As we look forward to another hopefully sunny Bank Holiday weekend it reminds me of the last one I spent visiting Margam Country Park in Wales. I was pleasantly surprised to see a formerly considered extinct breed called Glamorgan Cattle with two new calves. It was thought that the Glamorgan breed had died out in Britain in the 1920’s but fortunately a herd was discovered in 1979 in Sussex, and the entire stock was purchased and brought back to the park, ensuring its survival. The cattle known for being good milk producers were also known for the quality of their meat but as cows were bred more for milk production rather than dual purpose they and other breeds like them went out of fashion. Diversity in breeds and farming is important to maintain health and biodiversity of the countryside and the trend towards more intensive systems of farming which promotes a mono system can have bigger implications on the health of humans and their environment than we have previously believed.
The Karelia Allergy Study is a good example of what can happen when one area follows a more urban modern way of living over a more natural diverse life style. The study was started in 1998 to characterize the allergy profiles in the two areas of the Finnish and Russian Karelia. The two areas are adjacent, share similar genes but allergic symptoms and diseases were systematically more common in Finnish children and adults than in their Russian counterparts. The study found that as we move into a more urban practices with a loss of diversity and biodiversity, we also see a loss of nutrition in our food and a rise in allergies and ill health.
“We conclude that the epidemics of chronic inflammatory diseases, including allergy and asthma, are largely the result of reduced exposure to natural environments, changed diet and sedentary lifestyle. We need to change our thinking and start to plan actions to safely restore our connections to nature. This means that environmental protection, urban planning and food production, storage and delivery, as important determinants of public health, should have higher priority in the political agenda. It is critical that individuals realize how their choices in everyday life make a difference also in terms of allergy risk and management” Hunt for the origin of allergy – comparing the Finnish and Russian Karelian T. Haahtela et al 16/04/2015
It reminds us that farming should not be about producing food at the cheapest cost, at any cost, but about the farming systems that produce that food and the impact they are having on public health, the environment, biodiversity and our health.