I've been talking to a few growers and farmers lately: the people who produce our food. The other day one of them expressed a sentiment you might have heard: farmers are feeling under attack right now. Dairy and meat farmers in particular (this was even before the recent announcement of the proposed freshwater policy); but also vegetable growers. Farmers are feeling down.
It's easy to understand why. Farming is under scrutiny in light of conversations about climate change and sustainability; big global studies tell us we need to radically change the way we produce food if we want to have enough of it to feed the planet in coming decades. People are actively questioning their consumption of animal products in particular, with that in mind.
There's also, it seems, a simmering mistrust of what growers of food are doing on the farm.
This was highlighted in a recent conversation I was involved in on Newstalk ZB about organic produce, pesticides and farming practices. Many callers and texters expressed reservations about what was being "done" to the produce we buy. People reported washing their vegetables with vinegar to get rid of harmful residues; others were devoted buyers of organic produce to avoid the perceived "nasties" on conventionally grown food.
I think this feeling our food is being "messed with" on the farm is unfair. It's a little like what we sometimes hear about science; the crazy idea that scientists are somehow conspiring to deliberately spread inaccurate messages. Our farmers are not a bunch of evil masterminds, either.
My experience of growers of our food is that they love what they do; they love the land; and they're dedicated to producing the best food they possibly can for people. They're rarely motivated solely by profits; if they were, to be honest, they'd probably be in a different game. Farming food can be a precarious business, dependent on weather and the vagaries of the markets.
I've never met a grower who's cavalier about using pesticides and other chemicals; if anything, whether they're growing organically or not, they're striving for as little chemical intervention as possible.
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This is borne out by the surveys the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) does to check on the chemical residues on produce. The most recent survey, released last year, found the levels of residues to be extremely low – in many cases below 1 per cent of the acceptable limits. That is extremely reassuring information, especially when we think about the big picture, which is that we could all stand to eat more plant foods.
So whether we choose organic or not (and the jury is definitely still out on whether there is any nutritional benefit to organic food), we should feel comfortable eating lots of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
We are really lucky in New Zealand; we have a high-quality, safe and abundant food supply that's the envy of many other countries. The way we produce food here is far, far better than other places, and we should feel grateful for that.
• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide; www.healthyfood.com