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The Big Organic Scam

Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, uproots the good vegetable argument.

Published on June 4th 2008.


The Big Organic Scam

"Organic farming is sustainable. It sustains poverty.” This quote from CS Prakas, a distinguished plant biologist, came to mind when shopping in my local supermarket. Recently I watched a young mother hover between choosing the more expensively labelled organic vegetables and ordinary vegetables. I gave a silent little cheer when she chose the non 'organic' food.

"The most risible claim of the organic farm movement is that organic farming is good for the environment."

Like most of my constituents I guess she was feeling the pressure of food inflation and trying to balance the lower cost against the claims made for organic food of better taste, better health, less damage to the environment and greater safety. In fact in many people’s minds, organic has become synonymous with good.

It is not, and knowing a little of the history, philosophy and practices of the 'organic' farm movement and its main accreditation body the Soil Association explains why.

Interestingly the Advertising Standards agency in response to complaints surveyed the scientific literature and carried out its own tests and found there to be no difference between the taste of 'organic' and food not labelled as 'organic'.

People who have eaten 'organic' food during their lifetime are not healthier and do not live longer than the rest of us.

'Organic' foods are no safer than conventional foods and last year the Soil Association acknowledged at Hay-on-Wye, that organic farmers used pesticides which it had previously denied. Many observers believe that pesticides used by 'organic' farmers, such as copper sulphate and pyrethrum - a nerve toxin and potential carcinogen, are more dangerous to the environment than the pesticides used in modern farming. The pesticide rotenone is highly toxic to humans yet 'organic'farmers are allowed to use it, right up to harvest. It persists for a particularly long periods on olives and it concentrates in olive oil.

Of course 'organic' food is grown in soil fertilised with manure and is therefore at greater risk of being contaminated by mycotoxins or fungi. Effective synthetic fungicides are prohibited and the copper sulphate fungicide that is allowed is less effective. The Food Standard Agency has warned that organic corn meals have significantly higher contamination rates with the myrotoxin fumonisin.

The most risible claim of the organic farm movement is that organic farming is good for the environment. An experiment called the Boarded Barnes was done in Ongar in Essex comparing organic farming, integrated farm management and conventional farming. It found in virtually every case that integrated farm management was better for biodiversity and bird life and used only two thirds of the land.

The vast majority of organic fruit and vegetables are imported from far flung parts of the globe like Chile and Kenya . The environmental damage of these long haul flights must be put into any environmental impact assessment of “organic” farming. I don’t believe the Soil Association or anybody else can validate how the food was grown in these countries and it is doubtful if the farmers are paid fairly.

The claims for organic farming made by the Soil Association have no evidential basis. In fact Patrick Holden when he ran the Soil Association dismissed the idea that there was any sense in scientifically testing his claims. He once explained told the Royal Institution that there had to be room in public policy for an irrational approach.

This is not surprising for an organisation which was set up by Lady Balfour, the niece of the Prime Minister who was a disciple of the Nazi Rudolf Steiner who believed that food produced with synthetic nitrate fertilisers lacks vital sources imparted by animal manure and that these special sources were transmitted through the horns of animals from special forces from far away planets. Quite simply he was a wacko.

We all want better care for the environment, proper treatment of farm animals and safe and tasty food. No doubt the care of animals is better on 'organic' farms than in factory farms but in these difficult financial times don’t believe when you spend your extra money on 'organic' food it is making you safer, healthier or that the environment benefits.

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25 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

omg aliensJune 4th 2008.

I'm struggling to understand the motivation for this article, but that's really a secondary concern - more worrying is the fact that almost every paragraph contains a fairly bold claim stated as fact, with absolutely no corroborating evidence to back it up (and no, a couple of disconcertingly vague references to 'studies' do not count).This sounds like the ranting of a desert-dwelling conspiracy theorist in a tinfoil hat. It's hilarious.

Stringer's CojonesJune 4th 2008.

Stringer's piece is typical of either badly-thought out, mis-understood facts cobbled together and then re-gurgitated by politicians - something of which we should be really vary wary - or something he's been sponsored to say.While I wouldn't blindly believe all the Soil Association's claim, it's good to see some balance. Knowing the track record of politicians (45 minutes to the launching of weapons of mass destruction anyone?), I'd tend to look to the opposing view.Particularly if Stringer took a job as a "consultant" in agri-business...Get back to looking after something you can change: Manchester is hardly a major organic farming region.

Dennis The LawJune 4th 2008.

MP doesn't know what he's talking about shokkaaa!Whose paying Mr. Stringer's expenses then? the GM lobby?

reallyflatbrokJune 4th 2008.

What a shame....what an ego. please can we no more of this rubbish from your resident "rent-a-quote", libertarian wacko/MP !

MarcieJune 4th 2008.

terrible rant 2/10. Attempts to make a complex issue into black and white and fails to understand key evidence. Don't think you'd passed GCSE science with this oneAnd it's the Boarded Barns study. Barns as the big buildings on farms.

SarahJune 4th 2008.

