Man made nutrient depletion of foods

This is a repeat post of an article under another title which was the object of a spam attack possibly inspired by climate change deniers.

Hardly a day goes by without mention in the media – the press or on TV – of the problem of global climate change.  The existence of world-wide climate change is evidenced by the increase over recent decades of extreme weather events such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the Caribbean and southern USA in August/September 2017. Irrespective of the uninformed and unreasoned opinions of climate change deniers – one of the most prominent of which is US President number 45, Donald J Trump – intelligent and informed observers now accept the phenomenon as a fact and something that must be tackled by all responsible world leaders and governments.

Experts from the scientific community, convinced by the facts, are certain that global climate change is happening and is caused by human activity: specifically the enormous increase in man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Some commentators consider that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide will be absorbed by increased plant growth, given that plants utilise the gas to synthesise carbohydrates. At first sight this seems possible, but some are now asking if there might be negative consequences in terms of the nutritional composition and quality of plant products that could affect human health and that of other animals that rely on plant life. This is a question raised in a fascinating article by Helena Bottemiller Evich (see link) published by

A hard-Brexit could cause British food prices to rise by a third

Empirical evidence suggests that informed and intelligent British citizens capable of rational thought and critical reasoning expect Brexit, or the cessation of the UK from the European Union, to lead to economic disaster for the country and to cause much social disruption, hardship and deprivation.

Some consider that Brexit has been motivated by the British Conservative Party and its ideological extreme right-wing, UKIP, at the bidding of global corporations and the super-rich, to enable the transformation of Britain into a low tax economy designed expressly for the benefit of the self-appointed, wealthy ruling classes.  In this respect concern is even expressed by commentators that the UK may, effectively,  become an extension of the USA: not quite the 51st state, but the equivalent of one of the USA’s poorest states existing to serve the richest states.

While many observers express concern about Brexit and the negative consequences they believe will result from the UK quitting the EU, and given the column kilometers that will by now have been written about the topic, surprisingly little has been produced that objectively quantifies the benefits that ought to accrue from Brexit if it is to be considered a morally defensible project. Indeed, no reports setting out the economic benefits of Brexit have apparently been provided by official, government sources.

Articles for and against Brexit have been written by politicians and journalists, as well as other thinkers, but just about all that favour leaving the EU depend on the Three Pillars of Brexit for their legitimacy: ‘taking back our country’ ‘reclaiming our sovereignty’ and ‘controlling our borders’. Everything is said about how Britain will at last be able to trade freely with the world, make its own laws and reduce immigration, but nothing is said of how the British people will be financially better off and enjoy an enhanced quality of life post-Brexit. One may assume that even the most ardent Brexit supporters actually have no idea of the true nature and magnitude of the consequences of leaving the EU, or of the effects that will be felt by the British people.

Whatever one might think about Brexit, it is clear that the decision to remove the UK from the EU was made by Mrs. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister.  But though she maintains she is only fulfilling the will of the people, her argument, given the facts, is surely intellectually and morally bankrupt.  Only 26% of the UK’s population expressed the desire – note the word desire – to leave the EU in the 2016 advisory referendum, and we can be sure that most of those who voted to leave had little understanding of the various permutations that the leave option actually represented.   Indeed, it seems that not even the British government’s Brexit negotiators understand adequately what the leave options are, according to reports from Brussels.

The fact that only 26% of the population selected leave in the 2016 ‘opinion poll’ means of course that 74% of the population either expressed the desire that the UK remain within the EU, or stated no opinion at all. This hardly brings confidence to Mrs. May’s claim that she is acting to fulfill the will of the British people.  Her  decision to mandate Brexit on the back of what was, in law, an advisory referendum that yielded a margin of only 3.8% of the electorate, or 1.9% of the population, is also morally without foundation.  Some even suggest she has acted unconstitutionally.

Concern exists among thinking people that Mrs. May and a hard-right faction, indeed political extremists within the Conservative Party, manipulated the 2016 EU Referendum and are now manipulating the Brexit negotiations to ensure a hard-Brexit. In other words leaving the EU with no trade deal and no access to the EU’s single market and customs union: this in order to have the political freedom to reinvent Britain as a hard-right oligarchy existing to serve the needs of global corporations and the super-rich. There are those who even suggest that such objectives cohere with the ideas and philosophy of the political economist, James McGill Buchanan, who regarded representative democracy as an impediment to furthering the interests of the rich and ruling classes, and that the right-wing in Britain and America are striving to realise his vision.

