The Soil Association continues its relentless campaign to increase even further the profits made by its organic farming members. Now it has issued a warning about the dangers which lurk inside conventionally reared chickens and their eggs, presumably expecting a rush to the organic poultry counters of supermarkets as a result. While many papers ignored such blatant and cynical opportunism, the Guardian gave it predictable prominence:
"Consumers might be at extra risk of cancer, heart attacks or producing defects in foetuses, because millions of birds and eggs eaten each year have residues from veterinary medicines used to treat poultry diseases, said the report, published last night by the Soil Association, the campaign group for organic farming."
The only problem with the Soil Association's claims is that the amount of medicine residues detected were well below even the conservative levels set by the World Health Organisation and not a single shred of evidence was provided to indicate any potentially harmful effects – a point ignored by the Guardian but not the more balanced BBC.
This timing of this latest scaremongering is rather odd. The Soil Association is currently campaigning for the ability to sell meat from organically reared animals which have been vaccinated against foot and mouth disease. They argue that consumer resistance to such products is 'unfounded' and 'products from vaccinated animals pose absolutely no safety risks to the consumer.' They are undoubtedly right. But they are also justly hoisted on their own organic petard. By generating similarly 'unfounded' anxieties about 'chemicals' in food it is little wonder that consumers will be wary of the Soil Association's distinction between 'bad' chemicals – medicine residues – and 'good' chemicals – vaccine residues. And isn't it a vaccine (MMR) which was thought, quite wrongly of course, to be responsible for both autism and Crohn's disease?
The advantage of vaccination for the Soil Association is quite clear. Organic sheep and cattle fetch premium prices – around £130 for a ewe hogget and up to £800 for a breeding sow. Maff's standard valuation for such livestock when culled to prevent the spread of foot and mouth is £55 and £130 respectively.
This latest dilemma for the Soil Association comes a few months after the alleged link between one of the pesticides commonly sprayed onto organic crops, Rotenone, and Parkinson's disease. (See Parkenstein food?) Many people had previously thought, and some still do, that organic food is untouched by pesticides and were surprised to find that although some 'good' chemicals might be 'natural', that does not mean that they aren't highly toxic.
Meanwhile, today in Oxford's covered market, organic chickens are on sale at £6.80 per kg. – around £11.00 for an average sized bird. Good quality free range chickens are also on sale at £3.06 per kg. – just over £5 for the same family meal. No wonder the Soil Association would like to frighten us into believing that only their chemicals are 'good' and 'safe'.
4 June 2001