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Organic Food may not be ethical, but it will save the world

December 18, 2006

There’s this article in December 15th issue of The Economist about Ethical Food – food that is good for the environment. I read it with great interest because it talked about Organic Farming. Organic farming, says The Economist, may not be better for the environment, may not be energy-efficient, and may not give a fair price to farmers. Faultess analysis.

What stumped me was the concept of ‘Ethical’ food itself. I must be dreadfully ignorant, because this was the first time I realised that there were a lot of people who bought ‘ethical’ food…all because they wanted to save the planet. The article said in it’s conclusion:

‘Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalisation—but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated. ‘

I could not help but wonder: Did people really choose their daily bread because they wanted to change the world…or was I missing something? I always believed that where eating was concerned, people were inherently selfish. I thought people put food on their table to improve their health. If I eat organic food once in a while, I do it because it’s healthy. And frankly even if organic farming eats up more land, raises food prices and consumes more energy, I feel one cannot ‘overestimate’ it’s ability to improve people’s health (= change the world) as it is pure food. Food without pesticides and chemicals.

The only downside to organic farming is decreased food production. But in America this shouldn’t be a problem as America wastes more than a hundred billion dollars worth of food every year. That’s not all. Most of us are eating too much anyway. Way above our calorie limit. The approximate calorie intake for a moderately active adult should not be more than 2500 calories a day. And according to the FAO, 3000 calories should really be the upper limit for an adult male. But we find that as early as 2030, most of the world (the Industrialized Nations, the Transition Countries, North Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean as well as the Far East) is going to exceed this calorie limit per capita! And as for the developing world, it will hover dangerously near the 3000 calorie limit.

I wish there was more organic food produced. At least it would mean better distribution. Right now the situation here in India is such that one has to hunt for Organic Food in exclusive department stores. In my eyes Organic Food is Holy Food. Food that is going to save people from modern diseases. Food that will enable people to eat less and eat healthy. Food that will save the world.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2006 2:16 am

    “Organic farming, says The Economist, may not be better for the environment, may not be energy-efficient, and may not give a fair price to farmers.”

    Actually, the Economist draws a distinction between all three kinds of foods – there’s organic food, fair-trade food and local food. All three brands have different messages. Sometimes, they overlap and sometimes, they don’t.

    “I wish there was more organic food produced. At least it would mean better distribution. Right now the situation here in India is such that one has to hunt for Organic Food in exclusive department stores. In my eyes Organic Food is Holy Food. Food that is going to save people from modern diseases. Food that will enable people to eat less and eat healthy. Food that will save the world.”

    I can see how that comment is relevant for India where organic food is still a nascent market. Mainly because consumers are not educated and probably more price-conscious. Not really a sound business model just yet, I think, except for the exclusive dept. stores, because that’s exactly where you find the upper middle class shopping. By and large though, even neighbourhood supermarkets in the U.S. and hazarding a guess, the UK, serve organic food options.

    I think your point is still valid in that organic food is healthier (I wouldn’t say holy though, because it could result in more deforestation) than non-organic food. It has its shortcomings though, as the Economist points out. If every consumer takes the same perspective that you do and finds the means to pay for the organic food premium, then there won’t be enough agricultural land to cultivate that food, just because it takes up more land space per yield.

    We are skirting the real issues though: should people bechanging their consumption habits from non-vegetarian to vegetarian diets? I would urge people to do so, because non-vegetarian products are relatively costly in terms of energy intake and so on. And so far, we haven’t found a sustainable way of harvesting livestock for everyone (particularly, seafood, which is estimated to decrease by 50% by 2050).

    Another issue is food subsidies. I think fairtrade food does more damage to the environment than organic food potentially could, in introducing artificial subsidies into the marketing chain. It’s very hard for me to accept the fact that the US subsidizes its farmers already so that they can continuing producing milk and what not, when the cost of producing such food items is so clearly lower in Asian countries. Those are resources that are better spent on environmental initiatives and clean technologies. The only reason why farmers receive so much subsidies is that they want to perpetuate their “way of life”. Transferring occupations is difficult, but as things stand now, the American exchequer bears the greater burden to support the lifestyle of a few.

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