08December2021

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Organic Trust 2012 AGM & Conference Resounding Success!

The 2012 AGM & Conference of the Organic Trust which was held in the peaceful surroundings of the Camphill Community Organic Farm at Grangebeg, Dunlavin, Co Kildare, saw record attendance levels. The excellent facilities provided in 'Colmcille' – the Grangebeg Community Hall – provided the perfect surroundings to conduct AGM official business early in the day. This meant that attendees could then enjoy the leisurely organic farm walk; delicious organic lunch; hear a recital from the wonderful Camphill Orchestra (which resulted in a standing ovation!) and sit back and appreciate the keynote presentations from renowned author & horticulturalist Klaus Laitenberger and Camphill Community Representative Vicky Syme. Vicky explained that Camphill is a way of life, where each person according to ability contributes what they can towards the well-being of the other. She indicated that the farm is organically certified by Organic Trust and that they try to be as self-sufficient as possible in relation to the vast range of organic food which is produced on-farm.

A great day was rounded off with a very lively questions & answers forum during which several people expressed their concern at recent media reports which attempted to denigrate organic production. In response, National Co-ordinator Helen Scully delivered the following address:

First, they ignore you: then, they laugh at you: then they fight you: then... you win.

It may be a bit of a cliché to quote Mahatma Ghandi when your ideas are met with opposition and contempt from powerful interests, but in the case of the organic movement, I believe there is certainly some worth to be found in these words. It would appear that corporate agriculture isn't laughing any more.

2012, so far, has been a year where the organic food sector has, both domestically and internationally met with some stinging criticism. From a UCD professor with a book to sell, to the Stanford study which was designed and written to portray organic food in a less favourable light, there has been no shortage of opportunities to defend ourselves.

Why do we find ourselves increasingly defending the organic movement? I believe there are a number of reasons for this. There are more advocates for both our food and our environment and they are progressively highlighting the links between the two. Consumers are now more aware of how their buying decisions can impact on their own health and the health of the planet. Issues such as animal welfare, pollution, pesticide residues in food, biodiversity loss and climate change are widely discussed in the media, not as often as they should be, but more often than ever before. Writers and journalists like Michael Pollan, Joanna Blythman and Raj Patel have succeeded in bringing the positive message of organic food production into the mainstream and it is a message that resonates with many.

As organic food becomes more popular, there is always going to be a backlash. Promoting a way of farming that threatens the status quo within the industry of corporate agriculture is bound to attract some criticism. At times this criticism has seemed almost concerted: but there is no conspiracy here, just big businesses protecting their interests by using any means at their disposal, through their power as advertisers, their extensive lobbying resources or, more worryingly, the increasing sponsorship of university faculties and research.

So, how do we fight?. Very often our first reaction (and I can vouch for this personally) is to swing for those who have taken a pop at us, but this is very often counter-productive. We must be pragmatic rather than dogmatic in how we deal with criticism. Our media loves to provoke and foment debate. As we have seen for years with climate change denial, contrarian viewpoints will always find a forum for airing, but, if we are clever, we can use these opportunities to further educate consumers on organic food and principles.

Obviously we must refute damaging allegations but we should not allow others to dictate the terms on which we fight.

Reports and studies on the nutritional value of organic food, while in some ways damaging, absolutely miss the point of what organic food production espouses. Yes, we believe that organic food is healthier, but it has always been about what organic food does not contain rather than what it does. Business as usual is not an option in terms of sustainability. Organic and other types of agro-ecological farming are the only systems of food production that attempt to address the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. The fact that reducing or eliminating chemical inputs in our food can deliver benefits to human health is a bonus but only a small part of what organic food production is really about.

We must avoid attempts to polarise the issues into an organic versus conventional farming argument. It would be far too easy to allow the advocates of industrial agriculture to have conventional farmers do their fighting for them, but we must avoid this at all costs. We want to attract more farmers into organic production and this will not be achieved by alienating them.

That being said, we are now entering an era where 'green-washing' is no longer a derrogatory term, but a profession. Whilst its great that issues of sustainability are increasingly on the agenda of businesses and organisations, we must not allow others to steal our clothes without first filling their pockets with a healthy handful of our principles.

Towards the end of the day's proceedings Helen was joined by Josef Finke – renowned organic pioneer from Ballybrado Organic Farm – in urging attendees to continue to educate the public regarding the benefits of organic food. Helen also reminded everyone that 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring which sought to ban the use of DDT and a plethora of other chemicals when it was first published in 1962 and stated that it took Rachel Carson ten years of lobbying before these were eventually banned. Through an absolute dedication to safe and transparent methods of food production, organic food will always win through but it requires the type of persistence and patience exercised by Rachel Carson to ensure that this message eventually penetrates every sector of society.

Source: HortiTrends News Room