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The Organic Difference, Part 5

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Local and seasonal

Although not actually written into the legal standards that govern organic food, the majority of organic growers support local food initiatives, which encourage consumers to buy their food locally and seasonally. The organic community supports local food initiatives such as farmers markets, where farmers sell their own produce usually in monthly gatherings held in local towns and cities; box schemes, whereby mostly organic fruit and vegetables that have just been harvested are delivered to your door for a fixed fee; and small independent stores such as healthfood stores or organic fruit and vegetable stores.

As these are often run by the farmers themselves they reinforce the link between grower and consumer that has been lost over the years in developed countries and which many believe has led to the mistrust and divisions between town and country. Such consumers may come to change their habits - learning to cook seasonal recipes with ingredients they may not have seen since their grandmother passed away, and mastering the art of making the most of a glut of certain crops, such as tomatoes and fruits.

Buying local produce also avoids the costs of pollution associated with conventional food production and distribution. Conventional farmers and retailers appear to pay little heed to the environmental cost of shipping crops around the world and growing strawberries in mid-winter. As a result, air transport - now the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions - is used for an increasing number of food imports. Further pollution is generated when the food is then brought to a central depot before being trucked out to the individual supermarkets, and then driven home by a customer.

Also, food that has traveled long distances tends to require more packaging in order to protect it on its journey, resulting in the waste of huge amounts of plastic, cardboard and glass.

TIPS

• Crops that have been genetically modified to resist insects kill not just the target insect but also beneficial insects. Pollen from GM plants can kill endangered butterflies such as the monarch, for example.

• Planting herbicide-resistant crops could encourages the use of larger quantities of herbicide, so all plant growth other than the crop is removed. This in turn wipes out seed-eating and insect-eating wild birds, such as skylarks and blackbirds, and small mammals, such as dormice.

• Insects can become resistant to the insecticide produced by GM plants and some GM plants may crossbreed with wild species to produce 'superweeds', which could out-compete and disrupt the natural biodiversity of an area (this may also happen with animals, such as GM salmon). As a consequence, the use of GM technology may not reduce the need for toxic chemicals in farming but increases it, as the search goes on for ever-more effective weapons against pests.

• GM plants can contaminate non-GM plants and honey.

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