Wednesday, 10 September 2008
I’ve been thinking about organic food versus non-organic for a while now and although I’m still convinced that organic food has to be better for our health, I'm not so sure about the environmental side of things because, while there seemed to be no doubt that spraying the countryside with pesticides is damaging animal habitats and upsetting the balance of things, the fact that it’s a less efficient means of farming than the conventional non-organic way is worrying me. We have a growing population in this world that needs feeding so surely we need to be looking at ways that will increase food yields rather than reducing them?
Because organic farming is less productive, organic food naturally costs more. The farmer still has to make his living, after all. Now that increase in price is all very well and good for the middle-classes with a reasonable disposable income and those of us who are naturally frugally minded but what about those who are at the poorer end of the scale and who aren’t frugal in the same way? Those who don’t understand how to cut costs elsewhere in order to be able to afford the best possible quality of food? And not everybody can grow their own, either. Some live in flats without so much as a balcony, others may simply be physically incapable of growing much other than few herbs and salad leaves. These people still need to eat a good, balanced diet that’s affordable. Not to mention the starving millions who’d be ecstatic to have a diet that comes anywhere close to the one we generally enjoy.
Here in the UK, our children are suffering from obesity. The government have warned parents about the dangers of the fats and sugars that kids are being fed with (microwave meals being a HUGE culprit), but if the price of fresh fruit and vegetables continues to rise and production continues to decrease, the obesity situation isn’t going to get any better. I personally know families who honestly believe they can’t afford to give their children 5-a-day already, let alone buy organic pasta, rice, bread, milk, meat, fish and use organic herbs and spices, and although I could easily re-budget for them, making it possible to at least ensure 5-a-day of organic fruit and veg, being on a low income myself I know it isn’t possible to buy everything in its organic version and still have money to save for other essentials and a rainy day fund. Choices have to be made, and if the organic lobby get their way, those choices will surely become increasingly unavailable?
Of course, one answer is to stop all production of animal food products. No more beef, pork, lamb or poultry. No more eggs or milk. We all know that isn’t going to happen, though. Even though I’ve cut back on the amount of red meat we eat - especially beef as cattle are a big environmental problem - the hardened carnivores amongst us (of which I have to hold up my hand and admit that I am one) are never going to just sit back and quietly accept that.
While we’re on the subject of meat, this is the one area where I do believe organic really is best. While I’m still on the fence regarding the environmental consequences of organic crop farming - the pesticides that leech into the environment versus the growing need for food - when it comes to livestock, only the best possible methods of raising them is, in my opinion, acceptable. That means no stuffing them full of anti-biotics or keeping them in conditions that restrict movement and their ability to act naturally. Unlike fruit, vegetables, corn and the likes, animals have feelings and should never be raised or slaughtered under inhumane conditions just so that we can stuff our faces. We carnivores will just have to put up with a little less meat and fewer eggs, it’s as simple as that. We CAN get our protein elsewhere and if I can accept that I can’t have an egg for breakfast every day and I have to make my meat go further by adding more veg and cereal to stews, casseroles, meatballs and what have you, then so can others. Making do with less isn’t such a hardship and it beats having to give it up entirely.
Anyway, what do you think? Apart from the health benefits of eating organic food, should we keep focusing on organic food production for the sake of the environment or not?