Local group hits back at ‘Which?’ probe into organically grown produce

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by Adam Drummond

A RECENT ‘Which? Gardening’ study has found that there is little, if any, nutritional or taste benefit from organically grown produce.

The study by the consumer group found that in small-scale trials of potatoes, broccoli and tomatoes the non-organically grown produce was tastier and more nutritious than those grown organically.

The non-organic broccoli was found to have significantly higher levels of antioxidants, while the non-organic potatoes contained more vitamin C than the organic crop.

In addition, ‘Which? Gardening’ took both the organic and non-organic tomatoes to the Totally Tomato Show, where expert tasters said that the non-organically grown ones had a stronger taste and were sweeter. Almost 70 per cent of tasters agreed.

Ceri Thomas, editor of ‘Which? Gardening’, said: “The surprising results of this small-scale trial call into question a lot of preconceptions about the taste and nutritional value of organic vegetables.

“However, this trial didn’t look at other benefits of going organic, such as the impact on the environment. Whatever methods you use, any gardener will tell you that home-grown fruit and veg beat supermarket fare hands down.”

A spokesman for Border Organic Gardeners (BOG) told the Advertiser: “We have more than 500 members on both sides of the border who follow organic gardening methods largely because they cannot trust what commercial growers are spraying on their crops and know that a carrot or a potato grown at home is just that ... a vegetable unsullied by the poisons so casually used by farmers to ‘protect’ their crops from the ravages of insects or disease.

“If our home-grown vegetables are not particularly more nutritious than mass-produced crops then so be it - they are certainly not tainted by chemicals and they are definitely cheaper and fresher than our supermarkets can rival.

“In other words, there are more reasons than extra nutrition for growing home organic. Come to Potato Day at the Border Union Showground in Kelso on Sunday March 6 and see the enthusiasm of thousands of members of the general public for organic gardening, heritage varieties and the many hints and tips from the organic experts on hand.”

A spokesman from the Soil Association criticised the limited study, stating that it failed to understand that most gardeners and consumers went organic because they did not like pesticides.

He added: “For legions of gardeners, the thought of spray-ing chemicals over their home- grown produce is unthinkable. More and more research is showing the negative im-pacts of pesticide use. It is irresponsible that ‘Which?’ have been using pesticides which have been strongly implicated in the rapid decline in the bee population, along with a range of other pesticides including metaldehyde which is fatal to animals and costs water companies millions of pounds every year in clean-up costs.

“It is a much wider issue than just taste and health.”

The most popular day out for gardeners either side of the Tweed takes place once more at the Borders Union Showground in Kelso from 11am on Sunday.

Potato Day, the Borders Organic Gardeners’ starting gun for the gardening year, offers certified seed tubers of more than 130 different varieties of Britain’s most popular vegetable. Many of them are organically produced heritage varieties, some are old favourites and some are New World varieties you won’t have tasted before.

But they are all superb value - BOG, which has more than 500 members, is Britain’s biggest organic group and is primarily a charity. Potato tubers are sold individually and BOG has managed to hold down prices to last year’s level of just 13p each, much cheaper than most shops and garden centres, and a choice of ten times the varieties that rivals offer.

In addition, onion and shallot sets as well as garlic corms are on sale in time for planting this month, and stands selling seeds, garden sundries, craft items and organic or locally produced foods will be jostling with the tatties for space under cover in the main hall.

But one of the major attractions of Potato Day is the range of information and advice on offer: this year’s top lectures feature George Anderson, head of education at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and president of the Caledonian Garden Society, and international potato expert Alan Romans, who will bring news of the world’s latest developments.

At 1.30pm, George will join fellow experts David Catt of BOG, potato and seeds seller John Marshall and Kenneth Cox, co-author of ‘Garden Plants for Scotland’, for a ‘BOG Question Time’ panel which will answer questions from the audience.

Organisers are confident that the four-hour show will keep thousands of visitors and their children entertained and fed for the whole afternoon.