Organic or not, food is more than just a commodity

Barley Harvest

It might just be me but the summer news season seems to have been particularly weak, with the result that quite often I haven’t even switched on the radio in the morning. So it was slightly out of the blue that yesterday morning found me listening to John Humphrys talking to organic pioneers Patrick Holden and Peter Segger on their farms in the depths of west Wales. An hour later he was talking to conventional arable farmer, Peter Kendall.
It was all part of Today’s look at how Britain has changed over the sixty years the programme has been on air.
Apart from both being a Peter, they don’t have much in common. Segger farms 45 acres as opposed to Kendall’s 4,500 but, despite that, for the most part, they were terribly nice about each other.
Organic, as a percentage of the whole, seems to have peaked at 5% while the conventional sector seems, to some extent, to have acknowledged past mistakes and cleaned up its act. There’s a rather depressing acceptance that the two systems have to coexist with the likes of Kendall acknowledging that, in essence, they’re producing a commodity and that there will always be a market for organic through the artisan market.
In reality, he’d probably include virtually anything not produced on mega farms as only being marketable through various niche markets so let’s extend that to all small farms on marginal land. Kendall farms in Bedfordshire which certainly isn’t known for its picturesque scenery.
Looking at other industries this split between conventional and organic farming/food production sounds rational. Think Rolls Royce and Nissan in the car market.
But food is so intrinsic to what we are as humans, that splitting it in two is on a par with having two systems of education. And given the hidden costs of much conventional agriculture, mugs like us who pay a premium for good food as well as the clean-up from bad food production (through our taxes, water bills, NHS etc) almost seem on a par with parents who manage to find ridiculously high school fees out of their net income while also paying for state education with their taxes.
Personally, I’ve always been a believer in one education system for all and, for the most part, the same arguments apply to food. Why? Because both of them are more than just a commodity.