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Food-Rating

Table of contents:
Ways of acting for the protection of natureapple juice, pear juicemilk and milk products
References to the Food-Rating tableapples, pearsmushrooms
Recommendation, if a certain food isn't listed in the table asparagusolives and olive oil
Importance of ecological compensation areascoffeepotatoes
"Food-Rating" Tableeggsrice
 fishshrimps
 grain, various kindsvegetables
 maize 
 margarine and vegetable fats from pal moil
 meat, various kinds

A. Ways of acting for the protection of nature

Production of food promotes or impairs nature. Many consumers would like to know how they can exert influence towards a more nature-compatible agriculture.

 

Konsum & Natur considers three ways of acting to be particularly effective for nature protection

1. Purchase and consume the right kind of food, be it in the shop, restaurant or at the market. Nature protection begins with intelligent consumption.

2. Discuss agriculture and nature compatibility with friends.

3. Be involved in nature protection, e.g. in an organization for nature conservation or bird protection.

 

B. References to the table food Rating

Konsum & Natur judges the nature compatibility of food. The results are summarized in the following table. The list of products is periodically supplemented. If a certain food isn't listed in the table, Konsum & Natur recommends organic food, because organic agriculture is frequently better for nature than conventional production.

Since all of today's agriculture methods (inclusive of organic production) are too intensive, the preservation and promotion of fauna and flora, i.e. nature protection, needs ecological compensation areas. In Switzerland it is legally prescribed that farmers must adopt 7% of their land for ecological compensation, otherwise they cannot apply for federal subsidies (direct payments). However, the amount of compensation areas must be increased and their biological quality must be improved. For example compensation areas on grassland are not yet sufficient for the requirements of ground-breeding birds. For more than five years this is a major demand of the Swiss NGO's (Non Governmental organizations), who are active in nature and bird protection. Until today the legislator fulfilled this demand to a small degree: In spring 2001 the "Oeko Qualitätsverordnung" (a federal statute) came into force, since when a farmer receives direct payments with "quality bonus".

 

C. "Food-Rating" Table (evaluation of the nature compatibility of different food):

FoodInfluence of production on nature

Rating of the nature compatibility and consumer recommendation

Rating standard:
bad - mediocre - good

apple juice, pear juice (sweet or fermented), juice concentrate (pear spread)

The fruits for juice predominantly originate from high trunk trees (see above), which build habitat for many animals, especially for numerous rare species (birds, bats, small mammals, insects). The management of the green areas between the trees should be improved (no fertilizers, extensive grazing or staggered cutting).

in particular products of organic agriculture. (In Switzerland there exists a label for products from high tree orchards, see "HOCHSTAMM SUISSE")

Recommendation: buy more apple and pear juice instead of lemonade and other fruit juices.

Juice concentrate (pear spread) is a versatile usable sugar substitute.

apples, pears (dessert fruits)

Dessert fruits such as apples and pears are grown on low trunk trees (Niederstammbäume), that is trees of a maximum height of 2 - 4 meters. In contrary to orchards with high trunk trees, that is trees growing up to 15 meters height, small mammals and birds do not like the low trunk orchards, because caves and other places for shelter are lacking.

In principle the green areas under the fruit trees could become valuable habitats. Though conventional orchards get sprayed up to 14 times a year partly with ecotoxic pesticides (organo-phosphates, carbamates).

Since mice like to gnaw the roots of the fruit trees, the vegetation around the trunk is destroyed with herbicide.

A great deal of agricultural insecticides is sprayed on dessert fruit orchards (in Switzerland ca. 1/3 of all insecticides). Organic fruit production uses no synthetic pesticides, but certain natural active agents (e.g. pyrethroids, extracts of quassia root or sulfur) against insect pests and fungi. These substances are much less damaging to nature.

  

apples and pears (dessert fruits):
- conventional production:

-
organic production:

Recommended are dessert fruits from biological production.

asparagus

The cultivation area for asparagus is small and on the whole view not of importance to nature.

