Irradiating organic food would save lives

Organic farming must ditch its irrational mistrust of science or risk losing its reputation as being safer and healthier

Dominic Dyer

I WORKED closely with the organic industry for almost a decade, first as head of the UK Food and Drink Federation’s Organic Food Manufacturers Group and then as a representative on the UK government’s Organic Action Plan Committee. I believe that the growth in the organic food sector has brought many benefits to farmers, food producers and consumers around the world.

The market for organic food has developed rapidly over the past 20 years as more consumers have become willing to pay a premium for products they consider to be both healthier and better for the environment. Although the recent economic downturn has led to a significant reduction in organic food sales, there are now over 170,000 organic farms in Europe, covering almost 2 per cent of the total agricultural land.

The organic industry can be proud of its achievements in putting animal welfare, environmental protection, traceability and food quality at the heart of the farming and food agenda.

However, in recent years I have become increasingly concerned by the willingness of the organic industry to market its products as both a healthier and safer alternative to conventional food production. They are not. In fact, by shunning science, organic producers could be increasing consumers’ risk of contracting Escherichia coli and other food-borne diseases.

The recent fatal E. coli outbreak centred on Germany has focused attention on the validity of the claims that organic food is healthier and safer. The outbreak has been traced to bean sprouts grown on an organic farm in Bienenbüttel, northern Germany. As New Scientist went to press, 35 people had died in the outbreak and thousands more were made ill. As a result, concern is growing over standards of microbiological food safety in organic farming.

So are we at higher risk of E. coli and other food-borne diseases from organic food and, if so, what can producers do to reduce this risk and restore confidence in the organic brand?

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Time to adopt technologies that may save lives (Image: Mark Langridge/Mood Board/Rex Features)

Time to adopt technologies that may save lives (Image: Mark Langridge/Mood Board/Rex Features)

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