14 March 2017: Pesticides, organics and Brexit

A new UN report denounces the ‘myth’ that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. As reported in the Guardian, the report says pesticides have ‘catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning’. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production”, and “using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger”. The report recommends a move towards a global treaty to govern the use of pesticides and a move to sustainable practices including natural methods of suppressing pests and crop rotation, as well as incentivising organically produced food.

Indeed, in the UK sales of pesticide-free produce are actually flourishing. Tesco reports a 15% hike over the past year and the latest UK market figures show that sales for organic produce are at their strongest in a decade. As reported in the Guardian, “In growth terms, organic is now outperforming the non-organic grocery market, contradicting cynics who said that at the first whiff of austerity we would ditch high-minded concerns about animal welfare, pesticides and the planet, and join the cheap food scrum”.

UK shoppers have not had time to really engage with what the potential outcomes of Brexit could be for food and farming. Terry Marsden and Kevin Morgan from Cardiff University call for the UK Government to recognise that we urgently need a national strategy, where the country comes together to develop an innovative, internationalist and integrated-systems- approach to the production and supply of sustainable food and promotion of sustainable diets. They say that failure to do so could expose us to vulnerabilities impacting human health and well-being far more than any other sector currently prioritised in the Brexit negotiation plans. As Victoria Schoen and Tim Lang also argue, we need a clear commitment from HM Government for ‘a post-Brexit agricultural sector to differentiate itself by producing high quality products with higher – not lower – environmental, health and labour standards.


26 October 2016: rising demand for organic foods and the struggles of US Whole Foods

Amidst rising demand for organic food and grocery products (for the UK, see The Organic Report 2016 by the Soil Association), the US supermarket Whole Foods has growing financial trouble. A recent report by Natural News describes how new competitive markets mean that consumers are shopping elsewhere for organic groceries, including in WalMart. In addition, the article reports how Whole Foods has  been caught up in a number of scandals, including price-gouging and cheating customers with false weights and measures which, it suggests, has also added to customer perceptions about how shopping in the store eats up your ‘Whole Paycheck.’

In the UK, although the Soil Association report demonstrates the organic market is up 4.9% on last year,  the most rapid growth has been in the organic health and beauty sector (up by 21.6%) and the catering sector (up by 15.2%).  The report also shows how widening interest in the organic sector has resulted in new opportunities for independent retailers (up by 7.5%) and growth in ‘box schemes’ and online sales (up 9.1%), alongside more modest growth in supermarket sales (up 3.2%).

30 January 2016: BBC Farming Today on organics

BBC radio 4’s  Farming Today  focused on organic farming – from Scottish whiskey to organic milk. The programme was broadcast from Pim Hill Farm in Shropshire – established as organic (although referred to as ‘muck and magic’) back in 1949. It is worth a listen – especially on the dilemmas of non-organic feed for dairy herds – and on the ups and downs of converting to organic, taste and trends

You can hear the  programme here