Is organic food a lifestyle choice? Yes.

So what is the problem?

Respected food critic Egon Ronay has become the latest high-profile figure to cast doubt on the health benefits of organic food and claim the public is being conned by the slick marketing campaigns launched by manufacturers.

It follows the suggestions made by Environment Minister David Miliband last month. He claimed that there was “no proven health benefits and non-organic food should not be seen as second best” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6326653.stm).

Mr Ronay has now waded into the debate – I use the term loosely as I seem to think the majority of consumers are fairly clear on what they want and what they believe – by accusing shops and producers of profiting from public confusion about the issues. He added there was no scientific proof of the health benefits of organic food and wanted clearer information.

Whereas I would wholeheartedly agree on the need for clearer information – anything that helps us make a more considered choice has to be worthy if support – I feel fairly confident already about what I think about organic food.

It tastes better and particularly in relation to fruit and vegetables that means I’m more inclined to eat fresh, healthier food.

In what is an increasingly toxic society, the less exposure we have to man-made chemicals the better.

I’m willing to pay a little extra if it means getting good quality food.

Equally, if it is good quality and locally produced, cutting down on the ridiculous food miles supermarkets are prepared to transport commodities, then there is also a further environmental benefit – cut out the unnecessary plastic packaging and I”ll be even happier. 

All I’m interested in is buying the freshest, healthiest, tastiest food I can. Whether that is buying organic or locally produced food from a farm shop, it is a lifestyle choice I made some time ago and I’m happy to stick to it.

What I’m less happy about, for example, is the knowledge that some organic produced is being marketed by manufacturers with a poor overall ethical rating. Some manufacturers and retailers are also putting a premium price on some organic produce.

Also, there seems no difference to me in shipping organic produce several thousands of miles around the world to sit on supermarket shelves. The taste benefits are dwarfed by the environmental impact of eating cherries from South America.

As part of the clear, independent, useful information that could be provided on organic food, a few reminders about seasonal produce and what we should be looking to eat at particular times of the year would also be hugely beneficial.

Good starting points are the Soil Association (http://www.soilassociation.org) and the Government (http://www.defra.gov.uk/). But the Soil Association is a campaign group and so comes at the issue from a very definite starting point whilst the Government can give a useful overview but if you’re looking for greater detail you’ll need to look elsewhere.

The best source of information I’ve found to date is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Read any of his books or go to http://www.rivercottage.net/.

Buying organic and farm shop produce is a lifestyle choice and I eat healthier meals because I’m able to buy fresher, tastier ingredients.

I’m not confused.

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