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8 green steps to an Organic Christmas 09.10.07


Inverawe Smokehouses’s
smoked salmon

The Soil Association’s eight steps to an organic Christmas is a wonderful starting place to plan your perfect seasonal celebration- healthy, environmentally friendly and delicious. Who could ask for more?

This year’s organic Christmas is set to be bigger than ever as organic food and drink sales in the UK nudge the £2 billion mark for the first time. Sales of organic products through box schemes, mail order and other direct routes increased by a staggering 53 per cent last year. Organic fashion and the booming health and beauty sector are experiencing huge growth with a 30 per cent increase in the number of health and beauty products licensed by the Soil Association. At current growth rates, the UK market for organic cotton products is estimated to be worth £107 million by 2008. With such a huge range of organic items to choose from at festive farmers’ markets, from farm shops, high street shops, box schemes and online, it is easy to have a green Christmas with all the trimmings.

Eight green steps to a Soil Association Organic Christmas:

1. VISIT YOUR FESTIVE FARMERS MARKET

Support your planet, your community and your health with an organic, locally sourced Christmas dinner.

Organic farming typically uses 27 per cent less energy than non-organic agriculture. Organic farmers avoid using climate-boosting artificial fertilisers and pesticides, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions, producing less dangerous wastes and protecting wildlife on farms. Instead, they use natural processes such as energy from the sun to fix nitrogen in the soil, crop and livestock rotations, using natural predators for pest control and focusing on animal welfare which reduces the need for drug treatment.

Research from the Soil Association shows that 68 per cent of people in the UK want to avoid food grown with pesticides (over 300 are routinely used in non-organic farming, compared to only four allowed under Soil Association organic standards). Eating an organic Christmas dinner means people can avoid consuming pesticide residues, GM ingredients or unnecessary food additives.

There are now over 550 farmers’ markets across the UK so there is likely to be one near you with hundreds of choices for your Christmas meat, veg, puddings, cakes and pies. In addition to allthe yummy organic food, farmers’ markets are a great place to find handmade and unique Christmas gifts, which support the local economy.

2. MORE GOBBLE IN AN ORGANIC GOOSE

Eat meat with the highest levels of animal welfare.

Get to know your local turkey or goose farmer this Christmas. Ten million turkeys are sold in the UK each year so choose one that will taste delicious and is sourced from a local organic farm. Organic turkeys are free-range and spend their lives running about in the open air, this is reflected in the quality of the meat. A lean Norfolk Black or Norfolk Bronze turkey will provide an extra special Christmas treat for the whole family.

Acclaimed cookery writer Nigel Slater likes to eat an organic Christmas goose with all the trimmings. He said, "I know where my Christmas goose comes from because I buy it from the person who fed and cared for it. [..] Buying food at small local businesses is pure pleasure. Meeting the people who picked, plucked, and planted. This is the only Christmas dinner I want."

For many meat eaters good animal welfare is as important as taste. The UK’s leading farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming has endorsed the Soil Association’s organic standards as providing by far the highest levels of animal welfare. CIWF said, "We believe such systems have the potential to deliver far higher standards of animal welfare."

3. GET SAUCY THIS CHRISTMAS

More brussel in your Christmas sprouts

Organic brussel sprouts, carrots and other vegetables have higher levels of vitamin C, more minerals and cancer fighting antioxidants than non-organic varieties. There is considerable evidence that, on average, organic fruit and vegetables contain higher levels of primary and secondary nutrients than non-organic food. An independent review of the evidence in 2001 found that in general organic crops had significantly higher levels of all 21 nutrients analysed compared with conventional produce; including vitamin C (27% more), magnesium (29% more), iron (21% more) and phosphorous (14% more).

Artificial fertilisers used in non-organic farming increase the water content of vegetables, which dilutes their nutritional content. A warming lentil and tomato soup will provide great nutrition during the festive season and a University of California Davies study found 79-97 per cent higher levels of flavonoids in organic tomatoes; the researchers stated that these antioxidants have been linked to reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer and dementia.

