Natural Product News

How to decarbonize a planet

Making the switch to organic agriculture on a global scale and turning waste biomass into biochar offers the real prospect of being able to reverse global warming, says Craig Sams

What’s happening out there? Is the world quietly going sane? A leading US Republican, Henry Paulsen, has come out strongly for action on climate change in the New York Times. For a political party that refuses to acknowledge burning fossil fuels can have anything to do with global warming, this is a tectonic event. Americans aren’t as stupid as their leaders think and are wising up to the fact that Hurricane Sandy was not God punishing us but to do with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The explosion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere started around 1850 with the coal and steam-driven Industrial Revolution and the massive expansion of farmed land that was formerly wilderness or forest. My ancestors were part of this damage to the planet – great great grandpa Lars ploughed virgin prairie in Wisconsin, great grandpa Ole ploughed virgin prairie in Nebraska and grandpa Louis bought a tractor in 1926 so he could plough even deeper.

Every year the land they farmed gave up more of its life – losing ten tonnes of soil per hectare per year and as it decomposed, pumping tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They cut down a lot of trees too – which mostly went up in smoke. The same thing happened in Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, Manchuria and the Punjab. We destroyed the soil that feeds us and filled the atmosphere with the gases that are cooking the planet.

Up to 1980 farming and fossil fuels were equally responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases; now fossil fuels are in the lead. But farming still emits more than ever. Every year 125,000,000 hectares of food-producing land give up the ghost – that’s 1.8% of the available land used up, farmed-out, lifeless.

The way forward is a carbon tax. How would it work? Every time you emit a tonne of carbon dioxide you pay the price – at the moment it’s around $15 per tonne. But once there’s a global market the price will go up. What does this mean for organic food? It will become cheaper than industrially-farmed food as organic farming uses half the fossil fuels to produce a given amount of food. Year after year it increases the carbon content of soil while industrial farms deplete it. The recent Rodale white paper (see story opposite) shows that if the world’s arable land and pasture was farmed organically the reduction in carbon emissions would be enough to cancel out ALL the annual increase in greenhouse gases. Rebuilding soils with biochar increases soil carbon and stimulates increased growth and extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere by crops. By farming organically and turning waste biomass into biochar instead of burning it we could reverse global warming. We would also eat less meat as it will cost a lot more when you include the carbon cost (vegetarians have a lower carbon footprint and vegans emit about a fifth of the CO2 per year of meat-eaters).

Add in the reductions in emissions from a transition to wind and solar and we can face the future with confidence and look our grandchildren in the eye instead of looking away guiltily because our shortsighted greed has robbed them of a secure future.

California has a carbon tax which has equivalence with Quebec’s; China has opened eight carbon exchanges in its key industrial regions; Europe has its Emissions Trading Scheme. Unilever and Pepsi have created the Cool Farm Calculator so the whole carbon footprint of a tub of Flora or a packet of crisps can be calculated precisely, and the food industry is picking up on it. The 2015 climate conference in Paris won’t be another failure – there are too many stakeholders who are determined to make it happen and have already achieved broad agreement on principles.

If the whole world farmed organically and ate organic food, reduced fossil fuel emissions, produced and shopped locally as much as possible, insulated houses, ate less meat and planted more trees, we could possibly face a global cooling crisis caused by sucking too much CO2 out of the atmosphere. But that’s a long way off, so let’s just put carbon back in the soil, where it does nothing but good.

By Craig Sams

Organic food pioneer and polemicist
Craig Sams is Britain’s best known natural food pioneer. He is the founder of Green & Blacks, a former Soil Association chairman and the author of The Little Food Book.

Have you been dealing comfrey, sonny?

The natural food trade should take a lead in exposing the hypocritical regulation of herbal medicine, says Craig Sams

A bust in Denver: “Okay, kid, put your hands up against the wall. Spread your legs while we pat you down.” Two cops search a young man’s clothing.

“Nothing here but a couple of marijuana joints … Wait a minute, what’s this? It looks like comfrey tea bags. Get the handcuffs – let’s take this one down to the station.”

A bust in London: “Okay, kid, put your hands up against the wall. Spread your legs while we pat you down.” Two cops search a young man’s clothing. 

“Nothing here but a couple of comfrey tea bags … Wait a minute, what’s this? It looks like a couple of marijuana joints. Get the handcuffs – let’s take this one down to the station.”

Depending on where you are in the Western world of free and democratic nations, your choice of therapeutic herbs can either put you in the slammer or be purchased legally.

Charlotte Mitchell, who almost singlehandedly rescued the Soil Association from bankruptcy and oblivion back in 1991, has suffered the ever-increasing impact of multiple sclerosis. The NHS refused to authorize the use of Sativex (a marijuana extract made by a drug company in Kent) for her, so she has to fork out £100 a week for this medicine in order to be legal. She could buy dope from a street dealer in Edinburgh for a fraction of the cost, with all the risks of dealing with criminals, but she sticks to the legitimate stuff. The NHS, too busy enriching the peddlers of statins, antidepressants, hydrogenated fat margarines and other crappy drugs, won’t allow Sativex for patients in England or Scotland. All her working life Charlotte paid her NI contributions, but when her time of need came, she got two fingers and now has to pay out of her savings for the only medication that effectively eases the pain of MS.

Meanwhile, it’s all kicking off in the US. Not only do 20 states allow medical use of marijuana for all sorts of conditions, but two of them, Colorado and Washington, have decided to allow it for recreational use, too. However, comfrey is still prohibited in the US and all sorts of herbs are now prohibited or strictly regulated in the UK. How on earth are we going to deal with the hypocrisy of a situation where people can go to jail for peddling herbs like comfrey and slippery elm while we empty out our prisons of people who were sent down for dealing in herbs like marijuana?

This is not the only paradox in our society that needs resolving now that progress is beginning to happen. What about speed?

The pot paradox
‘Speed kills’ – this slogan arose in the sixties as people realized that amphetamines were a terrible drug with progressively degenerate consequences. Yet our rulers encourage its use. Today we force school kids to take speed if they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It slows them down. But it also makes them fat for the rest of their lives, with all the health problems that come with obesity. The US Army gives its soldiers amphetamines, antidepressants and sedatives to keep them going in battle conditions. Then they come home and struggle with addiction – a third of addicted ex-soldiers die of overdoses or suicide. More soldiers kill themselves than are killed by enemy forces – one in five suicides in the US are ex-Army. In US states where medical marijuana was legalized, the overall suicide rate dropped by 10% or more. It’s not just that marijuana cheers people up. It also lowers consumption of alcohol, a well known depressant and significant factor in suicides.

Is it time for the natural foods trade to lead the charge for marijuana legalization in the UK? Legalization of marijuana would help to clear away all the other hypocritical regulation of herbal medicines and strike a powerful blow for the right of all human beings to own their bodies and make informed decisions about what medications they take. As someone who hasn’t been to a doctor for 49 years, but who has also had recourse to use therapeutic herbs from time to time that have kept me happy and healthy, I’d welcome the chance to live my life without the nagging fear of being imprisoned for not being a burden on the NHS.

By Craig Sams

Organic food pioneer and polemicist
Craig Sams is Britain’s best known natural food pioneer. He is the founder of Green & Blacks, a former Soil Association chairman and the author of The Little Food Book.

Small is still beautiful

Who needs big organisations that are inherently inefficient in this age of smartphones and smart farmers? The future is small, the future is beautiful … and resilient

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society, in their wisdom, decided to bestow their Shackleton Medal (for Leadership and Citizenship) on me, and my wife Jo Fairley. The event was in Perth, traditionally known as the ‘Fair City’ but also a registered Fairtrade City.  Supporters poured into the Perth Concert Hall and we met two schoolgirls whose school curriculum included writing an essay about Justino Peck, a personal friend of ours in Belize. Justino led the Toledo Cacao Growers Association in 1993 from near collapse to a vibrant cooperative built on supplying organic cacao to Green & Black’s for Maya Gold. Arguably he should have been awarded the Shackleton Medal – he moved heaven and earth to get organic cacao production up going in Belize.

What sank in as we prepared our speech was how much the world has changed. In 1993 British aid advisors and agricultural experts from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) urged the cocoa farmers to ignore us, warning that if they went organic and abandoned chemicals their cocoa orchards would be wiped out and they’d never be able to repay the money they’d borrowed to buy hybrid seeds and chemicals in the 1980s. Justino advised the farmers to trust us and go organic – most farmers don’t like spending money on chemicals anyway.

In the 1960s there had been a massive move towards big industrial scale cocoa plantations to ‘modernise’ cocoa production. 420,000 hectares of cacao were planted in Malaysia and over 200,000 in Bahia province of Brazil. Now there’s fewer than 20,000 hectares in Malaysia and even less than that in Bahia. What happened? Quite simply, the experts were wrong. They confidently gave crap advice that led to a huge waste of money. Big plantations planted cacao trees 8 feet apart with no shade trees (instead of 16 feet apart and with shade trees. Teams of workers were paid by the hour to harvest and ended up picking under-ripe pods to meet their targets.  The result was cacao that was rubbish for anything but the cheapest chocolate. The Malaysians sent teams to Ghana to find out that complexity of flavour comes when you have lots of independent farmers growing cacao and picking it only when it’s ripe.  In Brazil a disease called Witches Broom spread like wildfire in 1989, the fungicides failed to work and 90% of the trees in the Bahia region died.  An awful lot of money, human effort and heartbreak went into this misguided scheme to ‘modernise’ cocoa farming. A lot of women got cancer or had deformed births from spraying chemicals into the underside of the trees. Some plantations wouldn’t give women jobs as backpack sprayers unless they could prove they’d been sterilised. Cheap food at what cost?

