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I was appalled at the recent RTÉ Prime Time debate about organic growing which was clearly done with an intent to polarise the issue of organic food versus conventionally produced food.
This sort of trouble-stirring journalism is dangerous to our economy. It would be far better to concentrate on how Ireland is producing nutritionally well-balanced food through good soil, crop and animal husbandry in both organic and conventional sectors of agriculture and horticulture.
They had a so-called expert on hand who claimed that, although not conclusive, scientific studies to date showed no appreciable difference in taste or nutritional value and he also claimed incorrectly that organic growers in general were saying that organic was ‘better’ than conventionally produced food. On the organic side of the table, Grace Maher of Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) and food author Darina Allen were quick to point out that the issue was really about consumer choice regarding food quality, health and perception of value for money, whether organic or not.
Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, nanoparticles, climate-destabilising chemical fertilisers like toxic sewage sludge or coal waste, and genetically engineered ingredients. Recent studies reveal that organic foods, especially raw or non-processed, are also very nutritious. This is not to say that all conventional food production fails to come up to the same standards, no doubt some does, but it is simply that certified organic is well regulated and standards are fairly well guaranteed.
At the recent national organic conference held in Tullamore, a number of speakers pointed out the increasing consumer demand for healthy food and the importance of good nutrition for crops, animals and humans which depends upon careful use of non-toxic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, whether organic or synthetic.
Some speakers at the conference also pointed out that there are numerous market niches that could be taken advantage of by a well organised organic sector. Much depends upon a good supply chain so food can be quickly moved from producer to shelf. This can best be done through a network of cooperatives, and government support is essential. The organic market is worth billions to the economy and any opportunity to improve this makes obvious sense.
CELT (Centre for Environmental Living & Training)
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