Visiting the world’s largest oregano processor

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Ever bought any dried oregano or eaten anything with oregano in it? Then you’ve probably eaten some that came from the Kutas factory in Turkey. Here you’ll find and smell the most oregano in one place in the world, as well as other herbs such as sage, thyme and savory. There’s a lot more that goes into getting these herbs into your food than you might think – as I found out after the gastroeconomy summit, thanks to a chance meeting in Izmir, with Kazim Gurel, president and CEO of Kutas Food Group.

When I head about what he did I asked if I could go and see for myself this processing plant which is very close to where some friends of mine live whom I was visiting. In the first of two interviews, we tour what he thinks is the world’s biggest oregano processing facility. In the tour he describes the process by which herbs are cleaned and processed ready for use by other businesses, whether in consumer packages or by the food and catering industries – as well as about the adulteration that goes on and how to detect it. You’ll almost certainly not have heard of the company though, as it is a business to business operation that does not sell to the final consumer. As you listen to him showing me round have a look at the pictures in the picture gallery.

After the tour in the relative quiet of an office in a second interview I asked him about how the business started, what it does today, the challenges of avoiding adulteration of products and the various trends he sees emerging.

The company is about to open a new processing plant as he discussed with lots of new technology. There’s a video about them on youtube you can see here which shows off some of the technology they use for bay (laurel) leaves and which will be in the new factory for other herbs.

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Creating a vibrant gastroeconomy in Turkey

How do you get people to treat food and cuisines as a serious part of the creative economy that supports economic as well as social development in a country? That is what a group of restaurateurs in Turkey have just tried to do by convening a global gastroeconomy summit in Istanbul on 29th March. They brought together speakers from around the world, including me, to talk about how other countries, such as Denmark, Peru and Spain, have made food a key part of their creative economy, to discuss what trends they should consider and guidelines for investment, as well as speakers from around Turkey.

After a packed day of talks, I managed to interview a few of the speakers to get a flavour of what was discussed and some of the major points made at the summit. We met at Mikla, which is run by chef Mehmet Gürs, a speaker at the conference and proponent of the New Anatolian Kitchen – building on the traditional cuisines found around Turkey. It’s listed as the 51st best restaurant in the world – a well deserved view judging by what we ate. It was amidst the chatter of the diners I asked Kaya Demirer, chair of the association putting on the summit why they had done so:

Spain is country that already makes millions from its cuisine and their approach was explained by Inaki Gaztelumendi:

While Spain’s may be a very familiar cuisine around the world Peru’s was not. That, however, is changing as part of a deliberate policy to use food as part of developing the economy, according to Isabella Falco:

In Korea, it has been government support for a key element of Korean cuisine that has helped put its food on the map worldwide explains Dr Jaeho Ha, General Director of the World Institute of Kimchi:

Government legislation can be an essential ingredient in securing the ability of a place to build its reputation for food and wine, as Clay Gregory from the Napa Valley in California explained:

There are, though, some essential things to consider if you are investing in this area as well as one key equation, as investment advisor Sebastian Nokes pointed out:

Food is part of the creative economy and a means to support the sustainable development goals and is supported by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, said Marisa Henderson:

Ismail Erturk, senior lecturer from the University of Manchester explained about gastronomy’s role in the economy.

As I pointed out in my talk, it was 40 years ago this year since I first went to Turkey to help establish an agricultural information centre at the Aegean University. At the time, my wife and I were thrilled to discover the fantastic cuisine that we found in Turkey, which was then a self-sufficient food exporter.

It is good to see that is now being celebrated more but it is important, as several speakers acknowledge, that when people talk about cuisines and gastronomy they do not think it is about fine dining for the rich and take a relatively narrow perspective in thinking about food. Rather, it is about understanding food in all its social, cultural, economic, political, and scientific contexts. It is this approach to gastronomy as a holistic understanding of food and the cultures and habits that surround it they take in the Masters course in gastronomy at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh where I’ve been giving an annual lecture for the past few years (see this blog). As such, my view of a gastro-economy perspective is that it must look at how we create a world in which everyone is well-fed through a diverse range of cuisines with sustainably, fairly produced and healthy food. It was good to hear that in thinking of developing the gastroeconomy in Turkey that is something people are also considering.