Now it’s all changed and all the chocolate companies are actively courting smallholder producers.  Big is not beautiful, it’s a disaster. Tyre companies like Michelin want smallholders to plant rubber trees. Unilever want them to plant oil palm. The big plantations don’t work. Now everyone has to make nice to the smallholders. They have the whip hand and, organised into cooperatives, can command fair prices, supported by the Fairtrade Mark and other assurances.

The thinking behind depopulating the countryside was that all those peasants were needed to go and work in factory jobs, assembling computers and cars.  Only robots now do the job cheaper.  Apple’s new factory in Arizona will make computers in the USA again, but with very few jobs.  But there’s no point in making stuff if nobody has the money to buy it. The independent smallholder farmers, getting fair prices for what they produce, will be an important market for manufactured goods.

What’s more, independent people who own their own business or land are the backbone of any representative democracy. They’re harder to push around.

Just look at what a mess ‘Big’ has got us in. Big farmers in the US and EU depend on subsidies for half their income – they’d go bust overnight without £400 billion each year of taxpayer support. Big supermarkets are struggling, squeezing suppliers for cash to prop up their flagging share price, while independent butchers, bakers and brewers and other small retailers are popping up all over the place.

“Just look at what a mess ‘Big’ has got us in. Big farmers in the US and EU depend on subsidies for half their income – they’d go bust overnight without £400 billion each year of taxpayer support. Big supermarkets are struggling, squeezing suppliers for cash to prop up their flagging share price”

EF Shumacher wrote Small is Beautiful – as if People Mattered and went on to be president of the Soil Association. Who needs big organisations that are inherently inefficient in this age of smartphones and smart farmers? The future is small, the future is beautiful…and resilient. Just look at the cacao example – it’s the same wherever you look.

Three cheers for ethical mob rule

We used to fear mob rule. But if the ‘mob’ is all nice people who you’d be happy to introduce to your mother, well, what’s wrong with that? Welcome to the Collaborative Economy.

I farm 20 acres, mostly woodland and orchard, with 2 acres of organic vegetable production.  I farm people – and they farm me.  They work the vegetable land and they call themselves Stonelynk Community Growers.

20 members put £50 a year into the kitty. I match fund it and pay for the Soil Association certification. Then we split the crop 50-50. I sell my half to local natural food stores, box schemes and restaurants, they eat their half. They each get £500 worth of fresh vegetables and work 100 hours a year. The farmer next door does any machinery work, like rotovating. This is just one example of how the sharing movement is gaining traction.

I was keynote speaker at the ‘Grow It Yourself’ launch in Birmingham in July. It’s an event that Mark Diacono of Otter Farm described as a ‘Gardeners’ Glastonbury.’ Allotmenteers, community gardeners, gardening journalists and publishers were all there. People who grow their own food together have a special bond. Most grow organically – who would spray insecticide on a lettuce they were going to serve a day later to their friends and family?

When people grow and share their produce their attitude to food changes. They want provenance and trust. They buy local. They insist on organic.

There are a small number of farmers with large landholdings who can’t make it pay without massive subsidies and there are large numbers of people without land who would love to get stuck in. Social farming is a lot of fun – you don’t just share the harvest, you share good times, friendship, knowledge and fun.  Hard to put a price on, but it means the cucumber you grew on a community farm is worth infinitely more than the one some Dutch hydroponics engineer grew under glass and which never touched the earth. People are reconnecting with the real physical world.

WWOOF now covers more than 50 countries, where volunteers help out on organic farms and get plugged in to the organic movement. Landshare was launched at River Cottage in 2009 and has connected more than 55,000 growers, sharers and helpers.

The peer-to-peer economy is replacing the top-down economy. Instead of owning things people increasingly are just using things and sharing tools and time. Building social capital is replacing the desire for things – we want good times, not to be surrounded by junk in social isolation.

These social transactions cut out the middle corporation and bureaucracy and provide secondary income while maximising efficient use of resources such as bedrooms, money, cars, energy and kitchens and, potentially, almost anything.

Bedrooms: Air BnB is so much nicer than hotels. They cover 192 countries, anything from a bedroom to an apartment to a house.

Money: After getting uncomprehending treatment from the banks, Dominic of Inspiral Foods went for crowdfunding. He quickly reached in his target £250,000. The investors were like-minded people who shared Inspiral’s values, people who want their investment to do good and do well. Funding Circle has loaned over £133m, Zopa £278m, matching up investors with borrowers. With an average 5.8% return and no banks or middlemen, crowdfunding pays.

Cars: Why bother to own a car when you can pick one up as easily as a Boris Bike. Or tap into a lift-sharing app to find a ride or a passenger from London to Exeter.

Energy: Why buy electricity? Generate it, keep a storage battery in the shed and feed power in and out of a smart grid in an energy-sharing network that doesn’t need a toxic nuclear plant or coal power station at the end of ugly pylons.

Kitchens: Cookening helps you eat locally with local people who host dinner in their homes.

This kind of stuff upsets the health and safety people because the rating of a service is done by the users, making bureaucrats redundant.

Schumacher wrote ‘Small is Beautiful.’ Shelley wrote “Ye are many, they are few”. Put it together and you get the Collaborative Economy. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing  and sharing are the practical application of what we used to fear as ‘Mob Rule.’  But as long as the ‘mob’ is all nice people who you’d be happy to introduce to your mother, what’s wrong with that?  At least you know them and they aren’t spying on your emails.

Little supermarkets, big threat?

Having left local high streets for dead the big supermarkets are re-colonising them at a rate of knots with new small-format stores. Big threat to independents, right? Not necessarily, says Craig Sams

After decades of disembowelling the nation’s high streets, the supermarkets are rushing back in with a variety of ‘Local’ or ‘Express’ or other similar offerings.  It could be a case of too little too late, but if it means fewer charity shops and higher footfall then it could be good news for the high street organic retailer who has the right offering.

All the organic brands that started life in the natural food stores and then migrated to the supermarket shelves followed a well-trodden path: the supermarkets all had their ‘A’ stores (huge floor space, high end demographic) right down to stores that were cramped and in less salubrious locations.  An aspiring organic brand such as Clipper, Yeo Valley or Green & Black’s would get its shot at stardom in a handful of ‘A’ stores (Sainsbury’s started G&B’s out in 12 stores and the buyer was highly reluctant about allowing that). If it performed then it would move on to the B’s, the C’s and, well you get the picture.

So where do the ‘local’ supermarkets fit in? Limitations of space mean that the range available is greatly restricted. There’s no room for many of the organic lines stocked in the big stores.  But frustrated customers can easily pick them up at the nearest natural food store – along with anything else that catches their eye.

Historically local authorities have been part of the problem – shortsightedly, they bribe supermarkets to move into the outskirts and then greedily ramp up downtown parking charges to further deter drive traffic out of town. But this kind of stupidity is in decline.

The small independent convenience stores aren’t going to be a pushover. Menzies now offer retailers a smartphone app that lets them amend orders, make credit enquiries and find out what’s in stock and what’s not in real time from the shop floor. Result: fewer out of stocks, less money tied up in stock, more flexibility, higher sales, happier customers.

A recent report from the Association of Convenience Stores says that 55% of independent retailers are earning less than the minimum wage and 69% are earning less than the living wage (£7.45 per hour). It’s always frustrating when your Saturday girls are earning more per hour than you are, but sometimes that’s the price of freedom and owning your own business. Independent retailers are usually engaged in other community activity, making their neighbourhood a better place to live. Being part of a community is its own reward, one that is increasingly appreciated as central government becomes ever more remote

The big stores are investing in more space. The next five years could see 19 million square feet of new store space and 6 million square feet of internet growth-equivalent space. The new store space will be mostly small. The smaller stores cannibalise sales from the edge-of-town dinosaurs, making them less profitable. What’s worse, supermarket convenience stores are less profitable than big box stores.  But they have to make the move.  Why?  One reason is that people are finally getting it about waste: one big Saturday shop leaves you with more food than you need, stuff goes out of date or just doesn’t look very appetising when the leaves on the lettuce start to curl and the milk is barely fit for Little Miss Muffett.  Better to shop little and often, you’ll spend less and waste less.  People find they’d rather get a life than stand in a long checkout queue on a precious Saturday morning to get food they never knew they wanted before they entered the hypnotic environment of the big store.

The other big factor coming down the line is carbon footprinting.  When you factor in the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with big stores, food waste, being non-organic, excess meat consumption and all that driving around it’s not a pretty picture.  From September 30 this year every major company will have to declare its total annual greenhouse gas emissions. In a few years there’ll be a carbon tax that will force them to swallow a cost they’ve been able to dump on society up till now. That will tip the balance even further towards locally sourced, organic, lower meat and dairy, less waste and healthier food choices.

Perhaps not ‘roll on Tesco Express’, but not as scary as you might think.

Sugar – are you a user or an abuser?

As experts flail around not solving the global obesity crisis Craig Sams ponders the merits of establishing a new category of crime – Food Abuse

Fat Chance, a recent book by Prof. Robert Lustig, puts forth the hypothesis that it is sugar, not fat, that is making us fat, diabetic and lazy. It rang a little bell so I pulled out an insightful little paperback book called About Macrobiotics, published in 1972. It read: “It is quite natural to find that diabetics are fat, reflecting heavy sugar consumption.” The author went on to write: “If sugar were discovered yesterday it would be banned and handed over to the Army for weapons research.”  The author? Some 26-year-old, name of Craig Sams. Yeah, the chocolate guy.

