Friday, 27 February 2009

Micromanaging micronutrients

Last November there was a buzz about genetically modified (GM) purple tomatoes. These had extended the life span of lab rats which had been bred to be susceptible to cancer. Scientists had ‘turned on’ genes transplanted from the snapdragon plant. This increased the level of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found naturally in higher levels in other foods such as cherries, blueberries and other berries. Surely it would be simpler just to include these berries in a more varied diet?

Now we have the selenium potato, exclusively available in Superquinn stores in Ireland. The selenium levels were enhanced by enriching the soil with the mineral. Many people are deficient in this mineral, especially when the bulk of their diets is from selenium poor soil. A simpler, more sensible, solution is to enrich the soil for all types of crops rather than promote a specific, premium, brand of potato.

Next we have genetically modified high calcium carrots , which were ‘induced to express increased levels of the gene sCAX1’. Are we really supposed to select specific foods on the basis of a single nutrient? In contrast with this reductionist approach, a whole food diet contains a complex of nutrients which work synergistically in the body. This micromanaging of nutrients also promises to make eating needlessly complicated. The age old advice to eat lots of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colours covers all the nutritional bases without all the confusion over details.

In 2008, India overtook Canada to become the worlds’ fourth largest adopter of biotech crops. The C4 strain of GM rice is anticipated to be commercially available by 2011 or 2012. It will have a higher iron content, and promises higher yields with less water usage. Supposedly it will even be ‘more adaptable to climactic changes’. We have seen this before with ‘golden rice’ containing carotenes which are precursors to Vitamin A, so was supposed to help populations deficient in this vitamin, but met with opposition and did not become commercially available. Instead of micromanaging the nutrient profile of staple grains, we need to improve malnourished people’s access to the fruit and vegetables that naturally contain these nutrients, and access to land which is suitable for horticulture.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

No perfume under the flightpath

In this audiofile clip in Passenger Terminal Today Leading passengers by the nose the chairman of Scent Air explains how perfume in air conditioning systems is influencing passenger behaviour at East Midland’s Airport in the UK. Scents are selected for different zones of the airport, to reduce annoyance caused by queues, security and delays.

In baggage reclaim the chocolate chip cookie scent is supposed to be homely and can engender feelings of hunger, and there is speculation that this might have helped the sales go up in the nearby Costa Coffee. The scent can be changed for different times of year. So at Christmas there was an ‘Old St Nick’ scent with notes of cloves and mulled wine which made customers feel Christmassy and celebratory. The scent is subtle so it works subliminally. However perfume is an effective form of ‘mood management’. As it explains in the clip, we are so bombarded with information and advertising now that we become more adept at tuning it out. We cannot turn off our sense of smell though, we have to breathe.

People who live under the flightpath have to breathe as well. I have family living in one of the many villages nearby that are under the flightpaths of East Midland Airport. The air isn’t so sweet here from the cocktail of pollutants spewing out of the noisy old freighters flying over. The noise is round the clock with night flights allowed. Like many airports East Midlands is planning massive expansion, supposedly unfazed by the economic downturn, aiming to more than double traffic by 2016 with cargo tripling in this period.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

My little fruit contribution

I looked at the government (Defra) 2007 agricultural statistics for our region today. Here in Yorkshire and the Humber there is very little horticulture. Most of the farming is livestock and cereals. Fruit, vegetables and flower growing accounted for 17,258 hectares, just under 1.6 per cent of the total farmed area of 1,090,900 hectares. Of the small area of horticulture, just 5436 hectares was used for growing fruit in 2007, which is just under 0.5 per cent of the farmed land. Yet this tiny proportion of fruit growing in our region in 2007 was almost double the figure in the 2006 records. Maybe this marks a turnaround?

Yesterday I started to expand my microscopic contribution to Yorkshire’s fruit growing, clearing out the weeds and getting some compost ready for three new raspberry canes. Soft fruit grows really well here. Nearby is a bit of Kirklees called Berry Brow and there are fruit bushes in gardens and wild in hedgerows. One day I would like to find out about the history behind this name. In our garden the fruit grows with little attention, just an annual pruning and feeding with compost, a bit of watering when the fruit is ripening. We live next to a wood but the birds never touch the fruit, so nets aren’t necessary. I even forgot to cut back the gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes last year. There are some buds on them now so it’s too late anyway.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Airports garnished with greenery

While aviation remains stubbornly fossil fuel dependent, many airports are incorporating solar and wind power. Some of the environmental programmes at airports are impressive, but the main environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, are from the core business of the flights, not the airports’ operational sites.

Airports host some of the largest solar energy projects. San Francisco Airport in the US has more than 2,800 solar panels on the roof of Terminal 3, and one of the world’s biggest airport based solar projects was launched in August 2008 with Fresno Yosemite Airport’s 9.5 acre, 2 megawatt installation in California. New Zealand’s Auckland Airport has the country’s largest photovoltaic solar panel display on the roof of the arrivals area, measuring 300 square metres. Fed-Ex Express is building its largest solar facility, and first outside the US. Its new cargo hub at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany will be covered in 16,000 square metres of solar panels.

