It took just a few years to bring a once-flourishing industry to its knees – and insiders are blaming “stubbornness and greed” for the rapid demise of the organic food business.
The balance of public opinion swung rapidly after a run of highly-publicized tragedies, starting with the 2011 death of 40 people in Germany from an E.coli outbreak after eating vegetables allegedly fertilized with untreated manure.
Over the next two years, more such incidents occurred, culminating in the death of more than 100 people in Sweden from contaminated organic foodstuffs.
The fact this happened in highly-regulated markets sparked a tsunami of blogs, tweets, posts and web debates that rapidly engulfed the scattered voices raised in defence of the organic lifestyle. As ‘organic’ became synonymous with ‘unsafe’, major supermarket chains and food stores quickly responded by removing organic brands from their shelves. The writing was on the wall…
“What angers me is that it was the stupidity and greed of a handful of idiot growers that broke our back,” raged Hans Gurlink, chairman of what used to be the German Organic Farming Association. “Basic hygiene is critical in any food-growing process, yet these fools tried to shortcut the route to market.”
But the anti-science attitude of many organic supporters also played a key role. Observers point to a seminal article in New Scientist in June 2011, by Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the UK Crop Protection Association, who warned that organic farming needed to ditch its “irrational mistrust of science” or risk losing its reputation. She argued that irradiation of foods was safe and killed 99.999% of contaminants like E.coli.
The organic industry rejected this “artificial process”… but how quickly the worm turned!