There is now even more confusion than
ever concerning the merits of what we call 'organically produced' food
(both vegetable and animal) and that produced by modern methods that
involve artificial controls, additives and protection, resulting in
more intensive, regular and economic production.
The claims for organic produce are of two kinds:
1. Higher nutritional value, better taste
2. Absence of toxic or irritant residues and, in the
case of animals, antibiotics or transmissible diseases.
These claims are denied by the producers of non-organic food. So who is
The answer is that it depends on the produce and the expertise of those
responsible for the entire chain in the non-organic process. It is
likely that it is possible to use a variety of modern methods to
increase productivity and regularity of production without any
deterioration in the desirable attributes of animal or vegetable
produce. However, the more human intervention, the more detailed and
sophisticated it is, the more there is room for error. The misreading
of a decimal point in the preparation of a pesticide or fungicide spray
may require very complex control and correction systems to detect or
reverse the effects - if even possible. Systemic treatments of
or animal produce can be persistent through later processing. Intensive
animal production affects the health and constitution of beasts and
fowls. Fast growing vegetables boosted by fertilisers will have a lower
concentration of minerals, vitamins, flavanoids etc.
While it is true that 'nature's way' can also leave animals and
vegetables vulnerable to diseases that can be a health risk, well
managed organic production that eliminates these by selection,
subjected to the controls now implemented before any food can be
classed as organically produced in the UK, is more likely to live up to
claims (1) and (2) set out above than their non-organic equivalents.
So both points of view may be right in theory, but wrong in practice in
a particular case.
However there is another important criterion to take into account: that
is the origin of the produce and the quality of the controls
effectively in place at all stages of production, transport, packing
and preparation. That applies to both organic and non-organic
If we consider the large scale and global implications of advocating
intensive and artificial methods over less intensive and natural
methods, we have to look at the probable consequences of such policies.
The artificial and intensive route will end up with production that is
dependent on technology, chemicals, advanced hardware and software and
a high level of training in order to avoid mistakes that can have
lethal consequences for huge numbers of people. It will also leave the
production of food in fewer hands, since the economics of this approach
are based entirely on such. This approach has been applied to all
modern industrial processes and assumes an ever growing mass of
consumers with wealth to consume the product. It will divorce ever
increasing numbers of people from any involvement or participation in
the production of the essentials on which their lives depend: food,
shelter, clothing, means of heating or insulation and of communication
etc, , Therefore, even if such industrialisation of animal and
vegetable production is necessary to support urban populations who are
engaged in other business, if taken to extremes it will self-destruct.
Every individual born into this world cannot be trained to be an
expert in part of an artificial system, nor can a few specialists be
continually trained and empowered to run immense global systems without
a risk of catastrophic failure. We must therefore take advantage
of all the amazing things that nature can do in its own way, without
making each of us dependent on a vast industrial web which can collapse
in a moment by the breakdown of just a few critical nodes,
unpredictable and unprotectable and out of site. The argument
between Organic and Intensive/efficient/artificial must therefore
cease. We need to understand why we need to develop and improve both.
JANUARY 7th 2007 (over a year
The above was written in 2005. David
Milliband is the best informed current Labour minister but even he
finds it too ambitious to explain the facts properly to the public. He
correctly emphasises as reported below that there is no proof that
conventionally grown food is inferiror. I hope by doing so he does not
discourage support for organic, local food production in the UK. The
more people who keep contact with nature, who work in organic
agriculture, live in and maintain the countryside and provide food with
low mileage, the better. The fewer, the worse. The trend, once
established in the right direction, should not be discouraged.
proof' organic food is better
There is no evidence organic food is better than food grown
conventionally, minister David Miliband has said.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said
organic food was more of a "lifestyle choice that people can make".
He insisted that food grown with the use of pesticides and other
chemicals should not be regarded as inferior.
In an interview with the Sunday Times he said: "There isn't any
conclusive evidence either way."
Organic sales rise
Mr Miliband: "It's only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I
not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it's
He said despite the rise in organic sales being
"exciting" for shoppers, they should not think of
conventionally-produced food as "second best".
According to the Soil Association, organic food sales in the UK
increased by 30% to £1.6bn in 2006.
The association's website says organic food does not contain many of
the artificial additives used in modern food production, and also have
more natural vitamins and minerals.
It also argues organic food is better for wildlife because it does
not use pesticides or dangerous sprays.
Pressure from shoppers has boosted the volume of organic UK produce
in supermarkets, the association said last year.