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14 November 2002
Food Standards Agency does not Provide Support for Organic Farming
© 2002 www.land-care.org.uk & Teviot
As reported by Geoffrey Lean, Environmental Editor
of the Independent (www.independent.co.uk)
on 3rd Nov 2002 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defied ministers
for months by refusing to back a government drive to promote organic
food and farming. According to this article Michael Meacher, Minister
of State (Environment), has written to Sir John Krebs (chairman
of the FSA) asking him to explain why the FSA has failed to make
a statement endorsing the environmental benefits of organic food.
Mr Meacher is reported as saying I am very surprised that
Sir John finds it difficult to come forward with a view on organic
farming that so many prestigious and authoritative voices have endorsed
so warmly and forcefully.
Quite rightly, however, the FSA should not be
supporting something for which it can find no evidence to do so.
The FSA has previously stated that there is no evidence that organic
foods have any nutritional benefit over foods produced by conventional
farming. Moreover, the FSA has also previously pointed out that
manure causes more damage with regard to air and water pollution
than do chemical fertilisers. That being the case, it is indeed
the job of the FSA to undermine claims that organic farming is more
environmentally friendly than conventional agriculture. The purpose
of the FSA is to assess matters in relation to food and its production
in an independent and scientific manner. If it finds that it cannot
support claims, then the FSA is obliged to say so. Indeed, if it
finds that certain claims are in fact contrary to the facts, then
the FSA is also obliged to point out the discrepancy and to clamp
down on promotional activities that are based on false evidence.
This situation highlights a matter that has been
of much concern to the editor of this website. It suggests again
that the science behind the proclamations of environmental and wildlife
bodies is not what it should be. It also suggests that the Government
Department of Environment is more interested in listening to pressure
groups than looking objectively at the science. Apparently the reaction
by the Soil Association (as stated in the Independent article) was
to break off talks with the FSA until it is able to look at
organic food and farming with a more open mind. Such a reaction
is of course childish - like a bad tempered brat not getting its
way. They would have been much better producing convincing and sound
scientific evidence to support their case. To my knowledge I have
not seen it, and apparently neither has the FSA. The pages of this
website would be open to anyone who has it.
The place of organic farming and food production
is an important one as the UK Government has plans to double the
amount of organic food grown in Britain. In Scotland a private members
Bill is being put forward by Robin Harper, the single green MSP,
which aims to expand organic farming, but the evidence that this
MSP puts forward for the benefits of organic food and farming is
purely emotive and image making, with no detectable substance. This
was also the view expressed at the recent LEAF conference and documented
on this website (1).
The FSA is quite correct in insisting that its
role is to be independent of any pressure groups, and that it is
not in the business of promoting either organic or conventional
food. There can be little doubt from its track record that it will
be keen to establish what evidence base there might be as to the
benefits claimed for organic food. The trouble is that they are
having a hard time finding it.
1. Professor Trewavas and other
speakers at LEAF Conference 26 September, Battleby, Perthshire.