... the problem with 'organic'

The word "organic" sets all kinds of alarm bells ringing in my mind: it often indicates lower quality, higher price and poor value for money.

A farm shop in Gloucestershire recently offered "organic Bramley apples", which were small, grossly misshapen and with badly diseased skins.

After peeling and coring, the consumer would have lost hours and ended up with little edible flesh. And cast an eye down the supermarket fresh fruit and vegetables and you'll see that "organic" invariably costs more.

Several of the seed companies now offer "organic seeds". Surely all seeds are organic - if they were inorganic they would be dead. Seeds harvested from unsprayed parents are often more likely to be infected with pests and diseases.

Where seeds such as sweetcorn are sold free of seed dressings, the losses at germination will be high and therefore the cost of seed inevitably greater.

This season we see the introduction of a new range of "organic plant foods". One, if you read the small print, contains sulphate of potash. How can this straight chemical be organic? I thought organic chemicals had to contain carbon.

Even where natural, as opposed to man-made, fertilisers are used, the cost of the NPK nutrients is much higher and the release more unpredictable for the natural materials. Many of these organic plant foods - pelleted chicken manure is a good example - come in big plastic buckets, yet when you lift the lid they're only one-third full. How environmentally friendly and organic is it to use all that plastic unnecessarily?

I do sense a more questioning frame of mind in the public at large. They are learning that organic growing results in a drop in yield - all very well for the wealthy Westerner, but not so good for the starving.

We should be growing wholesome food produced from the lightest carbon footprint, where necessary with man-made plant foods and protection materials.

- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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