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[SANET-MG] infants need organic
Children of the organic revolution
More and more parents - and some schools - are choosing organic food for their
children. Laura Smith reports
05 April 2004 the independent
It's Saturday morning in Hackney, and Esther Boulton is leaving the house to do
the weekly shop. But instead of the strip-lit aisles of the local supermarket,
she is on her way to the food stalls laden with organic produce at Stoke
Newington Farmers' Market.
Like parents of young children across the country, Esther is a pioneer in a
quiet revolution. Food scares such as BSE and growing concerns over the safety
of genetically-modified (GM) food have left many fearful about the effects of
modern farming methods on their children's food.
The result is a soaring demand for organic produce, with parents willing to pay
up to 50 per cent more for fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products
farmed without artificial chemicals.
"It would be fair to say that parents are the driving force behind the growth in
organic food," says Martin Cottingham of the Soil Association. "Many new
parents, faced with a vulnerable new life, are eager to do the right thing by
According to research by the Soil Association, three out of four children are
now given organic baby food on a regular basis and 40 per cent of the baby food
market is now organic.
The first organic baby food brand, Organix, launched in 1992, is now sold in all
major supermarkets and has been joined on the shelves by organic options from
all the major companies, including Heinz, Cow & Gate, and Hipp.
Two years ago, Sainsbury's became the first supermarket to use solely organic
ingredients in its own-brand baby food range and last month the store went a
step further, introducing a range of frozen organic meals and desserts for
babies over four months.
But is organic food really better for children? Yes, says food writer and
campaigner Karen Sullivan. "Organic standards prohibit pesticides and additives
that have been linked to allergic reactions, asthma and hyperactivity in
children. Numerous studies have shown organic produce to be higher in vitamins
and minerals than conventionally produced farmed goods. In the face of
overwhelming evidence, it makes sense for parents to give their children the
While the food industry say levels of potentially dangerous substances are kept
well below safety levels set by science, the Soil Association warns that
cocktails of chemicals can have unexpected effects that will have never been
tested. The Government's Food Standards Agency is undecided on the matter, but
Esther Boulton, a 35-year-old mother, errs on the side of caution for her
10-month-old son, Isaac. "When your children are so small, the effects of
eating food that's covered in pesticides and chemicals must be even greater,"
she says. "As a parent it's very worrying."
Esther, who runs the country's only two Soil Association-certified organic pubs,
now makes all her son's food with ingredients from the farmers' market. "It is
more hassle, but it's actually cheaper than the supermarket, which proves what
a premium they whack onto organic food," she says.
But she is worried about what will happen to his diet when he starts school.
"School dinners are appalling, but if he wants them I can't stop him," she
says. "I can only give him the best start and hope that by then he will have
learnt to love good food."
Sopley Primary School in Dorset is addressing exactly this concern. It is one of
five schools taking part in the Soil Association's "Food For Life" pilot
project, which aims to increase the proportion of organic, locally-produced and
additive-free food on school menus and improve food education.
Headteacher Jackie Groves says the chips and "chicken-shaped things that
contained very little chicken" which children once piled on their plates have
been replaced by organic meat and freshly prepared vegetables - often from
Children's favourites, such as sausages, burgers and fishfingers, still feature
strongly but are likely to include a lot more meat and a lot less "filler".
Fresh fruit, fruit juice, yoghurt, milk and salads are available every day
within the school meal price of £1.45.
"There were a few murmurs from the little ones who were used to the high-salt,
high-additive flavours they were getting before," says Groves. "But now we have
children saying they like eating more healthily. From around 45 per cent eating
school dinners, we now have between 70 and 80 per cent of children eating at
least one school meal a week."
And it's not just schools that are responding to parental worries. Britain's
first fully organic nursery - First Learning - was set up in Shepperton,
Middlesex, in January this year and already looks after 63 babies and children
aged three months to five years.
Kimberley Foster set up the day-care centre "to prove that it could be done and
that it would be competitive on price". All the food given to children is
organic and staff use environmentally friendly cleaning products and
It costs £175 to £198 a week, depending on the age of the child, to send a child
to First Learning - compared with a London average of around £170 and £130
"As long as there is organic food available to us as adults, I see no excuse for
not giving it to children," says Foster.
But the trend is by no means limited to food. A whole range of baby essentials,
from nappies and baby clothes to cleansing pads, toiletries and even soft toys,
can now be found made from organic ingredients.
One successful company is Green Baby in Islington, London, whose biggest sellers
are washable nappies, made from 100 per cent organically grown cotton.
Frustrated at not being able to find environmentally friendly products for her
newly born son, Jill Barker set up the company with a £45,000 loan in a rented
shop in Islington five years ago. "There I was in this tiny shop surrounded by
boxes," she says. "People thought I was mad."
The business is now worth £3m, with another shop in Notting Hill, a mail-order
company, website and plans for five more outlets across London over the next
two years. "It's not surprising that when people become parents they become
more worried about the environment," she says. "They are suddenly aware of the
effect the chemicals we use are having on the world our children are going to
grow up in. It's not something that can be ignored any more."
'My children are little people. What they eat is important to me'
Boiling up some organic eggs for breakfast, Emma Long explains why she switched
to organic food when her daughter Chloe was born.
"My children are little people and it's important to think about what they're
eating," she says. "We don't know what the long-term effects of pesticides and
chemicals are. I don't want them to turn around to me in 10 years and ask why I
wasn't more careful with what they ate."
Now, whether it's sausages and mash or pasta and sauce for dinner, Emma, 26,
from Berkshire, tries to make sure the food she buys for Chloe, 5, and Felix,
2, is organic. "I can get most things I need at the supermarket, but I can't
get everything," she says.
"I'm lucky because I don't have to think about the cost too much. For parents
who aren't so fortunate, it is a hard decision to make, because organic food is
more expensive. But that's why it's important for people like me to support it.
The more people buy it, the cheaper it will become, and the more people will
have the choice."
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