Riverford Wicked Leeks

organic battles + celebrity tweets

When I established our co-operative of organic farmers in 1997, it took all my persuasive efforts and bullish determination to convince the nine co-founders to turn their backs on agrichemicals. Although we made mistakes along the way, it’s hugely satisfying to now see their farms (many of which would not have been viable without the co-op) thriving and reinvesting in the future. The soils are healthier and their livestock happier, wildlife has flourished and the veg tastes pretty good as well, so I think they have come around to the idea that organic is not so bad.  

Five or six years ago, whatever the problem with the environment or our food, organic farming was held up as the answer in an almost embarrassingly unquestioning way. I am sure it was infuriating for those promoting, profiting from, and excited by chemical farming and genetic engineering and it was inevitable that they would fight back. For years various right wing and mostly American think tanks (probably funded by GM and agrichemical corporations) had been promoting anti-organic stories about mycotoxin and bacterial contamination in organic food. They all turned out to be fabrications and they got little coverage for many years, but they kept chipping away. The tipping point in the UK came from the organic movement’s intransigent objection to GM. This incensed many in the scientific community, particularly it would seem, Professor Krebs (widely regarded as being pro-GM), who at the time headed up the Food Standards Agency. His extensively reported comments discredited and undermined organic farming and turned the tide; any press on organic food has generally been negative ever since.

Which part of which scientific paper makes it into the headlines is enormously subjective and largely determined by the story an editor is looking for. The underlying facts of organic farming haven’t changed, but the organic market has declined by 20% in the last two years, so it’s clear that however fickle it may seem, the media is a powerful thing. We’ve had a glimmer of hope though, in the form of modern culture’s latest darling, social media. An email came to us from Caggie Dunlop’s office this week (she’s from E4’s ‘Made in Chelsea’ reality TV series; so outrageously bad, it’s compulsive viewing). In return for free veg she will Tweet about us...but we’ve decided against it. I hope she doesn’t turn into the next Professor Krebs.

Guy Watson