Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tackling Dirty Fuels

Extraction of the tar or oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta has been described as the the biggest environmental crime in history.

And as negotiations towards the new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union continue, many environmental campaigners are lobbying MEPs and the Commission.

At a time when we are trying to dramatically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, I absolutely agree that we should not be encouraging the exploitation of a fuel source which creates a carbon footprint three times greater than other fuel sources during the extraction and refinement phase.

In principle, we in the EU already have legislation in place to protect against possible imports of tars and oil from Canada. The EU's Fuel Quality Directive is designed to reduce the carbon footprint of all transport fuels by 6% by 2020. The responsibility to meet this target is placed on the fuel suppliers, who will not want to add oil from tar sands into their final fuel blend if this makes them miss their emission reduction target - as they would then not be allowed to sell their product on the European market.

However, the small print is crucial, as well as highly technical. The European Commission is in the process of fine-tuning "default values" for conventional and non-conventional fuel sources, to help suppliers identify the most carbon-intensive imports.

Linda McAvan MEP, Labour’s Environment spokesperson in Brussels, has asked the European Commissioner responsible for climate action, Connie Hedegaard, to keep tar sands separate from conventional fuels, therefore reinforcing the EU's commitment to a low carbon future. In response Commissioner Hedegaard gave an encouraging answer, saying that it is the Commission's intention to set different default values for tar sands.

The Commission has not currently come to a final decision on this issue, as it is still subject to an internal Commission review. However, it is clear that keeping tar sands out of the EU would certainly send a message that we in Europe mean business in realising a low carbon future.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Help stop misleading health claims for children

In February I blogged about stopping a health claim on follow-on formula that says that adding a fatty acid known as DHA to formula milk helps improve babies' eyesight. The European Commission have decided to allow companies to put this on follow-on milk, but independent research has found that the link between synthesised DHA and vision has not yet been proven.

In order to stop the health claim I wrote a resolution which was approved in a close vote in the European Parliament's Environment and Public Health Committee. However, the resolution must now be adopted by a majority of MEPs when we vote next Wednesday. It's set to be extremely tight, with those on the right wing supporting the company's claim and opposing my view.

Many groups and individuals support the resolution, including organisations of paediatricians, midwives, charities including UNICEF, health NGOs, consumer groups, and individual parents and constituents, from all over the EU and beyond.

Health claims must be based on "generally accepted scientific evidence", but there is clearly still a debate within the scientific community over the link between synthesised DHA and eyesight. The claim will not be allowed on infant formula (suitable for 0-6 months) but will be allowed on follow-on formula (6 months+). It is obvious that promoting a follow-on formula with a health claim will have a direct impact on the infant formula of the same brand. In fact, research published by UNICEF UK in 2005 found that mothers do not necessarily understand the difference between infant and follow-on formula, with 60% of mothers claiming they had seen advertising for infant formula milk within the last year, even though this is banned in the UK, and 74% of mothers saying their baby started on follow-on formula between the ages 0-6 months. A health claim could encourage parents to start using follow-on formula earlier than is healthy for their children. F

Furthermore there are no studies which look at the effects of giving babies unsupplemented infant formula from birth and then supplemented follow-on formula from 6 months. As this claim will only be allowed on follow-on formula this is a crucial gap in the research. Before we assert the supposed benefits to parents we should fully investigate all possible effects of this particular additive.

This issue is clearly contentious and whilst the debate is ongoing I do not believe it is morally correct to tell parents, who are naturally anxious to provide the best nutrition possible for their children, that synthesised DHA is good for babies' vision. We should wait to see whether, after further investigation, the weight of the scientific evidence is convincing, and if that time comes then we should consider making DHA an essential ingredient in all formulas, rather than allowing it to be used as a marketing ploy for some more expensive formulas.

If you believe that no parent should be misled, and that no child deserves inferior nutrition in the most crucial stages of their development, please write to you MEPs and urge them to vote for my resolution on Wednesday.