Asparagus often are imported by airplane. For example the transportation from California to Europe requires more than 4 - 5 litres of kerosene per kilogram asparagus.

Asparagus yields from Europe are usually transported with trucks (lower energy consumption).

asparagus from overseas:

Recommendation: abstain from asparagus from overseas. Choose asparagus, that is grown in your own country or at least in Europe.

If available purchase organic asparagus.

Coffee

Coffee is planted in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia (esp. Vietnam). Production of coffee has been strongly intensified in the last 20 years. Two kinds of very different cultivation exist: sun grown coffee and shade grown coffee.

"Sun grown coffee" is the industrial way of production: Coffee plants grow in monocultures and are heavily treated with pesticides and fertilizers. Sun grown coffee plantations build no suitable habitat for fauna and flora. The hostility of these plantations is of particular importance, because numerous migratory birds used to spend winter in the traditional form of coffee cultures, that is the shade grown coffee culture. In sun grown coffee cultures birds can't find fodder and the hiding places are limited. Besides, especially in Southeast Asia, rain forests are cleared, in order to establish sun grown coffee plantations.

"Shade grown coffee" is the traditional way of production: Here the coffee plants grow in mixed cultures with banana palms or other fruit trees in the penumbra of these plants (see name "shade grown..."). Fertilizers or pesticides either aren't used at all or input is low. These cultures are very valuable habitats for wild plants, small mammals and particularly for migrating and wintering birds. For example the diversity of birds in shade grown coffee cultures is 1'000% larger than in sun grown coffee plantations. Besides, the fruit trees in shade grown coffee cultures supply the farmers with fruits and wood.

Due to a coffee overproduction in the last few years, prices for coffee dropped to 1/3 of the former amount, which forced many subsistence farmers to grow drug plants such as coca and opium poppy.

conventional coffee, without label: , since mostly originating from sun grown coffee plantations.

coffee with label "Max Havelaar" (originating 90% from shade grown coffee cultures) and/or organic coffee:

Recommendation: Buy coffee, that is produced biologically or with the label "Max Havelaar". Ask for organic coffee in the pub or in restaurant.

eggs: see meat    
fish

sea fish

More than a quarter of the world wide fishing grounds are over-fished, i.e. exploited. Unless fishing is substantially limited in the near future, the same fate will soon overtake the remaining three quarters of fishing grounds. Today fishing destroys the marine ecosystem at an unbelievable speed. Fish feeding animals such as seals, penguins and dolphins are starving. The catch of rare fish such as certain shark-species and sturgeon already caused their extermination in numerous parts of the world. Particularly detrimental are the superfluous parts of a catch: turtles, dolphins and other non-edible fish get caught in the, up to 60 kilometer long, haul nets and die sorrowfully. Only the Mackerel-fishery has low superfluous parts of catch (3%, most hering and perch).

The longline fishing with baits on a hook-occupied line heavily threatens sea-birds: Annually 300'000 sea-birds which want to eat the baits drown. 26 species of sea-birds, as for example the wandering albatross, are threatened of becoming extinct by longline fisheries.

sea fish (fish farming)
Since the feeding of farmed fish often takes place with catches of wild fish, farmed sea fish aren't much better than wild sea fish. Besides, conventional fish-farmers often use environmental harmful insecticides against fish parasites (e.g. sea-lice in salmon farms).

fresh water fish
Fresh water fish, especially frequent species of western europe, are generally less problematic. Common species are: carp, rainbow trout, brook trout, eel, pike. Rare species (also Western Europe) are: lake trout, salmon (fading or extinct populations in many regions due to overfishing, damming of rivers for power production and polluted stretches of water).

fresh water fish (fish farming)
Conventional fresh water fish farms use medicines against fish diseases and often ecotoxic insecticides against parasites. Predatory fish such as trout and salmon must be fed with animal proteins (fish or meat). Most farming basins are of little worth for nature. Much more nature compatible are the big ponds for carp-farming. These ponds build habitats for numerous birds, plants and insects. In Bohemia (Trebon, Cz) for example, some hundred otters and several pairs of the White-tailed Eagle live in such a pond region.