When my kids came home from school, grumpy and hungry, I’d cross-examine them to see if they’d sneaked some sugary junk with their pals.  They grew up with a healthy attitude to sugary food, less fanatical than me, but moderate to the point of being minimal with sugar. When I announced that Whole Earth Foods was about to sprout Green & Black’s chocolate, they were horrified.  When I took it to Community Foods Tim Powell fixed me with a beady eye and spluttered: “Chocolate? You? Craig Sams, who got us all to give it up back in the day?” It’s true that my brother Gregory and I persuaded the Natural Foods Union to state in our 1973 manifesto that we would not stock sugar or products containing sugar. This pledge held until 1991, when Green & Black’s came along and blew the gates off their hinges. Sugar, organic sugar even, was back in the game.

Robert Lustig almost hits the nail on the head.  For sure overconsumption of sugar is the cause of obesity and obesity related diseases like diabetes.  But he blames advertisers and a cynical drug-peddling mentality among food companies. James Ehrlichmann’s mini-book “Addicted to Food – Understanding the Obesity Epidemic” says we are food addicts, with sugar, fat and salt being the key addictive substances that work on the brain like opiates to keep addicts hooked.  He points out that since Stone Age days we are biologically programmed to lay on fat in anticipation of times when the mammoths and berries are scarce. He wants regulation and taxation. But there are so many addictive substances: sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, tobacco, mood-altering pharmaceuticals, cocaine, painkillers, opiates, even television and sex.

We’re all hooked on some combination or the other of them. Every addict has their own preferred folly mixture.  At times I’ve been hooked on cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate and ice cream, even a few months dabbling in cocaine and for 40 years drank at least 6 cups of tea a day.  So I know a thing or two about addiction, (though never got into hard stuff like opiates or coffee and steered well clear of over-the-counter and prescription drugs). I still enjoy many of the above, but I’m in control now and don’t overdo them.

Taxation and haranguing users with traffic lights and skull and crossbones images won’t change things. Cigarette consumption fell because of smoking bans in restaurants and pubs, not because of taxes.

But we can’t ban food in restaurants and pubs. So what to do? Why not create a new category of crime called ‘Food Abuse.’  Anyone whose Body Mass Index exceeds 30 gets hauled up before a magistrate. If they have a mitigating factor such as a glandular condition they get let off. Otherwise, sentence them to four weeks … at a retreat in the countryside.

A day in a NHS hospital costs £300 – a week at a health farm with full detox treatments, healthy diet, nutrition education, yoga, pilates, wheat grass juice and country walks – the lot, costs £100 a day, a third of the price. Prevention isn’t just better than cure, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper.

Anyone who’s been to a health farm knows it only takes a few weeks of enforcing healthy habits to drive out the unhealthy ones. The reformed characters will be less likely to be a burden on the NHS so there’s a long term payback,too. The ex-cons will also be more likely to shop in a natural food shop than at Iceland. The big food companies and supermarkets will respond in a flash – they have no particular commitment to one food or another, they just sell what people buy.

There is no silver bullet to cure obesity and there is no single junk food. The ‘junkie’ is us and the monkey on our back can only be controlled by going cold turkey and learning good habits.

Only organic can rescue our dried out planet

Water trumps everything. Water is food. But the worldwide well is running dry. Only organic can rescue our desiccated planet, says Craig Sams

In March I attended the City Food Lecture at Guildhall. This is a glitzy event where the City livery companies (Fruiterers, Grocers, Poulterers, Butchers, Fishmongers) lay on a lecture and discussion and canapés. The speaker this year was Peter Brucke, CEO of Nestle.  The discussion was chaired by Sheila Dillon of Radio 4’s Food Programme.

Peter Brucke’s theme was water. He outlined how diminishing water resources are beginning to impinge on food production. It’s quite a story. He told us what was wrong but failed to mention how it all went wrong.

First the story – all over the world, in the US Midwest, in China, in Punjab, in Saudi Arabia there are massive underground lakes that have accumulated water for thousands or millions of years. They just sat there until the last 50 years, quietly just being water. Then they got pumped to the surface and now they’re exhausted, empty, pumped out, kaput.  We’re back to relying on rain ­­– just when climate change is making rain more unpredictable than it’s ever been.

How did this happen? Well, companies like Nestlé encouraged backward farmers to modernise, to use chemical fertilisers and adopt the high yielding wheat and rice varieties of the Green Revolution. Chemical fertilisers trigger a breakdown in soil organic matter.  Any farmer who has converted degraded soil into productive organic soil can tell you that it can take quite a few years before that soil holds water and nutrients and has the biological resilience that protects plants from fungal and other diseases. Any fool can go turn rich farmland into degraded semi-desert but it takes skilled husbandry to recover what is lost.

Soil that is depleted of organic matter doesn’t hold water.  Dave Vetter, who farms organically in Nebraska, uses  just one seventh of the water that his non-organic neighbours use – they put on the chemicals, add water they pump up from the nearly exhausted Ogalalla aquifer and it mostly just drains off the land, into the Missouri River, down to the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. What a waste!  What’s worse, there is no life in the sea for 200 miles off the coast of New Orleans because the nitrates and other chemicals are so intensely concentrated. The shrimp boats aren’t coming anymore.  The same is true in India, where farmers add more chemicals every year and get diminishing returns. Their water is running out, too. The Saudis have started to buy land in Africa, their own investment in farming worked out for about 20 years, now the water’s gone.

Sitting at the high table, flanked by bottles of their San Pellegrino, Nestle’s boss lamented the situation but avoided the only answer that makes any sense. Go organic. Everyone still worries about the cost. But the externalised cost of degraded soils, water depletion and crop failure is a lot more than tuppence on the price of a Milky Bar. It’s war, famine, disease and death – our old friends the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

“Everyone still worries about the cost. But the externalised cost of degraded soils, water depletion and crop failure is a lot more than tuppence on the price of a Milky Bar”

China got to grips with a dried out dust bowl in Heilongjiang Province back in 2001.  The Beijing bosses told the local boss to stop letting the dust from dried out fields blow all over the place.  The Heilonjiang apparatchiks ordered that 1,500,000 hectares convert to organic within 10 years.  Bang on schedule, in 2011, the last 150,000 hectares went organic and China now rules the market for organic commodities like sesame, pumpkinseed, aduki beans, sunflower seeds, etc etc.  And the dust clouds are a distant memory.

Of course we can’t just order that sort of thing in our representative democracies.  We have to fight our way past agribusiness lobbyists in Brussels who have a mysterious grip over the better judgement of EU Commissioners for agriculture. The CAP is rotten to the core. The USDA is little better. But when companies like Nestle start ringing the alarm bells, then companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and the nitrate fertiliser merchants will have to run for cover.

Water trumps everything. Water is food. The old soul tune says you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.  Well, it’s running dry and there’s only one way to fix that. Organic farming – the only way to deal with a dried out planet.

• Craig Sams will talking on the themes raised in his two most recent NP blogs in ‘No Place to Hide: The Future of Food in the New Age of Transparency’. The talk takes place at Olympia, London at 10.30-11.15 on Monday April 8 – visit www.naturalproducts.co.uk for more information.

No place to hide

The internet is the most powerful tool for transparency ever invented. There literally is no place to hide for the perpetrators of food scandals, writes Craig Sams.

Oh, dear, another scandal from the meat industry. We’ve barely put away the sickbags from the ‘pink slime’ revelations before we get another nauseating example of how little respect consumers can expect from the purveyors of their animal protein.

Organic cynics might say it’s about time – we haven’t had a good scandal for ages.  Every time something like this comes up there is an upward blip in sales of organic food as consumers rush for the safe haven of uncontaminated, inspected, certified food produced by people with faces who care about the welfare of their animals and the health of their customers.

When Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks revelations hit the front pages the curtain that protected high-level lawbreakers from scrutiny was ripped away. Those revelations were symptomatic of a greater transformation that is taking place.  It’s the new transparency. We are no longer spoon-fed a particular version of reality, massaged by corporate spin doctors and fed out through compliant news organisations.  The truth, horrible as it sometimes may be, can’t be kept under wraps any more. The internet is changing things rapidly. Yes, it’s full of bullcrap and whackos, but it quickly sorts the truth from the rubbish and gives us all a clearer understanding of what’s going on. It’s eroding trust, but if trust is misplaced, then it’s better to mistrust. Common law makes much of assuming innocence until guilt is proven. Nowadays it’s smarter to assume the worst until you can be confident otherwise.

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, wants GMOs to be grown in the UK.  He announced at the NFU conference in January that we were all eating them anyway as our meat is from animals that eat GM feed. He didn’t mention GMO oats at the time, I guess he wasn’t counting the horses. When I was a lad, if a government minister presided over a scandal that reflected badly on him and his department he did the honorable thing and popped in to 10 Downing Street to proffer his resignation. Patterson is brazening it out. He is even pushing to get Britain to have more relaxed meat labelling and content standards.

If his department can’t keep horses out of burgers, hot dogs and ready meals how the hell is he going to give consumers who don’t want to eat GMOs any protection? The recent events have shown that unscrupulous processors can drive a coach and, er… equines through the controls that supermarkets and the Food Standards Agency agree are enough to protect our freedom of choice. How on earth are they going to give us a choice about eating GMOs?

The meat industry has a dismal record. When my brother Gregory sold his Vegeburger business in 1988, the new owners moved production to a big meat processor and the first batch went out to Sainsbury’s. The burgers were so convincingly like meat that customers raised the alarm. Somebody had pushed the wrong button in the factory and the Vegeburgers had been accidentally made with beef (or horse, dog, cat, hamster, whatever).  Linda McCartney got so angry when her processor made a similar mistake that she forced them to build a separate, totally meat-free, factory to process her branded ready meals. And it’s not just meat they contaminate. When e.Coli contamination of spinach triggered nationwide recalls in the USA it turned out the e.Coli came from irrigation water. The water was contaminated with cow poo from an intensive beef feedlot at the top of the valley. One of the reasons supermarket buyers rotate every six months or so is because the meat buyer is almost inevitably corrupted by suppliers and the only cure is to keep moving them around. Even in Medieval times, ‘the butcher’s thumb’ referred to the practice of resting his thumb on the scale as he weighed out your pound of flesh. Even when there’s no meat on the bone, they’re still at it. When Rabbi Kahn visited our jam factory to certify it Kosher, he was particularly vexed about human collagen in gelatin. Our factory manager, who once ran a gelatin factory, mentioned how rings and jewelry would appear in the ‘cow bones’ from India that they processed.

