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[EBOOK] Organic food and farming - Myth and reality (Organic vs non - organic: the facts), More writer, Design and production: Soil Association

In business, your success can be measured by the number of imitators you have, multiplied by the number of detractors. The veterans of organic food - both the campaigners and the producers - are clearly achieving the greatest success of a generation. Their imitators and followers are swelling their numbers daily. Their critics have never been more vociferous. It is easy to see why.

Between 1990 and 2000 the organic market in Europe grew at average of 25 per cent a year to reach an annual turnover of £6 billion by April 2000.1 Growth within the UK has been particularly strong in recent years with a five-fold increase in market value in only 5 years. There is a growing shift in consumer purchasing towards organic food.

This trend has developed for a number of reasons :

•    Loss of trust in non-organic food products after a long line of food scares.

•    Desire to avoid pesticide residues in food.

•    Desire to eat food produced without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

•    Demand for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

•    Demand for environmental protection and enhancement.

•    Desire to protect the environment from GMO contamination.

•    Confidence in the external inspection programme and legal standards for production covering all organic production and processing.

•    Health and safety of farm and food workers worldwide.

Policy makers have recognised the potential for organic farming as a means of food production that meets the demands of nature and the marketplace. The benefits of organic management are reflected by government support for conversion, and post-conversion organic management, in all European countries except the UK.

However, the progress and objectives of organic farming have not been welcomed by all. Organic production aims to avoid external inputs in order to achieve sustainability. This conflicts with non-organic agriculture which relies heavily on external inputs to increase yields (particularly pesticides and fertilisers). As a consequence pesticide sales globally are now estimated to be worth over £15 billion a year.2 There is clearly a strong commercial interest in maintaining this market.

It is therefore no surprise that organic farming has its critics, who are attempting to influence the buying habits of consumers with anti-organic allegations. It is important that these allegations or myths are engaged and refuted rather than ignored and allowed to gain credibility. The myth and reality initiative was launched by the Soil Association and Sustain to provide a well referenced and robust response to these myths. This report aims to educate critics, provide information for the organic sector and the media, and to raise awareness amongst the general public.

Our work has highlighted significant gaps in current research on organic food and farming. These need to be urgently filled. However, emerging research is already beginning to show the benefits of organic production. The results of a major six-year study recently reviewed in Nature magazine comparing organic, integrated and conventional apple systems revealed that an organic apple production system has similar yields to conventional and integrated production methods. Importantly, it also has higher soil quality, is better for the environment, produces sweeter and less tart apples, has higher profitability, and achieves greater economic sustainability.3

We are confident that more research will yield more evidence that organic food and farming is good for people and good for the planet.
1    Soil Association, Organic Food and Farming report 2000, March 2001
2    United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organisation web site, www.fao.org.agp/agpp/ipm/issues.htm
3    John P Reganold, JD Glover, P K Anrews and H R Hinman, Sustainability of three apple production systems, Natuce, Vol 410, 19 April 2001.

[EBOOK] Organic food and farming - Myth and reality (Organic vs non - organic: the facts), More writer, Design and production: Soil Association

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