Friday, 4 April 2008

The Organic Movement

Julian Baggini of the Philosophers' Magazine asked if there is anything coherent keeping the organic movement together.

[The Herald 1 April]

I would ask of this philosopher how he can base his argument on such fragmented logic.

For a start he quotes Lord Krebs who recently hit out at the 'organic illusion'. Krebs was head of the Food Standards Agency and also a well-known proponent of GM crops. The problem with these GM advocates is their failure to admit the bad science on which multi-national companies like Monsanto are promoting their much hyped 'improvements' to lure farmers into their grasp. The mulit-national bio-tech companies influence among politicians, agricultural unions and journalists covers up a failing agro-chemicals industry that constantly seeks free world trade to save their share holders dividends. Until now the EU has done a fair job at resisting as far as possible the WTO's intent on aiding these GM giants but EU Commissioner Mandelson has been a trojan horse for GM as his former boss Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown are GM's prime supporters inside the EU. So Kreb's views about the nutritional value of organic food come with the usual health warning.

I first read this latest attack on organic produce in The Observer on Sunday 30th March 08 (,,2269340,00.html). It ended with a caveat to the Krebs judgement by the FSA, namely - 'a number of new studies have recently emerged focusing on nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food.' Mr Baggini, in The Herald on 1st April 2008, ignores this and fails to address the Soil Association studies that show higher levels of iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin C in organic foods which are good for you. Nevertheless, he criticises the Soil Association on other grounds, i.e. that organic food flown from around the world should be labelled differently. Organic maybe, but with a hefty CO2 footprint shows the whole process is not organic in the holistic sense of the word. It's not just about lack of chemical additives in the soil, it's also about lack of respect for the producers of Africa who can't get land and time to produce enough of their own food because the lure of cash crops for the rich West is promoted by local business middle men. However, once the African and other continents' food needs are met they too can choose, pity it's the wrong way round just now.

Surely the DEFRA report, quoted by Mr Baggini, that many organic foods grown in the UK are less energy efficient and more polluting than conventional equivalents has to be challenged. Imports have a high CO2 footprint as already mentioned. Does that make organic better or worse than chemically treated foods we capriciously term 'conventional'? There have not been conclusive experiments by the proponents of 'conventional' foods to deny the organic argument and prove so-called conventional methods are sustainable.

Is the idea of 'organic' being an intellectual mess really so?

To start with, the rising demand for organic home produce is out-stripping supply. The organic market reached a value of £2b last year. This shows a clear link with consumers across Europe being already wisened up. A contemporary pan-European survey of 26,370 people shows that 86% want tough health and quality standards applied by the EU in Europe to apply to all imported food as well. (

Does that not link to demands for food safety and security of supply as well as nutritional value? Previously consumer surveys show an overwhelming rejection of GMOs in our food - another pointer to concerns about the aims of agri-business conglomerates.

Could it be that consumers are instinctively correct to demand as little artificial chemical input in their food as possible? We should be told. Could it be that chemical residues are a real problem yet to be tackled in 'conventional' food production? Should we be joining Lord Krebs in his assertion that the FSA has found no safety or health reasons for consumers to be switching to organic? Or should we be seeking answers to the increasing monopolisation of production of 'conventional' and 'GM foods'? That, precisely because they rely on patented chemical additives and a narrow range of suppliers of animal feed and chemical treatments so prevalent in intensive industrial agriculture.

I believe these questions will have be addressed in the context of the Scottish Government's consultation on a National Food Policy which poses the question - How do we guarantee a future for Scotland where our food is wholesome, healthy and produced in an environmentally and welfare friendly way? The editor of the Philosophers' Magazine has done us a good turn in his article but logically a food policy needs far more answers than he offers.

RG 4.4.08

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