Wednesday, 30 May 2007

When is organic food not organic? When it's not Green.

The UK Soil Association may be about to take the dangerous step of giving up any real claim to the authority to be the arbiter of weather food is actually organic.

It looks as if the organisation, which campaigns for organic food and certifies which foods are organic, is straying off it’s own turf and being politicised. Apparently, due to growing demands (who’s exactly, in this context) to cut the environmental impact of food distribution, the organisation is now considering five options to reduce the carbon footprint of food.

It is releasing a consultation document next week that will outline a series of options, including a demand to partially, or fully, strip food imported into the UK by air of it’s organic status and much more detailed labelling showing a product's country of origin plus the air miles it has travelled and carbon offsetting schemes.

They do concede that some of the proposals might harm developing countries, with poor infrastructure, who have to use air transport to get their goods to market and say any decision would have to take into account the impact on farmers in the developing world.

In other words they might for instance end up torpedoing the ‘Free Trade’ products.

I wonder if they have taken into account EU Law and the restraint of trade some of these ideas might involve on organic producers in other EC States.

What amazes me is that they are, apparently without batting an eye, willing to effectively re-write the actual (widely understood) definition of what actually constitutes organic food!

In other words it will no longer be good enough for food to just actually really be organic. No now it must be ’green', as well as organic. The goalposts moved so fast there that you could be forgiven for not noticing them actually shift.

What next? Ban food produced under ‘glass’? Maybe they ought to ban all pulses ;-) because of the resultant greenhouse gasses (methane) they contribute when they are consumed…

2 comments:

TC said...

What is the problem?

They are trying to make Organic food better for the planet.

People who eat organic food care about the planet and will want better labels.

Phil A said...

TC, Most people would define ‘organic’ foods as, those produced naturally, without the use of chemicals, drugs, direct genetic manipulation, or factory farm techniques.

I would suggest that the main reason people buy ‘organic’ is that they are concerned what they are eating, that it should be as natural as possible.

They may also be concerned about food miles, or the carbon footprint of the food and if it is ‘fair trade’ - but these are separate issues and do not rightly impact on weather foot is what people generally regard as organic, or not.

The UK soil Association may be acting with genuine intentions, but they are misguided. They risk the public’s perception of their integrity and competence to be the arbiter of what is, or is not, organic.

In addition distance food travels is not necessarily the best indicator of the overall so-called carbon footprint, Things are much more complex and not as clear. For instance English apples out of season because of refrigeration costs are quite likely to have a larger carbon footprint than Chilean or New Zealand apples.