Under the harsh glare of the internet, there are fewer and fewer hiding places for wrongdoers.  The truth will out, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

So what to do? Choose  organic? Go vegetarian? You took the words right out of my mouth.

GM - Dream or nightmare

The American people are going to be very, very angry when the truth about GM food finally comes out, writes Craig Sams

 

When Mark Lynas got up at the National Farming Conference this January and said he was an environmentalist who realised he had been wrong about GM and that we should all adopt it, at once something smelt bad. He said the organic movement and Indian peasant farmers should stop fighting against the inevitable, crops to combat malnutrition and grow in drought conditions were being delayed and we have to feed the world. Owen Patterson, the new ‘Environment Minister’ attacked opponents of GM and said we couldn’t let the world starve any more (no mention of the subsidised biofuels NFU members are bribed to grow so we can burn food instead of eating it). He also said we’re all eating meat from animals that eat GM feed, so resistance is futile.

All part of Big Biotech’s new campaign to break the GM opposition in Europe. In that same week Poland banned two previously permitted GM crops. France one and various other European countries hardened their resistance. In Africa, Kenya joined the growing list of countries that completely banned GM seeds and imports of GM food. A scandal erupted in China where kids were fed toxic GM food without their knowledge in a falsified experiment.

It’s war!

The first casualty in War is Truth. Truth in the GM wars died back in the mid 1990s, now much more is at stake: the credibility of science. It’s a shame that it has come to this and that the men in white coats are trotting out the lies again.

When Monsanto discovered the DNA in petunias that makes them immune to Roundup, they fired petunia DNA into soybean DNA again and again until they got a mutant soybean that was resistant to Roundup. Bingo! With the Roundup patent expiring in 2001, they needed some way to keep farmers hooked on their herbicide and not migrate to cheaper generics at one third of the price. However, saying “We can continue to overcharge you after patent expiry for Roundup” didn’t make marketing sense. “Higher yields”, “Lower herbicide usage”, and ‘Feeding The World” were more buzzy.

They tested the GM soybean for yield and found yields were actually lower. US farmers found that Roundup usage actually increased. The biotech firms also claimed that in the pipeline were crops that could grow in salinated soils (every year we lose another 120 million hectares of farmland that’s become so drenched in chemical fertilisers that they can no longer support life – the salination is not seasalt, its salts of chemical fertilisers). There weren’t. Then they said they would develop crops that would grow through droughts. That never happened either, 17 years on. If a witness in a court of law has a record of lying they are not trusted again. Here the same old stories are trotted out, without any supporting evidence, and Tory ministers parrot them uncritically.

Monsanto had to get past the FDA, guardians of America’s food safety. Top scientists studied Monsanto’s feeding trials and counselled a ban. They were overruled by the political appointees who run the FDA, a good many either past of future Monsanto executives. The EU was easier. The CAP is so corrupt that the EU Council of Auditors have refused to approve their accounts for nearly a decade. Getting Commissioners to approve was a piece of cake.

In 1996 4% of the US soybean crop was GM. But an investigation carried out by the UK Food Standards Agency raised suspicions that all soy exports were deliberately contaminated with GM soy to deny EU users any choice.

They reckoned without Richard Austin of Rainbow Wholefoods, who galvanised the natural foods industry to boycott GM TVP from soya and GM soya lecithin, Greenpeace and the Soil Association drew a red line and the market has segregated GM and non GM ever since. This enables Waitrose to guarantee that all their own brand products are GM free, including the feed that goes to their meat animals.

The British government commissioned the most trusted and respected GM scientist, Arpad Puztai, of the Rowlett Institute, to do research GM to shut the critics up. Puztai found that GM potatoes caused cancer and deformities. He was abused by the Royal Society and his career shattered. Other researchers who got the same results were also fired or publicly humiliated by their fellow scientists. Not once has any independent research body been commissioned to duplicate their results. Too much money is at stake for the truth to come out. But it must.

We need to have proper research. Not by Monsanto’s scientists, not by Syngenta’s scientists – you can buy a scientist for about £60,000 a year, according to New Scientist magazine’s employment pages. The huge human guinea pig experiment with GM food in the US coincides with a calamitous deterioration in public health. The American people will be very, very angry when the truth comes out.

Civilising influences

The ancient Mayan civilisation collapsed over a thousand years ago, but its people lived on and are now part of a new ‘civilisation’ – of how business is done, writes Craig Sams

I first visited Belize in 1987 to film the Deer Dance of the Maya because it was, according to the Maya Calendar, the ‘Harmonic Convergence’ – the August 17 alignment of the planets that was the lead-in to the 2012 excitement that various overexcited doomsayers are saying is ‘the end of the world.’  In fact, the Maya Calendar is clear, there is a paradigm shift taking place.  We come to the end of a 5200-year Great Cycle of History on December 21st 2012, but the assumption is that we will move to a higher spiritual dimension.  It will signal the end of the old world of greed and exploitation and herald the onset of a new age of connectedness and shared mutual interest.   At least that’s what we thought when we went to Belize in 1987 while simultaneously ‘sun dancers’ stood on Glastonbury Tor holding hands, with similar events at other sacred spots like Chaco Canyon, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge.  Shirley MacLaine, Timothy Leary and John Denver were all participating.

While I was in Belize I met some cocoa growers and the first little seeds of an idea started to germinate in some fertile corner of my skull.  4 years later we had launched Green & Black’s.   We had some pretty clear objectives from day one:

– we’d pay a fair price to encourage increased production and farmer income;

– the cocoa beans would be organic and sustainably produced;

– no exploitation of children and respect for women’s rights;

– no exposure to toxic pesticides or fungicides

– the environment would be protected and ecosystems kept intact.

In 1993 we pumped $20,000 cash into underpinning the producer cooperatives that would make it happen.

Green & Black’s had these principles embedded in its DNA from birth.  We won the Ethical Consumer Award, the Worldaware award and became the first Fairtrade marked product.  Sure, it tasted good, so we won awards for that, but the big prize was that we proved it was possible to do good and do well without compromise.  Now this sort of thinking isn’t just commonplace, it’s what conscientious customers expect.  But what about Big Business?

When Cadbury’s took over the Green & Black’s in 2005 the hooting and hollering reached a crescendo.  Everybody expected them to drop organic, drop Fairtrade and turn Green & Black’s into a high-class variant of Dairy Milk.  In fact they helped the Maya growers in Belize recover from the terrible damage from Hurricane Iris and at the same time they learned a great deal about how cacao can be grown without chemicals and by small farmers rather than on plantations.   In 2008 Cadbury announced their Cocoa Partnership, a £45 million fund to help improve living conditions among farmers in Ghana and to help improve declining yields.  And they took Dairy Milk Fairtrade.

Then Kraft took over Cadbury.  More weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. More angry emails in my inbox.

Recently Kraft, amoeba-like, divided and the new chocolate entity is called Mondelez International.  At the International Cocoa Organisation conference last month in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Tim Cofer, CEO of Mondelez announced an upgrade to the £45 million Cadbury Cocoa Partnership.  It’s now a $400 million “Cocoa Life” programme, working with UNDP, WWF and Anti-Slavery International to improve the lives of cocoa farmers.  It has 4 main targets

  1. Help farmers improve yields and increase incomes
  2. Create positive communities and promote gender equality
  3. Eliminate child labour by attacking its root causes
  4. Protect the environment so that cocoa farming is viable for future generations

Sounds familiar?   It’s uncannily similar to the founding principles of Green & Black’s.  OK, it’s 20,000 times as much money as we invested, but we’re talking a major initiative to transform the lives of a million cocoa growers and ensure that the next generation would rather grow cacao than go and drive taxicabs in Accra or Abidjan.

The cynic in me says this is naked self-interest.  The average age of a cocoa farmer is 60 and you can’t make chocolate (or money) without cocoa beans.  But it’s kinda nice that it is happening in 2012, when the Maya calendar says we are going to embark on a new, more spiritually enlightened age of connectedness and shared mutual interest in each other’s well-being.

Fetishist? No, just enjoying food and having fun

You Aren’t What You Eat takes pot shots at fetishistic ‘foodists’ while eulogising genetic engineeringists. I can only despair at its author’s warped logic.

Stephen Poole writes for The Guardian and has authored a fascinating book on video games in which he explores and describes video games as ‘semiotic systems that provoke aesthetic wonder.’

Time to confess.  Not many people know this, but I am in the very highest rank globally of players of the Raw Thrills arcade game ‘The Fast and the Furious.’ I am also (blush, blush) the world’s number one in Namco’s classic Propcycle game.  So I am well into the aesthetic wonder of arcade games, in the true Clive Bell sense of emotional immersive aesthetic experience. I get the buzz. Poole articulates what gamers like me feel when they play and gives intellectual backbone to what shallower souls would condemn as adolescent time-wasting.

So I Kindled this book with high anticipation.

His new book You Aren’t What You Eat sets out to debunk wide swathes of food culture.  Its basic premise is that we have ponced up food ridiculously, taking something as boring and fundamental as keeping alive and turned it into a recreational obsession.

