Health, as I understand it

Helen Browning - 10 September 2012

Helen BrowningIt’s been good to be on the farm for the weekend, to re-establish my equilibrium after a hectic week. As well as interviewing for our new Director of Communications (lots of brilliant candidates, more news shortly), holding a well received staff conference (so much progress reported), hosting policy makers at the farm and supporters at Highgrove, launching Organic September, and all the usual busyness of the Bristol office, we have had the additional complication of the Stanford University report, and its reporting in the media.

This report could have had a number of headlines. It could have lead with ‘Organic food shown to decrease intake of pesticides’ or ‘Antibiotic resistance lower in meat and dairy from organic farms’ or ‘Omega 3 fatty acids higher in organic dairy products’. Instead, surprise, surprise, the headlines ranged from 'Organic food 'won't make you healthier'' to 'Organic food's salad days are over'. We had of course, briefed journalists, pointed out the positives, both those in the report, and other hugely important issues, such as the biodiversity increases on organic farms, the animal welfare advantages, the more efficient use of scarce resources. But to little avail. At the moment that we are launching our annual celebration of all things organic, a maelstrom of negativity. The only cheering aspect is the acres of comment following the online versions of these stories, so much of it full of support for the common sense benefits of organic systems.
So, I have walked the farm this weekend wondering what we need to do to get some positive coverage these days. Being here always helps put things into perspective. We are coming to the end of the toughest harvest season that I can remember, yet all the staff are still motivated and cheerful despite the months of long hours. Our downland is full of sleek grazing cattle, with wildlife all around. Fields of pigs of all ages are scampering on clover paddocks in the autumn sunshine and wallowing in mud baths. And our pub is full of people appreciating great food, and all the care that goes into producing it. This is health, as I understand it.

Helen Browning is the Soil Association's Chief Executive, and also is an organic farmer she runs a 1,350 acre organic livestock and arable farm in Wiltshire. Her sausages and bacon can be found in the supermarkets, and her versatile team also run the village pub! Previously Director of External Affairs at the National Trust, Helen is also chair of the Food Ethics Council and was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to organic farming.

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17 September 2012 17:04

The Stanford report is a merely part of what seems to be a sustained strategy of the GM and pesticide industry to destroy the organic market and therefore compel consumers to eat their adulterated products. Has no one pointed out that the study was carried out by a department funded by Cargill?

12 September 2012 14:08

Yes organic has a great place in our small affluent country, but dont be dispondent about a little bad press,as the organic movement have managed to achieve a huge amount of coverage mainly on the back of knocking conventional farming,which has done no favours to British farming.But i think the "bigger picture" is more food production for all the countries, with less resources/land, less water and more people ;so conventional farming using new technology,producing more food per acre than any other system will be and can only be the most sustainable farming method on our planet. But yes organic has a place to play also but keep the words in inverted commas in perspective.

Kim Angrik
11 September 2012 13:53

This sadly is more evidence of people not thinking and encouraging others to do the same - to walk around blind and consuming irrespective of the consequence. It is easier to say someone else said it, did it rather than to stop and be aware. There is no doubt in my mind that organic is the only sustainable way forward - I will keep shouting this to whoever hears until they do. To all the ambassadors keep up the work - its important stuff.

11 September 2012 12:44

I agree with Elisa. The propaganda is thick. The report isn't useful for people who buy organic, but are waiverers, but I would think that the vast majority of people see the bigger picture. They love the land and wish for it to be treated well, as well as the animals, the organic movement supports lesser known crops, they understand regional differences, they don't wish to engage with petro-chemicals, they want less packaging, they appreciate the slow food movement, basically they appreciate the world around them and the people and animal husbandry. I will never go back to 100% conventional foods.

10 September 2012 17:13

Unfortunately the UK and US media are firmly in the grip of agrochemical and biotech interests, often operating through lobby groups like Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre. The light at the end of the tunnel is that people are getting roundly fed up with being fed corporate sh*te and are taking to alternative media in droves. The coverage in those outlets was very positive for organic.

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