Most of us are now pretty well-versed in the climatic consequences of consuming Food From Far Away, but I think it's fair to say that when it comes to organic food – a partiality of the middle classes, in particular – most selections are made in the belief that organic is better for you: thy body is a temple and no chemicals shalt pass thy lips, even if a few do go up thy nose at weekend dinner parties.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) maintains that organic food has no additional health benefits compared to conventionally farmed foods, and has released another study this year supporting its stand. Various EU-funded studies have found the opposite. The Soil Association maintains that "no food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food", and criticises the FSA's "limited" research criteria.
An ecologist and community leader I met in Wayanad district in northern Kerala, India, made an alarming point. He said many of the district's farmers will not eat their own produce, having witnessed the volume of pesticides used in their cultivation. Instead, they grow their own pesticide-free vegetables – organic, in effect – on small plots by their houses. The conventionally reared crops are sold at market, or exported.
What isn't under question, but not nearly as widely discussed, is the link between conventional farming methods and climate change. Our agricultural systems are one of the causes of climate change, and not just through food transport and storage. The synthetic nitrogen fertilisers used in conventional farming methods generate nitrous oxide, a gas 298 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, if you compare them tonne-to-tonne over a 100-year time frame.
This is the same nitrous oxide that you suck up from balloons at parties (laughing gas) and is now the most potent destroyer of the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. Ironically, and tragically, it is the effects of climate change, created in no small part by conventional farming methods, which are now pushing India's organic farmers to switch back to conventional methods.