The A-list likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and her pals have made organic cool. But what does organic actually mean, and is it worth the hype? Here, TheSite.org shows you the facts.
What is 'organic'?
UK law requires any food labelled 'organic' to be produced in a way that meets a strict set of standards. These standards include:
- Severe restrictions on use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides;
- Using manure, crop rotation and other practices that help maintain sustainable, fertile soil;
- Animals to be reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers (which are common in intensive livestock farming);
- High standards of animal welfare;
- 20% less water and 25% less energy to be used than in conventional agriculture;
- No genetically modified (GM) crops or ingredients.
So why go organic?
By adhering to these strict requirements, organic farming reduces the amount of chemicals seeping into our soil and waterways. In turn, this reduces the amount of chemicals being absorbed by plants and passed up the food chain to animals and humans. This is why many people consider organic food to be better for the environment and our health. It's also claimed by many that organic food actually tastes better than non-organic.
Fans also claim that organic food tastes better. While there are other benefits to going organic, there are also some costs to consider - quite literally. Organic produce tends to be more expensive than non-organic, mass produced food. This is because the production costs of organic food tends to be higher. In the case of organic meat and dairy produce, the extra cost goes towards making extra commitment to animal welfare. Even so, as more and more people opt for organic food, the market is expanding and prices are falling.
Where to buy organic
If you want to switch to organic products, look for the Soil Association symbol as your guarantee of the highest organic standards. Around 70% of organic food produced in the UK carries the Soil Association's mark of certification - you can find these products in your local supermarket or specialised organic stores. The Soil Association provides a guide on where to buy organic in your local area, while it's also worth checking out online suppliers such as Organic Connections or Abel & Cole, which can deliver the goods straight to your door.
Is organic all good?
While you might feel virtuous that your organic blueberry has reduced the amount of chemicals flowing into the world's soil and waterways, you could be disappointed if you realise it's flown thousands of kilometres from Chile on a carbon dioxide-emitting aeroplane. By opting for locally-produced organic goods, you'll not only be helping to slow down global warming, but you'll also be supporting home grown businesses.
Another issue to bear in mind is how much packaging is used on your organic products. Choose items that are packaged using a minimum amount of materials, and always remember to dispose of your rubbish in a bin. Even better, place your rubbish in a recycling bin. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (also conveniently known as WRAP) is developing new standards that will keep the environmental impact of all packaging to a minimum, so watch this space to find out when you'll be able to look out for a specific mark of certification.
More than food
There's no need to confine your virtue to your food. As the textile industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, campaigns are under way for the increased production of goods made from organic cotton, silk and wool. It's a startling fact that conventional cotton is grown on around 4% of the world's arable soil, but consumes more than 11% of the pesticides and 24% of the insecticides used annually. What's more, many of the most widely used chemicals have been linked to cancers and birth defects, so the health of cotton labourers and the wellbeing of the environment are put at serious risk.
If you're interested in buying organic fabric goods, Greenfibres, Natural Collection, Organic Towel Company, PeopleTree, and The Green Baby Company are just some of the growing number of stockists out there.
Finally, what about your make up and toiletries? If we care about the chemicals we put into our body through eating, it makes sense to also care about what can be absorbed through our skin. Marks and Spencers has a range of organic beauty products, but there are many others to look out for such as Jurlique and Avalon Organic Cosmetics.
Article produced by the Choose Action Alliance.
By Sarah White
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