Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Is organic food worth 10% more?

From the mountainsides and summer pastures around our home, the sheep are being gathered in. From my office window I can see the sheep dogs working hard and the farmers hollering and waving their arms to usher the animals down narrow paths to their lowland pens. The lambs will be sorted from their mothers, and shortly, the less robust, less fortunate ‘wethers’ (males) will be sent off to the auction mart. The ewes will return to the fell for another year.

And so the annual cycle continues. It’s hard to think of something more organic. No chemicals are used (well, except for the possible dipping and dousing against ticks); there are no additives, no barns without daylight, no cruelty from man, just lots of rain and grass.

I am not sure whether the lambs are sold as organic or not, but if they are, should they be at a higher price? So much food labelled 'green' or organic is sold at a premium, is this the farmers, or the supermarkets, taking advantage by charging an extra 10% or more?

Surely, in many cases the costs of rearing animals or growing crops is reasonably similar nowadays? Non organic producers, of course, often have the costs of extra equipment, fertilizers and other chemical enhancers to bear. Are we being duped into paying for a cosy, comfortable brand - a lifestyle endorsement? I'd like to see some more figures in the public domain.

I, for one, would not shirk from coughing up a few extra pence for genuinely better conditions and a cleaner product, but I don't want to pay a supplier for an image, or to cover the costs of an expensive accreditation scheme for that matter.

We can have a debate about whether or not 'organic' is better for your health or not but I am pretty sure it is better for the environment and livestock.

We need to know what we are paying for as a basic component of consumer protection, but also so that we can make informed choices. Who knows, consumers might even pay more if they could see the facts!

David Jackman

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