Whatever the truth about Brexit we can be sure that Britain is heading for some very difficult times and in many ways the British agriculture and food industries will function as a barometer, indicating fairly quickly the consequent ups and downs of the economy caused by Brexit.

Of the various highly professional organisations that will be monitoring the effects of Brexit on the British food system the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) is one to watch.  Indeed, Kate Askew writing in (see link) draws on interesting IGD research that concludes that a hard-Brexit could result in British food prices rising by a third. Mrs. May, and her colleagues in the Conservative Party that are so set on Brexit may be able to absorb such food price rises, but one can be certain that many British citizens would be forced into dire food poverty were such an outcome to occur.


Great cheese makers: born or made?

Are great cheese makers born or are they made? At first sight this may seem a shallow philosophical question, but think about it for a moment. The question presents two possibilities. Firstly, that some people have a natural aptitude that inclines them to become great cheese makers. Secondly, that anyone can be taught to become a great cheese maker.

Let’s explore the concept of ‘born’ versus ‘made’ in another context. Are good cooks born, or are they made?

As with the question about cheese makers, there are two basic positions. We all know of good cooks, people who seem instinctively to understand what to do with raw food materials to turn out a good meal. Such people seem to be born cooks. In contrast, we also know of people who, no matter how many cookery classes they attend, are highly proficient at transforming the edible into the inedible, and will always be so.

It would seem that some people do have an almost instinctive feel for food, while others do not. Could it be that some people have an instinctive feel for cheese and how to make it, while others have no such predisposition?

Certainly, anyone who decides to take up the craft of cheese making will need to learn what’s required to turn out specific varieties. Indeed, even though the basic principles of cheese making are the same for all varieties, the wide range of possible ingredient and process variables means that many different cheeses with strikingly different characteristics can be made. One only need compare English mature cheddar with the French king of cheese, Roquefort, to understand this.

So, two people, one with an instinctive feel for cheese and another with no such instinct, could both be taught to make cheese. But the former may have the potential to become a great cheese maker, with time and experience, while the latter will never pass from being a poor or even basically proficient cheese maker, even though they may accumulate years of equivalent experience.

In a different context we may think of the person who has a natural aptitude for music and with diligence and experience blossoms as a great musician, while another person who, not being tone deaf, inclines to music but has no instinct for music and remains for life a pedestrian performer, no matter how much they practice.

As in many facets of life, it does seem that people have natural aptitudes for certain activities and pursuits. It’s then reasonable to suppose that some have an inbuilt aptitude for cheese making. Indeed, we may look at the world of the specialist cheese maker and see many examples of people who are emphatically born cheese makers, creating and innovating wonderful products. They are of course fortunate that they discovered their ‘inner cheese maker’. Others may not be so fortunate and, consequently, may live a life unfulfilled by this glorious foodstuff.

As a footnote: in the English county of Shropshire we find a young cheese maker who most certainly has a natural aptitude for the craft.

Martin Moyden has been making cheese commercially since 2004. He now runs a growing company producing a range of fine and very interesting specialist cheeses. The Moyden’s website is informative about his products and business, and anyone visiting Shropshire would be well advised to seek out his products as examples of tasty, satisfying and interesting cheese made by a regional cheese maker who loves his profession. Also, look out for Moyden’s cheese at the Telfood Feastival in Telford and the Ludlow Food Festival, among others.

What a surprise! Consumers are being tricked into buying unhealthy food.

An article by Nick Triggle (see link) on the BBC News website (7 September 2017) reports Royal Society for Public Health concerns that the British public are being tricked into buying unhealthy food.

