”organic food no better for health than factory-farmed food says report” ran the frontpage headline in the UK Times nespaper on Thursday and if accurate makes me deeply concerned about government policy making. Not one but two paradigm shifts are needed put this story into perspective.
1 Whole System – What does the words ‘better for health’ mean? Most of the ‘evidence’ will have been at the level of a carrot or a small group of individual consumers, so that any measurable differences between inorganic and organic will have been tiny and unperceivable. But what about the bigger picture, the whole system? Measure the amount of pesticides across the entire food chain, runoff from fields into our water supply and recovery of threatened wildlife species and a different story can be told.
2. Emergence – The system of agricultural food production and indeed the sustainability of biodiversity and the countryside is complex. There are millions upon millions of ‘agents’ interacting, each in ways we can never ever be entirely certain of the outcome. In such a complex system the health of the population, predominant farming practices and shopping behaviours are all said to be emergent. They arise from experiences of the past and are attracted towards what feels right at the present. In such a system, outcomes can never be certain or accurately measured. Decisions about what is ‘best’ will always be flawed. We therefore need a paradigm shift in our overall understanding of the ‘management of such a system’.
A good strategy to take is to move towards the actions that have the least detrimental effect on the whole system. That way, we would remove, wherever possible, harmful pesticides, inorganic fertilisers and damaging runoff, precisely what the emergence of organic food production is achieving.
For me personally, the emergence of organic food production has resulted in:
- Closer links between my family and the farmers
- A weekly veg box which makes fresh, mostly local, vegetables the heart of our diet.
- A weekly newsletter discussing the latest successes, failures and dilemmas on the farm
- A knowledge that organic cow dung has more microbes, attracts more dung beetles which are fed upon by threatened species such as the greater horseshoe bat.
That all goes to making me feel ‘healthy’ both in body and in mind so don’t go telling me that organic food is ‘no better for my health’.