Consumers shun organic, local and fair trade food after exceedingly bad press

It must have been the lull in news after the holiday season in Europe that caused the recent excessive focus on the downside of everything organic and fair in the food industry.

Now it seems to be turning into a major public spat between big business and the tree huggers.

At the heart of the arguments is the realization that much of what has been common wisdom about organic farming, small local production and fair trade products has proved to be absolute bunkum.

The critical environmental assessments carried out over the past five years in response to global warming, have confirmed that common wisdom has failed to take into account their negative impact on the environment.

Farming, and especially small-scale organic farming, has proved to be bad for the environment, causing massive de-forestation over the past few thousand years.

The fair trade movement has succeeded only in giving poor farmers an unrealistic expectation of what their crops are worth, positioning them to fail in free markets.

Moving food around in large well-managed logistics systems has proved to have a much lower carbon footprint than millions of consumers searching in vain for local produce in remote farmers’ markets.

Now consumers demand food that tastes great, but also has low environmental impact.

Retailers have been slow to embrace the new consumer attitudes as they have been the biggest beneficiaries of higher-margin organic and fair trade foodstuffs.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

Organic farming is a form of agriculture which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. As far as possible organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests.

Approximately 31 million hectares (75 million acres) worldwide are now farmed organically.

Fair trade is an organized social movement which promotes standards for international labour, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related to production of Fairtrade labelled and unlabelled goods. The movement focuses in particularly on exports from developing countries to developed countries.

Global fair trade sales have soared over the past decade. The increase has been particularly spectacular among Fairtrade labelled goods: in 2006, these sales amounted to approximately €1.6 billion worldwide, a 41% year-to-year increase. As per December 2006, 569 producer organizations in 58 developing countries were FLO-CERT Fairtrade certified and over 150 were IFAT registered.

(Source: Wikipedia. Read more there for great links and a further debate for and against these concepts.)

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