Organic Articles: Clear Blue Water ?

The Organic Consultancy

Clear Blue Water ?

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the September 2003 edition of Organic Business.

I have been watching with both amusement and amazement as Big Food wakes up to the fact that hydrogenated fat is actually the work of the devil and has no place in foods eaten by human beings. One of the reasons I am so implacably opposed to hydrogenated fat is that the groundbreaking work done by Walter Willett at Harvard University ago clearly indicated that the trans fats produced during hydrogenation have a more negative effect on human health than even the saturated fats that occur in nature. Willett’s work was first published in 1993 and as far as I am aware has never been repudiated. So it is surprising that the likes of Unilever, Heinz and Cadbury’s (?) have taken so long to replace or reduce the foul stuff. More cynical industry observers suspect that these strategies were in place some time ago and are only now being introduced due to front page coverage by the Daily Mail.

Anything that reduces the amount of hydrogenated fat we eat is welcome. But where does this leave organic food manufacturers ? We have made much of the fact that organic food never contains hydrogenated fat. If this is also true for non-organic food, why should consumers buy organic ? One way we can preserve Clear Blue Water between organic and non-organic is to keep ratchetting up the organic standards so that non-organic never catches up. The Soil Association have taken the view that continued standards development is both inevitable and desireable in order to meet consumer expectations. Whether all Soil Association licensees welcome the inexorable rise of standards is less clear certainly I have heard the reverse in my travels.

The move away from hydrogenated fat is the latest in a long line of changes in the mainstream food industry where the organic sector showed the way and proved it could be done. It is great to be influencing the mainstream industry in this way and helping to bring about the nutritional equivalent of regime change. However in the process we may be sowing the seeds of our own decline as the organic sector becomes less differentiated. We could end up with 1% of the food market but considerable influence over the other 99%. Is that a good deal ?