For those of us who observe the behaviour of the food industry with interest and sometimes with serious concern about the way consumers are manipulated by some food businesses, this report comes as no surprise.  The practice of food service businesses – cafes, restaurants, junk food outlets, supermarket eateries, etc. – using the tactic of up-sizing for a small increase in price has raised moral questions for many years.  Firstly, when one considers the real value of switching from a small to a medium or large portion e.g. of cappuccino or hot chocolate, one can see that the medium and large represent an easy way to increase profit margins for the vendor. Most of the costs in a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate, for instance, are found in maintaining and operating the sales premises and in preparation of the product itself. The costs involved in preparing a small versus medium or large portion will be almost the same, and the costs of the extra ingredients used to produce the medium and large will be tiny as a proportion of the whole. So a vendor will be laughing all the way to the bank when they entice customers to up-size. Of course, those who regularly indulge in the larger portions will risk incremental weight gain leading to overweight and, in time, possibly obesity as well as other diet related health problems.

Food service businesses also know that human beings love three things about food: fat, sugar and salt. When combined in a food product they are almost irresistible. Why else is salted caramel so popular? This knowledge clearly drives the practice of adding high-calorie additions, such as whipped cream (milk fat) and/or marshmallows (sugar), to a beverage to boost consumer appeal.  The additions are cheap, but their capacity to increase sales through the psychological manipulation of consumers is unarguable.

How should one respond to the practice of the food service sector in enticing consumers to eat or drink extra, unnecessary and unrequired calories? Well, if you are at all concerned about your weight and diet related health, stick to the ‘small’ portions and avoid the appealing and apparently cheap additions. These options may seem good value today, but their cost to poor health may, in the long run, be much more expensive.

Are food retailers intentionally stifling the growth in organic food sales?

An online article by Katy Askew ( 31 August 2017) suggests that food retailers in France are marking up the price of organic produce which is contributing to shortages in the country.  Clearly if consumers can’t afford to buy organic because prices are artificially inflated, less will be sold and organic producers’ incomes will be reduced, thereby threatening business viability. Might such a thing be possible in the UK?

The article reports (see link) that a French annual basket of organic produce would cost 660 Euros compared with 368 Euros for the equivalent non-organic produce.

If food retailers were to profit-take by purposefully hiking the prices of organic produce this would hardly be consistent with any claims they might make about about their concern for, and actions with respect to corporate social responsibility, protection of the environment and biodiversity.

Additionally, ‘conspiracy theorists’ may ask if it’s possible that multiple food retailers may not actually want to deal with organic produce because of a lack of understanding of organic, leading to ideas that it’s not sufficiently mainstream, it requires separate, more involved management and traceability systems, it does not offer consistent and standardised levels of quality and shelf-life, and it has the potential to increase levels of unsold produce compared with non-organic.

Tiger nuts: a new superfood?

Over the last couple of decades some food manufacturers and retailers have become excited by the concept of so-called ‘superfoods’: foods that offer supposed health benefits because of the presence of antioxidants (e.g. vitamin C, anthocyanins), or vitamins (e.g. vitamin K), or trace elements (e.g. manganese). Nutritionists and dieticians do not use the term ‘superfoods’ and since 2007 the marketing of ‘superfoods’ has been prohibited by the European Union unless such claims can be backed by credible scientific research. EUFIC (2012) is one of a number of organisations that have considered the science associated with superfoods and recognises that while the components of certain foodstuffs may have particular value, so do the components of most foodstuffs including many that are considered quite ordinary e.g. apples, carrots, whole grains etc. Concern is also raised that use of the ‘super’ label may give the impression that many healthy yet ordinary foods are actually not so healthy. Even though clarity is required in relation to the concept of superfoods, interest in such products continues and the market potential for superfoods is continually tested with the release of new superfood products. One of the latest to receive exposure is Tiger Nuts, which are not actually nuts but tubers from the Tiger Nut sedge (Cyperus esculentus), a plant native to various parts of the Western Hemisphere as well as the Southern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, parts of the African continent and Madagascar. It will be interesting to see how the market responds to this new superfood offering as discussed by Niahm Michail of (see link).

EUFIC. 2012. The science behind superfoods: Are they really super?