UPDATE: You can see the speeches from the day on line here


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Trading #food between countries – it’s harder than you think, especially if you’re a small producer

How to trade food between countries has been the lifetime’s work of Elsa Fairbanks. She’s worked on exporting food from the UK for all her career and is now a director of Food and Drink Exportese Ltd. It’s an issue that is exercising Britain’s food and drink producers as the UK prepares to leave the European Union but what is involved is relevant to any producers in one country wanting to export to another. I chatted to her about this and the various tariff and non-tarriff barriers, especially for the UK as it leaves the EU – not to mention who will be working in the food and farming sector. Listen on!

The table blow summaries the process any producer needs to go through to export foodstuffs to the USA which Elsa mentioned in her interview. The basic procedure is:

Copy of FDA Facility Registration Form 3537  for each Facility
Copy of Producer Food Safety Plan or equivalent for each Food line item in English with facility production floor plan and food production flow charts
Copy of Resume of Food Safety personnel at the Facility in English
Copy of Label to be affixed on to each Food line item in English. [FDA has adopted a new label format required to be adopted by July 26, 2019. However, Producers with less than $10 million in annual worldwide food sales will have an additional year to comply (ie by July 26, 2020) and Producers with less than 10 FTEE are exempt].
Food Specification and list of ingredients for each Food line item in English
Schedule of Food Sampling and Facility Audits Conducted for each Facility over the last three years together with a copy of the last sampling and audit reports
Schedule of recalls, import alerts or warning letters issued for each Food line item over the last 10 years together with a copy of the last recall, alert or warning letter issued in last year

There’s another set of rules on disclosure of origin that also matter greatly when countries negotiate free trade deals. These were highlighted by the UK Food and Drink Federation and the National Association of British and Irish Flour Millers (NABIM) in a report they commissioned from Global Counsel recently called ‘Rules of origin in an EU-UK FTA: A ‘hidden hard Brexit’ for food and drink exporters?’.

Rules of origin exist to ensure that when two or more WTO members agree a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), preferential tariffs are not abused by importers shipping goods produced in other markets through one of the signatories of the FTA in order to avoid payment of tariffs. According to Ian Wright CBE, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation, “Rules of origin are a big piece of the Brexit puzzle for the food and drink industry. If we fail to secure sufficiently generous rules as part of a preferential trade agreement with the EU, food and drink manufacturers will be the ones who suffer this hidden hard Brexit. They could be facing an increase in exporting costs, or a complete ban of entry to the market.”

For example, notes the FDF, UK chocolate producers that export £530m of products each year to the EU could face tariffs of 27 per cent or more depending on the value of UK refined cane sugar originating from the world’s poorest countries and the volume of Irish milk in their products.

“Flour millers in the UK source 80 per cent of their wheat from the UK, but also use grain from Canada, the USA and other European countries to make a range of flours with different baking qualities” according to Alex Waugh, Director General of the National Association of British and Irish Flour Millers. “If the rules of origin adopted in many of the EU’s trade agreements were to apply in a trade deal between the EU 27 and the UK, flour milled with even a small proportion of these grains, and many foodstuffs made from it, would no longer be considered ‘of UK origin’ and would therefore be subject to very significant duties. This would add, for example, €0.10 to the cost of a loaf in Ireland, which is mainly supplied with flour from the UK.”

The report looks in detail at how 5 products – wholemeal bread, rice and corn cakes, a milk chocolate bar, chicken curry ready meal and frozen pizza margherita – would fare under two existing different origin protocols and is well worth reading. The authors also suggest eight rules of origin provisions the UK could seek in a EU-UK origin framework.

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#Climate destabilisation and #biodiversity loss threaten our future – but too little attention is being paid to the latter

It seems to be a year of anniversaries for me. It’s 50 years since I went to university intending to study chemistry but then changing to study soil science. Soils are really complex physical, chemical, biological systems. Their health is affected by the social, cultural and economic activities of us humans who depend on them for our existence. Soils also host a huge amount of the biodiversity on the planet, yet you cannot see most of it.

I was prompted to think about this by a paper I was sent the other day. Its rather long title is “Our house is burning: discrepancy in climate change versus biodiversity coverage in the media as compared to scientific literature“. Basically, the multiple authors found that comparing the amount of research reported in the scientific literature on climate change and biodiversity versus the amount of coverage in the selected range of newspapers over a 25 year period showed a considerable imbalance. Given the level of research reports, there was far more coverage – up to 8 times as much – of climate change issues in the 12 English language newspapers they surveyed than that on biodiversity.

Climate change and biodiversity loss both impact on human well-being. This imbalance in coverage is impeding understanding and undermining efforts to address biodiversity loss. The authors called for more action by scientists to raise public awareness on biodiversity issues.