Hmmm... not only does this rant 'coincidentally' appear just as the GM and agrofood lobbies launch big campaigns against smallholder and organic agriculture, but it bears a strange resemblance to an article on similar lines published by the Independent a couple of weeks ago, by one of those pseudo-scientific ex-Living Marxism loons from Spiked. I'm sure Mr Stringer is deeply concerned about the environment, but some recycling is superfluous...

Cathy BryantJune 4th 2008.

It isn't as if Graham Stringer had any credibility to lose, but this article is so badly written and researched that he seems to be caricaturing himself now!

Matt ArrowsmithJune 4th 2008.

My god! This guy is an MP?? and when did ManCon turn into the Daily Mail? Note to the editor: please, please, please don't let this guy write anything more for you unless he can provide decent evidence to his outrageous claims without providing any other viewpoints. When the tories win the next election at least this muppet will be out of a job.

toastJune 4th 2008.

jesus christ, don't people bother pretending their rants are based on fact anymore? - mentions of 'studies' and spurious 'facts' thrown around with no source, in fact only one reference to an actual named study - go, on have a google for the infamous "Boarded Barnes" experiment - the results may shock...

zeuneJune 4th 2008.

just did google it and ........ nought!

JamesJune 4th 2008.

Graham Stringer's right to question the ludicrously inflated claims about organic food. Buy local is the best thing not the fact that organic apples have been grown in New Zealand and vacuum packed. The other evil is the common agricultual policy of that waste of space which is the European Union. This should be ditched. Farmers should recieve no production subsidies whatever, they should exist as most businesses on the revenues they receive. If hill farmers for example can't make a living of it then we should let the moors and mountains return to nature, with woods and so forth. Now that would be exciting. Mr Stringer your comment piece is welcome in that it questions the smugness of self-satisfied Soil Association - these people give themselves a semi-religious tone of voice. They are the ones with the truth they seem to say and we are blind fools outside the sunshine of their faith if we don't heed their words.

GordoJune 4th 2008.

Mr Hyde, shame on you. Gordo never gets 3/10.

check your facts first...June 4th 2008.

The hit I found on the FSA's website is copied below. Please inform where your source of higher contamination from organic maize meal came from? and, it's a myco- not myro- toxin."Of the 292 products sampled in the survey, 14% (40 samples) were producedfrom organically-grown maize. Although the levels are superficially similar,there are not enough data to statistically determine if foods based onconventionally-grown maize are generally higher or lower in mycotoxinscontent compared with foods produced from organically-grown maize."- from: www.food.gov.uk/…/fsis7205.pdfAdditionally…, it seems that whether or not you choose organic production methods, I don't think the level of this particular mycotoxin would be affected by that decision alone. See the FDA:"Occurrence in Raw CornThe extent of contamination of raw corn with fumonisins varies with geographic location, agronomic and storage practices, and the vulnerability of the plants to fungal invasion during all phases of growth, storage, and processing. The levels of fumonisins in raw corn are also influenced by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and rainfall during pre-harvest and harvest periods (3). High levels of fumonisins are associated with hot and dry weather, followed by periods of high humidity. High levels of fumonisins may also occur in raw corn that has been damaged by insects (4, 5). Further, fumonisin levels in raw corn can increase under improper storage conditions. For example, optimal growth of fumonisin-producing molds that lead to increased levels of fumonisins in raw corn can occur when the moisture content of harvested raw corn during storage is 18-23 percent (5)."from http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fumongui.html

ancoats girlJune 4th 2008.

My organic box is local as well, and I know it tastes miles better than any veg from the supermarket. A bag of value carrots from Asda may be 40p but they taste of nothing. I agree that buying organic from far flung places doesn't seem very eco friendly, although there is the argument that you're supporting economies in more deprived countries... hmmmm.

David CoveneyJune 4th 2008.

It all started quite reasonably, and I was willing to believe what you were saying...But then you go on to intimate the Soil Association with being wacko because it was set up by someone who was a niece of a Prime Minister who was a disciple of the beliefs of someone who was a Nazi. That's like me saying that the Labour Party must be corrupt because the sister of a party member had been dating a guy who once sold drugs. And at that point my respect for your argument disappears.Which is a shame, because you raise valid and interesting points. Organic is not the be all and end all. It is, however, a choice that people make because by and large it's simple and indicates a certain standard of care. That standard may not be the best one, but it's a straightforward one. So if you buy an Organic egg you know it's not one that was the result of caged hens that need huge quantities of antiobiotics to keep them alive. Nor is it the result of highly intensive farming.That there are non-organic yet excellent farms and responsible farms is something that should be promoted more. But you also can't deny that there are highly intensive and destructive farming methods that really are no longer sustainable.The Soil Association represents one position on a spectrum. Yours is another. You'd improve the respect for your opinions if you kept your reasoning a little less emotional and a little more scientific.

JonJune 4th 2008.

Mr Hyde you fool. It's written by Graham Stringer as it says at the top of the article.

Little FoxJune 4th 2008.

