Peers Criticise Food Industry Secrecy Over Nanotechnology

(Guardian) – THE UK FOOD INDUSTRY comes under attack from peers today for being secretive over its development of nanotechnology in food and drink.

The Lords science and technology committee is urging the government and research councils to carry out more checks into the use of nanomaterials in food and in particular the dangers for the human body.

Nanotechnology involves whittling common materials down to the size of microscopic particles, allowing them to acquire unusual properties.

Nanoparticles have been used in cosmetics and sun-cream products. They can help create foods which taste the same as conventional alternatives but have lower fat, salt or sugar levels, or enrich foods with supplements, or even be used in packaging to extend products’ shelf-life.

Nanotechnology is also being seen as a successor to genetically modified (GM) techniques. This week Professor John Beddington, the government’s chief scientist, said GM crops and developments such as nanotechnology must be embraced to avoid catastrophic food shortages and future climate change.

But today’s warning from eminent scientists including Lord Krebs – the former chairman of the Food Standards Agency – is the third in two years, after calls from the Royal Society and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for more stringent safety checks.

Research has shown that nanoparticles can penetrate into places larger particles cannot go, such as through the “blood-brain barrier”, which stops toxic molecules passing from the blood into the brain. They find their way into vital organs including the kidneys and liver, but precisely what they do in them has yet to be fully investigated.

In a 112-page report, Nanotechnologies and Food, the Lords committee says transparency is key to ensuring public trust in food safety but warns that the food companies’ failure to publish details of their research in this area is “unhelpful”.

It warns the industry that appearing to be secretive about its research “is the type of behaviour which may bring about the public reaction it is trying to avert”.

The report recommends that the Food Standards Agency watchdog should keep a public register of food and food packaging containing nanomaterials.

But Julian Hunt, of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Given that nanotechnology is in its infancy in the food and drink sector and that bringing new innovations to market is a long and complex process, we are surprised that the report seems to criticise the food industry for an apparent reluctance to communicate extensively on this subject.”

Which? chief policy adviser Sue Davies said: “We must fill in the significant gaps in our knowledge about how nanomaterials behave in the human body to ensure that there are no safety concerns in this rapidly developing area.”

Peter Melchett, the policy director of the Soil Association, added: “The report is good in drawing attention to the huge risks and uncertainties of nanotechnology. This is a ticking time-bomb.”

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Demand For Polish Food In The UK Growing Again

(Reuters) – DEMAND FOR POLISH FOOD in Britain is back on the rise again, Tesco said today, as Poles begin to return after leaving when the credit crunch hit.

Poles began arriving in Britain about five years ago and built up a strong demand for delicacies from home.

By mid-2008, there were estimated to be 1.2 million Poles living in the UK but by the beginning of 2009 demand for Polish food began to wane, Tesco said, as jobs began to dry up.

The supermarket said it had seen the first rise — 15 percent — in British demand for Polish food products for nearly a year.

So pronounced is the trend, it added, that it plans to introduce 92 new Polish delicacies in the supermarket’s first dedicated food range for Poles for 18 months.

‘When jobs began drying up, some Poles returned home in order to try and find work but many found it equally hard over there and have decided to come back to the UK,’ said Tesco Polish foods buyer Tomasz Zarebinski.

‘With unemployment currently higher in Poland than in the UK, many of those who left are more hopeful of finding work over here.

‘That has directly led to the first rise in demand for Polish food here for nearly a year and as a result we have now decided to extend our range.’

Sixty-Five Percent Of Chicken Has Food Bug

(Reuters) – A COMMON FOOD BUG that causes thousands of people to fall ill with diarrhoea and abdominal cramps is present in almost two-thirds of the chicken sold in Britain, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said today.

A survey found campylobacter, which is responsible for about 55,000 cases of illness in Britain every year, on 65% of samples of chicken tested, with salmonella present in 6%.

‘The continuing low levels of salmonella are encouraging; but it is disappointing that the levels of campylobacter remain high,’ said Andrew Wadge, FSA Director of Food Safety.

‘It is obvious more needs to be done to get these levels down and we need to continue working with poultry producers and retailers to make this happen.’

The FSA said campylobacter, the most common bacterial cause of food poisoning in Britain, was found on meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water; but there was evidence that chicken was the most common cause of illness.

However, it said cooking the meat thoroughly killed the bacteria and avoiding cross-contamination reduced the chances of the bug spreading.

The UK-wide survey of fresh chicken at retail outlets was carried out between May 2007 and September 2008. During the course of the survey, 3,274 samples were tested for the presence of campylobacter and salmonella.

UK Cost Of Living Falls Most Since 1948

(Telegraph) – THE COST OF LIVING in Britain last month fell the most since records began more than half a century ago, as the recession drove down the cost of food and housing.

The broad measure of inflation, known as RPI, slumped 1.6% on an annual basis — its steepest decline since statisticians began compiling the figures in 1948. Compared with May, RPI climbed 0.3% — in line with City expectations.

Prices for a range of staples — including meat, bread, fruit, vegetables and dairy products — all fell as retailers sought to keep a lid on prices to attract shoppers.

The figures underline how the recession, which began in the second quarter of last year, has drained pricing power across the economy. The Bank of England has signalled it expects to keep interest rates at a record low of 0.5% in an effort to provide some life support to the economy.

We still believe ‘the bulk of the disinflationary effects of the deep recession in the economy have yet to be seen,’ said Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics.

Catfish Sold As Cod In UK Fish & Chip Shops

(Mail) – A BREED OF CATFISH, farmed in Vietnam, is being passed off as cod throughout the country, experts believe.

It sells for less than half the price of real cod in wholesale markets; but customers at the chippy are being charged as if it is the real thing.

Trading standards officers in Worcestershire have already successfully prosecuted one shop for passing off as cod Pangasius hypophthalmus, also known as river cobbler, basa, or iridiscent shark. Two other prosecutions are in the pipeline.

Trading standards division manager John Dell said: ‘I would think this is widespread. There will be other fish-and-chip shops around the country who are trying to pull a fast one.’

The catfish typically sells for £5 a kilo wholesale, compared with £11.75 for cod.

Mr Dell’s office was alerted by a complaint from a customer and sent in officials to buy samples. ‘Initially, the analyst couldn’t establish what it was but after some detective work, we found it was the pangasius,’ said Mr Dell.

‘As a raw fillet it looks different to cod – it doesn’t have the same flakes. But battered, it is difficult to tell the difference.’

One of the reasons chip shops have been able to get away with the scam is that neither cod or the catfish has a strong taste, particularly when masked by batter, salt and vinegar.

Mr Dell said: ‘Our main objection is the fact that people are being charged a higher price for cod when they are being sold something different. It is unfair on the public and it is unfair on competitors who are selling real cod. We are seeing a big increase in food-and-drink fraud. People will use any angle these days.’