ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Rebutting the myths: ‘Couterblast’ programme on BBC 2 TV (broadcast 31 January 2000)

The Soil Association

Rebutting the myths

In response to the ‘Couterblast’ programme on BBC 2 TV (broadcast on Monday 31 January) which allowed, Roger Bate, Director of European Science and Environment Forum, half an hour to air his negative opinions about organic food and farming, the Soil Association has produced the following information sheet to look in detail at his allegations.

Rebutting the myths:

The first myth is that ‘E.Coli can be passed into the food chain via animal manure used on organic crops’. E. coli 0157:H7 first emerged in 1986.  It is thought that it developed as a direct result of intensive farming practices, such as the use of dried poultry manure in livestock diets (as a protein source), the use of in-feed antibiotics (as growth promoters) and the close confinement of farm animals in factory farming conditions. Organic farming is less likely to be a source of E. coli contamination and should therefore produce safer food, because organic livestock is far less likely to harbour these pathogens, which are not favoured by the low stress, healthier lifestyles inherent in organic farming. Organic standards require that manure must be composted, which kills harmful bacteria. Well managed organic soil is a hive of biological activity, which creates conditions that fight against pathogenic bacteria.

The second myth is that ‘organic vegetables contain myco-toxins resulting from fungal infections’. Organic vegetables are actually far less prone to fungal diseases than those grown with nitrogen fertilisers. Artificial nitrogen speeds up growth resulting in the thinning of plant cell walls which are then far more prone to fungal attack.

The third myth is that in conventional farming ‘the total amount of pesticide residues that a person will consume in a year is equivalent in toxicity to one cup  of coffee’. There are no grounds to make this statement especially in the light of growing evidence that pesticide residues are a serious cause for health concern and pesticides like Lindane have been linked, for example, to breast cancer. A report from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in 1999 reported that 20% of sheep farmers suffered long term health damage from Organo Phosphate (OP) exposure.

The fourth myth is that ‘a wide scale switch to organic farming will necessitate the cultivation of additional wild lands to compensate for low yields’. The author has forgotten that for the last decade conventional farming has caused such over production in food that between 10-20% of UK crop land has been left fallow (set aside) at the taxpayers expense in order to reduce food mountains.

The fifth myth is that there have been ‘various studies comparing organically produced and conventional food that show that there is no difference in the nutritional benefits’. It is true that more research needs to be done to explore the nutritional benefits of organically produced food.  However research from the University of Copenhagen into secondary metabolites indicate that these secondary  compounds which are known to fight cancers, are more common in food produced organically without artificial fertilizers.

The final myth is that ‘the developing world needs industrial farming technology to feed their growing population’. This opinion is shown to be based on ignorance. Those charities and experts who work in the developing world actively support organic farming due to the fact that efficient organic methods can equal the yields of  intensive systems without  relying on the capital hungry and debt inducing dependency on expensive chemicals. It is commonly accepted that feeding people in developing countries is reliant upon greater economic and political equity, not technical fixes.

Our farming community is currently facing the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s caused largely by a succession of food scares (all of which are related to over intensive farming), this has undermined consumer trust in British farmers.

The one ray of hope in this otherwise bleak landscape is organic farming which is based on a production system avoiding the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and instead is based on crop rotations, sound husbandry and good management to promote health in crops and livestock (and ultimately people). Organic farming now has the support of the overwhelming majority of the consuming public and was mentioned three times in the Prime Minister’s address to the NFU AGM on Tuesday 1 February (possibly for first time by a British Prime Minister). Yet Counterblast still insisted on undermining the credentials of a farming system which is hallmarked by integrity through its very core.

The programme makers may be interested to know that more than 160 MPs are so convinced of the ability of organic farming to protect the environment and improve public health that they have signed the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill committing the government to set a target of 30% of farmland in England and Wales to be organic by 2010.
[For more about those behind the Counterblast programme see: Right wing clique behind organic attacks]