Organic food is better for health (just not necessarily ours)

ByKate Meakin . London

19 January 2011

At one of the farms in Waynaud that I visited I asked Matthew, a cashew, coffee and spice farmer, what difference Fair Trade had made. He answered with two points, one that I expected and one that I didn’t. He said that he now got a better price for his products (tick) but he also said that he now had peace of mind (surprise!)

Surprise because it’s surely meant to be Western consumers who secure peace of mind, not the producer!

Well to set the context, the people of Kerala are highly aware of the potential dangers associated with pesticide use. Through talking to people here (I’m not sure how much awareness there is about this in the UK but a quick search on the Guardian online comes up with a couple of references), I’ve learnt of a national scandal involving the use of a particular government touted pesticide in North Kerala. (Click here for the link and more information on the pesticide name, it seems that the Guardian newspaper is currently being sued by its manufacturers, so on the off chance that this very small blog gets picked up by the big boys I won’t mention endo-shhhhhhhh).

In the Kasaragod district the pesticide was being sprayed over the crops by helicopters and the proper safety measures regarding protecting water sources weren’t taken. In the last few decades there have been a huge number of people with cancer, nervous system disorders and mental health problems and a disproportionally large number of babies born with genetic disabilities in that area.  A charity has been set up for the victims and its worth a visit to their website to understand the nature and tragedy of the issue. Although the government hasn’t officially recognized the problem, there is currently a ban in place on this pesticide.

So for Matthew despite the extra burden of work associated with becoming organic (see my last blog post for weeding moan!) He can now rest easy with his conscience.*

I was really interested in this aspect of organic food. In general the UK debates surrounding the proposed health benefits of organic food focus on how many extra vitamins and nutrients the UK consumer will get for their extra pennies. Although there is some information on the Soil Association’s website about this aspect, the public debate tends to ignore it. However to me this is probably the most convincing argument I’ve ever heard in favour of organic food.  It isn’t an acceptable to trade off: pest free food in return for the lives and health of people.

One final interesting comment by one of the staff members of Elements (the trading arm of the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala) was that when farmers start using pesticides they stop growing their own food. This to me says quite a lot, but I’d be really interested to hear what you think.

* Just to clarify that not all Fairtrade certified products are organic. All the farmers that are part of the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala are also organic; however this is not the case for all Fairtrade producers. Fairtrade recognizes that not all producers are able to become organic so the standards outlaw the dangerous pesticides, including the above alluded to pesticide, and require that producers reduce the amount of chemicals they use as far as possible.

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