Is organic really better?

This debate will run and run. Where fruit and vegetables are concerned, the consensus seems to be that there is not much difference where nutritional value is concerned. You have to take the broader view: which methods are better for the soil, the local biodiversity, and the planet? Then the answer is obvious. One farmer published a photo of his father ploughing a field fifty years ago, with a cloud of gulls following the plough. The same scene today shows a much bigger tractor, no hedges in the background…and no birds. There is nothing for them to eat, because the soil is effectively sterile.

But what about animal husbandry? That too has become more intensive, moving towards huge indoor cattle barns and piggeries, with computer-controlled feeding and no access to growing food, let alone fresh air. Meat production is more controversial, because it’s much ‘greedier’ in terms of natural resources, and large-scale indoor operations can actually be ‘greener’ than extensive farming on grass. But here, it turns out that there is a big difference in the meat and milk that are produced. A major study last year found that organically produced meat contains around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than its intensively farmed equivalent. Organic milk has 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers and obesity - more iron and more vitamin E.

We’ve long known that domesticated meat is much higher in saturated fats than wild or free range meat, but this takes things a step further. So we need to make conscious choices. Organic produce costs more, but we have to weigh up the hidden costs too. How much do you spend on supplements, diet products and so forth? Maybe the extra expense of buying good quality organic meat - every so often rather than every day – is not so high after all?