Eating delicious organic roast potatoes like the Milva and Sante varieties means you can avoid pesticide residues. In 2003, the government tested 144 potato samples for the residues of the pesticide aldicarb (used to kill worms and insects in non-organic farming; classified by the World Health Organisation as ‘extremely hazardous’). Nearly two per cent had detectable levels, which suggests over 25,000 tonnes of potatoes may have been eaten containing pesticides.

From your roast potatoes and brussels to your cranberry sauce, make sure your Christmas dinner is loaded with all the right nutrients.

4. FOR YOUR STUFFING, WHAT ABOUT THE STUFF?

Christmas stuffing - read the ingredients on the label.

One of the key ingredients in Christmas stuffing is the egg so make it an organic one. More and more people are choosing organic eggs and the combined sales value of free range and organic eggs exceeded that of cage eggs for the first time last year. Animal welfare organisations recommend that organic eggs are the best alternative to intensively produced eggs. Compassion in World Farming Trust said, "Organically reared chickens must have plenty of space, space to run, to scratch and dust, to spread their wings, to enjoy the open air and the sun on their backs, and generally behave naturally. Organic standards guarantee all this and more for all organic eggs. This is why Compassion in World Farming Trust rightly says that organic eggs are the animal welfare-friendly alternative to battery eggs."

Only 32 of the 300 food additives approved for use across the EU are permitted in organic food. Controversial additives like aspartame, tartrazine and hydrogenated fats which have been linked to health problems such as heart disease, migraines and hyperactivity, are banned in organic food. Choosing organic ingredients means you can relax and enjoy your Christmas meal knowing you aren’t harming your body with unwanted extra ingredients.

For those who prefer a sausage stuffing, it is worth remembering that additives allowed in non-organic pork products such as polyphosphates, hydrolysed proteins and sulpher dioxide are not permitted in organic foods and natural sausage skin casings must be used for organic sausages.

Before you open a box of dehydrated stuffing this Christmas, take a close look at the label. With so many fresh, organic ingredients available – bread, eggs, sausage, almonds, celery, herbs - why not create your own, fresh and free of harmful additives. Last minute cooks can opt for the convenience of organic dried stuffing and avoid a range of unnecessary additives, flavorings and preservatives.

5. DRINK AND BE MERRY

Getting into the Christmas spirit.

Indulge guilt-free with the huge range of organic wine, beers, ciders and spirits available, which are kinder to the planet and kinder to you. Organic wine is produced using a natural system of farming and limits the use of sulphur to control fungus. Organic regulations also limit sulphur dioxide which is added to wine as a preservative. On average organic producers use just one quarter of the legal maximum of sulphur dioxide allowed for non-organic wines, which appears to lessen the chances of a hangover.

Organic beer is made from organic malt and hops. The average non-organic farmer is estimated to spray hops up to 14 times each year with an average of 15 pesticides. Soil Association organic cider is made from 100 per cent organic apples.

Organic spirits are available through specialist suppliers and some supermarkets. The main difference lies in the use of organic raw materials, non-organic vodka is made from grain produced in systems usually reliant upon multiple applications of pesticides and artificial fertilisers.

6. NUTTY ABOUT ORGANIC

Where have your nuts been?

The globally sourced nut bowl appears on most people’s coffee table at Christmas and they are certainly a healthy treat. Yet, pesticide residues were found on 29 out of 48 non-organic samples of nuts tested by the government’s Pesticide Residues Committee in 2004. Residues from methyl bromide were found, which is banned from organic food and used to kill rats, mice and other pests while non-organic nuts are in storage.

To reduce your food mileage this year, why not choose nuts that are grown in Europe such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts.

7. CLIMATE-FRIENDLY CHRISTMAS FASHION

Green is the colour for Christmas clothes.

Ethical, organic fashion has become an essential part of our Christmas high street and online shopping experience. There is such a great range of stunning dresses to choose from for the Christmas party wardrobe and cutting edge style, blended with traditional fabrics, make perfect gifts for the whole family. To wrap up warm this winter, choose a beautiful Scottish tweed coat or wool wrap. You could even knit your own scarf from organic Cornish wool.

At current growth rates, the UK market for organic cotton products is estimated to be worth £107 million by 2008. Organic health and beauty has also seen a growth in popularity - last year saw a staggering 30 per cent increase in the number of health and beauty products licensed by the Soil Association.

8. WE WISH YOU AN ORGANIC CHRISTMAS

Soil Association Christmas gift ideas.

The Soil Association Christmas list has hundreds of local suppliers, farm shops and delivery services, selling thousands of festive items. Everything you need for an organic Christmas is available from turkeys, ham, puddings and pies to Christmas trees, clothes and beauty products. Here are some organic gift giving ideas to make a perfect green Christmas:

* Give a gift that makes a difference - and lead a planet friendly life style! Give your family and friends Soil Association membership as a Christmas gift. For just £24 (or £36 for family) their welcome pack will include Your Guide to Organic Livingwith advice and tips on how to lead a planet-friendly lifestyle, and - as a special Christmas treat - a box of luxury organic chocolates! Family members will also receive The Organic Baby & Toddler Cookbookand a copy of the beautifully animated Mole’s dreamstory.

* Organic health and beauty products There are hundreds of health and beauty products available but look for the Soil Association stamp of approval - currently health and beauty companies are not legally required to obtain organic certification to make organic claims! The beauty market is booming and during 2006 a number of multiple retailers launched own-brand organic health and beauty products, and several non-organic health and beauty companies are now developing organic ranges.

* Local, organic box schemes Sign a friend up to a local organic box scheme for a few weeks in the New Year and help reduce food miles! Fresh, seasonal, locally grown organic food delivered to their door will provide all the nutrients they need to feel great in the New Year.

* An organic baby basket In 2006, sales of organic baby foods in the UK continued to grow by seven per cent, even as sales of non-organic baby food decline. What new mum or mum to be couldn’t use a Christmas basket of organic cotton nappies, blankets and baby care products.

* Organic food hampers Introduce a friend to organic produce and buy them a luxury organic food hamper full of seasonal produce such as red cabbage, sprouts, cheese and vintage chutney. Give gifts in re-usable hemp, jute or organic cotton carrier bags - think about all the plastic bags you’ll save in the New Year.

* Organic chocolate Organic cocoa bushes are grown without the use of pesticides. Soil Association certified organic chocolates tend to contain more cocoa solids than non-organic chocolate and does not contain hydrogenated fat, which is known to be harmful to health. Further more, the soya lecithin will never be made from genetically modified organisms. Give the gift of chocolate this Christmas, sans pesticides!

* Take an organic Christmas break Stay in Soil Association certified accommodation for a Christmas or New Year break and eat a delicious organic cooked breakfast.

Donna Air, actor and TV presenter, said, "Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I get really excited about all the extra treats in the house. Christmas day has always been a big deal for my family and I love sourcing local food from turkeys and cheeses to fruit and vegetables. By buying organic food from the local farmers’ markets I can avoid any nasties so I can be sure our Christmas lunch has the best possible taste, maximum goodness and as few additives as possible.”

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, talks about what he will be doing for Christmas this year: "I will be spending Christmas with my wife and four young boys on my organic farm in West Wales. The farm manager has the day off so four to five hours of the day revolves around the farm - the cows still need milking and attention even on Christmas day! This works up an appetite for Christmas dinner which will be local and organic produce sourced from nearby farms but the milk, carrots and cheese will all be from my own farm. Christmas is about family and friends, a time to draw in and appreciate our relationship with nature.”

Peter Shield

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Related links

Take an organic Christmas break, click go to www.whyorganic.org -’organic places to stay’

Inverawe Smokehouses’s organic smoked salmon

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