Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Fake Tesco farms


I was reading a marketing training guide the other day and it said “Customers expect brands to be open, honest and authentic. They are increasingly interested in understanding provenance and are much more marketing-savvy than they used to be. Brands must be as clear as they can be, to avoid confusing customers in any way”.

Well, I do not think that anyone from Tesco’s marketing department has been on this course or indeed, any other marketing course.

Actually, having had second thoughts about this, quite possibly I’m wrong and they have all been sent on a training programme entitled “How to be as economical with the truth as possible”.

Tesco’s you see, have a range of branded farms with quintessentially rural sounding British names, such as Nightingale farms, Willow farms, Woodside farms and Redmere farms. Oh, that’s nice – supporting British farmers.

But you really don’t have to dig that deep to find out that these farms are completely 'fictional' farm brands. Yep – these farms do not actually exist.

Let me give you an example. Below is a photo of a label from a packet of Tesco Garlic from Redmere farms. Turn it over however, and you will see that it has been sourced from China!

Now, is this a little “un-truth”, a fib or a full-blown lie. Well, I am not certain – but it sure as hell is not squeaky clean is it?   

The other thing that Tesco has started to use is the phrase “Trusted farms”. This term means what? Trusted to be cheap as chips? Trusted to keep shelves full, whatever the cost to the animal?  It certainly does not have any legal definition when applied to animal welfare.

The ham joint in the photograph does not even have a country of origin written on it. But that’s OK folks, because after all, it is from a trusted farm.

I will leave you to make up your own mind about this marketing ploy. But I just want you and Tesco to know, that I most certainly did not buy either the ham or the garlic.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Wasps are amazing!


Last year I saw that I had wasps going in and out of a brick air vent in the front of my house. I always leave wasps nests alone if they are not bothering anyone, and apart from avoiding the use of a short cut through path, this nest was not an issue.

I have now removed the unused, old nest as it was obviously blocking up the air vent. As you can see from the photo, it is a good size and rather elongated instead of round, as it had to be built to fit along the channel within the house.

Wasp's nest with tennis ball for size comparison

The inside of the wasp's nest

I recovered a couple of dead wasps from the nest and identified them as Vespula vulgaris, the common wasp.

The queens which were born last year, are the only survivors from the nest and having mated, will now be hibernating over-winter somewhere away from the nest.

When the queen emerges from hibernation in the early spring. She establishes her nest usually in a cavity in the ground or a tree, and as she builds each cell, she lays an egg in it.

After about 30 days, her first offspring, which will be workers, emerge as adults. These will all be female wasps and they will take over the foraging, nest building and maintenance duties, while also tending to new broods. Meanwhile, this extra help allows the queen to concentrate on laying egg after egg.

I watched many of these workers chomping away on my wooden fence throughout the summer, taking away small amounts of wood which they then chew into a paste-like pulp mixed with their saliva. They then form this pulp into the outer wall and also into hexagon-shaped paper cells within. The whole nest resembles a structure made from delicate sort of paper-mache.

From these new broods will hatch carnivorous larvae, which the adult wasps will bring food to in the form of aphids and other insects. In return, the larvae excrete a sugary liquid for the workers to eat.

The single queen who resided in my nest could have produced up to 10,000 workers, who in turn potentially may have gathered up to 250,000 aphids or equivalent!

Wasps are also pollinators of flowers and crops. Adult wasps don’t need much protein (the bugs they prey on are for the developing brood in the nest) but they do need sugar, which they get in the form of nectar from flowers. In the process of finding it, wasps pick up and transfer pollen from flower to flower. Unlike many bees, wasps do not mind what flowers they visit – as generalist pollinators they are often more abundant than bees in degraded or fragmented habitats and so are important ‘back-up’ pollinators in these areas.

Once the colony is big enough, the queen will switch to laying a sexual brood - these are males and the sexual females capable of becoming next year’s queens. When the sexual brood emerges, they leave the nest to mate and then the queens will find somewhere to hibernate over the winter.

So, should you find a wasps nest somewhere that is not going to cause you any immediate problems, then leave them be, as they are both fascinating and useful creatures!  

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

BP’s “dirty little secret”


Bernard Looney became BP’s boss about a year ago and one of the first things he did was to commit the company to a net zero carbon footprint by 2050 or sooner. Quite a statement for such a company to make. Obviously to achieve this, there will have to be some very difficult decisions to make, including potentially getting rid of a number of investments which may be “hard to swallow” for shareholders of the company.

Let me tell you about one such investment.

BP have a 20% holding in a state controlled Russian company called Rosneft. This company is undertaking one of the biggest oil projects in history. So what, that is surely what BP do – invest in oil amongst other things.

