16 May 2000
Biotech firms back organic food
By FWi staff
AS the safety of organic food is questioned, the organic farming sector has found an unlikely ally – the biotechnology industry.
On Monday (15 May) the Daily Mail newspaper said that tests found that organic lettuce contained 100 times higher levels of the potentially lethal E coli bug than conventional produce.
The Soil Association, which promotes a sector more used to positive media coverage, dismissed the article saying it was inaccurate.
But CropGen, the information initiative which makes the case for biotechnology, did not gloat over the report.
Professor Howard Slater, a member of the CropGen panel, said he hoped organic farming would not be transformed from “media darling into public pariah”.
“Biotechnology has suffered just that fate and it has set back our ability to tackle the worlds agricultural and environmental problems.
“I am sure organic farming can be part of a broadly-based solution and I am equally convinced that biotechnology can be too.”
He said both biotechnology and organic farming aimed for sustainability by reducing chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Meanwhile, the Soil Association has issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations made in the Mail article.
It says, contrary to what the article claims, there are strict controls on manure under an organic regime, requiring proper treatment to kill bugs.
There are no such controls on conventional systems, says the Soil Association.
The association says cases of organic poisoning cited in the article occurred in private gardens, which could not be organically certified.
It adds that E coli bacteria are everywhere, many of which keep people healthy by crowding out pathogenic bugs.
These harmless bacteria were the ones found on the vegetables mentioned in the article, it says.