Time to take a firm and positive stance on organic

18 February 2024, 16:00 PM
  • Roger Kerr, CEO of the Organic Farmers & Growers shares his thoughts on food security, better farming and sustainability
Time to take a firm and positive stance on organic

We’re seeing a seismic shift in attitudes towards sustainability as awareness of food production’s contribution to our planetary problems grows. Importantly, many working across the sector, including artisan food retailers, are striving to be part of the solution.

Debate about production efficiencies and the environmental impact of different farming systems can at times feel polarised. Constructive debate about how we can best feed the population healthily and sustainably is frequently lacking.

The undeniable truth is that our food and farming systems must change to protect and enhance biodiversity, reverse climate change and reduce environmental pollution. Scientific research confirms that organic farming and food can help achieve this.

OF&G’s recent white paper evidences how increasing organic land use in England to 10% (a three-fold increase from current levels) would deliver significant environmental benefits. Total agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced to a level equal to the carbon sequestered by third of million acres of broadleaved woodland.

In this scenario, synthetic fertiliser use would be reduced by a figure equivalent to 179,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Additionally, over a million kilos of pesticide active ingredients would not be applied each year.

By removing artificial inputs, our white paper also highlighted multiple biodiversity improvements, such as farmland bird species increased by 35%, pollinators up by 23% and earthworm species increased by 78%.

At the same time as addressing agricultural inputs, many scientists also acknowledge a pressing need for change in our patterns of consumption. However, will big changes in diet be impossible to implement?

Changing consumers’ mindsets will of course be challenging, but I believe it is an achievable goal.

More sustainable organic diets would involve consumption of more vegetables, more pulses and less but better-quality meat (grass-fed and high animal welfare, for example). This would require a reduction in intensive non-ruminant (monogastric) livestock that currently are competing directly with human food sources. Combined, these actions would make move us in the right direction.

When coupled with organic food processing standards which severely restrict the scope for preparing highly processed food, the evidence suggests that we could feed society well with organic farming.

Our national food security also depends on reducing the enormous levels of food waste that currently exists. A shocking 30% of food harvested is estimated to be wasted.

There is no single ‘right’ way to produce food. To answer the critical challenges we face effectively, we must combine different approaches.

When it comes to achieving food security, we must have a food system that is environmentally, nutritionally and economically sustainable. Our farm shops and speciality retailers can make a valuable contribution by promoting these important messages to consumers and encouraging them to make positive changes to their shopping and consumption habits.

We know that organic farming is a standard and practice that already operates within planetary boundaries. It’s not a dream. There’s clear scientific evidence gathered over many years of its clear direction of travel towards a low carbon, and nature and people positive food production system.

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