Tips for buying organic produce
The higher premium for organic foods, because of the more expensive farming practices, means that consumers often want to know whether they should spend a bit extra and buy organic. What does organic mean? And how can you find out whether a product is actually organic?
What is organic?
Organic food is produced using organic farming practices, that is, without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilisers and sold to the consumer without added preservatives.
Organic farming practices are designed to:
*use best environmental practice in farming activities and regenerate the land and soil;
*not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
*provide healthy livestock habitats, and
*use recycling and promote self-sustaining biological cycles.
Is organic good for you?
There have been various studies to try to determine whether organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. There is no one conclusive study. However, it appears that there may be some health benefits, including a higher level of antioxidants in organic food. One study estimated this difference to be between 19 percent and 69 percent higher in organic foods.
One of the main attractions of organic food is the lack of harmful pesticide residue that can be found on non-organic food. Chemical pesticides are used in conventional farming to prevent damage from weeds, insects, rodents and fungus. Pesticide exposure has been linked to increased rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. However, some experts warn that the amount of potential pesticide residue left on food is not sufficiently high in concentration to be harmful.
Another attraction for consumers in purchasing organic food is the farming practices used in producing organic meat and milk which are perceived as being kinder to animals. The livestock are raised without the use of hormones, antibiotics or food treated with pesticides.
Finally, but importantly, taste is another reason people buy organic produce. The taste of organic vegetables, meat and milk is regarded by many people as far superior to the taste of non-organic produce.
The labelling debate
Any food products advertised as “organic” must follow strict guidelines. Countries have different organic certification standards. In Australia, there is a voluntary standard for growers and manufacturers wishing to label their products ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ (AS 6000–2009).
Some organic products are labelled as “certified” organic, whilst others are not. What is the difference and does it matter?
1. Certified organic
Some products bear a symbol, logo or other trade mark to show that they are certified organic. This certification is provided by various third party, private bodies that have minimum standards required for certification. In Australia, there is a move to try and standardise the organic standards across industries.
A business that labels its product as certified organic must ensure that its product is actually certified and conforms to the relevant certification standards on an ongoing basis.
Being certified as a producer is a big undertaking. In the case of farming practices, it requires developing and maintaining a whole system approach to farming. This process usually takes three years. For example, certified organic status as a farming producer requires a minimum period of three years of verified conformance with standards.
2. Non-certified organic
It is expensive for small producers to have their products certified and many do not pursue certification. In order to claim their product is organic they must still use organic farming practices, however, their farm and products have not undergone a strict certification process.
Come to the markets
For products not “certified” organic, it is difficult for consumers to know whether the product is entirely organic. At the markets, you can speak with stallholders and learn about how their products are farmed or made. Market stallholders also tend to make smaller quantities than large commercial producers and have quality produce.
Come and visit your local markets and speak with the stallholders directly about how they made their product.
[Sources/references] Research with thanks to:
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) “Organic claims”
“Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds” The Guardian, 11 July 2014
Australian Certified Organic “Farming certification”
 “Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds” The Guardian, 11 July 2014 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/11/organic-food-more-antioxidants-study