Wooing the naysayers

This is my 36th article in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement. This article also appeared on the site, Verdant Life

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Mangetout peas

In a recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper, the correspondent referred to organic vegetables as new age “woo”, as opposed to “scientific”, conventional vegetables. The implication was that organic was a waste of money.

I will readily admit that I suffer from confirmation bias, as I am passionate about the organic movement and so like to hear positive views that reinforce my thinking. However if I am to see myself as rational, I also need to face negative criticism head on.

Is organic a waste of money? I will try and briefly answer this question. A fellow farmer recently visited the US and and while he was there attempted to find out what the American public thought of organic produce. Interestingly he found that most preferred organic for environmental rather than health reasons.

This seems to be in contrast to most South Africans who seem to purchase organic for personal health reasons. What the American organic consumer seems to have grasped is that organic agriculture has a positive impact on the global environment compared to conventional agriculture.

A few studies have been done to establish whether organic vegetables are more nutritious than conventional. I have touched on this subject in previous articles. The consensus is that organic vegetables tend to have higher concentrations of phytonutrients than conventional. It’s what organic vegetables don’t have that is conclusive. Conventional vegetables have a much higher toxic load than organic due to pesticide and herbicide applications.So yes, I would say that organic is healthier and well worth the money. However, in this age of climate change, chemical pollution, and mass extinctions, the environmental advantages of organic are important.

Organic techniques sequester more carbon dioxide than what is produced compared with conventional techniques, which are heavy carbon dioxide producers. Conventional fertilisers are responsible for the emission of nitrous oxide which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Organic farming is therefore more climate friendly. Organic farming does not use pesticides and chemical fertilisers. This reduces pollution as these substances are a significant polluter of water and soil. In its promotion of farm bio-diversity and in its ethical standards organic farming significantly reduces its contribution to species extinction.

These environmental effects are very real and in this age of approaching ecological limits this is no small thing. If you are environmentally responsible, and I’m sure most readers of this column are, then buying organic is not a waste of money. Organic farming is not “woo” as it has very real positive effects on both our health and the environment.

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About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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