Since I started working in agricultural media, I’ve never been particularly impressed with the Soil Association’s often simplistic arguments that organic farming is superior to conventional food production.
I had wondered whether the organisation had grown up a bit when, at its annual conference in February, policy director Peter Melchett finally admitted that both systems had benefits and that they could both learn from each other.
It seems the Association’s sophisticated, mature line of debate was short-lived though, as the title of its latest report, which dispels UN claims the world needs to double food production by 2050, shows:
“Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production.”
It may just be me, but that line conjures the mental image of Lord Melchie waggling his hands aside his his head, doing a little jig around his organic allotment as he gleefully calls the NFU, DEFRA and the UN big fat liars.
What makes me more irritated by the line though, is that despite the silly name-calling, I actually agree with the sentiments of the report.
There’s no scientific evidence that says we need to double production – in fact the EFRA committee admitted last year that it’s ‘more of a guideline’ rather than a definite figure we need to aim for.
I’m not saying increasing food production and securing domestic supplies isn’t something we need to do, but with 40% of food being wasted from when it leaves the farm and reaches consumers’ homes, tackling waste seems a more sensible first step.
If I remember rightly (I’m sure someone will correct me if not), South America’s growing agricultural output alone is bolstering global food supplies by 4% a year – meaning in 10 years time we’ll have hit the 40% growth mark.
All of this will be done with less inputs (sorry Melchie, that’s what GMs do for you) and with min-til systems – much greener than peddling the UK’s soils like mad and pumping them full of expensive, oil-based fertilisers.
Running the risk of making myself unpopular here, to me food security seems to be an issue of distribution, rather than one of production.
I’m starting to wonder whether I’m bonkers for writing this in public. Please try not to be too rude and sweary if you want to leave a comment at the bottom to shout at me – my mum reads this…