An argument has been going on in kitchen gardens for over a hundred and fifty years. Ever since gardeners first started using chemicals there has been a fierce debate over which method produced better food; the organic or the chemical. During the last fifty years the chemical approach appeared triumphant seeming to have ousted the competition, it even managed to label organic gardeners as "cranks" practising "muck and magic".
However now the tables have turned as we realise how we have been fooled by these conmen. More and more people are gardening organically, to say little of the vast range of organic foods, snacks, drinks and clothing now on sale; you can even have your tinned baked beans and tomato sauce, organic, from Heinz! The demand is so great nearly three quarters of organic food has to be imported yet our government and it's ministries do not promote, nor even seem to support, organic farming or gardening in any serious way.
Far be it for me to point out to these officials that as the public obviously wants and is prepared to pay a high price for organic food then surely it is their job to assist not to block such a legal market preference. Surely they should be falling over each other to encourage farmers, gardeners and consumers to become organic and greener as this will so effectively improve our environment and our health whilst adding to the gross national product and improving the balance of payments.
And the reason many alleged scientists utter for their stick in the mud attitude, a reason which is repeated over and over again like some mantra "There's no evidence to show any difference between organic and conventional food". Well there's none so blind as those who don't want to see. However I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have looked and not seen any such evidence as they were searching for. But, and it is a big but, I also assume they have not looked very hard, or very widely. I agree there is very little evidence but I do not agree that there is none!
The first, and biggest, problem is that the ministry and the many research organizations who might have produced evidence have never done any sensible experiments to see whether there exists or not any such difference. Actually grown food organically and fed it to animals over several generations compared to the same with conventionally chemically grown food. The anecdotal evidence of thousands of practising gardeners, farmers and consumers is not considered as valid or even pertinent and as no specific scientifically valid experiments have been done to precisely measure any difference then there is no acceptable result to produce as evidence. Their entire case appears to rest on this slender tautology.
The second pitfall is that most research that might have inadvertently produced evidence has been fundamentally biased and flawed to the extent that no rational conclusions could ever be drawn from such investigations. For example in one series of supposedly scientific trials of fertilisers; manures, chemicals and compost were compared -but the compost was not what you or I would call compost -to ensure 'uniformity' the compost tested was straw bales broken down with chemical fertilisers! In another trial the two approaches were compared -but only over one growing season on previously non-organically managed soil!
To be fair it is hardly likely that ivory tower scientists ensconced in an atmosphere of professional competition for grants for their own livelihood are going to bite the hands that feed them. Almost all research done over many decades has been, and is still, paid for by the very companies interested in commercial results. Government money is in short supply and the organic movement is extremely limited financially. Thus the only experiments ever done are nearly always unrelated if not antithetical to organic methodology. Indeed most experiments have been done in laboratory test tube conditions specifically to exclude the variability of field trials with living organisms getting in the way.
Of course although almost everyone and especially most of us kitchen gardeners know full well that there is nothing in the world tastes as good as fresh produce grown as naturally as possible this is apocryphal and circumstantial evidence which 'scientists' do not allow. So although most people are convinced that organic tastes better this does not actually make the food better from the scientist's point of view. The fact we would rather eat better tasting food is irrelevant unless it is produced at less pence per pound per man hour, the economic argument over-rules all else.
However they also ignore evidence that shows the whole truth. For instance the claim that we could not feed the world without chemicals is utter bunk. We are already not feeding the poor who have no money to buy food even though currently we have food surplus' that we are paying to destroy. Even if chemicals and GMs made food a quarter of the current price the poor could still not purchase it! And implied within this poor argument is the insinuation that organic methods give poorer yields.
This last may have a kernel of truth in that the same farmer on the same land in the UK gets about one fifth to one quarter less yield for wheat and other cereals if he becomes organic. But for most other crops this is not so, it's just that cereals are amongst the few plants that do not have important mycorrhizal associations on their roots and thus are less influenced by a healthy soil and can survive on a diet of chemicals. Overall organic methods can easily produce as much food as chemical, indeed sometimes more.
The report, Alternative Agriculture, part funded by the Kellogg Foundation was presented to the United States Academy of Sciences under the last Bush Administration. This investigated organic farms over a five year period and showed that their yields were often higher not lower than those of nearby chemically managed farms. One farm which had used no chemicals for fifteen years was discovered achieving maize yields 32% higher and soya bean yields 40% than it's local average!
Likewise although it is manifestly obvious that organic food must have fewer residues as chemical pesticides are not used wholesale on the crops this is also 'not better' as 'scientists' apparently refuse to admit that any residues in chemically grown crops are harmful! And if they are not harmful then it cannot be 'better' not to have them can it?
However the organic movement does not believe it's food is better only because it's crops contain negligible pesticide and herbicide residues. Evidence shows that if artificial soluble fertilisers are not used then the organic food produced has more nutritional value. This is the claim chemical companies are most scared of as it destroys most of their business completely. So they ignore any evidence that this is so such as the United States Department of Agriculture report in Soil 1957 which on page 265 cites that there are "All these experiments point to profound effects of fertilisation on the nutritional quality of a plant".
Likewise the reports of McCance and Widdowson 'The composition of foods' 1946 & 1991(HMS0) show that our chemically produced food contains less essential minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium than it used to a half century ago and that this is exacerbated by the successful commercial pressure on the public to consume more highly processed items and less fresh simple foods.
Some critics of organics have also pretended that organic food is worse than chemically grown because it may have higher levels of certain naturally occurring constituents which they choose to label as hazardous. This is indeed a strange argument as the very same 'scientists' claiming there is no difference at all are also trying to claim that organic food has these higher levels!
Indeed they are trying to have it all ways and some of the most conclusively damning evidence is hidden away in their own reports. For example the Long Ashton Research Station Annual Report of 1949 has the startling results of experiments done by M.E. Kieser and A. Pollard, similar revolutionary work was done in 1950 by A.M. Stone, and Science & Fruit 1953 quotes yet more studies by J.D. Bryan & A. Pollard from 1947 and from the Long Ashton Report 216. So what do these forgotten experiments have to say; they were never intended or conceived as trials of organic versus chemical but of the response of blackcurrants to artificial fertilisers. These experiments concluded that although the yields of blackcurrants were almost doubled by heavy applications of chemical fertiliser the vitamin C level fell in almost exact reverse correlation. i.e. a punnet of heavily fertilised blackcurrants had almost half the vitamin C levels of those not so grown!
Of course this is not evidence of any difference between organic and conventional food is it?
Quod erat demonstrandum.
PS Dear Scientists, do you think you might now change your statements to the scientifically and factually more accurate "there is little evidence to show any difference between organic and chemically grown food" or even to "there is a little evidence to show some differences between organic and chemically grown food" ?