There’s no doubt that the popularity of organic food is increasing – you simply have to look at the produce and meat sections of your local supermarket to realise that. People believe it’s healthier and better for us to eat food that hasn’t been touched by chemicals.
But can eating organic improve your carbon footprint? The answer is undoubtedly yes although it needs to be qualified.
The Pluses of Organic Food
Even ignoring the health factor, you’ll find that less energy is expended in the growing of organic food. With no chemicals or man-made fertilizers involved in the process, its carbon footprint is small (it’s larger for organic meat, but that’s simply because there’s no carbon-neutral way for an animal to grow – but it’s still smaller than those intensively reared).
Often, but certainly not always, you’ll find that the organic produce you buy, certainly in a farm shop or at a farmer’s market, has been grown locally, which means far less in the way of food miles, which is definitely more carbon-friendly. Additionally, you’re also helping to support small local businesses, which is good for the regional economy as well as for the land (the more encouragement organic farmers receive, the more farmers will turn to organic farming, which means less carbon emissions from farms).
The Minuses of Organic Food
Going organic is an excellent idea. But you need to be careful when you’re buying. Look at the origin of the fruits and vegetables. We import some 5,000 tonnes of organic produce a year, much of it from Ghana, Egypt, the Dominican Republic and Kenya. That’s an awful lot of air miles, and in 2007 the Soil Association (the arbiter of what is organic and what isn’t) has been considering stripping all freighted produce of its organic status, simply because of the food miles involved. However, that means we’d lose a lot of our out of season organic produce – which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your views.
However, selling that produce to us is keeping a lot of small farmers in those countries above the poverty line. So it becomes a question of carbon footprints and ethics.
A lot more organic produce comes from this country – the seasonal goods. That’s much better in terms of food miles, but it’s still no guarantee that they’re minimal. Something might have been grown in Cornwall, transported to a distribution centre in the north and then sent back to Plymouth, for instance – hardly the best use of resources.
What it all means is that you can’t take the term organic as always being good. You have to approach it with caution before buying, weigh the pros and cons and make your decision.
The Ideal Solution
Perhaps the best way is to buy as much of your organic produce as possible from local sources. For other items, buy British when you can, and for treats purchase imported produce. With meat, you should always buy British (and almost invariably it will be). Foreign meat will have been frozen for transport. There’s nothing inherently wrong with meat that’s been frozen, but it does go against the whole ethos of organic food.