Peter Melchett: It's good for the countryside and wildlife, which means it's good for us

Organic farmers are more optimistic about the future, one that will be dominated by climate change
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The Independent Online

It is a popular myth that people who buy organic food do so because they think it will make them healthier. Recent research in a number of European countries, including the UK, has found that its regular buyers have a much more sophisticated understanding of organic food and farming.

On health, people are mainly concerned to avoid eating sprays. Pesticides are designed to kill living plants and animals, so it makes good sense to avoid consuming them. Organic animals can't be treated routinely with antibiotics: concern about resistance to antibiotics is rising and in some EU countries, community acquired MRSA is an increasing problem.

The Government supports organic farming because it is good for wildlife on farms – 30 per cent more species and 50 per cent more overall numbers of animals like birds, butterflies and bees. People who buy organic food care about this, and about the high levels of welfare that organic farms provide. Other environmental benefits are less dangerous waste and almost no pesticide use.

People who eat organic food also want to encourage a beautiful, diverse, lively countryside. They know that organic farming provides more jobs, and that those jobs are more varied and safer. Organic consumers want to buy food that is produced ethically.

A recent report the Soil Association, commissioned by Reading University, showed that we could increase jobs in the countryside by 70 per cent if all England and Wales was farmed organically, as well as producing enough food for people to eat a healthier diet. There are more women and younger people involved in organic farming, and organic farmers are more optimistic about the future. That future will be dominated by climate change. Here organic farming leads the way, insisting on using solar powered fertility through crops like red clover to fix nitrogen into the soil for subsequent crops.

Non-organic farming relies on fossil fuels to extract nitrogen from the air, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases in the process. For our own health and the health of the planet, organic food and farming will play a big part in our future.

Peter Melchett is policy director of the Soil Association

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