Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Friends of the Earth are vigorously campaigning for Real Food. By this term they mean food that comes from real farms not agricultural factory-like farms and food that is free from pesticide residues and genetically modified organisms. A recent Mori poll found that six out of ten people would choose organic food if it was easily available and cost no more than conventional food. To meet this demand the Government is promoting organic food by making available funds for farmers to convert to organic farming. EU funding for the Organic Farming Scheme in 2000/01 and future years will be provided under the new Rural Development Regulation.
"Organic" is a legal category enforced by the Government. This ensures that consumers know they are buying genuinely natural, organic produce. Organic farmers rely on natural techniques to reduce pests and weeds rather than on chemicals. They care for the soil and the environment and rotate their crops. Animal rearing conditions must be humane and as natural as possible and they must be fed on natural feedstuffs. Organic food must also be free of any genetically modified material.
Friends of the Earth also maintain that organic farming helps rural economies. In Germany, for example, organic farms employ 10-20 per cent more people than conventional farms. Many organic farms provide new business opportunities; for example, the organic box of vegetables also provides jobs. It is estimated that 18,000 new jobs could be created if a 10 per cent target for organic farming was met within the next 15 years.
Real Food also protects the environment and Friends of the Earth point to the fact that since the Second World War farming has destroyed 95 per cent of our flower-rich meadows. Pesticides wash out into nearby streams and rivers, contaminating the water. In 1997 8 per cent of English rivers and lakes were polluted with levels of pesticides above government recommended levels. The cost of cleaning up this pollution is around £1 billion a year and we pay for this in our water bills. Numbers of seed and insect eating birds are being reduced. When did you last see a skylark singing over farmland? Farmers are recommended to leave a wide border round the edges of fields but, living as I do in rural Northamptonshire, I often find the farmer has ploughed right to the edge of a field, even over what should be public rights of way. Turkeys have been bred so intensively to increase their body weight that they can no longer mate naturally.
Years ago people ate foods produced locally and they ate them in the right seasons. Now we get new potatoes from Egypt, apples from New Zealand and beans from Kenya - all out of season and having travelled hundreds of miles. Eating locally produced food helps to ensure that we minimise the amount of environmental and social damage our diet may be causing. The huge amounts of fuel used to transport food around the world add to pollution problems. Air transport is now the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions. Older readers will remember what a treat it was to have the first new potatoes or the first stawberries of the season. Has it reduced the quality of life when we can have them week in and week out around the year?
More supermarkets are giving more space to organic products in their stores. But customers who are used to clean produce, all of the same size, may turn up their noses at the mud-caked, knobbly and ununiform size of the organically produced local produce offered for sale. But this is the type of produce proudly presented by local gardeners to the household's cook in years gone by. Friends of the Earth are hoping to persuade more people to buy local organically produced food and to ask supermarkets to stock more organic produce. They believe we should make better use of farm shops, local farmers' markets and local delivery schemes. And if you have a garden, you could always grow your own fruit and vegetables. Bon appétit!