The Soil Association is the UK’s leading organic food and farming charity and certification body. The charity involves people, businesses, farmers and growers in various activities and campaigns, including the upcoming ‘Organic September‘ campaign.
What is organic farming?
Essentially, organic food is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods. The idea is that this way of farming is better for the environment, animal welfare and our own health. Through lower levels of pesticides, no artificial fertilisers and sustainable management of land and the environment, organic farming can reduce our carbon footprints, improve soil quality and produce more nutrient-dense food.
Throughout September, the Soil Association will be running their campaign ‘organic September’, where they encourage you to make small lifestyle changes throughout the month in order to organic YOUR September. From swapping one item in your shopping basket to organic, to visiting organic farm shops and wearing organic lipstick, they have lots of suggestions to get you familiar with living an organic lifestyle.
Why Soil Association?
All Soil Association organic food is traceable from farm to fork – their rigorous certification process ensures that food is of the highest quality and made with integrity. To put that into perspective, there can be no GM ingredients, even in animal feed; there’s no hydrogenated fats, artificial food colourings or preservatives; and additives like aspartame and MSG are nowhere to be seen: only 36 of the 314 permitted additives in the EU are allowed under organic standards.
But is it worth it?
There are some potential downsides to buying organic as a consumer. The main disadvantage is that organic food can sometimes cost double the amount of non-organic food, which can be difficult to justify for many people. In addition, some research suggests that it’s not actually any better for your health. A recent study conducted by the British Journal of Nutrition, however, found that there were higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients found in organic produce compared to non-organic. So with this new research shedding more light on the organic/non-organic debate, what are the main benefits of going organic?
Better for the planet
Quite simply, organic farming helps to protect our wildlife. Organic farming uses fewer pesticides and no weed killers, providing safe homes for bees, birds, insects and butterflies. With 75% of UK wildlife in decline, and 8 of our 25 bumblebee species threatened, organic farming could make a massive difference. In addition, organic farming doesn’t rely on synthetic or petroleum-based pesticides or fertilisers,which reduces water and soil contamination and improves the quality of soil, meaning that it is more resistant to droughts and floods.
Agriculture is one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and the food we eat within the EU is responsible for almost a third of our climate footprint as consumers. That’s a pretty scary number when you consider all the other factors that contribute to our climate footprints (car fumes, land-fill waste and air miles).
Better for our bodies
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic farming, namely that organic food is richer in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides . Now for some stats: organically produced crops have up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic, whilst organic milk and meat contain around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, as well as slightly higher concentrations of iron, vitamin E and some carotenoids. So that argument about organic food being no more beneficial for health than non-organic? It’s got some competition.
Better for the animals
In the dairy and meat industry, many animals spend their lives in a state of constant distress and trauma. They are bred inside for volume, not welfare and often attempt to mutilate themselves and other animals as a result of treacherous conditions. Even regular standards of ‘free range’ are pitifully low. Organic animals are truly free range – meaning they are free to graze on natural, organic pasture and are reared without the use of antibiotics or growth-stimulating hormones. Farm animals account for around 45% of all antibiotics used in the UK (and two-thirds in the EU) – which is a pretty huge proportion. These antibiotics are used to compensate for cramped conditions, where disease outbreaks are common. And of course, the antibiotics don’t disappear when the animals are slaughtered – they simply get passed on to you through the food chain.
So, in short, learning where your food comes from and its impact on the environment, your health and the animals involved is a good starting point in improving the quality of the food you eat. One way of doing this is by switching to organic, one step at a time. You can find out more about the Soil Association’s organic September campaign here.
 British Journal of Nutrition. 2014. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature.