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Making sure organic food is legitimate

Putting aside the debate about whether organic food is or is not good for you, if a consumer sets out to buy a food stuff labeled as “organic” it is only right that the food meets a set of criteria that contributes to the definition of organic. This is not necessarily straightforward as there are different definitions of organic food.

On the simplest level, organic food refers to produce and other ingredients that are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. However, the definition can be expanded or narrowed, for example, should the process require farmers to use renewable resources and the conservation of soil? In some territories processed organic food is permitted to contain a set proportion of non-organic ingredients. Some labels permit the use of pesticides, provided they are not synthetic whereas other definitions do not.

To add to this, a recent research study noted that consumers often confuse organic and free‐range products. Here an organic chicken product is not necessarily created from free-range hens; and a meat product derived from free-range hens may not be organic in terms of later additives. Furthermore, what really happens on mixed-farms where both organic and non-organic goods are produced?

In the U.S., for example, a product must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients to be classed as “organic,” which is some distance from 100 percent. In the U.K., up to 20 pecent of chicken feed, for organically reared chickens, and 10 percent of cow feed, for ‘organic beef’, can be non-organic.

These confusions exist before falsely marketed goods appear, where products make claims to be organic when they clearly are not. To safeguard consumers, the European Union (EU) has created an EU organic label. To receive and be able to continue using the label, a producer must be subject to annual, physical, on-site check on all organic farms. To add to this, only pesticides from an authorized list can be used. These measures may add a layer of bureaucracy and cost to the process, but they are designed to make sure consumers get what they are expecting — under the given definition of “organic,” of course.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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