Yep, but why does the company include the money earned from this project in its annual financial performance, which is out this week, but fails to include Rosneft’s emissions in its climate aims?  

I wonder if this huge project based in the pristine, northernmost tip of the Siberian Artic, is just too lucrative to bail out of yet, despite its dirty black, rather than green credentials?  

Now, when I say that this is a huge project, by George, I mean huge!

The project, whose committee is chaired by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder, is worth $134 billion and has required two new airports, a new port, a 480-mile-long pipeline and 15 new towns to support the 400,000 workers.

This raises the concern that BP’s ambitions to cut their carbon footprint, only covers their own output, not Rosneft’s or oil that is traded.

Rosneft pumped out about 2.1 billion barrels of oil and gas in 2019, putting BP’s share at more than 400 million barrels. You might begin to see why they are reluctant to cut themselves free from such a lucrative business.

I am not the only one asking if BP’s statement of “net zero by 2050 or sooner” simply means that they have three decades to make a decision on Rosneft?  



Wednesday, 13 January 2021

You should be itching to know about this….

Researchers at the University of Sussex have found widespread contamination of English rivers with two neurotoxic pesticides commonly used in veterinary flea products: fipronil and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. The concentrations found often far exceeded accepted safe limits.

Rosemary Perkins from the University of Sussex analysed data gathered by the Environment Agency in English waterways between 2016-18. They found that fipronil was detected in 98% of freshwater samples, and imidacloprid in 66%.

Rosemary Perkins, a PhD student at Sussex and a qualified vet, said: "The use of pet parasite products has increased over the years, with millions of dogs and cats now being routinely treated multiple times per year."

So why might this be an issue? Well, for starters these products have been banned across Europe for use on farms, because of their potential impact on pollinators. (although recently it has been allowed again in some countries, including England, for Sugar Beet production).

If you take a look at the advisory label on fipronil, it states that it is highly, to very highly toxic to marine and freshwater fish and that it is also highly toxic to freshwater invertebrates. This, coupled with the fact that they are widely toxic to most land based insects too, shows us that they are potentially a considerable problem, even at very low levels.

Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, who specializes in the ecology and conservation of insects, states that the Seresto dog collar contains 4.5g of imidacloprid, enough Neonicotinoid to kill 1 billion honeybees.

According to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who funded the research, there are 66 licensed veterinary products containing fipronil in the UK, and 21 containing imidacloprid, either alone or in combination with other parasiticides. These include spot-on solutions, topical sprays and collars impregnated with the active ingredient.

The paper, published in Science of the Total Environment, notes that the highest levels of pollution were found immediately downstream of wastewater treatment works, supporting the hypothesis that significant quantities of pesticide may be passing from treated pets to the environment via household drains.

Also, how often does your adorable mutt love a little swim in your local river, stream or pond – especially in the hot summer months? An action that could be directly impacting on the health of the wildlife that lives there. 








              Many dogs love a swim!


So, what are the alternatives to using pesticides for the treatment of fleas and ticks? This is some advice I have found on-line:

Vacuuming is highly effective at removing fleas in any life stage from their favourite haunts: carpets, cushioned furniture, floor cracks and crevices, and pet play structures. Because vacuuming collects fleas but does not kill them, put some tape over the end of the vacuum cleaner hose to prevent fleas escaping from the bag, or transfer the bag to an outdoor waste bin.

Hot, soapy water acts as an effective means to kill fleas in all life stages with no health risk to pets or people. Wash pet bedding weekly to treat an infestation.  Whenever you are handling pet bedding that may contain flea eggs, fold it up carefully so the eggs do not fall out of the bedding and land on the floor or furniture.

Flea combs are made to remove adult fleas, flea dirt, and dried blood from your pet’s skin and fur. They are highly effective, and pets often enjoy the process. Focus on head and neck but groom your whole pet if possible. Pull the fleas out of the comb and drop them into soapy water before they have a chance to jump away. During active flea infestations, grooming twice daily may be needed; otherwise, several times per week just to check for fleas.

A thorough bath using regular pet shampoo and hot water, kills adult fleas as effectively as flea shampoos and dips that contain pesticides and is safer for you and your pet. Before you fill the tub, start by putting a ring of concentrated soap around your pet’s neck, so they cannot escape from the bath water by crawling onto the pet’s head. Cats prefer grooming to baths, but for dogs or long-haired cats, bathing is a superior control technique.

Finally, ask your vet about oral medications for fleas. In general, oral medications are preferable to spot treatments or flea collars. And do not treat your cat, or any dog that lives with a cat, with any pyrethroid or pyrethrin compound as they are extremely toxic to felines. 


Friday, 8 January 2021

Gene Editing

I was interested to read a press release today with the headline “Gene editing creates potential to protect the nation’s environment, pollinators and wildlife”.

