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How Organic Principles will Inform Future Food Production

by Martin Lane(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 215 - July 2014

There has been a great deal of disparaging copy concerning organically grown food in recent years. The tone has become more vitriolic as the popularity of organics has grown and, as ever, truth and objectivity are the first casualties. Studies have attempted to show that organic food is less nutritious, could not possibly feed the world, fails to make the most of scarce land, is all muck and magic; compared with 'hard science' and is in all ways inferior to the current convention and the much-vaunted GM promise.

Martin Lane 215 Organic Principles Inform Food Production

Hard truths must be faced. Since organic produce is grown largely on land that was hitherto intensively and chemically farmed for many decades, it still does not contain nutritional density required both by us and by livestock. (Over time, this situation will hopefully improve as natural fertility is restored by proper crop rotation, the sun, wind, rain and soil biota). The lack of dramatic data showing massive yield or nutrient improvements plays into the hands of opponents, most of whom stand to lose if the organic ethos gains momentum. Those in lock-step with current practice include scientists who fear losing lucrative research funding, the giant GM corporations and the fertiliser and agrochemical industry.

Various studies have shown no appreciable nutritional benefit to be gained from eating organic food as compared with cheaper, conventionally grown and reared produce. These studies tend to emanate from sources close to the agri-industry who wish to maintain their hold on food production and whose findings may be regarded as usually subjective and narrow in content. For example, a recent study from Canada made much of the fact that food content of copper and zinc was no greater in an organic crop than it was in the conventional control. Never mind that there was no deficiency of either to start with! There was of course, no mention of the benefits of not consuming a cocktail of toxins along with the food. These ‘studies’ are usually funded by the industry and are designed to draw our gaze away from the unpalatable truth that intensively grown conventional food crops are only possible when accompanied by very heavy use of fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, fumigants et al.

Sad to say, at present the unique selling point (USP) of the organic movement is a negative one. Organic food production may not be able to claim to feed the world, but it does NOT consume vast reserves of fossil fuels, does NOT lace its produce with toxic chemicals, is NOT responsible for the collapse in the bee population and is NOT subjected to ionizing radiation in the name of enhanced shelf life. Unlike chemically farmed produce, nor is it linked via pesticide use to autism, ADHD, Parkison's, Alzheimer's and cancer.

However, all these apparent negatives actually add up to a resounding positive. The existence of the organic movement creates an uncomfortable presence for the rest of the industry. Without it, I doubt many of us would even be aware that there is a more sustainable way to produce our food. As it is, aided by the internet, the world's consumers are increasingly voicing their misgivings about current food production. They want to know where their food comes from, what it contains and what effect this has on health and the environment. As an aside, it is symptomatic of an insufficiently regulated food production, that horse meat can be legally labelled at its source in Romania and then be exported to France, where it becomes ‘beef’ for onward distribution throughout Europe.

In the past the lack of scrutiny has led to many chemicals being licensed for use in food production that have later proved to be highly toxic and have been, or are now being banned for use in the EU. However, these same chemicals are still being used outside the EU on food crops that are then exported to the UK and Europe. We also have the ludicrous situation where the EU bans GM food, but allows imports of GM feed for livestock ; animals either destined for the table or for dairy production, making us all GM consumers by proxy.

None of this is good enough and compares very badly with the rules that govern organic produce, which are clear and largely unequivocal. Given an informed choice, more and more people want to buy and consume food with known provenance. Ideally they would like it to conform to the principle, if not the letter of organic production. They want it to be free of contamination by dubious chemicals; they want decent animal welfare standards and they want sustainable, environmentally friendly credentials. Without the organic sector in the background, the public would not be sufficiently informed to have and to voice these opinions.

So let’s hear it for the organic farmer. He has shown that the sky did not fall in when he stopped buying nitrogen fertilisers; that legumes and nitrogen fixing bacteria sequester atmospheric nitrogen for no charge; that given time, living soils can produce yields comparable to those achievable in the conventional sector and that the environment benefits in many ways. His knowledge and understanding will in time allow the mainstream to modify its current, unsustainable production methods, working with Nature rather than beating it over the head with a shovel. In the first instance the conventional mainstream will need to adopt more sustainable practices to reduce overheads; then, as confidence grows, further progress will be made when more sustainable practices can be seen to be beneficial.

Over recent months we as a company [Field Science]] have been conducting trials in mainstream agriculture and horticulture. We have applied to the land a variety of beneficial soil bacteria which had become absent from soil over recent decades owing to intensive farming practices. The results have been very impressive with significant increases in quality, yield, appearance, nutrient uplift and disease resistance. This has been all the more impressive against a backdrop of a reduction of 50% in the use of applied nitrogen. The system has worked on crops as diverse as wheat, kale, onions, broccoli and root vegetables.

All this points the way to future food production methods. Nutrients can be recycled, carbon sequestered from atmosphere to soil, toxic chemicals eliminated, symbiotic organisms encouraged and scarce Earth reserves husbanded.  

All we need now is vision and a little of that rarest of commodities, common sense.

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About Martin Lane

Martin Lane Technical Director of Field Science Ltd has had a lifelong interest in farming. After leaving the RAF, where he did Cold War service flying in the UK and Germany, he developed an interest in the declining standard of plant, animal and human health resulting from industrialized chemical agriculture ( 40-60% of the essential mineral content of our food has disappeared since 1940, to be replaced by an average of 200 chemical residues). Martin worked with a pioneer in the improvement of livestock health via optimal nutrition and then formed a family-owned company specializing in the improvement of plant, livestock and human health through re-mineralizing soils after many decades of synthetic fertiliser and chemical abuse.

Martin still does a lot of work with livestock, dairy and arable farmers to improve the nutritional quality of crops and livestock and also works with a major retailer to provide meat, fruit and vegetables of much improved nutritional quality. He also re-mineralizes sports and amenity land to improve quality and provide a natural resistance to disease. Martin believes that the best way to improve human health is to re-create healthy soil. Healthy soil produces healthy plants for the consumption of healthy animals and humans alike. We should never forget that 47% of the NHS budget is spent treating diseases and conditions which are the direct and indirect results of poor quality nutrition. Martin may be contacted on Tel: 01935 873933; fieldscience@aol.com  www.fieldscience.co.uk

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