The Organic Issue

The first point to make here is that Cross Lanes Fruit Farm IS NOT organic. The purpose of this article is in part to explain why we believe we are right in deciding not to be organic and also to discuss the wider issue.

On Saturday 20 November 1999 a letter appeared in The Times newspaper which we thought raised important issues:

"Dear Sir, I read with great interest the account about organically grown food. Such Organic vegetables always appear to be immaculate in the shops and are in great demand by the public. We also attempt to garden organically, using the crop rotation method and fertilising our crops with a mixture of rotted horse/cow manure and garden/kitchen compost. Although we have vegetables all the year round which grow magnificently and taste delicious, we also harbour extremely healthy populations of slugs, aphids,

whitefly, cabbage-white caterpillars and various other animal and fungal pests which are quite capable of spoiling the crops completely. I am sure we could not sell ours to the demanding public even if we wished to. I am intrigued to know how organic gardeners manage to control such pests without using pesticides, herbicides and insecticides so that the produce is appealing to the consumer. Yours faithfully...."

This letter is important because it reveals that the common perception about organic methods does not match up to the reality of what actually goes on. The letter writer clearly believes that organic farmers do not use "pesticides, herbicides and insecticides". This, from the Soil Association's own literature, is not the case. In fact many pesticides are used, quite legally, by organic producers but they must be 'natural'.

The concern of many in respect of the use of pestcides by traditional farmers is based on the belief that they may have adverse effects both for humans and for the natural environment. The active ingredients that could potentially be responsible for these effects can either be made synthetically or extracted from natural sources. In the former case an organic farmer would be unable to use the pesticide but in the latter it would be acceptable under the soil association's rules. Those people who have decided to shop 'organically' because they oppose spraying or 'using pesticides' have therefore been misled or at least there has been the potential for mis-understanding.

The table below shows some of the pesticides allowed by the Soil Association for use by organic farmers:

Type Name Major uses
insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis caterpillar control
insecticide Derris aphid, slug sawflies etc. control
insecticide methaldehyde slugs and snail control
fungicide and bactericide Copper oxychloride control of canker, collar rot, mildew, blight

The issue at hand should be whether the active ingredients used in pesticides, whether organic or not, have harmful effects. In the Soil Association literature it comments after 'Bacillus thurigiensis' that this is 'non-toxic' to other organisms. This is exactly the same type of assurance given by argichemical companies in respect of some of their synthetic products. There is no reason to trust the former and distrust the latter.

There might be a case for a system of farming where the plants/animals are left to grow without any substances that they would not normally encounter in their natural environment. It is doubtful, however, whether such a system of farming could be commercially viable, as the letter writer commented, her vegetables would have been unsaleable. What is crucial to realise, though, is that this is not what so-called organic farming is about today.

At Cross Lanes we believe that when used sparingly and strictly only when necessary, pesticides of all types can provide real benefits with minimal health risks. We operate what is called 'integrated fruit management' where traps for insects are set in the orchard and only if the number of bugs caught reaches a certain number do we spray. This means that we know that when we spray it is necessary. Furthermore our pest control scheme includes the use of natural predator introduction, for example the introduction of tifs to help reduce the problem with aphids. We do not spray for cosmetic reasons and nor do we dip the fruit in sprays after picking. Both these techniques are used by many larger producers particularly overseas where regulations are some what less stringent.

We hope that our policy combines a realism about the quality and price of fruit that people expect with a concern for health and environmental issues. In our view it is regretful that so much of the debate in this area is characterised by emotion and so little by a measured consideration of the all the facts.


Have your say....fill in our feedback form on the News and Views front page.