Consultation on future of gene editing was launched by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, at the Oxford Farming Conference today.

A section of the released statement reads:

The way that plants and animals grow is controlled by the information in their genes. For centuries, farmers and growers have carefully chosen to breed stronger, healthier individual animals or plants so that the next generation has these beneficial traits - but this is a slow process.

Technologies developed in the last decade enable genes to be edited much more quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process, helping to target plant and animal breeding to help the UK reach its vital climate and biodiversity goals in a safe and sustainable way.

Gene editing is different to genetic modification where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods. But now, due to a legal ruling from the European Court of Justice in 2018 gene editing is regulated in the same way as genetic modification.

The consultation announced today will focus on stopping certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding. This approach has already been adopted by a wide range of countries across the world, including Japan, Australia and Argentina.

Government will continue to work with farming and environmental groups to develop the right rules and ensure robust controls are in place to maintain the highest food safety standards while supporting the production of healthier food.

Potentially, I recognise that gene editing could be a powerful tool within agriculture, offering breeders the potential to wipe out genetic disease, improve drought resistance, boost nutrient efficiency and prolong shelf life, to name but a few benefits.

But as Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at the campaigning group Compassion in World Farming said, “the ways in which livestock had been bred for profitable traits in the past suggested the development of gene editing would be harmful to animals. He pointed to genetic selection for broiler chickens, whereby the fast growth rates gave rise to leg abnormalities and lameness, and in laying hens, selecting for high egg production caused osteoporosis, leaving the hens vulnerable to bone fractures”.

Patrick Holden, of the Sustainable Food Trust, said gene editing would “further accelerate the devastating narrowing of the gene pool which has been a feature of post-war farming”.

I would highlight a non-agricultural example to make the decision makers think long and hard before finalising their judgment. Remember, the following has nothing to do with feeding the world, but simply a human trait for what some see as “pleasing to the eye”. Can humans really be trusted with gene editing?

A number of dog breeders have a lot to answer for in my opinion. For instance, Pug dogs are one of the most inbred of all dog breeds. Knee disorders, stomach problems, larynx collapses, elongated soft pallets and breathing problems brought about because of its squashed face are just some of the issues that affects pugs.

Other problems which pugs must put up with are, curvature of the spine and a propensity to suffer from eye injuries, largely caused by a lack of facial structure which would normally protect the dog. The spinal problems are caused by dog breeder’s desire to have a curled tail called a ‘screw tail’.

Pugs have been radically changed through selective breeding

Another example, found in a recent study, is that 70% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had syringomyelia by the age of six years. Syringomyelia is the formation of fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord because of abnormalities in the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid due to a mismatch between the size of the brain and the skull or with abnormality of the skull shape. This has been brought on because of the desire by dog show judges for an ever-smaller head size.

Dogs with syringomyelia can show severe signs of pain around their head, neck, and forelimbs and may whine, yelp or cry and contort their necks, become withdrawn, develop a weak or wobbling gait, such that walking becomes increasingly difficult.

Now bear in mind, these problems have been brought about by selective breeding, quite a slow process. Gene editing can fast-forward animal and plant traits extremely quickly.

If you want to find out more and have your say - go to:

Monday, 20 July 2020


It is interesting, but also quite scary, how we are now regularly seeing introduced species bringing in their own associated introduced species with them!

In my garden, I came across these “swellings” on a Bay tree in the back garden. Well, it’s not actually my tree, but a large one that leans over the garden fence with my neighbour – very useful for cooking purposes!! 
A quick Google search revealed the culprit behind these swellings to be formed by a Psyllid species called a Bay Sucker (Lauritrioza alacris). Psyllids are also known sometimes as plant lice and are tiny, sap-sucking insects with very host-specific feeding preferences, often resulting in them feeding exclusively on a single type of plant.

Growths produced by the Bay Sucker

The Bay (Laurus nobilis) is one of the oldest shrubs in cultivation and has been grown in the Mediterranean region since Roman times. It was of course used as an addition to cooking, adding its own unique flavour to a range of dishes. It was introduced into this country around the 1650s and is now widely grown, certainly in the milder southern parts of the country anyway.

The little Bay sucker arrived at some point too and is now widely distributed across the country, wherever Bay grows, as this is the only plant that it feeds on.

So, no bother then as the Bay tree is an introduced species and this little sucker is host specific.

Just a thought though. At least 400 insects are known to transmit about 250 different plant viruses, and this is growing all the time. Maybe an introduced virus, carried by an insignificant host such as the Bay sucker, may not be quite so specific and spread to a really important food crop?

It might then become apparent that we are the suckers, for showing so little attention to the wide range of non-native species being brought into this country.