This article first appeared in our Organic September issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 14 September 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
We know organic is better for people and planet, but is it a realistic option in light of the spiralling global population and our current cost of living crisis?
I spoke to experts from Riverford, the Soil Association and Yeo Valley Organic to get to the bottom of some of the most common organic myths; here’s what they had to say.
According to Lee Holdstock, Soil Association’s senior business and trade development manager, the common myth that organic products are always more expensive isn’t always true.
‘It depends on where you shop and what you buy’, he explains. ‘We do lots of price comparisons; a recent one compared supermarket own-label tea bags with organic ones – and it was the same price for 80 bags.’
‘That said, we’re facing a cost of living crisis on top of a global health, climate and nature crisis’, Lee adds. ‘We have some big societal challenges around low incomes and access to good food. I reject the notion that the solution is that people who are struggling should be forced to eat food that’s not great for them or the planet.’
‘I know it’s easy for me to say, but I think it’s about value’, explains Sarah Mead, head gardener at Yeo Valley Organic Garden. ‘In the UK, 8% of household spend goes on food. That’s a lot less than in most other countries. Too many of us are used to picking up what we fancy for dinner each night, without questioning if the produce is in season or considering the value of the animal that has lived and died for that meal. We need to attach more value to what we’re putting in our mouths and bodies.’
‘A common argument is that organic farming needs more land than so-called conventional farming to feed the world’, says Riverford CEO Rob Haward. ‘But the alternative is big agriculture, which has set us on course for 90% soil erosion by 2050. This means it can only feed the world for so long, so we must look at this argument in terms of longevity, as well as the space required.’
For Rob, this means conventional farming as it is today is not a viable alternative for the future. ‘The solution has to be to work with nature, not against it’, he says. ‘Organic farming does this and creates the soil diversity we need for long-term farming stability.’
Does that mean we can carry on consuming as we are for now? ‘No’, says Rob. ‘Firstly, we already produce enough food to feed the world, we just don’t get the food to the right places. That needs to change so there’s not a high amount of food waste in some countries and lack of food in others. Secondly, we need to shift our diets to be more plant based and eat in line with the seasons so that instead of air-freighting strawberries to the UK in January we’re enjoying them in summer, when they are in season here. At Riverford we never use air freight.’
‘Every sustainable choice you make will make a difference’, says Lee Holdstock. ‘Organic food still only accounts for 1.8% of the food market and yet it is already having much more impact than that. It has set in motion a chain reaction for other brands to do more good. So much of our impact comes from consumption – the organic movement needs the people who put one or two organic products into their shopping baskets to put three or four in instead and the impact will be huge.’
For Rob Haward, what we buy matters more than we might think. ‘What you spend your money on supports businesses that have a positive impact or supports businesses that don’t have a positive impact’, he explains. ‘Don’t underestimate the ripple effect. I’ve worked in organic food for 25 years and have seen how even a relatively small number of shoppers can have a big influence on what other companies do.’
Sarah Mead sums up the importance of action perfectly: ‘Let me put my gardening hat on for a moment’, she says. ‘If everyone stopped using slug pellets, would that make a difference? Yes! In the meantime, doing anything is better than doing nothing. The moment we impose ‘all or nothing’ limitations on ourselves, we’ve lost the battle. Do what you can and do it as often as you can.’
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