Green Issues: The organic debate

I’ve always been a bit indecisive about organic food. I went through a phase back before I had children, and therefore more money, of only buying organic whenever I could.

The benefits to me outweighed the extra cost and I felt good to be supporting a growing system that produced food in a sustainable way that was respectful to the environment.

Then ‘organic’ became trendy. And therefore a whole lot more expensive. And a lot more in demand which meant, in my experience anyway, that the price went up as the quality went down.

I remember picking up my organic veg box from the collection point one day, after a few weeks of not really being very impressed with the quality, to find they had given me a cucumber which was so rotten it literally disintegrated in my hand when I picked it up. I didn’t go back to that company again.

I understand that without the use of chemicals to control the pests and weeds, and even the way fruit and vegetables are grown, you will of course come across problems which may lead to a product you may not choose from the basket of others on the shelf.

I have been rather adamant that we don’t use any sprays or fertilisers on our veg patch this year and went out yesterday afternoon to discover that the caterpillars have decimated my kale and my Romanesco cauliflowers.

The kale I can live without but the cauliflowers are hard enough to grow on the moor as it is – and yes I know, the net should be on the veg, not still in the shed, but I was still rather annoyed and spent a good couple of hours picking all the thousand caterpillars off the plants and murdering them in a bucket of vinegar.

Recently I have found myself heading back towards organic. I have always had a veg box from an organic company at the time of year when I have nothing from the garden, and this is what most people think of when they think organic. But what about the rest of it?

The milk I started getting from Taw River Dairy, but then lockdown happened and I wasn’t going anywhere that stocked it, so I reverted back to organic milk. Butter was hard to find in lockdown and often all that was left in the Co op was Yeo Valley organic, so I bought that. I haven’t changed these habits back yet, although I am missing the creamy Taw River milk!

Cheese is a bit different for us in that organic cheese, unless you shop somewhere like Waitrose, is actually quite hard to find and very expensive. So other than cheddar, which the kids get through like mice, I’ve started buying locally made cheese. Yes, it’s not cheap but it’s so very tasty! And Norsworthy goat’s cheese is unpasteurised too.

Anyway, the reason I thought to write about organic food now is that a recent study has been published which shows that by eating organic food, we can reduce the amount of glyphosate in our bodies by up to 70% in just six days.

Glyphosate is the world’s most-used chemical to control weeds, despite its safety being dubious at best.

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency concluded that glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.

In 2016, another WHO report made a positive correlation between exposure to the herbicide and non-Hodgekin’s lymphoma but also stated that it was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet’.

What this small-scale study does show is that glyphosate is present in many more foodstuffs than we’d imagine and although this was an American study, the same can probably be said for the UK too.

The cereal you have for breakfast, the wheat in the toast. The packet of salad and factory-farmed chicken breast you have for lunch. The tea you drink throughout the day. The fruit you snack on.

And all this is relatively healthy; you’re doing well with your healthy food, but does it also contain the chemical that you use to kill the bindweed in your garden?

And the taste of fresh, seasonal organic fruit and veg – well, there’s simply no comparison.

Laura White

Author: Laura White

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