question of trust
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living > organic and ethical
Date: 28 November, 2003
Nick Tancock, the Fairtrade Foundation's
head of communications, looks at the difference between organic
and ethical goods
Trust is not a word you hear very often these
days, unless it's about the lack of it: in the establishment, the
media, with technology. But no other area has suffered quite as
great a loss of faith than what we eat.
It began for me back in the late Seventies when
two deaths caused by botulism in tinned salmon hit the headlines.
As a child, this left a huge impression on me and even now I would
think twice about buying it.
But it was not just my young world that was rocked - the shock caused
by the outbreak even found its way in to a Monty Python film where
guests at a dinner party find themselves visited by the Grim Reaper.
When the hostess asks what has caused their demise, the Reaper says:
'The salmon mouse.' The man of the house asks: 'You didn't use tinned
salmon, did you darling?'
A decade later there was another outbreak of
botulism. This time in hazelnut yoghurt. One person died and over
four times as many people were infected, yet few people can remember.
By then we had had BSE, salmonella, E Coli. The hellish pyres of
foot-and-mouth were yet to come.
This is arguably one of the main reasons demand
for organic foods in the UK has rocketed, while resistance to genetically
modified crops has grown ever greater. The press recently reported
that sales of organic goods had broken the billion pound mark -
a sure sign that the British public were thinking much more about
what they eat.
Meanwhile sales of foods with the Fairtrade Mark stand at £63
million. This is no mean feat - staggering growth from a standing
start just 10 years ago. But there is still quite some way to go
to match organic sales - themselves only a small proportion of overall
Around a million farmers and their families across
45 countries benefit from UK Fairtrade sales. Just imagine how many
would benefit if Fairtrade sold a billion. And the Fairtrade Foundation
- along with the farmers' organisations and companies involved -
have their sights set that high.
Of course, much Fairtrade food is also organic.
Fairtrade farmers interested in the social issues are also acutely
attuned to environmental needs - indeed, they of course, live on
the land so are close to the problems caused by agrochemicals, as
well as to the benefits of organic agriculture. And they appreciate
that shoppers will often pay more for their produce and therefore
pull out all the stops to reach the high standards of organic certification.
But not all Fairtrade is organic. So why not?
Fairtrade helps the poorest, most marginalised farmers. These are
people who may not be able to switch to organic for financial or
environmental reasons - for example, their small plots of land may
be surrounded by larger farms whose chemicals would drift. Or they
cannot afford to set land aside during the conversion period before
they can earn the higher organic price. Yet often these farmers
would face absolute poverty without the fair price that Fairtrade
But, where it isn't organic, farmers will still use a minimum of
pesticides and natural alternatives wherever possible. To be certified,
Fairtrade farmers have to make gradual improvements on environmental
standards, which for some products are very high. Standards for
bananas for example, include:
zones between trees and water courses, preventing any chemicals
that are used from leaching in to water
in the use of pesticides and herbicides and where possible total
elimination of herbicides
And the Fairtrade standards do explicitly encourage
farmers to convert to organic - and indeed many have used the extra
funds raised through Fairtrade to do just that - paying for the
information, experimenting with plots of land etc.
You can be sure that your Fairtrade foods will
always be of the highest standards. On a recent visit to the Windward
Islands, farmer Denise Sutherland told me: "Because we know
people may pay a bit more, we are always careful to save the best
for Fairtrade." Not only this, but in terms of taste, they
are up there with the best - Fairtrade foods regularly feature among
the award winners.
You know that you can trust their provenance and that the producers
will have received a fair price that covered their cost of production
and a premium that the farmers can invest back in to their business
and communities. The Fairtrade Mark doesn't say 'Guarantees a better
deal to third world producers' for nothing.
Fairtrade is helping put the trust back in food.
It's a very timely idea of trust: one that takes in to account our
changing world; that recognises it is not just about how crops are
grown but who is growing them and the share they get for their back-breaking
In this increasingly globalised world, our own
wellbeing and that of others is inextricably linked. Poverty is
a universal ill, which can have a universal impact. We are beginning
to understand that every time we shop, we are making a choice that
will have a direct impact on others, for good or ill. And in turn
we too can be affected.
This is the logic that helps answer the
'why' of the once-cynical marketeers, behind the rise and rise of
beginner's guide to organic goods
Visit the Fairtrade Foundation's website
Find out more about Christian Aid's credit card with The Co-operative
bank, the UK's only clearing bank with an ethical policy
Living an ethical life