With a title like that you’d think that he might have a proper go at Gillian McKeith. Indeed, he does, but she is a small player: he’s after much bigger game in his shooting gallery of culinary and gastronomic targets. In fact the people who get put down in this book are so admirable that I feel somewhat humbled to have been elevated to their company. Gwyneth Paltrow, the Prince of Wales, Heston Blumenthal, the Soil Association, Nigella, even the saintly Delia, all wither before his fire.  Even Elizabeth David gets a barb or two. But, when he finally gets to the subject matter of his title, it is Craig Sams that gets the kicking.

In this book the starving poor are dying because rich middle class liberal ‘foodists’ won’t let them enjoy the abundance and benefits of GM crops that will resist drought, insects and grow like billy-o.    There is a several page paean to Monsanto and the wonders of genetic engineering that could have been written in 1996, so naïve and credulous does it read.  The Soil Association care more about a ‘hunk of rock’ in space than they do about the people on it.  If vegetarians care so much about living things, why do they chop up innocent carrots?  Don’t look for logic or rationality here, this is a fogeyish rant.

I wondered at first what this book reminded me of and then I remembered: Kraft-Ebbing, author of Psychopathia Sexualis.  This was a 19th Century tract that pruriently described case histories of sexual antics of all kinds and then condemned them one by one as deviant and perverse.  In the days before freely available internet porn, i.e. back in the 50s when I was a lad, this sort of stuff was where adolescents got their sex education. We’d just skip that last tedious moralising bit at the end of each of the 238 case histories. You Aren’t What You Eat is the gastronomic equivalent.  There are lurid case histories of every aspect of ‘gastroporn,’ covering everything from the gluttony of ancient Rome and Mesopotamia right through to the latest blow-torched culinary excesses of Heston Blumenthal.   Each drooling description of foodie antics concludes with a sharp moralistic condemnation.  As with Kraft Ebbing, you get the voyeuristic thrill, then the shutters close and you get the moralistic lecture about the evils of letting things get out of hand.

This book is scatological and jizzological. The book is peppered with unattractive images of bulging fat gourmands dribbling over their food while people starve in the developing world.  We read of dung adulterating food in Victorian England, film scenes where poo featured (“Brazil”).  We see Nigella Lawson compared to a bukkake star with globs of glutinous caramel dripping from her lips onto her breasts.   Then, just when he gets you going, the cold water of moralisation puts out the fire. Again.  And again.  Sheesh!

I’m not sure that Poole gets the point of foodiesm.  He tries to take it too seriously. Food is fun. We love it.  It’s a chance for us to let our hair down and get a bit frisky and to get out of our ruts.  We eat to live and we live to reproduce.  We love food and we love sex.   We love them because they are F-U-N.  Serious fun. As long as nobody gets hurt, what’s the problem?

Perhaps the answer lies in his attack on me.  Like every faithful reader of NPN, he has read my article on Epigenetics, which sets out the diametrically opposite argument to the title of his book.   You remember, the one where I wrote about the recent discoveries by molecular biologists that your DNA changes in response to dietary and environmental factors and that these changes become ingrained in your children and grandchildren.   So I wrote

“There is a responsibility here, too – we owe it to future generations to do right by them.  We may have bankrupted their financial future, but we shouldn’t plunder their piggybank of health as well.”

Sorry, I know this review is about Poole’s book, not about me, but you’ll see where I’m going with this.

He goes on to acknowledge (he must have read the same Guardian article last year that I did) that this food-changes-your-DNA thing does make sense.  So…you are what you eat.  Ah, but the trials were with rats, Poole writes, so let’s not jump to any premature conclusions abjout whether food will change human DNA. Well, I’m as sensitive as the next anti-vivisectionist, but if you believe the science then what happens to lab rats is a pretty good indicator of what happens to people.  He knows he’s on weak ground here, so he changes tack and goes after me for guilt-tripping parents to make them enjoy delicious wholesome food instead of whatever Poole would have them eat.   Nobody likes a blackmailer and Poole’s response to my  ‘moral blackmail’ is presumably to eat a Mega Mac and chips just to show his grandkids that they can’t intimidate him about their heredity.

But this is the heart of the matter. Either you are or you are not what you eat. You can’t be both. Poole admits that you indeed are what you eat but then says that we shouldn’t feel morally blackmailed by future generations to pass healthy DNA to them. OK, screw future generations, but I still want my DNA to be pretty healthy. If there are genetic causes of disease and food changes your genes for good or for bad then food can be a cause of disease. This is the ‘You are what you eat’ argument proved by the science of epigenetics, begrudgingly agreed by the author of a book that has a title that states the opposite.

Confused? Just keep eating the GMOs and for goodness sakes, don’t have any fun while you’re at it!

These bio-fools are killing us

Bio-fuel subsidies cost the US taxpayer $6 billion – for an end product that uses 70% more energy from fossil fuels to produce than it delivers. These bio-fools are killing us, warns Craig Sams

I spent mid-July in the withering heat of Nebraska and Iowa, in America’s Midwest. My grandchildren, who were on their first visit to the US to meet their farming relatives, were gobsmacked at the endless rows of corn, viewed from the train from Pittsburgh to Omaha.  You have to travel overland in the US to appreciate the scale. It helps that Amtrak trains are so slow, lumbering along at a pace that barely exceeds that of the covered wagon my great-grandparents rode when they went west more than a century ago.

40% of US corn is planted in order to be burned for energy. The most efficient way would be mix it with coal and co-fire it in power plants. Instead it is expensively fermented, then distilled, then shipped to gasoline companies who are obliged by law to blend it at 15% with gasoline. The idea is that the US isn’t dependent on those pesky A-rabs for their energy supplies. Only of course they are. The Middle East not only continues to supply most of America’s oil, they now supply most of the nitrate fertiliser that grows the Midwest corn that gets converted into ethanol to reduce dependency on the troubled Middle East. You couldn’t make it up.

Professor David Pimentel has done the maths.  Every gallon of ethanol costs $1.74 per gallon to produce (compared to $1.00/gallon for gasoline) and uses up 70% more energy from fossil fuels to produce than it delivers. The cost to the US taxpayer is $6 billion a year in ethanol subsidies. And all that corn that is burned up only supplies 1.3% of America’s gasoline supply.

Now global warming is coming to bite the whole thing firmly in the backside.  The US, with 6% of the world’s population, emits 25% of its greenhouse gases. The corn crop is failing as a prolonged drought takes its toll.  Never mind that Monsanto and the GM brigade have been promising drought-resistant crops for nearly 20 years. Throughout our journey we saw entire fields where the corn was yellow and shrivelled, not worth harvesting even for a few meagre ears.  Many more, planted confidently in expectation of 200 bushels (5 tonnes) per acre are unlikely to yield even half that much.   At the beginning of the year corn was priced at $4.80 a bushel, now it’s trading at over $8.

Cousin John in Nebraska, who raises hogs and buys in corn over and above what he can grow on 2000 acres, will have to pay more for his feed and will need to charge more for his hogs. Cousin Dan raises corn on 1800 acres for the local ethanol plant.  The oil companies have to buy the ethanol, by law.  All Dan has to do is get the crop in. Other farmers have sold their crops in advance when the price was up to $6 a bushel and will have to fulfil those contracts by buying corn in at $8 a bushel or will go bust. God is overwhelmed with prayers for rain. Keeping his religious options open, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said “I get on my knees every day and I’m saying an extra prayer right now,” Vilsack said. “If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”

The devastating combination of crazy legislation and global warming is reaching the end game.  Pity the poor US farmers caught in the middle on this one, but what about the rest of the world?  Earlier this year I met with Ashraf Hamouda of the World Food Programme.  The price of grain is set in Chicago on the basis of US corn prices. This also sets grain prices worldwide. So farmers who are getting good crops everywhere (including the UK) are raking it in while people who have to buy food are wondering where they will get the money to feed their families. Millions will starve to death and the world’s climate will go on getting worse.  All for a deluded subsidy scheme that benefits nobody.

Can I get my NHS no-claims bonus?

Isn’t it amazing that the ‘hippy diet’ the authorities once warned would corrupt a generation is now officially endorsed by the medical establishment, says Craig Sams

Your NHS No Claims Bonus is just one click away!

In 1965 I had the misfortune to be quite low in cash and lying by a roadside in Delhi unable to walk because of the debilitating pain and exhaustion of hepati- tis. The Holy Family Catholic hospital doctor told me I was in urgent need of hospitalisation, but their reception told me there were no beds. Maybe I should have tried a bit of baksheesh.

So, half walking, half crawl- ing, I ended up in Delhi General. After a day I knew I had to move on. I ended up in Peshawar, then Kabul, where a diet of unleavened wholemeal naan and unsweetened tea finally brought success. Within 3 or 4 days I was back on my feet and functional.

Since then I haven’t messed with my health — when you look into the abyss and realise how fragile life can be, you take more care. I never wanted to find myself in such desperate straits again — helpless, hoping someone can save you and feeling sorry for your parents who might never know what happened to their beloved son.

Since 1967 I have dutifully paid, like every good citizen, my National Insurance contributions which, in today’s money, amounts to about £400,000 over 44 years. During that time I have never cost the NHS one penny and haven’t taken up one minute of a doctor’s time with my health problems. That’s partly down to luck, but I cite diet as the main factor.

The experience in India trig- gered my interest in macrobi- otics and led to a career deci- sion to spread the word about healthy diet. This was the foun- dation on which my brother Gregory and I built Whole Earth Foods and which led, indirectly, to the founding of Green & Black’s. I’ve been OK almost all of the time, despite setbacks, bereavements, financial anxieties and stress from business competition. Sometimes I thought I was going mad, but I had seen enough of the dam- age anti-depressants can cause to know that I would never go down that route.