East Midlands in the UK is one of several airports incorporating wind power. It is adding four wind turbines which it is claimed will provide ten per cent of the airport’s electricity requirements. Yet wind turbines can interfere with flightpaths and elsewhere in the country Newcastle Airport is opposing the installation of seven wind turbines nearby on the Northumberland coast as they might necessitate the re-routing of flights, adding about five nautical miles to the planes’ journeys, see Airport News article. Similarly, plans for 85 wind turbines in Dumfries and Galloway and East Ayrshire in Scotland were rejected after opposition by Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

Many of the world’s airports host gardens on parts of their roofs, including Chicago O’Hare and Seattle in the US. At Chennai Airport near the coast of Bengal in India a green roof will form a prominent ‘green gate’ at the entrance to the parking garage. Chennai is one of many airports claiming to be the world’s greenest, and the greenery extends to two ‘lush, ecologically sustainable’ gardens which will be visible throughout the domestic terminal. The gardens will be just one acre in size. In comparison, the residents of the villages of Tharapakkam, Gerugambakkam, Kollapakkam and Manapakkam face displacement by land acquisition of 137 acres for a second runway, see website Save People from Chennai Airport Expansion, which is just one stage of approximately 2,000 acres of land acquisition for the airport’s expansion programme.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

As sure as eggs are eggs

Apparently eggs are now deemed to be good for you, after years of being told that they raise ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Even the BBC says so Regular eggs no harm to health. It gets really annoying when you get dietary advice that one minute a basic food that people have eaten for millennia, like eggs or meat or milk is good for you, then it’s bad for you, then it supposedly good for you again a few weeks later. I think most of us just get so bored and bamboozled by the ‘science’ that we just switch off.

It gets even more annoying when foods are broken down into supposedly healthy and unhealthy components, the fat taken out, extra fibre put it etc. and we are sold all these hideous dishes like egg white omelettes and highly processed replacement foods. You can even buy eggs pasteurised and in a tube, so you can measure how many ‘eggs’ you are adding to recipes, to save people the inconvenience of breaking eggs and being horrified if bits of shell fall in.

I am not a qualified nutritionist or anything. But it seems to me the best advice is to eat fresh, whole foods. So I am sceptical about homogenised and ultra heat treated milk, and meat products that are extruded into shapes and pumped full of additives like phosphates. As well as processing, the production has an impact of the nutritional value. So I instinctively trust studies that show that beef from grass fed cows can have more Omega 3 essential fatty acids than farmed salmon fed on pellets.

I would not be surprised if eggs that are from hens which are not caged up all day with their beaks trimmed, and fed on GM grain, or feed laced with pesticide residues are less ‘healthy’ than eggs from free-range hens eating more natural feed. I have heard that the original research purportedly showing that eggs raised levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol were on powdered egg, which has oxidised on exposure to air, not fresh whole eggs. So I reckon that as long as eggs are actually eggs, they are probably OK.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Twitter me not

twitter me not
Originally uploaded by RoseBridger
Got up, checked mobile phone and emails. There’s my new email address, plus still have to check the old one as I haven’t worked out how to move the addresses over. Then there’s one of many old Yahoo email address that I can’t remember, (or recall my password) because apparently that’s where the PIN has been sent for the conference call later on. Must check out friends’ escapades on Facebook, creative endeavours on Flickr, and some colourful doodles are coming in on MSN. Maybe today I’ll have another go at figuring out Skype. Don’t really like texting but evidently a lot of people do.

And now the devices are communicating with each other with emails on the mobile phone and faxes coming out of the toaster. I am starting to feel superfluous to my own life, and all the new gizmos don’t supersede more traditional communications so I still have to check my landline answerphone, read the post and tend to my carrier pigeons. It’s nearly 11am, and I haven’t actually done anything yet.

So, how about this Twitter lark? I’m sure its great fun, but Twitter me not. Unless there is an automated way to update Twitter with ‘Rose is sitting at the computer’ every five minutes (aren’t we all, really). That should cover it. So I started a Facebook support group for people whose lives aren’t interesting enough to go on Twitter and post updates every 5 minutes.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Tesco takeover?

This photo is of a Tesco distribution centre in England, but I guess that, like the stores, they look pretty much the same wherever Tesco is expanding around the world, including the US and Eastern Europe. In Asia Tesco is growing in many countries including South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, and joining forces with Tata in India to rival retail giant Wal-Mart in scale.

Tesco has about 30 per cent share of grocery market in the UK. Back in 2005, my home town of Huddersfield was noted by The Grocer Magazine as one of the towns in the UK where the big 4 supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons have the highest market share, with 89 per cent of the grocery retail business, leaving small pickings for independent retailers. Huddersfield was then categorised as a ‘clone town’ by the New Economics Foundation for its lack of retail diversity in everything from groceries to fashion and electronic products.

Now Tesco want to build more stores in and around Huddersfield and a new organisation, Town First is opposing the development. Holmfirth Against Tesco is a growing group of residents and businesses campaigning against a store there. Tesco have planning applications at various stages in many other Yorkshire towns like Ilkley and Harrogate. Tescopoly is the UK umbrella organisation for all the local opposition groups and for groups concerned about supermarket power.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Insulation works

Parts of Britain had the most snow for 18 years last night and today. As usual, this country is ill-prepared for the snow with travel disrupted all around the country and a plane skidding off a taxiway at Heathrow Airport. About 50cm of snow has settled in parts of Yorkshire. Just up the road three buses are stuck in the snow.

I think this picture shows that the roof on the left has been insulated, but not the roof on the right where most of the snow has melted. The insulated house actually has a good layer of snow helping to keep it warm inside. Our local authority, Kirklees Council, has actually pioneered a home insulation scheme which it is hoped will be adopted around the country. In Kirklees the scheme originated with a Kirklees Green Party Kirklees Green Party amendment to the 2007 budget.

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