Consumers view of organic agriculture F10
Centre for Food PolicyThames Valley University32-38 Uxbridge RoadEalingLondon W5 2BS, UKtel: 44-181-280-5070fax: 44-181-280-5137e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
|As we approach the year 2000, humanity faces an
immense challenge. Can food and farming policy be changed from its current direction of
intensive farming towards a system of farming that is better for the environment,
consumer, public health and - last but not least - farmers. People at this conference know
very well that the organic movement has pioneered a better system of farming in the last
50 years. Numbers have grown. Public support has improved. Yet problems remain. Why is
organic so marginal? Why does big business and big farming still manage to argue that
organic farming would fail to feed the world? Now there is much talk of the need for
intensive agriculture and use of biotechnology to feed the fast growing populations of the
Far East in the 21st century. This argument is already being used to keep intensive
farming receiving official national and international support. The organic movement may
get angry and argue that this position is wrong, but if governments and the public still
have doubts we have to accept that there is a 'credibility gap' that organic farming's
supporters must address.
In my paper, I want to address this issue of how the public perceives organic farming and food. I want to talk about our experience in the UK. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s food and farming policy has been in constant crisis, as scandals over food poisoning, heart disease and BSE (mad cow) disease have rocked the farming establishment. Yet far from these crises bringing change, it is astonishing to note how big farming survives! Even now we see conventional farming reasserting 'business as usual', when the madness of feeding cows on the remains of contaminated dead sheep has been publicised world-wide. I want to ask: 1) how can the organic movement improve its capacity to win public confidence? 2) can the UK experience of organising broad alliances with consumers, health and environment groups teach us anything? 3) what are the big questions that the organic movement will have to address if it is to grow in coming years?
In summary, I shall ask whether the organic movement can grow, because if it does not, it will remain marginal and and for a little specialist market. Is the organic food sector really to be one which is tolerated by the big food barons, but which provides no threat? There is much hope for the future, but only if we face awkward questions honestly.