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Can someone come and talk to me about Organic food?

(33 Posts)
Hulla Sun 19-Jul-09 19:39:58

We're just about to start weaning dd and it has really made me look at my eating habits - the foods we eat, sweets/treats etc. Now I am wondering whether we should buy organic?

I am looking at it more from a health pov than a taste one I suppose.

I'd be grateful for your thoughts on organic food please. Worth doing? Essential? No difference?

I might browse the library for a book on it too...

sceptic Sun 19-Jul-09 19:41:04

I consider myself pretty well informed and I think organic is for fools with too much money.

Hulla Sun 19-Jul-09 19:44:46

Ha ha! I definately don't have too much money! I may be a fool though... grin

Seona1973 Sun 19-Jul-09 19:47:20

we tend to buy organic and/or free range meat and eggs. We just buy bog standard other items e.g. fruit, veg, etc

notcitrus Sun 19-Jul-09 19:57:36

Organic food may be grown locally and be fresher and thus taste better and have more vitamins in it.
Or it may have been flown/shipped/trucked across the world/lots of warehouses and be a bit tired and less good.
So no difference on the health front.

If you want to encourage farming particularly of animals in smaller more wildlife-friendly fields, then there's some merits in organic, but again not necessarily. Also as the organic standards derive from a EU directive, there's other random 'good' criteria, eg organic-certified stuff can't be made/grown/processed using child labour.

Also things can be sold as organic if they a) haven't had certain chemicals used on them and b) someone's done the paperwork. So many crops from developing nations would qualify as organic but noone can afford to get the certification, so they aren't. And certain additives etc are still permitted in organic food, eg sodium nitrite in meats, metabisulphites in wine.

I try to buy local products, then fresh/healthy, then think about sustainability (food miles, packaging etc), and don't really worry about organic. Although we get mainly organic milk because MrNC thinks it's better and it's worth the money to keep him happy.

ABetaDad Sun 19-Jul-09 20:36:13

I tend to agree with sceptic that organic is for fools with too much money. My view as an ex farmer is also in agreement with notcitrus that we would all be far better focussing on buying non organic food that has been grown locally to good animal welfare and crop husbandry standards. Bizzarely, meat/eggs that can be labelled organic can be produced with much lower animal welfare standards than meat/eggs produced to very good animal welfare standards on a non-organic farm.

People tend to equate 'organic' with words, like local, natural, fresh, free range, freedom and they all mean diffeent things or indeed are just marketing slogans. The whole food industry and supermarkets caught on to this a few years back and consumers are just confused.

I am also concerned that there is simply not enough policing and monitoring of the food supply chain to ensure what you are buying is really 'organic' and not just normal factory farmed food relabelled. The price mark-up for organic is so large it is inevitable that there will be unscrupulous operators. It is impossible for a consumer to tell what is really organic and what is not.

I used to trade food products and quite frankly food corruption and adulteration is endemic and has been going on for thousands of years. That is why I strongly prefer to know where my food comes from as much as I possibly can and buy it in season rather than air flown or shipped from somewhere else.

FabBakerGirlIsBack Sun 19-Jul-09 20:38:15

Organic milk is so much better for you.

Organic eggs taste nicer than free range.

Organic veg varies.

Organic meat is nicer.

Organic tomatoes would be a good choice. They have cancer fighting properties so are even better without any pesticides.

Organic cheese is nice too.

sceptic Sun 19-Jul-09 21:28:50

You are well and truly fooled, fab.

tearinghairout Sun 19-Jul-09 21:43:55

Organic milk tastes nicer,as do organic carrots. DH always notices when I don't buy decent chicken (not necessarily organic, but barn reared & veg diet at least) because the texture of the meat is different.

There was an article in the Telegraph that said that some organic foods are worth buying & some not. The only one I remember (my memory is shot) is brocolli, because it's sprayed about five times in its short life with some horrible pesticides.

I have also seen a blind tasting of free-range eggs v battery. There was no contest - all five 'testers' chose the free-range.
But I wouldn't 'shell-out' (!) for organic eggs, free range is fine.

Personally I would want to give my pfb as few pesticides as possible smile

Noonki Sun 19-Jul-09 21:44:43

oh no she's not sceptic

Organic milk is 70% higher in Omega 3 and some other nutrients.

Organic eggs and meat DO taste much nicer.

not sure about veg. But there is a lot of unknowns about the amount of chemicals that we eat. It is very hard to be sure the effects of all of these chemicals. So in my opinion it is not worth the risk.

If you buy local seasonal organic veg and milk it works out about a £7 more a week for my family of four. (though we do buy some non-organic) which is the cost of 3 pints. And as DH has cut his drinking in half this isn't an issue.

