The green market of the future
GM plants give poor farmers in developing countries a better life and enough to eat. In the name of CO2 labelling, the farmer, the cow and organic food could be the new axis of evil. Attitude is the most important way of getting children and young people to eat more fruit and vegetables. These are the conclusions of Nofima Mat's Fruit and Vegetable Day.
Fruit and Vegetable Day is an annual event for the entire fruit and vegetable sector. This year’s organiser was Nofima Mat in partnership with the Information Office for Fruit and Vegetables. About 70 participants from all parts of the chain took part in this year’s trade day. See the whole programme and download the speeches here.
"When do we know enough about a plant?" asked Askild Holck. The senior researcher with Nofima Mat forecasts that the world’s GMO area will increase greatly over the coming years, led by many new GM plants that give bigger harvests.
Driven forward by farmers
Is it morally correct to say no to a development that could provide ample, nutritionally correct food for millions of starving people? "There is a limit to how long you can use a precautionary principle to defend not following the trend," believes Holck. Who added that it is most often the farmers themselves who are steering the trend against genetically modified agriculture and that the change-over has the greatest effect in developing countries. Of the world’s 12 million or so GM farmers, most are poor Chinese. They see the advantages of lower production costs, bigger harvests and much less spraying, which in turn is a health benefit for the farmers themselves, accustomed as they are to dangerous, hand held spraying equipment.
"The Indian government has been very negative towards genetic modification. It was the farmers themselves who started growing GM crops unlawfully in 2002. In six years, 60 to 70 per cent of cotton growing in India has gone over to GM," explained Holck. Many delegates were taking copious notes during the presentation, but there was no debate. Not even Solbjørg Hogstad of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, who talked about the rules and application process involved in genetically modified products, created any debate.
Does organic mean environmentally culpable?
Frode Ringsevjen of Bioforsk’s carbon footprint raised the temperature somewhat more. He went through the background to CO2 emission analyses and how the figures are arrived at. It’s about counting all the contributory factors. Always. The figures show clearly that tomatoes grown in Norwegian greenhouses are more polluting than those grown on open ground in southern Europe, but that food’s real guilty parties are cheese and meat. So-called "high-quality" products like premium tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, consume the same amount of energy but give a much smaller yield.
The figures also show that organically grown food comes out badly in terms of carbon footprint. "Organic food causes more emissions per kilo because the yields are lower. Bama is selling organic carrots in much greater quantities than before. That’s a sales success, but I don’t know whether it’s so good for the environment," said Ringsevjen. Comments soon started coming from the audience. One of the sceptics was vegetable researcher Gunnar Bengtsson.
"Carrots and onions have the lowest CO2 emissions of any vegetables. Here, any effect on the environment of making an organic choice is minimal. So choose organic," he encouraged.
Really good organic apples
A few minutes later Bengtsson came to the rostrum to speak about the SunnGodGrønn research project, followed by Øydis Ueland who spoke about the development of organic apples and Berit Karoline Martinsen and Kjersti Aaby who spoke about what happens to the substances in berries when they turn into jam.
"The organic apple project is about documenting the qualities of organic apples. We know that what consumers want most of all are really good apples all through the season. The challenge for organic products in Norway is to get consumers to see the value of the properties they represent," explained Øydis Ueland, head of sensory and consumer research at Nofima Mat. The development project is a collaboration with Choice Hotels, among others, and during the year taste and preference for varieties that Ueland and colleagues believe have the right qualities will be tested out.
Tone Torkelsen of MarkUp Consulting is working with OFG (the fruit and vegetable information office) to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables among children and young people. The Skolefrukt concept will be built as a brand. "The present school fruit scheme is purely a distribution scheme. There is nothing in it to help build positive attitudes. But it is attitude-creating measures that have the best effect," concludes Torkelsen. Attitudes are created in childhood – preferably as early as possible – and the attitudes of childhood are carried forward into adult life. With consciousness and accessibility, attitudes are the most important measure for the success of such schemes.
The project enjoys a great advantage in that consumption of fruit and vegetables is already on the way up, by 3 to 4 per cent a year. "We have seen the supermarket chains becoming very active about fruit and vegetables, especially over the last year. They have become good at promoting themselves in this way," said Tore Angelsen, who is heading the Skolefrukt project. Figures from Norsk Monitor also show that the health trend is both growing and lasting. The focus has also shifted from "light" products to a wider concept of health. The latest surveys now show that students perceive school fruit as practically as good as the fruit they get at home. But there is still some way to go before school fruit will be seen as cool.