“IF I WERE A CAREFUL DRIVER I’D GET AN ANNUAL REDUCTION IN MY INSURANCE TO REFLECT MY CLEAN CLAIMS HISTORY. WHY NOT HEALTH?”

When Beveridge mapped out the NHS in 1942 his budget projections confidently predict- ed a steep decline in healthcare costs through the 1950s as indoor sanitation, better nutri- tion, clean water and health education would all reduce dis- ease and its treatment costs. Instead there has been a steady increase in sickness and chron- ic illness, triggered by obesity, environmental toxins, sedentary lifestyles and junk food. How disappointing it would have been for him.

Sir Jack Drummond was the man who named Vitamin A and B and who mapped out Britain’s healthy wartime diet that led to record levels of health, despite all the stress and strain of wartime life. Sir Jack was mysteriously murdered in 1953, or he would have been kicking ass at the DOH to make them do something about the Brits’ abysmal post-war dietary choices once they were free to choose.

If I were a careful driver I’d get an annual reduction in my insurance to reflect my clean claims history. Why not health? If a reduced level of claims reflects a saving in expenditure, what’s wrong with the principle extending to National Insurance? Charging people higher contributions/premiums for being sick all the time might be going too far, but rewarding people for conscientiously look- ing after their health shouldn’t be seen as reprehensible. I’d settle for a ‘cashback’ — or perhaps the money saved could be tagged onto my pension on retirement? Good national health policy should include carrots as well as sticks. The state offers no material incen- tive to look after one’s health, just confusing exhortations. A no claims discount would address this. I’m sure Beveridge would approve. And Sir Jack.

Hippy days are here again

Isn’t it amazing that the ‘hippy diet’ the authorities once warned would corrupt a generation is now officially endorsed by the medical establishment, says Craig Sams

Stop the press! Amazing news from researchers…

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a report funded by Cancer Research UK. The report says that 40 per cent of cancers arise from lifestyle factors including poor diet and obesity. Specifically: not enough fibre, not enough vegetables, too much meat and too much alcohol.

In 1966, full of the joys of discovering good health and vitality through macrobiotic diet, my girlfriend and I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York. Irma Paul, the owner, sat behind the counter looking morose, not at all the happy image of macrobiotics (Greek for ‘long life’ or ‘big life’) that I expected. She allowed us to look at the books but said that we could not purchase anything.

Her reason? The American Medical Association had recently urged the FBI to bust the bookshop for selling illegal books. The FBI took the books away and went over them with expert advisors from the American Medical Association. The result? The bookshop closed a few days later and the books were taken away, condemned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and burned. Reader’s Digest later ran a cover story calling macrobiotics ‘The Hippie Diet That’s Killing Our Kids.”

What was the evil message that brought such a fate?  Kiddie porn? Bomb-making instructions? No, much worse as far as the AMA was concerned: these books contained statements that too much meat, not enough fibre, not enough vegetables and too much meat and alcohol could lead to cancer. Exactly what the British Journal of Cancer article now states.

At the time the medical orthodoxy was that cancer was in the genes or just bad luck. Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research epidemiologist, commented on the new report: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’…it’s clear that 40 per cent of cancers are caused by things we have the power to change.” I wonder where ‘many people’ got that wacky idea? Perhaps from listening to all the medical experts who told them for decades they couldn’t do anything to prevent cancer.

In the 1950s American magazines ran ads extolling the preference of doctors for Camel brand cigarettes. Oh dear. I wonder how many people took up smoking because of these role models…and died?

In the 50s Wilhelm Reich talked about the ‘Emotional Plague’ – a disease that parents gave to their children by beating them and abusing them, passing on sick behaviour from one generation to the next. He argued for sexual liberation and advocated condom use and economic independence for women. Several tonnes of his books were burned by the FDA and he died in prison in 1956.  Now it’s illegal to beat kids, women are liberated and child abuse condemned.

So, two pioneers of sensible thinking went to their graves bitter and disillusioned and didn’t live to see their ideas become accepted in the mainstream.

What about me? After discovering that the FBI, the AMA and the FDA were hysterically alarmed about macrobiotics, I figured it was at least as powerful as I had thought.

I went to the newly-opened Paradox macrobiotic restaurant that evening and decided then and there that my future would lay in bringing awareness of the joys of healthy eating to as many people as possible. It fulfilled my do-goodism and my revolutionary instincts.

What about the authorities? The same governments that burned books and chucked their authors in jail now support sex education and condom use and urge their citizens to eat more vegetables and wholegrains and to cut down on meat and booze.

Can you imagine any MPs or doctors nowadays plugging cigarettes or urging people to eat junk food and beat their kids?

Still making waves

As Rainbow Warrior III sets sail Craig Sams congratulates Greenpeace on being a pain in the bum for evildoers the world over

In 1977 Greenpeace organised a ‘Save the Whales’ rally in Kensington Gardens.  Spike Milligan came over to rally the troops with a quirky but passionate speech.  We sat on the grass to listen and many people ended up soiled by dogshit. This was just inside the park gates where dogs would dump as soon as they were let loose on the grass.  In those days people never cleaned up their dog mess. What’s more dog food was usually made with whale meat.  The irony of the moment was not lost on us and I couldn’t help thinking, darkly, that ‘what goes round comes round.’

A few months later in a debate against Jilly Cooper on LBC Radio I said that people should clean up after their dogs.  The call-in hot lines nearly melted with outraged dog owners saying I should go back where I came from and generally questioning my sanity. Yet over time cleaning up after one’s dog became normal behaviour.

Greenpeace fought much tougher battles. They were trying to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean and whaling in the Atlantic.  At the end of 1977 I went along to Surrey Docks to see a rust bucket trawler that Greenpeace had acquired which they planned to refurbish and rename the Rainbow Warrior. (I had the chance to go on the maiden voyage to Iceland to challenge whaling, but I had court appearances scheduled over Whole Earth jam illegally sweetened with apple juice).

The Rainbow Warrior was sunk  in Auckland, New Zealand, on the orders of France’s President Mitterand in 1985. During ‘Opération Satanique’ French secret agents attached explosives to its hull to blow it up before it could lead a flotilla to oppose nuclear testing in Pacific island atolls.  This act of terrorist sabotage killed Fernando Pereira, a photographer. The culprits were sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter but released when France threatened to block New Zealand’s agricultural exports to the EU.

Greenpeace converted another ship, Rainbow Warrior ll, and carried on being a pain in the bum for evildoers in the whaling, bombing and oil rig industry.  It’s retired and is now a hospital ship in Bangladesh.

When Monsanto’s GM soybeans started flooding the market  in 1996 the Soil Association lobbied hard to protect organic food and had desperate meetings with tin-eared ministers of agriculture and environment.  While we talked Greenpeace took action.  First they sailed up the Mississippi to block the export of soybeans at source. Later, led by Lord Peter Melchett, Greenpeace activists pulled up a GM maize crop in Norfolk, ‘decontaminating’ the field.   Arrested and jailed, they were exonerated in court and set free.   They had stopped the GM tide, protecting organic farming from extinction.

On November 10 we attended the launch of Rainbow Warrior lll near Tower Bridge. No rustbucket of a trawler this one but a brand new ship that will travel mostly by sail, with engines powering it for perhaps 10% of the time. Its €16 million cost was funded entirely by contributions from tens of thousands of supporters.

Damon Albarn re-formed The Good The Bad and The Queen and played on deck to spectators lining the shore at Butler’s Wharf.  Michael Eavis (Glastonbury Festival, £400,000 a year contribution to Greenpeace) had driven the ship on the last leg of its trip.  We toured the ship and learned about its revolutionary design – soon container ships could be using its advanced wind-capture principles to cut the emissions from seaborne trade.

Greenpeace has been on the front lines stopping the destructive greed that makes the world a worse place, thereby providing cover for organisations like the Soil Association, Garden Organic, Slow Food and Fairtrade that are working to build a better world. We all owe them a tremendous debt. Joining Greenpeace and supporting their work is the least we can do to repay their efforts.

Legal, decent, truthful and honest? Oh, come off it!

Major airlines and detergent brands runs rings round the ASA while the small guys get hauled up on pedantic points of detail, writes Craig Sams.

Which ads do you think would upset the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)?  Their brief is to crack down on advertising that is not ‘legal, decent, truthful and honest.’  They do it by putting pressure on the media not to accept offending ads.

1 .“New Improved Organic Wildcat shower gel – the cleaner you are, the dirtier you get.”

2.  Fly Murphyair to Nice for £2

3. “Avoid unhealthy Transfats – Eat Whole Earth non-hydrogenated margarine”

4. “Organic means fewer drugs or antibiotics, it also means better conditions for animals so they get to thrive and grow more naturally.

It’s 3 and 4, of course

From 1997 until the ASA finally took action last year you could call a completely non-organic shower product ‘organic’ or ‘Organics.‘  Despite frequent complaints they refused to act. That the ads defied any reasonable definition of organic was neither here nor there.   The EU lawmakers had not yet roped in bodycare or textiles to their legal definition of ‘organic.’ So shower products and shampoos misleadingly benefited from being described as ‘organic’ for a decade due to a fine legalistic point.

But what if an ad indecently suggests, in adverts seen at bus stops by 7 year-olds, that gorgeous girls will be queueing up to get down and dirty with you if you smear some concoction of synthetic perfumes and detergents all over it? That’s OK as it is ‘decent’ and ‘truthful’, as far as the ASA is concerned. I look at ads like that and feel sorry for the losers who believe it, but we live in a world where a lot of guys are so desperate for some nookie that they’ll believe anything. But I also feel sorry for the parents who have to explain this ad to their kids.

