What’s in our bread? The Real Bread Campaign's definition of proper bread is flour, water, a little salt and some yeast or natural leavening (sourdough). But, as I revealed in Bread Matters, almost all British bread also contains an array of synthetic additives and (mostly undeclared or unspecified) enzyme ‘processing aids’. The part this cocktail of adulterants plays in upsetting the nation’s stomachs is as alarming as it is under-researched.
And now this: about one in three slices of bread contains weedkiller. A Soil Association analysis of figures released by the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food reveals that glyphosate is present in 30% of tested bread samples. Glyphosate is, of course, used as a general garden and farm herbicide (though some countries have banned it). But it gets into bread because most farmers spray it directly onto wheat just before harvest. It speeds up and evens out the withering of the plant foliage and the ripening of the grain.
Why does this matter? For one thing, the World Health Organisation has recently (some would say belatedly) defined glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’. For another, it shows how far agri-business has strayed from the purpose of nourishing the nation. Dousing bread wheat in weedkiller may make harvesting a bit easier and more ‘efficient’. Any collateral damage to people or the environment (especially sensitive soil micro-organisms) doesn’t seem to figure in our cheap-at-all-costs food system. Which is why it’s no surprise that the wheat itself that goes into our bread also contains fewer nutrients than it once did. New varieties are bred for maximum yield and (plant) disease resistance and to a definition of ‘quality’ that never includes human health. The law of unintended consequences leaves us with wheat that has progressively fewer important minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium in each grain. Plus weedkiller.
There is another way – and it doesn't mean giving up bread. For a start, organic farmers don’t spray their wheat with glyphosate, so choosing organic flour is a must. But how can we be sure that our bread is made from grain with satisfactory levels of vital nutrients? Enter Scotland The Bread, a project to improve the nation’s bread from soil to slice.
We are trialling wheats on organic farms in Scotland. By selection and cross-breeding we aim to produce wheats that are adapted to our (changing) climate and that produce acceptable yields of nutrient-dense grain. This is grain for people, not distilleries or bio-diesel plants, so ordinary citizens will help test the grains and define the qualities needed in a delicious loaf that everyone can benefit from. Digestibility and nutrient ‘bioaccessibility’ are vital, so we’re adamant that these improved grains should be fermented properly – without additives or short-cuts – during breadmaking. Bread Matters’ books and courses have already taught thousands of people how easy this is. As we and they spread the know-how, good bread will once again be available to all, as of right.
If you like the sound of all this, here’s how you can help:
- Pledge (by Saturday July 26th) a contribution to our crowd funding which will enable us to help several community groups grow a healthy loaf by providing them with seeds (of mineral-rich varieties), the tools to sow, thresh and mill and the training to make wonderful nutritious bread.
- Sign up to the Bread Matters newsletter to keep in touch. We’re planning to launch a non-profit Community Benefit Society to take this work further and we’ll need plenty of active members as well as supporters.
© Andrew Whitley 22/7/2015