sea fish: , exception mackerels

Also not recommended are certified sea fish, e.g. fish with the label MSC (Marine Stewardship Counselship), because these fish originate from the last sane fishing grounds. These fishing grounds should be treated with care for they build a reservoir for the re-propagation of fish populations. Besides, the fish yield of MSC-areas isn't sufficient to supply consumers with even a fraction of today's fish consumption.

sea fish, fish-farming (esp. salmon):
- conventional production:
- biological production:

fresh water fish:
- common species:
-
- rare species:

fresh water fish, fish farming (trout):
- conventional production:
-
- biological production:

fresh water fish, fish-farming (carp):
conventional and biological production:

Recommendation: reduce fish consumption; choose common species of fresh water fish, or from organic fish-farms. Consume more carp.

grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, without corn): bread, pastry, pasta, grain-risotto, muesli, sweet, porridge etc.

corn: see above

In former times - approximately up to 1900 - a plethora of wild animals and plants found its habitat in cornfields. With the industrial revolution (introduction of pesticides, fertilizers and heavy machinery in agriculture) the conditions of life for fauna and flora began to deteriorate.

Since the amount of cornfields on total cropland is high (in Switzerland for example cornfields take 55%, that is 160'000 hectares, of the arable land) grain production is very nature relevant. None of the cultivation methods practiced today is sufficient to preserve biodiversity. Even the biologically managed cornfields aren't suitable habitats for sensitive animal and plant species, which principally could live in extensively managed cropland (e.g. Grey Partridge, Corncrake, Cornflower). Compared with other crop-cultures cornfields however are the most nature compatible. Even in conventional cornfields only small quantities of insecticides are sprayed.

Because of the intensive management of cornfields (and the rest of arable land too), the native fauna and flora can only be preserved and promoted by putting up more ecological compensation areas like "Buntbrachen" (that is a managed fallow with a special mixture of flowers and herbs. Buntbrachen is a Swiss invention. Farmers receive federal subsidiaries for Buntbrachen on former cropland).

grain:
- conventional production:
-
-
biological production: -

Especially recommended are organic grain-products.

Since all over western europe the number of farmed animals is too high for preserving and improving biodiversity, Konsum & Natur recommends replacing food of animal origin by grain (and other vegetable) products. Besides, eating more grain products promotes your health.

maize (corn) In Central Europe maize was only cultivated to the larger extent after the middle of the last century. This was due to the maize plant, coming from the warmth of South America, which had to first become accustomed to the harsher climate of Europe. Meanwhile maize fields occupy a great part of arable land, in Switzerland for example 21% (62'000 hectares).

The predominant part of harvested maize goes into pig and chicken fodder.

Due to the short existence of maize in Central Europe, the need to remove weeds from the maize seedlings and the shadowing of the ground by the older maize plants, the evolution of a rich fauna and flora in maize cultures was impossible. Maize cultures are generally incompatible to nature.

Sowing of grass and small herbs on the ground of maize cultures (so called "maize meadows") reduces erosion, facilitates the use of machines and consumes surplus nitrogen after the harvest. Further, the quantity of used herbicides lowers. However, for the diversity of species, maize meadows are only of small importance, because only a few undemanding grass and herb species are suitable for maize meadows. Insects and other animal species aren't promoted. Only the overall number of insects rises somewhat.

Because of the intensive management of maize cultures (and the rest of arable land too), the native fauna and flora can only be preserved and promoted by putting up more ecological compensation areas.

In Central Europe the cultivation of genetically modified plants (GMPs) is practically impossible, because consumers abstain from genetically manipulated food ("de facto moratorium"). However, in the USA, Canada and Argentina in 2000 over 9 million hectares were already cultivated with maize, that has a transgene make it produce a bacterial toxin against insect pests. A permission for that type of manipulated maize in Europe would likely have negative consequences for nature, because the bacterial toxin would damage other - non-detrimental - insects too.

Konsum & Natur recommends to lower the consumption of pork, poultry and eggs, because pigs and chickens are substantially fed with maize, which is generally incompatible to nature.

