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A lot of noise, not a lot of sense

Date Published: 05/08/2009

The din around last week’s FSA report on nutrition and organic food is almost deafening. Someone from every media outlet seems to be having their say on it, whether or not they have the faintest clue what they’re talking about.

Some (and you know who you are, because we’ve talked or emailed directly on the topic) are bothering to find out facts, but most are just falling back on tired opinion pieces that pick up from the awful headlines saying that organic food isn’t nutritionally beneficial. ‘Awful’ because they are utterly superficial.

There is a vast amount of “I told you so” braying noise from those looking for a reason to feel smug about something, while the trend seems to be to either ignore the real point of organic farming or to drop in a paragraph about welfare, wildlife, chemical restrictions, etc, then dismiss those things out of hand. We wouldn’t want to turn a rant into a balanced examination of the real circumstances, would we?

You could call this a whinge. Fine. Up to you. But it’s not a desperate ‘oh no, we’ve been found out’ whinge. It comes from disappointment in the shallowness of the commentary. Organic food is not sold on health or nutrition benefits. There may be some benefits. There may be some that people perceive or assume for themselves, but first and foremost organics is about the METHOD OF PRODUCTION.

I’ll say it again: METHOD OF PRODUCTION.

Without wanting to labour a point made in the previous posting, just because this research came to an odd conclusion that suited the naysayers and headline writers, doesn’t mean that there aren’t actually nutritional benefits to organic food.

Fortunately, there is some sanity out there, particularly it seems among the regional BBC stations who have been contacting us to invite someone to talk on their programmes, where the debate has been balanced and all angles considered. We’ve rather enjoyed the chance to set the record straight. This was rather different to their BBC TV News counterparts who did a taste test on their 10’clock programme (yes, a taste test – with two people – even though the report was about nutrition…….)

There are plenty of writers and editors out there who have made themselves look like idiots to anyone with half a brain who has paused to consider the real reasons for organic farming for more than a minute.

We could write this kind of piece pretty much any time organics is in the news. That would be pointless, of course, and pretty soon no-one would spare a second to read it. What’s different this time is the level of clamour. It’s everywhere, all over the world, even in the most obscure of journals that have little or no interest in food, farming or science most of the time.

There will be better science soon that will tell us a whole lot more. The problem is we probably won’t be in silly season, with acres of newsprint that needs filling with something (anything) and it won’t make the same screeching headlines.

Fortunately there is a glimmer of light; only an ancedotal one, granted, but it’s there all the same. And it’s this: real people, those who do their shopping each week, be it from the farm shop or the megastore, keep saying things like: “Well, it’s not news is it. I know why I buy organic food and it wasn’t for a few extra microgrammes of flavonoids.”

Thank goodness for real people who use their brains. That’s why this isn’t a disaster for organics, try as some might to make it so.