The Chief Executive of Swiss chemical giant Syngenta warned recently that if the world abandons the use of pesticides and genetically modified crops in agriculture “there could very well be, 10 to 20 years from now, significant issues around feeding the world.”
As Mandy Rice-Davies once famously said “Well he would say that wouldn’t he?”
Syngenta – already the world’s largest manufacturer of pesticides – is about to merge with China’s two biggest chemical companies, Sinochem and ChemChina, and will no doubt be anticipating that the merger will further consolidate its share of the global pesticides market.
But as the United Nations (UN) also said recently, the idea that pesticides are vital to the world’s food supply is a “myth”. The UN has also criticised Syngenta and others for “systematic denial of harms” and “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics”.
The truth is that we already produce more than enough food to feed the world’s population. There are undoubtedly problems – for example, inequitable food distribution and what goes into some of the food we eat – but these are problems which require political, not agricultural, solutions.
We need a wholesale change in regulation and subsidy of agricultural practices such that healthy, organically produced foods are encouraged whilst pesticide-based foods which cause pollution and ill health are discouraged, for example through heavy taxation.
We need less, not more, chemicals in the food we eat and in the processes of its production.
Syngenta also happens to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been shown to have played a significant part in the devastation of bee populations across the globe over the past two decades.
When the European Union recently made its temporary ban on these harmful chemicals permanent, Syngenta’s response was predictable: “The evidence clearly shows that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health compared to a lack of food, diseases and cold weather… By constantly improving chemistry and developing products such as neonicotinoids, we can help farmers continue to protect their crops from insects and weeds, while minimizing the impact on the environment and on human health”
Syngenta’s number one priority is to protect and promote its profits, not to feed the world. The consistent denial of the harm their products cause to the environment and our health show why the chemical giants should be the very last people we should look to for advice on how we should go about feeding the world’s population.
On to the recipe, a celebration of some of the wonderful produce now in season here in the UK.
This lovely light tart is packed with fresh, summer flavours. Serve it with new potatoes and a simple fresh salad, such as my cucumber, shallot and strawberry salad.
broccoli, pea and chive tart
120 g broccoli, cut into 2cm florets
50 g fresh peas (use frozen if not available)
1 generous tbsp freshly chopped chives
90 g Vegetarian Cheddar cheese, grated
300 ml organic double cream
4 organic free-range eggs
½ tsp sea salt
for the pastry
250 g organic plain flour
125 g organic unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 organic free-range egg
½ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp fresh water
1. First make the pastry. Place the flour, salt and butter into the bowl of a food processor and mix at the lowest setting until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and the water and continue to process. The mixture should quickly form into a pliable ball. Remove the pastry from the food processor bowl, flatten the ball slightly to a thick disc shape (this makes it easier to roll out later), wrap in clingfilm and put it the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime steam the broccoli and the peas for 4 minutes. Strain through a colander and drain on kitchen paper.
3. Whisk together the cream, eggs and salt.
4. Pre heat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4). Grease a flan dish. Retrieve the pastry, roll out thinly and carefully place it into the flan dish. Trim the pastry so that there is a slight overhang of about 1 cm. (Any unused pastry can be frozen for use in the future). Prick the base and sides of the flan pastry base with a fork and line it with parchment and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the parchment and baking beans. The edges of the flan will have shrunk slightly, but now you can trim them neatly to the height of the flan dish with a sharp knife.
5. Pour about half of the cream mixture into the pastry base. Sprinkle with about half of the cheese. Distribute half of the broccoli and peas evenly on top of the cheese. Next pour most of the rest of the cream mixture on top, leaving a tablespoon or two in reserve. Sprinkle with most of the remaining cheese, again holding back around a tablespoon. Distribute the remaining broccoli and peas on top and sprinkle over the chopped chives. Finally, pour over the remaining cream, sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and place in the pre-heated oven. Cook for 35 minutes or until the filling is set and the top is golden brown.