beginner's guide to organic goods
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Date: 14 October, 2003
'£120m of taxpayers' money is used to pay for chemicals
to be removed from drinking water, mainly as a result of the
pesticides used in farming.'
By Andy Jackson
According to the
Soil Association, three out of every four households in the UK buy
organic food. Most of us know which areas of the supermarket contain
organic products and produce, but what does the term 'organic' really
For starters, it's an earthly matter. Organic
doesn't just mean that the green-bagged apples you buy are free
of fertilisers and pesticides. It also means that the soil in the
orchards is healthy.
Organic farmers develop a healthy, fertile soil
and grow a mixture of crops. The practise severely restricts the
use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides and animals
are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers
common in intensive livestock farming.
The term organic is defined by European law:
all organic food production and processing is governed by a strict
set of rules. The Soil Association, among others, offers a symbol
as a guarantee of high organic standards (below).
product carrying such a symbol indicates that the product complies
with minimum government standards, which in this country are set
by the UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) and meet European
and international standards. Each certification body has its own
symbol and EU code number.
And the term doesn't just apply to food. Organic
wood, clothing, gardening products and even restaurants can all
So why are more people choosing organic?
Organic farmers, as far as possible, avoid using
unnecessary chemical sprays. Food additives linked to asthma, osteoporisis,
migraines, hyperactivity and heart disease are among those banned
under organic standards.
On average, organic food contains higher levels
of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium,
iron and chromium as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants. Amongst
the additives banned by the Soil Association are hydrogenated fat,
aspartame (artificial sweetener) and monosodium glutamate.
Over 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used
in conventional farming and residues are often present in non-organic
food. The government has recently found high levels of pesticide
residues in baby food, spinach, dried fruit, bread, apples, celery,
and chips! £120m of taxpayers' money is used to pay for chemicals
to be removed from drinking water, mainly as a result of the pesticides
used in farming.
Organic farming is friendlier to the environment,
so there is a much greater diversity of birds, butterflies and plants
on organic farms. The government has said that it is better for
wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon
dioxide - the main global warming gas - and less dangerous wastes.
Organic farms get checked annually and the strict
standards also ban the use of GM technology (see
our GM Food in links article).
Organic farming requires animals to be kept in more natural, free-range
conditions with a more natural diet. There is growing concern about
the high use of antibiotics on farm animals and the possible effects
on human health so the use of antibiotics is also banned. Animal
welfare is taken very seriously under organic standards and is supported
by animal rights organisations such as Compassion in World Farming.
More farmers are turning organic. In general,
farming is suffering its worst depression since the 1930s and figures
show that around 1,500 people leave farming each month.
In comparison, the organic sector continues to
grow at a steady rate, with around 40 farmers converting to organic
farming each month. Consumer demand is still very strong with sales
approaching £1billion a year, organic food continues to be
one of the fastest growing sectors of the food market.
Finally, many people say that organic food tastes
Is organic the
same as fair trade?
No. But the Soil Association and the Fairtrade Foundation have launched
a one year pilot project to combine the organic and Fairtrade inspection
and certification of British and imported foods (see picture below,
courtesy Soil Association).
the pilot project, companies selling products from around the world
can apply to carry the Fairtrade and Soil Association marks. This
means that UK farms as well as those from developing countries will
be able to participate in the pilot.
One of the objectives of the trial is to develop a simplified procedure
for obtaining the certification required for organic and Fairtrade
labels. This will ultimately reduce the costs of inspection and
is something that UK and European producers have been asking for
Under Fairtrade standards, the price paid to
farmers must cover the sustainable cost of production, which includes
a margin for profit and investment. In addition, buyers should commit
to long-term relationships that enable growers to plan future production
Soil Association's website has a directory of organic suppliers
(registration needed for access) as well as a host of information
about organic goods
the Fairtrade Foundation's website to find out about new products
and recipes for them
on whether or not you should peel your carrots, and more, from The
Food Standards Agency