You can advertise the cost of a flight without any of the add-ons that most people will end up paying (online check-in fees, credit card fees, airport charges etc). Airlines complain to the ASA about each other and the ASA steps in but they have been doing it for 10 years and the ASA can’t really stop them.  They have huge advertising budgets so the media run the ads and then the ads are out of date anyway and a new, more imaginatively untruthful ad appears. It’s makes a mockery of the ASA.

But the ASA can flex its muscles when it faces up to the little guys.

When Whole Earth advertised Superspread in 1993 it had a rather longwinded educational advertisement explaining the latest research on hydrogenated fats and urging people to choose a non-hydrogenated alternative. The folks who make Flora complained to the ASA – (their product was 21% hydrogenated fat in those days).  We gave all the information to the ASA but they still refused to let us advertise. We appealed. They said it wasn’t about truthfulness, they didn’t like us appealing to fear. Flora had been appealing to fear for a decade, with pictures of pretty housewives resolving to keep their hubby healthy and heart attack-free by cutting out butter and making his sandwiches with hydrogenated margarine. That’s when I realised the ASA had integrity issues. Recently I asked to see the records of our case and they said they hadn’t kept records from before 1994!

The Organic Trade Board invested in advertising that stated ‘Organic means fewer drugs or antibiotics, it also means better conditions for animals so they get to thrive and grow more naturally.’ The ASA stopped this (see p ??) because somewhere there might be a lucky cow or chicken that enjoys conditions as good as on an organic farm.  Replace ‘also’ with ‘generally’ and you have an ad with the same powerful message. But what a pedantic and trivial distinction. What a pain!

I have steered clear of complementary medicine in this rant, but just think about this.  Every year 720,000 Americans are killed by adverse reactions to prescription drugs. This means ‘death by doctor’ beats heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death.  The NHS doesn’t publish similar statistics, but works hand in hand with the same drug companies. Perhaps it’s time for the ASA to take a look at the advertising of drugs.

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In June I was invited to give the keynote speech at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam. The conference programme was so advanced it made me blink in disbelief - here were a bunch of corporate executives and sustainability managers from the world's leading corporations all working to create real standards of sustainable growth and methods of measurement in order to comply with their corporate statements of principle. Stalwarts like Clearspring and Whole Foods were there, but the general tone was very mainstream. I spoke about taking an ethical brand mainstream later in the day but for my keynote I thought I'd give it to them with both barrels. Here’s my speech:

"Today I would like to take for my text the New Testament, Chapter 6: 1-8, the Book of Revelation of St. John the Evangelist (I'd give anything for a picture of the audience's horrified faces as they prepared for the worst). You may recall it: it's where Jesus opens the sealed scrolls and summons forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - War, Plague, Famine and their faithful follower, Death.To understand sustainability we must recognise that the world's economy is still governed by legacy industries who have a massive vested interest in those 4 horsemen. Without them, or the fear of them, their shareholder value would collapse.War enjoys annual capital expenditure of $1.5 trillion. with the US leading the field, devoting 5% of GDP to military spending. As you'd expect with any capital expenditure, the return on investment is many times the value of the outlay - the cost of death and destruction of property in target nations is massive. Of course the at-home social damage is pretty high too as soldiers return home with attitudes to violence that lead to high domestic cost due to healthcare, suicides, crime and psychological problems.Plague enjoys good returns, too. The Avian Flu and Swine Flu panics exposed Big Pharma’s desperate quest for new disease threats. The side effects of medical intervention create a huge subsidiary industry and new diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol create an opportunities for profit. Death from medical errors in the US run at 200,000 a year, while correct intervention claims many more.Famine is perhaps most relevant to this conference. By destroying the natural fertility of the Earth with chemical fertilisers and killing off biodiversity with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, GMOs and antibiotics agribusiness has created a global dependency on their chemicals to produce our food. 'Feed the world' is their mantra as they progressively starve the world. Now, except for organic farming, we are hooked on the drugs they sell to keep degraded land in production.We have to kick these bad habits but they are entrenched in our socioeconomic system and their proprietors will not give up without a fightSo how can sustainability triumph? It must be in all arenas, we must bring peace and prosperity, to all. It can be done, because things have changed.How have things changed?Debt - Wars, drugs and agribusiness have bankrupted our economies. First rule of a parasite is: don't kill the host. If American taxpayers had to pay for war, medicine and farm subsidies they would never have happened. Instead the Chinese, and Arabs loaned the US the money so they could continue to buy cheap consumer goods and oil. Now that the debt is dragging down our economy we wrongly blame the bankers. The rot started because our governments subsidised war/drug/ag with borrowed money because they were too cowardly to pay for it out of increased taxation.Transparency - the days of the smoke-filled room where a handful of powerful men decide the fate of the rest of us is ending. We know what’s going on.There is no future if there is not a sustainable future. A handful of companies worldwide thrive on war, sickness and a famine. Our governments bow to them. Monsanto's control of the USDA is the most obvious but it's the same everywhere, from the EU to India to Africa and Latin America.It is undeniable that peace brings more prosperity than war and avoids the burden of debtThat the creation of health is better value than the treatment of diseaseThat organic and sustainable farming gives better and more reliable yields than unsustainable petrochemical dependencyWe're right - we know we're right - they know we're right.But they won't give up without a fightIn Britain our new prime minister speaks about The Big Society - people doing it for themselves. The top down model is disintegrating everywhere. When people start doing it for themselves then different choices will be made. Companies that are ready for this seismic change will prosper. There can only be on future and by definition it must be sustainable.

Treated like Animals

What is it about the meat industry? Vegans say meat is murder, what’s clear is that its production often defies morality.

A recently published inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (http://bit.ly/aKqz2U) has been pretty horrifying: women working in meat and poultry processing factories barred from going to the lavatory because it would slow down the production line. Result: urine and blood (if they’re menstruating) dripping down their legs. Angry managers pelt workers with frozen hamburgers and call them ‘you f***ing’ shit Polish.’

Press reports use terms like “Treated Like Animals.” I guess we take brutal and uncaring animal treatment for granted: cattle in Colorado feedlots up to their knees in their own shit, sick with e.Coli infections and salmonella. US poultry meat has to be washed with chlorine before it can safely be put on sale. I visited a chicken farm in West Virginia 18 months ago: the ammonia from fermenting chicken poop burned your eyes so badly that we could only stand in the shed full of 100,000 birds for a minute before we had to retreat to the fresh air outside. The country girl who assisted the manager commented that she had got used to the smell: her job entailed removing the dead birds every day. The corpses were then burned to generate heat that was helped heat the chicken barn – as recycling efforts go, probably a cut above grinding them up and feeding them to the survivors.

In the 19th Century a report from a Royal Navy vessel that intercepted a slave ship summarised conditions on that most horrendous of transatlantic voyages. “The sick, the dead and they dying were pulled up onto deck, shackled together, and thrown overboard.” The slaves were tethered in cubicles about 2 feet wide and 3 feet high for the entire voyage, which could last 4-12 weeks. The longer the trip the higher the death rate. Slave ships were ‘tight pack’ or ‘loose pack.’ ‘Tight pack’ profitably fitted more slaves into a ship, but the death rate was much higher: 10-20%. Modern pig and chicken factory farms go for ‘tight pack,’ raising the death rate to 5-14%, even with routine antibiotic use. Disease spreads in conditions where faeces cannot be cleared – even slaves above deck were chained in place for the entire voyage – otherwise they would jump overboard to escape the conditions.

I suppose when we consider the cruelty that surrounded the slave trade we shouldn’t be surprised that similar evils infest the meat industry. The trust of an animal is a wonderful thing. As pets they have a therapeutic effect that defies medical explanation. Yet if someone were to take a puppy or a kitten, smother it in its own excrement for a month or so, torture it, starve it and throw it into a furnace while it was still alive they’s be excoriated on the cover of the Daily Mail.

A new dairy ‘farm’ in Lincolnshire is planned to house 8100 dairy cows in darkened stalls, modelled on American dairy production. It is estimated that half of US dairy cows suffer from mastitis and they also suffer leukaemia, milk fever and a bovine form of AIDS. ‘Downers’ – cows that collapse - are turned into ground beef before they can die and become unsuitable for consumption.

It’s not often that Human Rights Watch take up cudgels on behalf of American workers, but they have pointed out that meat industry workers have 3 times the injury rate of other industries, with workers being asphyxiated by fumes and having their legs cut off and their hands crushed.

When you look at the cruelty we inflict on animals is it any wonder that we treat abattoir workers so badly? When you look at the kindness that typifies organic animal rearing, is it any wonder that places like the exemplary biodynamic Laverstoke Farm build their own meat processing facilities, carefully designed to keep the animals calm right up to the final moment, rather than send them off to a slaughterhouse where the people, let alone the animals are treated like…well, slaves.

People somehow manage to get over their concerns about animal welfare when they buy non-organic meat in a shop or restaurant, but how easy is it to be a participant in the human degradation as well?

From Green & Black's to Blackened Greens

Here's the story of how I moved from dark chocolate to even darker materials - biochar

Back in 1995 the Prince of Wales delivered the Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture on the theme of ‘Counting the Cost of Industrial Agriculture.’ He argued that if you incorporate the externalised costs of non-organic farming, such as nitrate pollution, gender-bending herbicides in the water supply, biodiversity loss and the climate change cost of greenhouse gases (from nitrous oxides and soil carbon emissions) the real cost of non-organic food would nearly double.

A year later Dan Morrell of Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) encouraged me to go carbon neutral with Whole Earth’s organic wholegrain cornflakes. The whole life cycle carbon footprint of the cornflakes was calculated by independent experts who found that it was surprisingly low: because organic farmers increase rather than reduce the stored carbon in soil, this offset much of the other carbon cost of the cornflakes.

