Green FAQs, Part 2

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What about workers - do they fare better?

The term 'organic' does not automatically mean that a product is fairly traded as well. There is a separate mark to look out for - the Fair Trade mark - if you want to be absolutely certain that workers are paid a fair wage, work in safe and humane conditions and are given training. But at present this is given only to coffees, teas, bananas, cocoa, orange juice, chocolate and honey and exists in only 18 countries worldwide.

Organic agriculture is rarely at odds with the principles of Fair Trade, since by avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals, for example, workers are already being given a healthier working environment. And organic producers have traditionally had a strong ethical basis which has seen them provide long-term contracts at fixed fair prices to suppliers, along the same lines as those that exist in fair trading.

So it is likely that, if you are buying organic, workers will benefit. However, with larger, less ethically conscious companies getting in on the organic act, this may not always be the case, so keep a look out for goods that are both organic and Fair Trade.

Why does it seem that there is not enough organic produce to go round?

There genuinely isn't enough to go round. Consumer demand for organic food is rising but farmers are not converting to organic production quickly enough to keep up with this demand. Even for those farmers who are converting it takes a minimum of two to three years to achieve organic status, so there is a time lag between demand and supply.

More needs to be done by governments to make conversion an attractive proposition to farmers, since farm incomes drop dramatically while they are in the process of converting. Subsidies are crucial and make sense if governments are as keen to help the environment as they say they are.

To maximize your chances of getting what you want, shop in specialist stores if you are lucky enough to have one near you, or consider mail order - you can buy organic meat and fish directly from farmers, for example.

Why is organic food more expensive?

The price of organic food is coming down, but it is true to say that it does cost a bit more than conventional produce. This is mostly because it costs more to produce - manual labour is required for weeding and spreading compost, fewer animals are squashed into one shed and better-quality feed is given to these animals, for example. It is also costly to get your food certified as organic and to keep testing it to ensure that it is free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - pollution from GM crops has already occurred.

However, the price of your weekly shop is not the entire cost to you and your family. The true cost of the food you eat should reflect the amount you pay in tax and water bills, since it falls to governments and utilities to clean up the environment, to tackle food scares and to subsidize the threatened rural communities that often result from conventional agriculture. Taking the environmental, social and health costs of conventional food into account makes organic food a bit of a bargain.

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