Organic growers urged to tell truth


THE CREDIBILITY of the organic movement will “go down the drain” if it continues to make health claims that do not stand up, Prof Mike Gibney, director of UCD’s Institute of Food and Health, has said.

Independent reviews of scientific literature had consistently refuted the claims of the organic movement around nutrition and health, he said, but the movement continued “to cherry-pick” from the studies that suited them.

“My problem with them – and I’d love to be able to sit down and talk with them – they are building themselves up for a big crash because somebody is going to challenge them,” he said.

Prof Gibney predicted the claims would be referred to the European Food Safety Authority, which polices health claims on food products. “If they can’t show their claim to be true, well, trust is hard won and easily lost.”

Prof Gibney said urban dwellers had “a kind of middle-class affinity towards organic food and that’s their market and that’s what they should stick to”. It was time to shout “stop” when people who did not have the time or money to buy organic food were being frightened into thinking they were feeding children inferior foods.

He was speaking during a public interview with food journalist and broadcaster Ella McSweeney at the Agricultural Science Association’s annual conference in Druids Glen. It was opened by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

On the debate about genetically modified foods, he said he could understand why organisations opposed to GM technology had adopted a “hideous scaremongering approach”. It frightened people who did not have time to analyse the claims. They were coming up with a worst-case scenario that was “very emotive but absolutely bereft of science”.

Prof Gibney said the scare stories predicted when the US and South America began using GM technologies had not come true.

Prof Gibney said malnutrition among the elderly cost more than obesity, yet was seldom highlighted.

Meanwhile, ESRI environmental economist Dr John Curtis said plans to expand farm enterprises could increase emissions by one million tonnes by 2020. The plans in the Food Harvest 2020 report include increases of 50 per cent in milk output and 40 per cent in beef.

He said if climate policies curtailed Irish milk and beef expansion, production would move to such places as Brazil.