Why organic food is out of fashion


Is the fact that organic is a rigid system part of the problem?

Patrick Holden, founder of The Sustainable Food Trust and the first person to supply Sainsbury’s with organic carrots, back in the 1980s, thinks it might. “The problem with bio is that it’s an exercise in line drawing. He says above the line is good and below the line is bad and that’s not a very good message to farmers around the world who know they have to do something about about their farms to fight climate change. They look at organic and think it’s a niche market for the wealthy who can afford to pay more for food. “It’s not for traditional farmers like me.”

Since organic foods do not allow the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, farmers may have to resort to more labor intensive weed and pest control methods. More crops can be lost due to diseases and pests, so production is lower than conventional produce. This translates into a higher price. Traditionally, anyway.

The rising cost of living means that organic is already not the most expensive choice it once was. It has a margin that can absorb a higher cost of living because it represents the true cost of production and is not subsidized to make it a loss leader.

Holden points to the fact that the price of fertilizers has just tripled. “Chemical producers have to pay the true cost of farming. This will reduce the gap. He adds, “We got used to so-called cheap food. It’s not cheap if you pay in damage to the environment and public health. There is the price you pay now and the price we will all pay later.

The irony of the growth of the organic market because more people think sustainability is important is that there is a risk that demand will outstrip local supply. While land in conversion to organic has increased by 12% according to Defra and 18% according to the Soil Association, this is not enough, leading to the difficult conundrum: will market growth be met? imports?

Riverford Organic, the vegetable box program started in 1987 by Guy Singh-Watson (Geetie’s husband) sources its supplies overseas but, for example, no longer buys ginger from China, as it has proven continually contaminated during testing.

Guy Singh-Watson says that overall, globally, organic is an incredibly well organized and enforced system. “When you compare it to fair trade and rainforest alliances, it’s just a million times better.” However, imports, even from Europe when consumers are hungry for local products, are not going to take off, even if they are organic products.

The Soil Association hopes the government will follow the recommendations of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy report, an independent review for government which recommended pockets left for nature, some for intensive farming and the majority being agriculture agro-ecological, “of which organic is the only certified option capable,” says Clare McDermott, Soil Association’s certification business development manager.

Organic remains important to chef Skye Gyngell, whose Spring restaurants in London and luxury hotel Heckfield Place in Hampshire focus on top quality produce. She thinks people are more interested in eating more seasonally and sustainably and restaurants are responding to that. Much of what his team cooks comes from the Heckfield Biodynamic Farm. “It is at the heart of everything we do and defines what and how we cook. I always say the job is 80% done when it gets to us in the kitchen. You can taste the freshness of seasonally grown organic ingredients – it makes all the difference in the kitchen. »

If you’re wondering if the UK could go organic and produce enough food to feed us all, the answer – according to experts – is yes, but with a ‘less but better’ model. It would require less food waste and fewer chickens, which depend on additional feed that would be difficult to grow in the UK. The Sunday roast bird would once again become the once-a-month luxury it used to be.

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