I am a big supporter of Friends of the Earth, the environmental campaigning organisation. In particular their campaigns on food and farming are close to my heart. Richard Hines from the Friends of the Earth Real Food & Farming Team agreed to answer some of my questions.
Bean-sprouts: A lot of families are on a very tight budget and find it hard to afford fresh fruit and veg, never mind buying organic. What would you suggest?
Richard: Get down to your local market or greengrocer and you might be surprised how reasonable their prices are. Studies have shown that they're cheaper than the supermarkets for fruit & veg which means you can eat tasty fresh produce on a tight budget. And if you spend an extra few minutes cooking from fresh instead of buying ready-made meals you'll save loads of money too, and have a much healthier diet.
Bean-sprouts: I know all the reasons to buy organic, and Fair Trade, and local. But it's rare to be able to get all three in one product. When I have to choose between them, which should I go for and why?
Richard: Each product is different so there isn't a golden rule for choosing what to buy. But you can go a long way to reducing your environmental impact by buying seasonal, local produce from local shops wherever possible. That way you'll be benefiting the environment by cutting down on food miles whilst supporting local farmers and shops. But if you simply must have those bananas and chocolate then look for the Fair Trade version. And if pesticides are your main concern then organic produce will be your best bet.
Bean-sprouts: Another ethical dilemma is when big companies with poor ethical or environmental records produce certified organic or Fair Trade products alongside the rest of their range. Should conscientious buyers choose these products or continue avoiding the company?
Richard: When choosing what to buy, shoppers should certainly bear in mind who they're buying from as well as what they're buying. Simply having a few green or ethical products doesn't hide the fact that big companies damage the environment and often treat suppliers unfairly. If a company has a poor record, seek out alternatives. And if your local shops don't have the products you want, ask for them!
Bean-sprouts: How can I be sure that food I buy does not contain genetically modified ingredients?
Richard: GM products have to be labelled so they should be easy to spot, and thanks to opposition from shoppers there still aren't many out there. Unfortunately there is a loophole when it comes to meat and dairy. Although they need to be labelled if they contain GM ingredients themselves, products from animals fed GM (such as GM soya) do not have to be labelled as such. The only way to guarantee that the food you're eating doesn't come from animals fed GM is to buy organic.
Thank you, Richard. That was very interesting and helpful. I must admit I sometimes buy non-organic meat, but now I know it may come from animals fed on GM ingredients I will avoid it religiously in future.