Brexit will bring chaos and long-lasting harm to Britain’s agri-food industry

Anyone who has any detailed understanding of the nature of the British agriculture and food industries will have known before the Advisory EU Referendum of 2016 that a vote to leave the European Union would bring chaos and long-lasting harm to Britain’s farming and food industries. The degree to which British farming and food manufacturing businesses rely on skilled and capable migrant workers from EU countries was one of the truths that the Leave campaigners chose to avoid, for obvious reasons, when encouraging the electorate to ‘take back their country’ and ‘reclaim their sovereignty’. That this truth was not communicated by the Remain campaign and David Cameron’s Conservative government illustrates the incompetence with which the arguments for remaining in the EU were presented by Europhile British politicians. As it is, with the Conservative Party that took the country into an entirely unnecessary referendum on EU membership now negotiating the terms of cessation from the EU, we can expect the outcomes of any agreements to create severe difficulties for the British agriculture and food industries. Already the fall in the value of the Pound and the rise in racism and xenophobia in the UK, energised by campaigning tactics of the likes of Nigel Farage and UKIP, have resulted in a fall in the number of seasonal migrant EU workers arriving in Britain in 2017 to serve the agri-food sector through the summer harvest e.g. in soft fruit production. These factors have also stimulated the departure for home of many EU migrant workers who have been resident in the UK for years and who are important to the viability of many British food businesses . Around one third of Britain’s food businesses are now reporting difficulties in filling vacancies directly as a result of Brexit and we can expect to see numerous articles (Link) in the food trade press and other publications highlighting the problem in the future.


Is Monsanto ghostwriting articles for public consumption that distort the truth?

Interesting article in The New York Times (Monsanto Emails Raise Issue of Influencing Research on Roundup Weed Killer by Danny Hakim, 1 August 2017) which suggests that Monsanto is not averse to ghost writing articles by apparently independent authors to ensure the required orientation of public understanding, i.e. an orientation favourable to Monsanto. Raises questions about the ethical nature of Monsanto’s business practices, the way it chooses to communicate with the public and the safety of the corporation’s products. Follow the link.

Is it sensible to eat Tonka bean extracts?

Tonka beans are produced by a flowering tree found in Central and northern South America. Extracts from the seeds of the Tonka tree (Dipteryx odorata) have been used as a source of vanilla substitute and in perfumes and tobacco products. Tonka seed contains coumarin which is a fragrant organic compound and a precursor of various synthetic anticoagulants, notably warfarin. Coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. The use of Tonka seeds in food products is prohibited in some countries, but they are of increasing interest to chefs in up-market restaurants who strive to create innovative meals with which to excite customers. Tonka bean extracts are used in various dishes, particularly desserts. See link.


Fructose malabsorption and the increased use of fructose polymer food additives

Fructose malabsorption is a condition which appears to affect a relatively small proportion of the population, but which can be quite devastating to those affected by it. It presents as a digestive disorder often diagnosed by general medical practitioners as generic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Also, it is not to be confused with fructose intolerance, which is an hereditary condition whereby the liver is unable to produce the enzymes necessary to hydrolyze fructose, which can be fatal.

Fructose malabsorption is caused by the deficiency in, or absence of carrier proteins required to transport fructose from the small intestine into the blood stream. Consequently, undigested fructose passes into the colon where it is fermented by gastrointestinal bacteria producing often copious quantities of hydrogen gas, which can cause painful bloat. The bacteria may also produce secondary metabolites initiating symptoms reminiscent of food poisoning. For some sufferers of fructose malabsorption the condition can cause severe illness lasting days or even weeks.

Fructose is of course the trigger for illness due to fructose malabsorption and a variety of plant foods are often implicated, from artichoke, onions and garlic, to cabbage and citrus fruits etc.

In the desire to present food products as healthy, some sectors of the food industry are cashing in on the use of ingredients such as inulins. The inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides found in many plants and chicory is a common source of industrially produced inulin. The use of inulin in bread, for example, can enable the declaration of fibre – which is seen as a positive health claim. But for the person who suffers from fructose malabsorption, such a bread would be considered far from healthy and something to be avoided at all costs.

As people become more aware of fructose malabsorption as a medical condition an increasing number of websites are being devoted to providing sources of advice. One of the leading researchers in the topic is Professor Peter Gibson, Head of the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University, Australia, whose websites explaining FODMAPs and low FODMAP diets provide a valuable source of information. See:

FODMAPs stands for fructose when exceeding glucose levels, fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), lactose and polyols e.g. sorbitol and manitol.

Ideas and experiences and reflections about food