ABetaDad Sun 19-Jul-09 21:48:36

FabBaker - I agree with you that if you feel that organic food tastes nicer then that is a very good reason for buying organic if you feel the extra price is worth it.

I have tried one of the well known organic veg box schemes and found it very variable and just not nice at times as well as very expensive. I concluded that the quality of food I was getting was not worth the price.

Just buying organic because its organic is where I get off the bus though. I want to buy good quality food for the money I am paying and I do not care what the label says. I think too much of the organic food industry became about marketing and profit and not about delivering good quality food.

tearinghairout Sun 19-Jul-09 23:21:17

Oh yes, forgot about cheeses. But it could just be that the cheapo stuff tastes like soap. I had some Quickes the other day, not sure if it's organic or not, but it was a world apart. Worth the extra money. Same could be said of 'real' tomatoes - if you buy the supermarket ones that are grown on cotton wool you forget that real tomatoes actually smell of tomato and taste of more than water!

DH has had an allotment for a few years now, and one thing I noticed was with his sweetcorn: when you unpeeled the outer leaves there were loads of little bugs of all shapes & sizes in them (the leaves, not the actual cobs). So since with 'normal' sweetcorn I've never seen an insect, what on earth do they spray them with?

I notice the difference in flavour with lettuce & cabbage - it tastes much stronger than supermarket lettuce (although you have to be vigilant with eg putting fleece over carrots to keep off the carrot fly. Non-organic would spray.)

To the non-believers - and I am appalled at being called a fool - have you compared the taste of organic milk & carrots to non-organic?

Karam Sun 19-Jul-09 23:46:14

Agree tearing, I have read some very interesting arguments which have looked scientifically at the nutritional components of different foods and it again concluded that some foods were nutritionally worth buying organic, and others not. For example, it said (from memory) that milk and tomatoes were the best, but bananas were not worth buying organic as the skin protected the banana from most pesticides and so there was very little difference from the organic and non organic varieties. These are not my opinions, or those of any other random person - but were serious studies as far as I can recall. HTH

FabBakerGirlIsBack Mon 20-Jul-09 08:06:59

sceptic you are very rude.

I am not fooled. I know what tastes better, thank you.

FabBakerGirlIsBack Mon 20-Jul-09 08:07:55

Noonki - thank you

Hulla Mon 20-Jul-09 08:31:21

Sorry I didn't come back last night. I had to get dd to bed, it took's a whole other thread.

I'm just reading through this and I'll post again but thanks for so many responses.

ABetaDad Mon 20-Jul-09 08:34:35

I don't literally think that people who buy organic food are fools. Of course not.

What I feel is that the food manufacturing and retail industry try to make fools of us and that organic food has been seen as a way to extract very high prices and bigger margins from people who are willing to paya premium. As Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall discovered - people on tight budgets buy cheap food no matter what the quality and rich people buy more expensive food. Supermarkets know this which is which they will not stop selling cheap chicken and why they now also stock organic produce whereas it used to be only in specialist shops.

In economic terms it is what is known as price discrimination. The purpose is to extract the maximum price each customer is willing to pay by producing a range of slightly differentiated products along the supply curve. This is not about the food manufacturing industry or food retail industry having concern for food quality or ethical standards or the environment - it is only about selling food for the highest profit possible. They are not doing anything illegal or unethical it is just business.

For example, take the humble banana. The value line, standard line, fair trade line and organic line each fill a different price point on the supply curve. There is only a very marginal difference in the quality, taste, nutrition of the actual bananas as a food product in the value line compared to the organic line but a large difference in price.

The supermarkets just see organic as a mechanism to encourage a certain category of consumers to identify themselves as targets willing to pay luxury prices. The organic food advertising and marketing is only to persuade customers to trade up the supply curve from say fair trade to organic. There is nothing more to it than that. As I say, there is nothing ethical or indeed unethical about it.

If the food manufacturiong/retail industries made no money from organic food or sales volumes drop below a critical level in the recession they will drop it like a hot brick.

I feel the organic food movement is a very valid reaction to very poor farming and food processing practices of the 1970/80s but that now it has reached a point where it original objectives have simply been subsumed into the general marketing of food. There are stil commited oranic producers and specialist retailers who remain true to the original objective but most organic food is now produced for sale by supermarkest according to budget and marketing crieteria and as long as it has an organic label on it to valiadate the marketing message and the price premium that is all that matters.

sarah293 Mon 20-Jul-09 08:47:35

Message withdrawn

IsItMeOr Mon 20-Jul-09 08:50:40

Hi Hulla, you might find this info about organic food on the Food Standards Agency website helpful, although I think others have already made a lot of the same points.

