Is this the end of organic food???
I sure hope so...
Then last week came a forecast from the Ernst and Young ITEM club that as the credit crunch worsens and the economy goes further down the pan, one of the first areas where the straitened middle classes will economise is on "ethical" produce like organic meat and Fairtrade coffee.
And who can blame them? Despite the claims of bodies like the Soil Association, there has never exactly been a mountain of evidence that organic food is any better for you - or indeed for the world.
That famous research "proving" that organic milk was richer in Omega-3 than the ordinary stuff, for example, turned out to be skewed. It compared the produce of an organic herd lovingly outdoor-reared in lush pastureland, with the produce from non-organic cows (non-organic? They're still ruddy animals, aren't they?) which had been kept mostly indoors and fed on dry food.
Nor is it clear that organic saves the environment. A biochemist at Edinburgh University, Anthony Trewavas, has shown that organic uses more energy per tonne of food produced because the yields are lower. Also, because it requires more land - roughly twice as much as conventionally grown food - it means there is less available to be left unfarmed for biodiversity.
As for the oft-cited claim that organic food stops you ingesting tons of deadly cancer-causing pesticides - this got short shrift from Sir John Krebs of the Food Standards Agency. He wrote in Nature magazine: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic residues in the diet."
But the organic craze was never really about hard science or pragmatism. It was about nostalgia for an idealised rural past where man lived in harmony with nature. As the American author Michael Pollan put it in his investigation of the US food industry, The Omnivore's Dilemma, organic "gratifies some of our deepest, oldest longings, not merely for a safe food, but for a connection to the earth".
In the Nineties and early Noughties, paying through the nose to live out this fantasy was a luxury many felt they could afford. Organic - to adapt Robin Williams on cocaine - was God's way of telling us we were earning too much money.
In times of rising food prices (partly the result of eco-fanatics obsessing about organic and biofuels, and rejecting genuinely productive technologies like GM) and falling incomes, the last thing a hard-pressed family wants to spend money on is the warm glow of ecological righteousness. All it wants is a full stomach, and the more cheaply-filled that stomach the happier it will be. Organic will be off the menu for some time to come.