Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Organic Farming Gets Thumbs Up

Following written Answers in the UK House of Lords: Agriculture: Organic Food (24 Jan 2011)

Lord Krebs (Crossbench) asked Her Majesty’s Government (as is the custom in the English House of Lords) for their assessment of the recently launched £1.8 million campaign to promote organic food in the European Union.

Lord Henley (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Conservative) replied with an explanation of who paid for the campaign stating that it was a joint enterprise between the organic industry (which most likely includes large corporations that produce organic food for profit) and the European Union (EU), which I gather means that we all contributed to it since the European Union gets its money from our governments who in turn get much of their money from us.

Lord Henley then discussed the raison d’ĂȘtre for the campaign which he explained was to “help to address barriers and misconceptions around the market for organic products”. He also stated that the UK shares the EU vision that more organic food will be sold by UK organic operators to increase our choice.

In keeping with my 2010 Retreat, my positive vision is that this campaign relates to whole foods as opposed to processed foods.  I am also envisioning that the organic system develops to include truly UK locally produced and locally distributed whole foods.

Lord Krebs next asked about the statement on the European Commission’s website that organic farming is Good for nature, Good for you.

To this, Lord Henley replied that it is supposed to convey to European citizens that organic farming is a system of farming that promotes biodiversity which can improve their lives by enhancing their enjoyment of rural areas. This, of course, is assuming that we have access to rural areas. In addition, he pointed out that just because a food product is organic does not mean that it is good for us, such as confectionary. He also mentioned that this campaign was being developed in 2006-07, which I thought was interesting considering the Food Standards Agency’s attempt to denigrate organic foods once again in 2009.  But there you have it, a positive vision from the EU; organic farming is good for nature and good for you!

Lastly, Lord Krebs asked another question about the campaign motto, but instead of referring to farming, he referred to food. He wanted to know if there is scientific evidence that organic food is better for nature and better for consumers.

Lord Henley was tactful in his reply stating that “[w]hether organic production delivers environmental benefits is a complex issue.” He gave some evidence to show that organic systems have been shown to be the most effective in improving biodiversity together with one slightly contradictory report. He then focused on the food for consumers aspect and pointed to the recent studies funded by the Food Standards Agency which I have written about on this blog and know to be entirely inadequate. But then he continues on the note of consumer preference acknowledging that many consumers prefer: (1) not to have chemical residues on their food, (2) to have strict animal welfare rules as in organic production, and (3) not to eat hydrogenated fats and synthetic flavours (referring to processed foods).  This is a positive vision too: a vision that consumers will have the right to chose wholesome foods produced in a humane manner.

All in all, I take this to be thumbs up for organic farming and food. If only our government and the EU could make them the cheaper option without the involvement of transnational corporations instead of the present more expensive one, we’d be well on our way to a better future! Rather than paying for campaigns, we should be paying for a system to make organic farming and foods cheaper because that is the best way to promote them. This is my final positive vision here, that organic farming and foods are cheaper than the so-called conventional farming and processed foods.  What about a positive affirmation for this? Let me see, mmm..........wholesome food’s are affordable!

P.S. I have learned that it is helpful to know who you are talking to and in this case talking about.  So I would like to share a little information that I discovered about Lord Krebs, born John Richard Krebs on 11 April 1945 in Sheffield and who in 2007 became a non-party political life peer.  First of all, he was chairman of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) from 2000 to 2005.  As I noted in my book review on Food Wars, the FSA launched an attack on organic food shortly after its inception in 2000.  Indeed, the BBC news quoted him as saying that consumers are  "not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Food Standards Agency, if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety. We don't have the evidence to support those claims."  One only has to look at my book reviews for such evidence, the main one being The One-Straw Revolution (1978) written by a scientist turned farmer.  As is the case with many scientists, it would appear that Lord Krebs may tend towards failing to look at the whole picture as discussed by the President of the Royal Society, Britain's Academy of Science, Sir Paul Nurse in a recent BBC documentary.

His father was a biochemist who described the uptake and release of energy in cells (the Krebs cycle) and so one would imagine that Lord Krebs would naturally lean towards a scientific approach to matters.  His own speciality is ornithology, the study of birds, which explains why Lord Henley mentioned the biodiversity of birds on farms in the one study that did not entirely support organic farming as a way of increasing biodiversity.

You can watch Lord Krebs in a video of a lecture he gave on 29 September 2010 at Jesus College, University of Oxford on "Risk, Uncertainty and Regulation" by clicking here.