Joe Fattorini writes in The (Glasgow)Herald about his new year’s resolution which is to give up eating organic food:
It’s self-indulgent, wasteful and frankly immoral. But you know how it is. I was swept along with the trend, and it felt good at the time. But I don’t want to be a hypocrite. So I’m giving up organic food in 2006.
The incident that stiffened my resolve was a white rubber-banded wrist thrusting across me to grab organic apples. Here was someone who professed solidarity with the world’s hungry. Yet they support a farming method that would starve over half the world.
The world was farmed entirely organically as recently as 1900. Since then the global population has increased over 3.5 times.
Unfortunately, the area cultivated for food has merely doubled. Even so, collectively we’re better fed. In the past 50 years, the number who are starving has halved as the population has doubled. This almost miraculous turn of events is down to nitrogen fertilisers.
When it comes to basic needs such as food, the most important development of the last century has been the creation of nitrogen fertilisers. By replacing the nitrogen lost when a crop is harvested you can continue to plant the same plot of land each year without losing productivity. This means the same area of land produces anything up to double the quantity of food.
… So I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, but I don’t want to feed the world organically. Just my precious family.” I’m sorry, but that’s rather along the same lines as: “I know they guzzle petrol like there’s no tomorrow and are far more likely to kill pedestrians. But my family is special. I really need a beast of an SUV with spinning alloy wheels and DVD players in the headrests.”
At the very least, in a country like ours that produces excess food, organic farming robs land that might otherwise be used to promote bio-diversity. That’s because organic fields need to be left fallow, growing leguminous crops or livestock whose faeces can be used to return nitrogen to the soil. Yes, you read that correctly. The inefficiencies of organic land use make it less environmentally friendly than conventional farming whose efficiencies mean we can return land to nature. But there’s a more sinister perspective. In our lifetime we’ll see global population top 10 billion. We’re lucky it won’t be more.
That alone means finding 35% more calories to feed the world. On decreasingly fertile land. But if we are self-indulgently to insist that we are so important that we should be fed organically, with its yields some 20% to 50% lower, that can only put an additional, unnecessary strain on feeding the planet. Every organic mouthful makes it more difficult to feed the most vulnerable. As the distinguished Indian plant biologist CS Prakash put it: “The only thing sustainable about organic farming in the developing world is that it sustains poverty and malnutrition.”
Now if this all makes you feel a little gloomy, then I’m delighted to report that like all the best resolutions, giving up organic food makes you feel better almost immediately. I already feel freed from the hypocrisy. Organic food sales have doubled since 2000. According to Mintel the greatest growth is currently among “lower-income consumers” and those concerned about the health impact of pesticide use in conventional farming.
But wait a minute. Organic food – because it’s so inefficient to produce – is considerably more expensive than conventionally farmed food. Yet it brings no health benefits and doesn’t even taste better. If it did, then the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t have upheld complaints against the Soil Association for describing organic as “healthier” than conventionally farmed food. Or as the Food Standards Agency put it in 2004: “Organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally.”
… I can see a few hackles rising at the suggestion that organic food is a “middle-class indulgence”. And you’re right. It’s more a brand, or perhaps a religion. “Organic” sits up there with McDonald’s, Microsoft, Starbucks, Tesco, Shell and Lucky Strike as one of the great brands of the twentieth century.
Read the full article here: http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/53522.html
Published in the Glasgow Herald on 3rd January, 2006