You can't be a little bit pregnant, you either are or you aren't.- Bob Flowerdew, Radio 4's 'Gardener's Question Time', talking about organic gardening.
I've never bought into the idea of 'organic' produce - there are some solid organic principals and guidelines which I think are Good Things, like reducing pesticides and biodiversity, but Organic True Believers™ would have no truck with my post-modern woolly organicity.
I'll also say, I've never trusted the Organic High Priests like the Soil Association, whose take on organic food has been put through the PR mill, so that the perceived benefits are trotted out as fact and exaggerated and whose scientific credentials leave a lot to be desired. You'll remember, no doubt, that The Soil Association awarded Gillian McKeith its Consumer Education Award 2005 - information the Soil Assoc has decided should no longer be on their website.
The Soil Association's current resident nutritionist, Shaun Heaton, doesn't seem much better - cue Dara O'Briain's nutritionist gag.
Organic food contains fewer pesticide residues. . Don’t wait, as unfortunately many people do, to get diagnosed with cancer before you get interested in real food.Interesting reasoning.
Organic food contains no artificial additives such as sweeteners or colours, which a major new study has now unequivocally linked to hyperactivity, learning and behavioural problems in children.Unlike those nasty aspartame carrots that are all the rage?
Organic food contains more nutrients, as confirmed again by the largest study of its kind just released, showing 20-80% more nutrients in organics.The British Nutrition Foundation would say otherwise:
• There is no evidence to show that crops grown organically have a better nutrient content than those produced non-organically. However, it has been acknowledged that little research has been conducted to date and much of the available scientific information is out-dated or based on inadequate study design.
Historically, the cost of organic food has been considerably higher than ordinary food, but this gap has closed significantly over the last number of years. Food prices in general have risen and with the current economic credit crunch, people are tightening their belts.
What will be first against the wall? People's principals. So much so, according to The Times, that organic farmers are lobbying government to allow them to take an Organic Holiday, so that they can buy the much cheaper ordinary feed during these hard times. According the newspaper:
Sales of organic food slumped 10 per cent in the 12 weeks up to the end of November, according to the latest figures from the consumer researchers TNS. Overall food sales over the same period were up 6 per cent
To me, this idea is nonsense. One concept that has been used frequently with organic farming is the idea of sustainability. Usually this has been in the context of biodiversity, protection of hedgerows, maintaining the wildlife equilibrium etc - all good things, but in fact, of questionable importance if the food you are producing is not commercially viable. You end up with less 'conventional' land to provide more food. Sustainability means being able to sustain your business during tough times. How on earth can you forgo your principals? I don't think they'll be given leave to do this - the main problem I see is that it will be a PR disaster.
Firstly, you are offending your True Believers™, the people who have completely bought into the Organic Religion. They will not tolerate a change to the Holy Book, and it could lead to a split. The word 'organic' will lose its meaning and brand identity (Chemists would argue this has already happened once).
Secondly, you've already lost the people fleeing to Lidl who weren't true believers, and now that they've been away, it'll be difficult to get them back. The beliefs of animal welfare and no pesticides were 'nice thoughts' for them, perhaps they bought organic as a social status symbol or because they had a few extra pennies. I would have thought someone buying organic would be subject to some sort of cognitive dissonance if they went back to normal food. How could they justify their previous lavish expense? Can they really taste a difference?
How many of the farmers are True Believers™ and how many converted to organic because at one time it was a lucrative business move? Can these farmers be trusted to maintain the scrupulous organic standards when bills are stacking up and produce is not going out of the gate? This is not to characterise farmers as underhanded, merely to present the situation as being a truly difficult decision.
According to the Organic Farmers and Growers statement on the Times story, no approach has yet been made to DEFRA, although they do state:
It is, however, fair to say that the broad aims would be to allow farmland to remain organic, even if the animals on it were to be fed on non-organic rations for a limited time, thereby enforcing the removal of the animals from the organic system.
So you can have organic farmland, with normal livestock on it eating normal foodstock and when times get better, jump back into the Organic circle. Normal farmers trying to get into organic farming have to maintain their land as organic for three years before they get the cert. If you are in the year 2 of your 3 year run, does it count? IF so, it makes a mockery of the whole 3 year hoop.
Without any sense of irony, the OGF finish their statement with the following:
The industry’s aim is to protect the organic system for the welfare and environmental benefits it brings and ensure that progress made in expanding this sustainable method of farming is not lost.
There's that 'sustainable' word again. Allow me to translate
The industry's aim is to sustain the unsustainable.