However if consumers eat polenta, sugar maize, maize bread etc., a "more direct" maize consumption takes effect. Since the production of a calorie of animal food needs approximately quadruple that of vegetable animal fodder calories, direct consumption of maize takes up only 25% of the area of arable land, which would be necessary for the production of the same amount of animal food calories. For this reason Konsum & Natur advises to eat maize instead of meat and eggs. Maize from biological cultivation should be preferred.

margarine and vegetable fats from pal moil

A main part of many margarine and vegetable fats is palm oil. The oil palm, from which the oil contents are extracted, grows in the tropical forest belt (particularly in Southeast Asia and West Africa). The world-wide palm oil production has trebled itself since 1990. For increased cultivation vast areas of jungles and rain forests are cleared. If cultivation continues in this way, some 100 million hectares of primary forest and the animal and plant world of these areas will disappear in the next two decades.

Margarine and vegetable fats without special declaration:

Pal moil is also used in cookies, instant-sauces, soups, cosmetics etc. See the declaration of contents on the packaging.

In Switzerland the whole assortment of margarine and vegetable fats from "Migros" (a supermarket) contains pal moil from sustainable and biological cultivation in Ghana. The purchase of these products is recommended:
-

meat
(beef, veal, pork, poultry, mutton, goat meat)
and
eggs

general information
The production of animal based food (meat, milk, eggs) consumed in Switzerland, requires more than the entire agricultural effective area of Switzerland. Therefore fodder and meat has to be imported. In the other countries of Western Europe the overwhelming part of cropland, meadows and pastures is taken up by the livestock-industry. Because of this land allocation and the high fertilizer output of all the animals, meat, milk and egg production is very nature relevant.

The great land requirement of livestock is a consequence of the low efficiency of the transformation process of fodder protein and energy into meat, milk and eggs (more: see milk, below).

The high number of farmed animals not only leads to pollution of water stretches but also to the loss of plant species and plant populations due to over-fertilization. Since the production pressure on cropland, meadows and pastures is too high, (more) ecological compensation areas must be established.

cattle, sheep and goats

Cattle, sheep and goats are fed predominantly with grass and hay. Therefore nature compatible management of the meadows and pastures is fundamental for nature conservation.

In Switzerland for example over the past 100 years 90% of the formerly flower-rich greenlands have been converted into poor-species meadows and pastures due to over-fertilization, over-grazing, frequent meadow cuts and drainages. Because 10 to 20 animal species depend vitally on one plant species, thereby the native fauna has been substantially thinned out too.

Sheep and goat farming usually is rather extensive. Therefore sheep (lamb) and goat meat belong to the most nature compatible animal products. However the number of sheep and goats on the pastures is often too high.

calves
Calves are predominantly fed with milk (see below). The production of one kilogramm of veal takes 3 times more land than the production of a kilogramm of beef.

pork, poultry and eggs
Pigs and chicken are predominantly fattened with grain, corn and soya. The nature compatibility of pork, poultry and eggs depends on the management of cropland (see above: grain, corn). Because biologically produced fodder is better for nature than conventional fodder, organic meat and eggs are more nature compatible. However, conventional farmers feed their pigs and chicken with fish-meal, which heavily damages the marine ecosystems (see fish, above).

beef- and veal:
- conventional production:
-
-
biological production:

sheep- and goat meat, all types of production: -

pork and poultry, eggs:
- conventional production:

-
biological production:

Since all over Western Europe the number of farmed animals is too high for preserving and improving biodiversity, Konsum & Natur recommends consuming less meat, eggs and milk. Besides, eating more vegetables keeps you healthier.

For the remaining consumed animal products, take into account the following priority order: Prefer beef, sheep and goat meat to pork and poultry. Prefer animal products from organic agriculture.

Veal: Because the production of veal needs considerable landmass, consumption should be reduced to a minimum.

 

 

 

 

Milk and milk products of cows, sheep and goats

The milk consumed in Western Europe comes almost exclusively from cows. From the comparatively low quantity of sheep and goat milk, cheese is the major end product.