This BBC article includes some of the more recent, but not yet peer-reviewed findings and is a bit less dry than the FSA stuff.

There are lots of reasons to choose the food you do (price, quality, nutrition, animal welfare, etc) and you need to decide which are the most important to you I guess!

ABetaDad - I'm a bit surprised at your scepticism that what is in the packet matches up to the label, as my understanding is that the big food retailers have spent a fortune on ensuring traceability. It would be more than their reputations' were worth to ever be caught selling something that wasn't what they said it was and in a business where even 0.5% of Tesco's customer base shopping elsewhere would make their top brass very sweaty, reputation is everything, isn't it?

Of course that doesn't take away from the truth of all that you say about price points, which I was shocked to learn about when reading the Undercover Economist grin.

IsItMeOr Mon 20-Jul-09 08:54:09

Shocked, because there's this fantastic translation of the Starbucks menu:

Cappuccino £1.85
Hot Chocolate £1.89
Caffe Mocha £2.05
White Chocolate Mocha £2.49
Venti White Chocolate Mocha £3.09

Or, to translate

Cappucino - no frills £1.85
Hot chocolate - no frills £1.89
Mix them together - I feel special £2.05
Use different powder - I feel very special £2.49
Make it huge - I feel greedy £3.09

The key point being that it costs Starbucks little different to make any of the drinks, but we think they (and we) are worth more!

Hulla Mon 20-Jul-09 09:08:53

Thanks everyone.

ABetaDad I agree with your second paragraph (1st post) - it applied to me. I looked at local organic veg box delivery and was surprised to see food from all over the world. I expected it to be local but I guess they wouldn't be able to offer the same variety.

tearinghairout Its definately pfb that's triggered this - wasn't so bothered when it was just dh and I smile. I'll have a look for the telegraph article online. Thanks.

So quality is more important than organic for organic's sake?

Ok, I'm shopping today with that in mind (and probably going to give organic milk a whirl too).

Hulla Mon 20-Jul-09 09:17:35

I am too slow today!

Thanks ABD - that's really interesting.

Riven - that's my next aim, grow our own. I think that would be fab.

IsItMeOr thanks for the links. DH always seems to fall into the "I feel greedy-special-with-a-flake-on-please" category. It astounds me that we can go out for coffee and not get much change from £10.

ABetaDad Mon 20-Jul-09 10:09:31

IsItMeOr - very good point about the Starbucks menu.

I was also going to use the other example of price discrimination in some coffee chains (which may be the Undercover Economist) where customers can ask for Fair Trade coffee and pay a premium for that. However, the premium they pay is far and above the actual extra price the Fair Trade organisation pays the farmers. Hence, the coffee chains use the Fair Trade label as a means of price discrimination and increasing margin - and in my view taking advantage of the goodwill of the ethical consumer.

I am not saying buying Fair Trade (or organic) is wrong or foolish from the point of view of an ethical consumer or even one that is just concerned about food quality. It is a good it is a good thing or at least wel motivated. I just feel the consumer who is concerned about these issues and is willing to identify themselves as willing to pay a premium is then too often taken for a ride in many cases.

Hulla - growing your own or buying local is definitely the way to go for me.

IsItMeOr Mon 20-Jul-09 11:24:22

ABetaDad - I think you're right that the fairtrade eg is also an Undercover Economist one. I've noticed that Caffe Nero charge a 10p premium for decaff, which is particularly funny as you're paying more for less iyswim. Doesn't stop me buying it, but 10p is going to be way more than it actually costs them to buy/make decaff instead of caff.

It's a conspiracy against pg/bfing women, that's what it is!

notcitrus Mon 20-Jul-09 12:56:11

IsItMe - sadly traceability abroad ain't all that. For starters up to 2 or 5% of organic stuff can be non-organic. And whenever there is a scandal (eg the brand-name clothes who were found to use sweatshops despite advertisig they didn't), it doesn't actually make that much of an impact - have Gap or Primark had to close stores? No.

I know some UK farmers who produce excellent attentively-reared food, but can't get people to pay the premium it costs to produce, unless they invest in the 5 years to convert to organic and then the public will pay. At least that's less depressing than the corn-cob farmers who found that people would pay 3x more for corn-on-the-cob that was trimmed and put into plastc trays and wrapped. If you've ever wondered why supermarkets are selling ever-more overpackaged veg, that's one of the reasons why.

[makes note to visit butcher this week - who advertises as 'organic butcher' to get people in through the door, but then sells lots of free range and other excellent non-organic meat that's half the price of the organic...]

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