I personally have never been a vociferous proponent of organics. I’ve seen how companies have exploited the label for commercial reasons. Diver-caught this, lovingly-slaughtered that.
Cycling down a street in Bloomsbury this week I spotted a small brass plaque on the front of a building. ‘London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’, it read. Ah, I thought to myself. So this is where a report was compiled that this week had the organic lobby seething.
Within these unassuming walls Dr. Alan Dangour wrote that the differences in nutrient content that existed between organically and conventionally-produced food were ‘unlikely to be of any public health relevance.’
The study was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, an organisation that has long resisted pressure from the likes of the Soil Association, which monitors, regulates and promotes the organic sector, to admit there were health benefits.
Farmers and consumers have been up in arms. The likes of Joanna Blythman, a campaigning writer, have scorned the FSA, arguing that as ever they are simply attempting to defend the march of GM and mass-produced foods.
‘Anything that can kill insects is bound to have an impact when consumed by humans,’ she wrote in a powerful piece for the Daily Mail, reflecting on the use of pesticides.
I personally have never been a vociferous proponent of organics. I’ve seen how companies have exploited the label for commercial reasons; another ethical badge to add to the likes of fair trade. Diver-caught this, lovingly-slaughtered that.
It’s not surprising that so many leapt on to the bandwagon as the sector has seen astonishing growth over the years.
I remember sitting at a table on the terrace of a smart restaurant observing a tall, slim, attractive girl – a nice piece of Eurotrash – ordering from the menu.
‘The chicken?’ she demanded of the water, ‘is it organic? ‘I only eat organic.’ She turned to her friends, ‘I look after my body.’ They laughed in approval.
It wasn’t so she ordered something else and then lit a cigarette.
In the debate on organics versus conventional, there are obvious weaknesses in the former’s armour.
For example: Yield can be low with organic crops so you need to farm a lot more land. Organic pig feed is quite scarce so much has to be imported – think of the food miles. Indeed Tesco import some 70 per cent of its organic range.
No one has ever proved that pesticides have damaged their health. Generations of children have been brought up on broccoli that was hosed with imidacloprid.
Organic farming takes large chunks of investment and many years to get certification. How can an ailing farming industry get off its knees if it must be organic?
Yet the benefits are legion. For the rise in popularity of organics has encouraged much of the conventional sector to up its game. It has meant lower-intensive fish farming, truly excellent conventionally farmed beef and much more besides.
It has offered people a choice not to consume food that’s been sprayed with chemicals. And it’s been part of a powerful lobby that has focused our attentions on the horrors of intensive food farming, from chickens to pigs.
But does it taste better? Well that’s entirely up to you. I know that a courgette grown in my garden, harvested and eaten that day is nothing less than exquisite, likewise the eggs from our hens, the pork from the farm opposite.
It feels better and that makes it taste better.
Common sense dictates that if you abuse the earth we’ll all be the loser. Look at the dangerously low levels of fish in our seas and oceans.
The problem, as ever, is that too many people don’t care a hoot for where their food comes from. They only care about its price. And cheap food means just that. Cheap on welfare for humans as well as animals and cheap on the palate.
Common sense dictates that the approach of the genuine organic producer is the one to aspire to. And it doesn’t matter how many forensic, statistic-heavy reports you issue from the desks of academics in Georgian houses. The right way is the way that feels right.