Cows, sheep and goats first eat green fodder (grass, hay). Therefore the nature compatibility of milk depends on the management of the meadows and pastures.

Milk production is a relatively efficient way to convert vegetable fodder into protein and energy: 43% of the fodder protein and 36% of the fodder energy goes into milk. Meat and egg production has a much lower efficiency:

  • beef: 12% (protein) and 16% (energy)
  • pork: 18% (protein) and 24% (energy)
  • chicken: 26% (protein) and 6% (energy)
  • eggs: 36% (protein) and 16% (energy)

For the destruction of valuable meadows: see meat

Note:
Milk production goes hand in hand with veal, because a cow only has milk, as long as it gives birth to a calf each year. Only a small number of these calves is grown to milk cows. The remaining calves are fattened and slaughtered.

milk:
- conventional milk:
-

-organic milk: -

 

mushrooms

Many kinds of mushroom have become rare today, among other reasons because too many people collect too many mushrooms.

In contrary, cultivated mushrooms, in particular from organic mushroom farms, are unproblematic.


 

wild mushrooms: - ; consume only in small quantities

cultivated mushrooms:, if available use mushrooms from biological cultivation

 

olives, olive oil

Three characteristics mark the conventional cultivation of olives in a large part of Southern Europe:

  1. Conventional olive farmers use herbicides to keep the ground completely free of wild plants, because they think that the herbs weaken the trees. However, this causes heavy soil erosion, because each rain washes soil off. For Andalusien (Spain), estimations assume that in olive orchards 80 tons of top soil per hectare are annually cleared away. Together with the soil particles, also pesticides and fertilizer are washed off and pollute rivers, lakes and the groundwater.
  2. Due to monoculture, insect pests like the olive fly and the cochenille lice explode periodically and can only be controlled by substantial amounts of insecticides. Of course the insecticides not only kill parasites, but also a multitude of other insects such as wild bees, grasshoppers and butterflies. Thus, also the living conditions of birds, which particularly in breeding time are dependent on insect food, worsen.
  3. In the last years in many places the, up to 1'000 years old, olive trees were felled and replaced by new high yield olive trees. The old trees had numerous concavities and provided shelter for small mammals and cave-breeding birds such as the Hoopoe and the Little Owl.

    Unfortunately, the European Union still subsidizes intensive olive production. The degradation of nature in the olive tree areas of Southern Europe is a big ecological problem.

Organic olive farmers show that olives can be produced without pesticides by implementing various cultures, which promote an equilibrium between pests and natural pest-killers (e.g. birds, that eat insect pests). However, also in the production of organic olives the management of the grassland should be improved (restricted removal of herbs around the trees).

conventional olives or olive oil:

organic olives or olive oil: -

 

potatoes

In Central Europe cultivation of potatoes began around 1750. Compared with the several thousand of years in which grain and oil plants were grown, the potato culture is very young. In spite of the short time potato fields exist in Europe, numerous animals and plants could tap the land for habitat. For example in Switzerland 75% of the endangered Yellow Wagtails (a songbird similar to the White Wagtail) breed in small intensive potato fields. However, the mechanisation, the input of pesticides and fertilizer worsened the living conditions of wild plants and animals in potato fields too.

The potato is a delicate plant. Most sorts are susceptible to virus or fungus pests. To prevent crop losses conventional agriculture uses large amounts of pesticides in potato fields.

None of today's methods of potato cultivation is sufficient for the preservation of biodiversity. Even the biologically managed fields do not represent suitable habitats for sensitive animal and plant species.

Because of the intensive management of potato fields (and the rest of arable land too), the native fauna and flora can only be preserved and promoted by putting up more ecological compensation areas.

potatoes:
- conventional production:

- biological production: -

Recommendation: Consume organic potatoes. If not available, don't buy the sort "Bintie", because this potato plant is particularly susceptible for pests and requires a lot of pesticides.

