The myths which damage the organic movement are not conjured out of thin air and they do not arrive in the newspapers by chance. The myths are generated by organisations with particular interests to defend, and they are presented as press releases and prepared articles for publication in the media.
Between 1990 and 2000 the organic market in
- Loss of trust in non-organic food products after a long line of food scares.
- Desire to avoid pesticide residues in food.
- Desire to eat food produced without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
- Demand for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.
- Demand for environmental protection and enhancement.
- Desire to protect the environment from GMO contamination.
- Confidence in the external inspection programme and legal standards for production covering all organic production and processing.
- Health and safety of farm and food workers worldwide.
However, emerging research is already beginning to show the benefits of organic production. The results of a major six-year study recently reviewed in Nature magazine comparing organic, integrated and conventional apple systems revealed that an organic apple production system has similar yields to conventional and integrated production methods. Importantly, it also has higher soil quality, is better for the environment, produces sweeter and less tart apples, has higher profitability, and achieves greater economic sustainability.
Policy makers have recognised the potential for organic farming as a means of food production that meets the demands of nature and the marketplace. The benefits of organic management are reflected by government support for conversion, and post-conversion organic management, in all European countries except the
However, the progress and objectives of organic farming have not been welcomed by all. Organic production aims to avoid external inputs in order to achieve sustainability. This conflicts with non-organic agriculture which relies heavily on external inputs to increase yields (particularly pesticides and fertilisers). As a consequence pesticide sales globally are now estimated to be worth over £15 billion a year.
There is clearly a strong commercial interest in maintaining this market. It is therefore no surprise that organic farming has its critics, who are attempting to influence the buying habits of consumers with anti-organic allegations. It is important that these allegations or myths are engaged and refuted rather than ignored and allowed to gain credibility. The myth and reality initiative was launched by the Soil Association and Sustain to provide a well referenced and robust response to these myths. This report aims to educate critics, provide information for the organic sector and the media, and to raise awareness amongst the general public.
With confident that more research will yield more evidence that organic food and farming is good for people and good for the planet.