By now it was pretty obvious to me that the sooner we could get policymakers to force us to include the cost of greenhouse gas emissions in the cost of food the sooner we would all be eating organic food, because it would usually be cheaper.

Roll on 14 years to 2009 – the climate negotiations in Copenhagen have soil carbon and forest carbon on the agenda. Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the Bank of England and author of the Stern Review that put the cost of every tonne of carbon we emit today at £140 for future generations (currently carbon markets value a tonne of carbon at £11) has said that any future climate agreement has to be ‘universal and equitable.’ In other words, no cheating, no get-outs, no let-outs, no sacred cows. That means that all countries and all activities, including agriculture, forestry and transportation must be included in the new climate regime that begins in 2012. Hitherto only Europe has complied and then only for the heavy industries that emit half of our greenhouse gases – farming and transport have been excluded. But no longer.

2 years ago I invited Dan Morrell to join me in a new venture: Carbon Gold. What do we do? For a start, we believe biofuels are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Every bit of biomass carbon is too precious to waste by burning it. At Carbon Gold we aim to capture woody material such as waste biomass, forestry co-products and tree prunings and convert it into charcoal. But we call it ‘biochar.’ Why? Because we don’t burn it, thereby putting the carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2. Once we’ve made the biochar we blend it with fertility-building clays and composts and add it to the soil. Biochar is a wonderful soil conditioner: it improves drainage but also prevents soil drying out; it reduces the leaching of nutrients from soil by rainfall; it provides 5-Star accommodation for beneficial soil fungi and bacteria, increasing their populations; it improves soil structure and aggregation; it helps suppress soil-borne diseases that are harmful to plants and biochar helps raise the pH of acid soils. Universities around the world are gearing up to do biochar research that will more precisely quantify its benefits. These vary depending on soil, climate and the amount of biochar applied to soil.

Meanwhile at Carbon Gold we are busily making biochar and selling the carbon credits from avoided emissions as well as selling the biochar as a soil improver. In Belize cacao farmers produce biochar that is blended with compost and used by banana growers to reduce their dependence on fungicides and irrigation. In East Sussex we are regenerating ancient chestnut coppice woodland and producing organic biochar which we use to produce “Gro-Char” peat-free compost which will be sold through garden centres. Garden Organic members will be trialling it in various applications during the 2010 season. In Mozambique we are partnering with a conservation organisation to help small farmers produce biochar, encouraging them to protect their forests and improve their soil fertility. On my own smallholding near Hastings there is a magnificent peach tree dripping with perfect fruit that had its base covered with biochar last February. The ones that didn’t get biochar haven’t done so well, peach leaf curl was worse for them. My biochar potatoes still show no signs of blight, while everyone else’s have suffered.

I feel like I’m still in the food business (and I have made a delicious risotto nero charbonara that delighted dinner guests recently), I’ve just moved my focus towards food security.

John Michell – a head of our times

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My first meeting with John Michell was on October 19 1967 after Mark Palmer phoned me from Glastonbury, where he, John Michell and a few other people were camped in a gypsy caravan in a field along the Wells Road or, like Brian Jones, staying in the nearby farmhouse. “You’ve got to come down, Craig” Mark said, “The UFOs are coming out every night, lots of them, over the Tor.” It wasn’t an invitation to be turned down lightly so I piled into my Thames van and headed down the A4 to Somerset. We got there in the late afternoon and John Michell was busy cooking up some curried vegetables with rice. He showed me how to add the spices to the oil before anything else, to diffuse the flavours so that they evenly coated and infused all the ingredients, an attention to the detail of form and function that was typical of his penetrative insight. As we sat outside enjoying the autumnal evening Mark shouted ‘There they are!’, pointing directly to the south. We looked skywards and saw lights moving across the sky. Any doubt about their being of military or aviation origin was dissipated when what was clearly an RAF jet fighter flew up towards the lights, at which point they disappeared beyond Glastonbury Tor and entered what seemed to be a cigar shaped vessel. There was a brief repeat appearance and it was over. John strained his eyes skywards but his vision was already deteriorating and he could barely make out the shapes. His first book: the Flying Saucer Vision, was being published at the beginning of the following week and he had a radio interview lined up. He would be able to say, if asked if he had seen flying saucers himself that he was in a field near Glastonbury only last week as they lifted over the Tor.

During the 1970s our family venture was the seminal magazine Seed – The Journal of Organic Living, which was variously published by my father Ken, my brother Gregory and myself. John was a frequent contributor and would drop into our All Saints Road office to share ideas and a cup of green tea. As macrobiotic health food nuts our yin-yang fanaticism was comfortably engaged by his willingness to both accept and question an idea at the same time. He accepted our philosophy but always retained a detachment that never veered into aloofness, he was genuinely interested and understanding but didn’t get passionate about the ideas we espoused. He was a warm personality but also the epitome of a particularly English type of ‘cool.’ Riding with him in his stylish old Sunbeam Talbot drophead coupe along the Westbourne Park Road could be unnerving as he peered squinting across the long bonnet when trying to traverse a tricky intersection.

He introduced me to the idea of ley lines, freely acknowledging the pioneering work of Alfred Watkins in this respect and his View over Atlantis brought the idea to a whole generation who learned to love the map of the English landscape for its natural energies, not for the roads and motorways that obscured its reality.

One of his greatest gifts, through one of his contributions to Seed Magazine, was to introduce me to the work of William Cobbett. In it he quoted Cobbett’s criticism of young people who ‘mope at the heels of some crafty, sleek-headed pretended saint, who, while he extracts the last penny from their pockets, bids them be contented with their misery and promises them, in exchange for their pence, everlasting glory in the world to come.’ He specifically targeted this quote at the tired young radicals of the 1970s who had the fire in their bellies extinguished by various yogis, Christian tribalists and other mercenary and mystic pacifiers. He also lighted on Cobbett’s “Paper against Gold” where Cobbett ‘exposed in simple language the trick by which the country had been persuaded to barter its real wealth, in labour and produce, for the illusory wealth of bankers’ promises and government paper.’ He must have smiled in his final year as the same recurring fraud was perpetrated again. John’s support for organic farming was in the lamentation: “Today less than half what is eaten in Britain is native produce and that proportion would be decimated were it not for the amounts of chemical fertiliser that must now be imported and applied to obtain any sort of harvest at all.’ In the same article: “ Cobbett conceived an ideal image of medieval England, a fair landscape, prosperous and populous, with its feasts, fairs and holidays, its profitable labour and refined craftsmanship, its equitable society giving health, happiness, security and plenty to all who wanted such things. This was the land he promised the people and he did more than any ten others would have done to keep his word and he could not/ and his failure has been the heritage of all subsequent generations.” John Michell made Cobbett’s vision the inspiration to a generation who believed that a New Jerusalem in England’s pleasant land could be achieved not by revolution, but by going out and creating an alternative society that would eventually replace the corrupt and rotten edifice of government fraud and bankers false promises. They headed for the hills of Wales and the West Country and grew organic vegetables, dreaming of Albion and founding the natural and organic foods industry and the environment movement.

This emerging change was seen to be evolutionary, but not in Darwin’s sense. In his Seed article “Towards Cosmogonic Sanity – The Demolition of Darwin” John envisaged that evolution was not a one way track, that human nature ‘has descended, not risen’ and that prophecy is about regeneration and reversion to type, not to apes but to ‘embodied spirits in union with the spirit of the Universe, citizens of the New Jerusalem.’

John was also a fierce defender of traditional measures and opposed the Napoleonic metres and grams. In Just Measure, which we published in 1976, he wrote: “The inch is the length of the first joint of the thumb, the foot stands up for itself, the yard is a stride or an outstretched arm, a furlong is the furthest distance a man is prepared to run to the pub, and a mile is the distance he is most likely to traverse on his way back. Man is the literal measure of his universe and, using such a system, he can relate naturally to it.’ He was not afraid to have a laugh while making a serious point and to illustrate the article he loaned us a beautiful etching which we captioned ‘Winchester Cathedral was built before architects adopted metrication.’

The constant theme running through John’s work was that the abolition of traditional ways sapped the independence of local society and the individual. He rejected the epithet ‘reactionary’ saying that such phrases are ‘born out of the assumption that the good of the centre takes precedence over the good of the individual…we look forward to the old criterion whereby the wealth of a nation is reckoned by the contentment, prosperity and independent spirit of its members rather than by the amount in labour and taxes that can be squeezed out of them to fuel the development of elite science, technology and culture, directed by and for the benefit of centralised authority.’ The greed of the State, exposed in the MPs expenses revelations, is insatiable. He believed ‘The Thing’ must somehow be starved.

Some commentators have slyly noted John’s frequent inhalation of cannabis as if that somehow diminished his intellect or the validity of his thinking. He would have argued the contrary, referring to the famous hand-written and illustrated manifesto of Dr. Bart Hughes, a Dutchman who wrote in 1962 that cannabis increased brain blood volume by about 40 ml above its normal 1700 ml and that LSD would increase it by 70-120 ml. Trepanation would bring a permanent relief of cranial pressure and allow brain blood volume to find an optimal level. John’s view was that the extra 1½ fluid oz (45 ml) that a good toke delivered was enough to elevate his already heightened intellect and eschewed any further resort to volumetric stimulation. Bart’s theory was based on the evolutionary assumption that our brain blood volume was restricted because, as apes, our heads and hearts were at the same level and that standing erect reduced the ability of the heart to fill the brain. John argued that we had always been erect and the lowered blood brain levels reflected our decline. Thus, pot was an instrument of regeneration that helped us rise back to our original pre-lapsarian state of consciousness. Who can argue with that without seeming frumpish and a boor?