Since all over Western Europe the number of farmed animals is too high for preserving and improving biodiversity, Konsum & Natur recommends replacing food of animal origin with potato (and other vegetable) products.

rice

general information
Rice belongs to the oldest cultivated plants of the earth. The special thing about rice is that it - similarly as reed - grows in the water. Therefore the fields are flooded during the cultivation. In the course of history rice farmers bred several 10'000 sorts of rice, which were adapted to the local environmental conditions.

"Green Revolution": environmentally harmful high yield varieties
Since approx. 1970, during the era of the so-called "Green Revolution", governments and international organizations promoted high-yield rice varieties. High-yield rice needs a lot of artificial fertilizer (consumption in Asia 1960: 19 kg per hectare; 1990: 185 kg/ha; 1995 to over 300 kg/ha; today even more). Moreover high-yield sorts are susceptible to diseases and insect-pests and require a lot of pesticides. Thus, Asian rice producers (91% of world-wide rice production) put 13% of the global pesticides into the environment.

Unfortunately this environmentally harmful input of chemicals is often supported by "development assistance supplies", of which a substantial part frequently consists of pesticides and fertilizers. For example Japanese auxiliary packages still contain up to 30% of pesticides.

The described revision in the cultivation of rice not only damaged, and still damages, the natural environment of rice production areas, but also destroyed social structures because with fertilizer and pesticides, less work is invested to produce the same quantity of rice. Thus, in the rice farming villages of Asia, the number of jobs reduced and young people moved to cities.

biological rice: better for nature and humans
Today organic rice production (slowly but steadily) is expanding all over the world. Numerous
pioneers have shown that both pests and "weeds" can be controlled with nature-friendly methods. A particularly interesting method works with ducks, which are in large numbers (150 ducks/ha) in the flooded rice fields. There, they eat harmful insects, snails and weeds, fertilize the rice plants and spend a lucky animal life, which somewhat counterbalances the sadness of their last voyage into the cooking-pot.

Since biological production requires more work, purchasing organic rice not only protects nature but also helps the rice farmers to earn more money.

 

rice:
- conventional rice:
-
-
organic rice (with label):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link to a good rice website

Shrimps

Shrimp production (in shrimp-farms) is often harmful to nature:

  • use of antibiotics and fungicides (note: detrimental consequences to health)
  • destruction of mangrove forests (today world-wide at least 35% have been destroyed; each year an additional 2% disappear). Mangrove forests are very important habitats for young fish and other marine animals.
  • destruction of further biotopes, in particular wet areas and water stretches (due to pollution with fertilizer and chemicals of the shrimp-breeding farms)

Additionally, the airfreighting of fresh Shrimps devours much energy.

 

neither buy nor consume

 

vegetables (tomatoes, courgettes, carrots, celery, radish, lettuce etc.)

potatoes: see below

Vegetable cropland usually offers little habitat for wild animals and plants. In particular, vegetables grown in greenhouses are not nature compatible, because the manufacturing areas are separated from the environment and the heating of the greenhouses consumes a lot of energy (mostly oil fuel). Depending on the climate and type of vegetable, one square meter in a greenhouse devours up to 30 Liters oil in a year).

Compared with other cultures such as grain and corn the vegetable production area amounts to only a fraction (Switzerland: vegetable cropland: 10'000 hectares; grain: 160'000 hectares; corn: 60'000 hectares). Therefore the influence of vegetable production on nature is relatively small in most areas of Europe (exceptions: parts of Spain and Holland).

vegetables from greenhouses (conventional and organic production):

vegetables from conventional production (outdoor): -

organic vegetables (outdoor): -

Recommendation: prefer organic outdoor vegetables.

Since the production of vegetarian food compared with food of animal origin (meat, eggs, milk) demands much less land to produce the same amount of food proteins and energy, consumption of vegetables should be increased. This way production pressure on cropland, meadows and pastures lowers, which is advantageous for nature. On the same note, food of animal origin should be reduced. Besides, a diet with only little meat and eggs is better for health (fewer cardiac and related diseases).

to be continued    

 

Contact

updated November 2005