A major British organics-certifying organization is considering stripping its labels from food that’s been flown in from abroad, according to the Guardian:
The problem stems from the public’s desire to consume more and more organic crops and meat. Demand for organic food now greatly outstrips UK farmers’ ability to supply it. Supermarkets imported 34 per cent of all the organic food they sold in 2005, most of it by air.But increases in the numbers of flights in and out of Britain are also linked to environmental worries because air transport is considered to be a major cause of greenhouse warming. For the Soil Association, which claims it has impeccable green credentials, this link is embarrassing.
Technically, an “Organic” designation is meant to convey information about how food is produced and grown — with an utter minimum of chemicals and so on. How it gets to market is a separate question, notwithstanding some people’s argument that an apple that travels 1,500 miles before being sold gets coated in dirty dust and fuel fumes.
Expecting an “Organic” label to stand in as a general stamp of approval for environmental friendliness is a mistake, though of course a lot of people do. It’s like assuming that a hybrid car engine is necessarily low-emissions, even though some hybrid vehicles use the extra battery power to provide more torque, rather than higher efficiency.
Buying local is good, but many fruits and vegetables can only be coaxed out of the ground in unfriendly climates with the addition of fertilizers and the protection of pesticides. Maybe what’s needed is different labels: green for organic/local, blue or something for organic/flown-in, yellow for non-organic/local, and no label at all for God-knows-where-this-is-from-and-what-they-did-to-grow-it.