A leading scientist is the latest person to warn that the bickering over whether conventional or organic farming is environmentally superior is getting no one anywhere in mitigating climate change. In an interview with Farmers Weekly Ian Crute, shortly to become chief scientist at the Agricultural and Horticultural development board, said it was vital to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all types of agriculture. The former director of Rothamsted Research commented, 'The notion that this is a case of organic farming, conventional farming bad, doesn't get us anywhere.'
More investment in scientific research was needed to uncover beter ways that agriculture could help in the mitigation of climate change. 'There is no good data which would say that the emissions of nitrous oxide from organic systems compared to systems which are using synthetic fertiliser are necessary any worse or any better. I could argue very strongly that efficient pest, disease and weed control using pestcides was a far greener system in terms of the efficiency with which nitrogen us used than an inefficient system using far more land and inputs inefficiently.'
NFU policy director Martin Haworth endorsed Professor Crute's comments. More money needed to be spent on research and development to address 'market failure' issues. He commented, 'We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all systems and science is key.'
The comments came after a study by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) found that four out of five shoppers are turning their backs on organic produce in favour of cheaper, conventionally-produced food. They found that 10 per cent of shoppers have found alternative products offering the same perceived benefits as organic food at a lower price.
A further 8 per cent are focusing their organic spend on fewer products where they think it really makes a difference, while another 8 per cent say they are not sure what organic stands for anymore. More than 40 per cent of shoppers say they have never been interested in organic.
The hard core of dedicated organic shoppers make up nearly one in five of the UK population. They tend to be younger and more affluent. However, some of them are looking for their ethical values in products that meet high animal welfare standards, local foods and Fairtrade. Nine per cent of shoppers will buy more organic food when they have more money.
Soil Association director Patrick Holden admitted that many people saw organic as a lifestyle choice rather than a sustainable farming system. 'We need to work at changing these perceptions,' he said.