UK: Highlights of the Soil Association annual conference
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The Soil Association’s annual conference took place in Swindon on 8 – 9 October 2014. It established the case for continuing the ban on neonicotinoids. Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex discussed the mounting evidence of how bees and other wildlife are being quietly poisoned by the dangerous chemicals which are 5000 times more toxic than DDT, saying, “The toxicity of neonicotinoids takes your breath away - just five maize seeds treated with neonicotinoids are enough to kill a grey partridge.” Goulson noted that studies on neonicotinoids have overwhelmingly found negative effects on bumblebee colonies and behaviour – and the very same chemicals which were killing bees were still readily available in any garden centre. (Picture: Chegworth Valley presenting organic juices at the conference)
In addition to calls for an extension of the ban and more research on wider impacts of neonicotinoids, the conference, which was chaired by Farming Today’s Charlotte Smith, debated some of the biggest issues facing food and farming systems. Delegates heard a presentation from Professor Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University, who spoke about ground-breaking research on the nutritional value of organic crops. Peter Bonfield, author of The Plan for Public Procurement, also discussed the English government food plan, Frank Strang of the Scottish Government spoke about the Scottish food plan. Mike Clarke of RSPB shared ideas on how a future government could fix farming and food systems. Reducing use of antibiotics and improving animal welfare on farms were also key topics of discussion.
Speaking about the conference, Helen Browning (see picture), Soil Association Chief Executive said, "The topics covered at this year’s conference highlighted that tackling climate change, the most critical challenge of our time, could also deliver against the other big challenges we face, such as the huge issues in public health, the dramatic declines in biodiversity and depletion of resources like phosphate and soils. We must remember that there are many opportunities to make lives healthier and happier, while caring for nature too, and we must continue to work together to give government a mandate to provide joined up frameworks which will ensure people and businesses have the incentives to do the right things.”
The conference also included the Soil Association 2014 Organic Awards, presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli. Award winners including Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley and founder of Marley Coffee, and Ocado as best retailer. Awards were given for products in twelve categories, for the first time extending to new categories such as textiles and organic places to stay. The full list of winners as well as more information is available here.
Following two rounds of very lively debate and voting from conference delegates, students from the SWARM Knowledge Hub, a project at Duchy College’s Rural Business School, were awarded the 2014 Soil Association Innovation award for The Farm Crap App, a mobile app which allows farmers to proactively plan nutrients applications and farm more profitably and sustainably (see picture). The Innovation Awards, part of the Soil Association’s Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme, rewards excellence in innovative approaches to sustainable, low impact farming and growing. The Soil Association annual conference was sponsored by Trigon Pensions Limited. More information is available here.
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