There have been a lot of longer-term scenarios and what is often called ‘horizon scanning’ on the impact of climate change. Much less so for biodiversity loss, most of which is hidden. The focus tends to be on the impact on iconic larger mammals like elephants, polar bears or tigers. Yet with soil, you need to dig down into it to see the different horizons in a soil profile. The amount of biodiversity in it is far from obvious – but is beautifully illustrated in the global soil biodiversity atlas (free to download).

While the biodiversity in soils may be largely invisible to the naked eye, healthy soils depend upon it (see also However, as the report on The Status of the World’s Soils Resources noted “…the majority of the world’s soil resources are in only fair, poor or very poor condition. Today, 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils”.

The Global Land Outlook said “A minority has grown rich from the unsustainable use and large scale exploitation of land resources with related conflicts intensifying in many countries.”(see ch 9 on biodiversity and soil). To address concerns about this we also need to look at the rules, regulations and power relations that frame what people do with the soils and biodiversity on the planet. Here, one important set of rules are also little known and invisible to most people – those called ‘intellectual property rights’.

It is 20 years since I worked on a paper looking at the implications of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for food security and biodiversity (Trade, intellectual property, food and biodiversity: key issues and options for the 1999 review of article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS agreement). This agreement is one of the three key pillars of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Ten years later a book I edited with a Canadian colleague, Tasmin Rajotte, was published called “The future control of food: a guide to international negotiations and rules on intellectual property, biodiversity and food security“(free to download in English, Spanish and Chinese). Rules on IP are also a key bone of contention in bilateral trade negotiations.

What is clear over these last couple of decades is there has been much greater coverage and concern about climate change but less about the huge loss of biodiversity and especially agricultural biodiversity and the rules that shape what happens to them. It is time that changed.

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There’s more to #cookery books than recipes – an interview with Dr Eileen White

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Pictures of some of the cook books discussed. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library

You can learn about a lot more than recipes from studying cookery books through the ages as I heard from Dr Eileen White recently. She has been studying the books in the special collection of Cookery Books at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library for over 40 years. Their collection includes books from the late 15th century to the present. Some are reprints of old manuscripts such as “A noble Boke Off Cookery FFor a Prynce Houssolde or Any Other Estately Houssolde” to original editions such as that from 1664 “The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly called Joan Cromwel, The Wife of the Great Usurper, Truly Described and Represented, And now Made Publick for general Satisfaction”. Many books include recipes for medicines and foods and give an insight into the mores of the times as Dr White explains in this interview recorded in a rather noisy room.

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Don’t copy failed US #foodbanks model in UK warns Andy Fisher, author of Big #Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-hunger Groups”

Do not create a hunger industrial complex in the UK as has happened in the USA. That’s a key message from Andy Fisher, author of “Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-hunger Groups”, who is touring the UK this month. The unholy alliance of his book title has failed to solve hunger in the US for over 30 years.


In this interview, he explains how the US system ignores the causes of hunger, benefits the givers and demeans the recipients. He talks about lessons the UK might learn and warns the country not to follow the US path of institutionalising food banks. “We have pretended that the problem is hunger and not poverty. We’ve pretended that the solution to hunger is charity, not ensuring the right to food or increasing the political power of the poor,” he says.

He sees real hope in Scotland where he was last week and where they are seeking to end the need for foodbanks and ensure people’s right to food is met.

I heard him speak last Friday at Huddersfield University – along with Chris Moller from Huddersfield University and Maddie Power from the University of York (see my Twitter feed @GeoffTansey  for reports from the meeting with various slides from the presentations). You can still hear him this week in London on 14th and 16th and Cardiff on 17th November.

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‘#bittersweetbrexit: The future of #food, #farming, #land and #labour’- Time for a big debate, says Dr Charlie Clutterbuck

I’ve known soil zoologist Dr Charlie Clutterbuck for years. He’s passionate about the need to understand the vast array of living organisms in the soil. He’s also always been deeply concerned about the people who work on the land and throughout the system that brings us our food. So when he decided to write a reflective book on his experiences it was clear that relating these to the biggest change coming for the UK’s food and farming made sense. This book – Bittersweet Brexit: The Future of Food, Farming, Land and Labour – is the result. In it he discusses great number of tariffs – some 17,000 – involved in food and farming products and what to do with the subsidies that currently go into farming. I interviewed him about it at the launch in Manchester on World Food Day, October 16th. There’s also a website where you can join the debate here.


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