This rant is a sad indictment of modern politicians. Using sensationlism to attack organic food with no facts to back it up. Straight from The Sun book of journalism. Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Maybe a bit of old class hatred thrown in to boot as it is mainly the middle class who buy organic it has to be said. Graham, get back to your day job please. Shame as it could have been a rational debate.

AnonymousJune 4th 2008.

The biggest danger to your constituents isn't organic or non-organic food it is food produced under the Common Agricultural Policy. The CAP systematicaly improvishes your constituents and causes them to eat lower quality food than otherwise would be the case. Your constituents spend a far higher proportion of their total budget on food than the national average. CAP causes them to spend far more of their limited budget on food than if we have free trade in food. It also systematically impoverishes parts of Africa where food production would have a competitive advantage over expensive, intensively farmed food produced in Europe. Lets have you giving the CAP a good kicking for your next article. You know it makes sense and changing CAP would make all of your constituents materially better off.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJune 4th 2008.

Very funny David - nice flat too - but we're taking your photo off as there might be no end to this. Now back to organic food...

Mr.HydeJune 4th 2008.

Article 3/10Comments section 8/10Dont we get to see who the author was? is this a Gordo article?

MJune 4th 2008.

Organic food is a rip off. The idea that food that has less air miles is better for the environment is another misunderstood area. The energy it takes to grow certain vegetables in this country cancels out the air miles used from further a field countries that are naturally warmer and so don't have to waste energy heating greenhouses.

Pete BirkinshawJune 4th 2008.

What a remarkable coincidence that this rant coincides with the biotech industry's big new lobbying and PR campaign! (A campaign that is cynically trying to cash in on current food shortages. The shortages are almost entirely due to farmers choosing to grow things other than staple cereals, and the increase in food grown to be fed to animals rather than to people. GM crops aren't relevant)

Sam Allen, Soil AssociationJune 4th 2008.

Reading the responses to Graham Stringer's article it seems that most people are aware of the benefits of organic farming. Below are a few key corrections to his tired old arguments:EnvironmentContrary to Graham Stringer’s article organic farming is better for wildlife on farms. The science is clear cut. Scientific literature reviews have found that, overall, organic farms have 30 per cent more wild species, and 50 per cent higher numbers of those species. Based on scientific research, the Government says that organic farming has clear environmental benefits – better for wildlife, lower pollution from sprays, produces fewer dangerous wastes and less carbon dioxide. The Sustainable Development Commission says that organic certification represents "the gold standard" for sustainable food production. Government-funded studies have shown that across a range of sectors, organic farming uses 26 per cent less energy than non-organic farming to produce the same amount of food, and the Government agrees that organic farming is better for climate change.The actual extent of organic food currently imported using airfreight has also been inaccurately reported – we calculate less than 1% of all imported organic food is airfeighted. The Soil Association is also currently reviewing its standards to ensure organic produce will only be air freighted if it also delivers real benefits for farmers in developing countries.PesticidesThe Soil Association has never claimed it does not use pesticides. The Soil Association's rules allow farmers to use four pesticides, on a restricted basis and only with permission - non-organic farming uses more than 300. The vast majority of organic farmers have no need for sprays. If all farming was organic, spraying would fall by 98 per cent. Those we allow are either of natural origin (rotenone and soft soap) or simple chemical products – copper compounds and sulphur. The active ingredients in rotenone and soft soap break down rapidly when exposed to sunlight, minimising risk to the environment. Copper and sulphur occur naturally in the soil, and most copper is applied by non-organic farmers to correct copper deficiencies. None is found in organic food. Nearly 40 pesticides, which we were promised were safe, have been banned or withdrawn from use over the past decade. People who want to reduce their exposure to potentially harmful pesticides can buy organic food. A US study showed that within one day of switching to an organic diet no traces of pesticides could be found in children's urine. When the children switched back to a non-organic diet, pesticides were found immediately.HealthPublished research shows that, on average, organic food contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants. Organic milk is the most thoroughly scientifically researched organic food. That research proves organic milk is naturally higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and some other antioxidants than non-organic milk. Diseases such as eczema, asthma and allergies are affecting more and more children. Ten per cent of children in the EU now suffer from eczema. Following research in Sweden, a Dutch government-funded study published last November showed a 36 per cent lower incidence of eczema in children fed on organic dairy products compared with children consuming non-organic dairy products. Organic standards prohibit a host of additives that researchers say may be harmful to our health, such as hydrogenated fat, monosodium glutamate and artificial flavourings and colourings. Recent Food Standards Agency-funded research found that some common additives can cause hyperactivity in children. You can avoid a wide range and large quantity of potentially allergenic or harmful additives if you eat organic food.

GordoJune 4th 2008.

Mr Hyde, shame on you. Gordo never gets 3/10.

AnonymousJune 4th 2008.

Don't buy organic, buy local. Use local shops and farms who can tell you where their products have come from and how they were grown / reared. The use of a few chemicals on food will make little difference to the vast majority of us who consume a vairety of toxins daily anyway. Far better to know animals have been looked after, meat has been hung properly and that fruit and veg is fresh and ripe. You really can tell the difference between a properly reared chicken and a battery farmed one.

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