We pay for organic food because of a lack of trust

Share

Anyone who pays extra for organic food on the grounds that they know it is better for them is misguided. But Sir John Krebs, the head of the government Food Standards Agency, also misses the point when he declares that consumers are not getting value for money "if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety". He is only right when he goes on to say: "We don't have the evidence to support those claims."

Anyone who pays extra for organic food on the grounds that they know it is better for them is misguided. But Sir John Krebs, the head of the government Food Standards Agency, also misses the point when he declares that consumers are not getting value for money "if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety". He is only right when he goes on to say: "We don't have the evidence to support those claims."

The point is not that organic food is definitely better for you but that it is less likely to be harmful. It is not a matter of proven benefits, but of insuring against the risk of unforeseen dangers, with BSE as the classical case. On any cool assessment of probabilities, as our science editor argues today, the difference in the health risks between organic and conventional (inorganic?) food is so small as to be hardly measurable in price terms. Indeed, in some specific cases, such as the risk of aflatoxins in organic peanuts, the benefits lie in the other direction. Nor is there any evidence that organic food tastes better, although it may taste better than the cheapest conventional equivalent.

There is an entirely separate argument for organic farming, which is that intensive agriculture tends to poison the countryside and reduce the variety of plant and animal life. But there is no reason why the individual consumer should bear the cost of preserving the environment. A government with a thought-through green policy would ensure that the food industry, and all its consumers, bore the true cost of polluting and degrading the environment.

The premium commanded by organic food is largely based, therefore, on subjective factors. This has disturbing implications for Sir John Krebs. Although some of the price difference may be explained by simple anti-science irrationalism, a lot of it reflects a lack of trust in official regulation. People are prepared to pay more for organic food because they prefer to trust the Soil Association, the main certifying body for organic produce, rather than Sir John's new Food Standards Agency.

Given the recent history of the Ministry of Agriculture's oversight of beef and farmed salmon, this is understandable. Sir John would perhaps be better advised to concentrate his efforts on building public confidence in his agency, before he issues further dismissive pronouncements to the effect that those of us who buy organic are wasting our money.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions