By Peter Stevenson
During times of boredom I find myself clicking on one of the more famous daily English newspaper websites. It was on one those visits that the missus and I stumbled upon a video by former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney aptly named ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls…’ which changed the way I view a few things.
The images were purposefully distressing and although half an hour later I was tucking into some chicken – much to my wife’s discontent – it made me realise that not much thought goes into what we eat.
The video showed animals being neglected, kept in crammed spaces and overfed to the extent they could not stand on their own two feet. On many occasions at these slaughterhouses, McCartney says in the video, staff are not given the correct training and often fail to stun the animals correctly before they are killed.
And to top all that, finding out an adult pig has the cognitive skills of a three-year-old child meant I would never be able to look at a souvlaki the same way again.
Despite the horrors I witnessed in the video, I know I can’t give up meat. The best I can do is eat meat from animals that have been treated and killed humanely. And that led me on a search for organic meat in Cyprus.
Growing up in England with the threat of mad cow disease meant my mother made concerted efforts to feed us organic meat whenever possible. The big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Waitrose both have extensive organic sections, both fruit and vegetables and meat with prices very similar to non-organic produce.
Unfortunately in Cyprus that is not the case and initially before I delved deeper into the subject I visited supermarkets in the capital to see if they had any organic meat. I was left disappointed and got in touch with the organic farmers’ association.
On their website they clearly state ‘Its members produce fruits, wine, olive oil, dairy products, eggs, meat and vegetables’. Maybe there was hope for me yet, so I contacted the head of the association Lakis Tingouras, who explained that organic chickens as well as lamb and goat are bred on the island and until recently organically bred cows were producing milk.
There are two organic farms in Cyprus that produce dairy products and chickens, Frangou Farms in the Nicosia district and Vounos Farm in Polis Chrysochous. According to Tingouras, the cattle farm that had produced organic milk was forced to shut down, unable to continue after Orphanides, the well known supermarket chain, recently went bankrupt, still owing millions to the company which owned the farm.
He added that as well as feeding animals the correct food the association also has to abide by very strict animal welfare regulations, guaranteeing that the animals are not mistreated. This sounded like just what I had been searching for, but if it is only organic chicken which is sold by shops that would severely hamper my choices.
And there’s the rub. An organically reared animal must also be humanely killed for its meat to be classified organic. Tingouras revealed that although there are sheep and goats which are bred with organic methods there are no organically certified slaughterhouses. Five large farms with over 500 livestock, three in the Nicosia district and two in the Paphos district and two other smaller farms breed animals organically, but technically cannot be classified as producing organic meat because of the slaughtering facilities.
The only option then would be to import the meat from abroad but as the head of the association explained, it would have to be from an EU country or one approved by the EU, from a farm which was certified and met all the relevant organic farming criteria. All in all, a very expensive option.
So will Cyprus try to increase the amount of organic produce and expand operations so people can begin eating more healthily? Cyprus will be participating in farming development programmes in the coming years and Tingouras said he hoped that would help fill the gaps that exist with the creation of organically certified slaughterhouses and modernising many farming systems.
“Eight out of ten people claim they know about organic produce but that knowledge has not turned into demand unfortunately,” he said.
Tingouras said he feels educating and informing people is the key to getting them to change eating habits, young or old.
“Whenever food scandals emerge like the most recent horsemeat debacle, demand goes up for organic food because people recognise that it is safer, but unfortunately that doesn’t last and that needs to be addressed somehow,” he said.
My search then led me to the Cyprus Organics website where I came in contact with Dr Georgios Konstantinou and Rodosthenis Rodosthenous, the editors of the site and people who are very passionate about organic food. The site aims to promote the idea of organics in Cyprus and serve as an inventory for those interested in purchasing organic foods on the island. Sadly it has not had the expected response, the editors said.
“We have had some contact with organic producers and retailers but unfortunately most of them are not familiar with the idea of online promotion, yet ” Konstantinou said.
They explain that choosing products which are grown organically are a multiple-win situation.
“The first win, goes to you and your family’s health, for example, pesticides, a major public health concern since they are found to be associated with several chronic diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and asthma, are not used in organic farming,” Rodosthenous said.
The site also explains that you can help the environment to recover from the massive historical use of persistent, toxic pesticides and other synthetic chemicals widely applied in agriculture sector.
“Soil contamination and water pollution are of major concern nowadays, concerns that can be addressed only if we promote a chemical-free agricultural environment,” Konstantinou added.
Scientific studies have shown, according to the editors, that organic products have higher nutritional value than those grown conventionally and significantly lower pesticide residues. But is it worth the cost?
“It is widely known that organic products usually cost more than conventional ones so there must be an explanation about that, and, in fact there are multiple,” Konstantinou said.
He explained that organic farming demands more labour and follows more expensive practices increasing the cost of production as compared to conventional farming. Organic farmers follow very strict regulations through the whole process which increases the cost of production.
In addition, the lack of use of chemical preservatives such as waxes for fruits and nitrates for processed meat products, make organic products spoil faster if not consumed fresh.
Yet weighed against that is the environmental protection activities and health care cost attributed mostly to the treatment of health complications from the use of hazardous compounds in conventional farming practices.
“So far, there is no study to show in absolute numbers a comparison of the cost between the two practices but from our experience as environmental and public health scientists, the monetary cost of environmental pollution and health care is much higher than the higher cost of buying organic products,” said Konstantinou.
So where does that leave me in my search for an organic souvla or kleftiko?
My best hope is to get in touch with a local farmer who leaves his livestock to roam and only feeds it natural food making sure he kills the animal humanely, but even then I’m not guaranteed 100 per cent that it will meet all the organic requirements.
And though those images of McCartney’s video are still fresh in my mind, I just know I won’t do that.
The road to organic meat eating is not an easy one in Cyprus. As a first step, I have decided to boycott the big fast food franchises. And that leaves me with a very long way to go!
What is Organic?
Organic products are produced with minimal or null impact to the natural life-cycle systems on the planet. To achieve this, organic products are strictly regulated to follow the same principles and practices within the European Union.
No use of chemical synthetic pesticides, persistent chemicals and fertilisers. For fertilisation, crop rotation strategies are followed that minimises the occurrence of crop diseases but also allows natural fertilisation of the land. Livestock manure from organic farms is usually used as a fertiliser as well.
No use of livestock antibiotics and growth hormones. Lack of control and overuse of antibiotics in animals has led to a generation of resistant microbes with huge negative impacts on the ecosystem’s harmony. In addition, administration of growth hormones in livestock aiming to maximise the monetary benefits of the farmers, boiled down to products containing growth hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).
No use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s): Despite the fact that there is no evidence on humans showing that GMO’s put our health in jeopardy, there is enough evidence for how dangerous GMO’s could be for the ecosystem and the surrounding living organisms. Huge numbers of sheep, goats and buffaloes in India died after grazing on genetically modified cotton plants.
No use of sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is the remaining material of the human waste after bacterial treatment. Sludge is then used as a fertiliser in agriculture since it contains high amounts of beneficial nutrient for land. Unfortunately though, sewage sludge not only contains nutrients, but it also contains toxicants such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), pesticides, dioxins, heavy metals (lead, arsenic, mercury), other industrial solvents and sometimes viruses.
Taken from www.cyprusorganics.com