rely upon neonicotinoid insecticides is, yep, you guessed it; sugar beet.
Unlike sugar, over the last half century our appetite for vegetable oils has almost doubled, largely due to the demonisation of animals fats in dietary recommendations, with crops such as soy and oilseed rape (OSR) taking over to supply the burgeoning veg oil demand. OSR itself represents the predominant source of veg oil for the UK market and it relied heavily upon neonicotinoids, right up until they were banned in the crop by the EU in 2013.
This week was also a celebration of everything beefy for ‘Great British Beef Week’, with the ‘Ladies in Beef’ promoting the health & culinary benefits of including British beef in your diet. At Rosewood we’re also keen to promote the potential environmental & wildlife benefits too, providing you choose the right beef, of course!
It seems that beef has been public enemy number one from all sides; environmental, health and financial, for some time now. Although, no doubt, started with the best of intentions, this is having a devastating effect on the wildlife of landscapes such as the Yorkshire Ings, whicevolved over thousands of years, shaped by the symbiotic relationship of wildlife and cattle grazing.
To put all of these figures into a dietary perspective, we may think of roast beef as the quintessential English dish, but we now eat nearly as much veg oil as we do beef, and still more than twice as much sugar!
So, back to that alternative. While we can call on the EU to ban pesticides, and food companies to cut sugar, maybe we should also consider our own influence on changing food & farming methods a little more. Regardless of whether you agree that neonicotinoids are killing our bees, there’s no doubt that many birds rely upon protein-rich insects to successfully rear their young. Finding alternative ways to produce & consume food without insecticides is vital if we want to encourage rich and diverse bird populations. At Rosewood we don’t use any pesticides to grow our grass and that’s one of the reasons why our insects, and birds, flourish as a result.