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Looking backward to go forward

Posted on March 15th, 2011 by Stephen Hardy | Print

My father died recently at 99. Needless to say, it causes you to reflect. Dad was a Doctor – a pathologist. As a student, his job at University was to look after the medicinal leeches. He saw the introduction of the sulfur drugs in the 1930’s, the first drugs in human history to effectively fight infectious diseases. Yet within 10 years, penicillin – the first true antibiotic – became widely available, rendering the sulfur drugs all but obsolete. He marvelled at the revolution in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics and agri-chemicals that occurred after World War II. Took part in the British nuclear tests at Maralinga. Saw the wonders of heart, kidney, liver and lung transplants. And as his career drew to a close, the magic of genetic engineering and the ability to manipulate DNA – the very building blocks of life. Born just 8 years after the Wright brothers first flight, he saw the sound barrier broken, Neil Armstrong leave his footprints in the lunar dust and the Voyager spacecraft send back high-resolution images from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Over the course of his life the world’s human population grew from 1.7 billion to 6.8 billion to become the dominant life form on the planet. In one human lifetime – my father’s lifetime – humanity has moved from being at the mercy of nature to being a force of nature, free to shape and control the world.

Through our technology we have become masters of our domain. Those fortunate enough to live in the first world enjoy a standard of living the envy of kings from but a few generations ago. Everywhere we look we see how technology has made our lives easier, how it has changed the world. Yet in a modern urban society we have almost no meaningful connection with the natural world. Our milk comes in cartons and our hydroponic salads come pre-washed, pre-mixed and wrapped in long-life plastic ready to serve. Cocooned by our isolation we have lost touch with our place in nature and the consequences our actions may have on the natural world.

Every now and then a global event like Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the floods in New South Wales and Queensland and the earthquakes in Haiti, Christchurch and Japan shake us back to reality, show us who is really in control and how false and misleading the illusion of our superiority can be. But these events pass, memory fades and we fall back into the routine of life that occupies our daily lives. Or do we?…

In 1996 Edward Tenner published “Why Things Bite Back”, a book about the unintended and unforeseen negative consequences of progress. He called it the “Revenge Effect” (1). Since then many more have added their voice to his. We are beginning to realize our environmental and social development has not kept pace with our technology. Our advances have come at a cost and we are starting to learn what the real cost is or will be (2). Climate change, environmental pollution, habitat destruction and the alarming rise in the rate of species loss are never far from the news. Humans are not complacent however. We recycle and solar panels go up on more and more roofs. There is a growing call to change the ways of the past, to look after nature better, reduce our ecological footprint and tread lightly on the Earth.

This awareness is also reflected in the growing interest in organic and biodynamic foods. And it is an interest that is growing strongly. According to the Australian Organic Market Report (AOMR) 2010, produced by the University of New England on behalf of the Biological Farmers of Australia, 6 out of 10 households now buy organic products, at least occasionally (3).

Alf and I speak to a lot of people. Given they have made the effort to come to one of our lectures, they are usually more health conscious or environmentally aware than the general population. Nevertheless, we are continually surprised at how much variation there is in what people think, believe or understand. What these differences are could fill volumes and no doubt will form the basis of many future blogs. Today however, I want to focus on just one.

There seems to be some confusion about what “organic” food is and what the term “organic” really means. We decided to do something about it and answer these questions. We wanted to answer these questions in a straightforward and practical way, a way that would be useful when doing your weekly shopping and make your life easier. In our latest eBook: “Organic Food – A Guide for Consumers” we have done just that. We have taken all the common questions about organic food and put them in a clear, easy to read guide to help you make sense of the area. What does “organic” mean? How is organic food grown? What is the difference between organic and biodynamic food? What does organic food have in it? What doesn’t organic food have in it? How does it differ from conventionally grown produce? Is it good for me? Where can I get it? How do I know if something really is organic? In “Organic Food – A Guide for Consumers”, all these questions are answered. Well illustrated and referenced it is written for the layman, without technical terms and jargon. Those wanting more detail are not forgotten however, with numerous hyperlinks to the primary references and additional sources of information. In “Organic Food – A Guide for Consumers” we also help you find where to buy organic produce in your area and what labels to look out for. If you want to find out about organic food, it’s a one-stop shop! “Organic Food – A Guide for Consumers” is available now from the Promoting Good Health online store.

Meanwhile, stay happy and healthy!


(1) Tenner, E.; “Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge Effect.” Fourth State, London, 1996.
(2) Rockström. J.; Steffen, W.; Noone, K.; Persson, A.; Chapin, F. S. 3rd; Lambin, E. F.; Lenton, T. M.; Scheffer, M.; Folke, C.; Schellnhuber, H. J.; Nykvist, B.; de Wit, C. A.; Hughes, T., van der Leeuw, S.; Rodhe, H.; Sörlin, S.; Snyder, P. K.; Costanza, R.; Svedin, U.; Falkenmark, M.; Karlberg, L.; Corell, R. W.; Fabry, V. J.; Hansen, J.; Walker, B.; Liverman, D.; Richardson, K.; Crutzen, P. and Foley, J. A. (2009) “A safe operating space for humanity“. Nature, 461 (7263), 472-475, 2009.
Comment in:
Nature, 461 (7263), 447-448, 2009.
A more readable critique of the above paper can be found at: Gaffney, O. (2009); “A Planet on the Edge“. Global Change, 74, 10-13, Winter 2009. Article available online at: http://www.igbp.net/5.1b8ae20512db692f2a680003122.html
(3) Australian Organic Market Report 2010. Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) Publication No. 10/01, August 2010.