A guide to organic shopping
Organically certified fruit, vegetables and grain are grown without using GM technology, pesticides or artificial fertilisers. To achieve this, the producer must use traditional methods like crop rotation, following the seasons and recycling organic matter. Livestock reared organically for milk, meat or eggs must be free from antibiotics and given enough space to live naturally.
Organic processed food, which is on the increase in supermarkets, is made using naturally produced ingredients. On top of this, all the microorganisms that play a part in the cultivation of the ingredients must be guaranteed GM free. There are other regulations that must be followed, too: temperatures must be limited so that the quality of the products isn’t affected, and the food must be stored in ventilated facilities.
How do you recognise organic products?
Organic produce is usually clearly labelled as certified organic. This means that regulatory bodies have approved vegetables, products containing vegetables and animal products as having been produced using organic methods. Since April 2000, a blue and green European logo has been used to indicate that products meet EU standards. Certified organic logos also tell you that the product is made up of 95% organic ingredients.
Are standards for organic produce universal?
There’s no problem with products originating in Central and Eastern Europe, as the regulations are the same. For countries outside Europe, the European Commission has drawn up a list of authorised exporters where the regulations for production and controls are similar. Argentina, Australia, Israel, Hungary and the Czech Republic are all approved organic vegetable producers. Authorised exporters of organic animal products include Switzerland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Israel and New Zealand.
Countries not on the list must provide proof that their methods of cultivation, processing and checking meet the required standards in Europe in order for their products to be put on the market as organic. Authorisation is currently limited, and given on a crop-by-crop and product-by-product basis. Once imported, these organic products may undergo checks to protect against fraud.
Are some products falsely labelled as organic?
It’s impossible to tell the difference between an organic tomato and a standard one just by looking at them. There are inevitably going to be some who try and label standard produce as organic. “Fraud normally happens where loose produce is concerned, like vegetables, fruit and grain,” says Vincent Polin from the DGCCRF in France.
Cases where standard animal products and processed food are passed off as organic are more complicated. This is because the rearing of the animals and production processes are well documented.” The most serious case was where 50,000 tonnes of falsely labelled organic grain was sold over three months. “Since then, testing has been tightened,” Vincent Polin explains, “and infringement is getting a lot less common as the verification procedures in Europe improve.”