I seem to remember conventional growers blithely telling us there was no need to buy organic because they were reducing pesticide usage anyway. ‘Integrated Crop Management’ was to deliver all the environmental and health benefits of organic, minus the extra costs.
Now we learn pesticide residue levels on food in the UK have almost doubled. A survey of 2011 residue figures by the Pesticides Action Network UK has found that 46% of our food contains pesticide traces, up from 25% on 2003. Supposedly healthy fruits had levels above the government’s maximum residue limits.
None of this surprises me. I will never forget seeing the blackened, withered fingernails of Costa Rican plantation workers whose job was to dip pineapple seedlings into a pesticide bath.
You can forget all those reassurances about growers selecting “wildlife-friendly crop protection products” pesticides are designed to kill things. Common residues include chlorpyrifos, which harms honeybees, and carbendazim, which has been linked to developmental problems in animals. I don’t know about you, but if a pesticide isn’t good for mice, or for the people who grow it, I don’t feel inclined to eat it myself.
“If a pesticide isn’t good for mice, I don’t feel inclined to eat it myself”
When the recession began, all the UK multiples, save Waitrose, rushed to clear organic food off their shelves, replacing them with austerity lines. Unsurprisingly, sales of organic food in the supermarkets dipped.
But in February, post-Horsegate, supermarket organic sales rose to their highest level in nine months (up 8.4% on January) because consumers see organic as a symbol of enhanced safety and integrity. This isn’t a flash in the pan. Even between 2008 and 2011, global organic sales grew by more than 25%. By last year, the strongest support for organic was coming from the under-35s, who significantly increased their spend.
These latest alarming pesticide revelations show it’s more important than ever to choose organic. Tellingly, Waitrose, which never stopped investing in organic, is benefiting from enhanced consumer loyalty and higher sales as a result. There’s a lesson here for the other chains, should they choose to take it.
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of What to Eat