Organic food, at its most basic, is food that is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods. What this means, in terms of growing crops, is that produce is not exposed to non-natural elements, such as artificial fertilisers or pesticides, during the production process. Furthermore genetically modified (GM) ingredients are prohibited in organically certified food. Similar conditions are in place for the rearing of organic livestock. However, due to the unavailability of certain ingredients in organic certified form, some foods labelled organic might contain up to 5% non-organic material.
What this means for the consumer is open to interpretation. Organic food is generally thought to taste better than its non-organic equivalent, though naturally this is a subjective matter. Additionally, organic produce may have health benefits over non-organic, though current studies are not definitively conclusive as to how much.
Ethical Issues of Organic Food
Aside from the standard concerns about the health benefits of organic foods, there is also the ethical question. Without synthetic substances entering the soil and water supplies, organic farming has a less detrimental effect on flora and fauna.
The pricing of organic produce is typically stable, which is of benefit to farmers in the developing world; combined with the increased value of the crop and the reduced expenditure on chemicals, organic produce can afford higher profits. Furthermore, studies suggest that use of pesticides can have adverse effects on the health not only of farmers, but their families as well; especially a concern in poorer areas where precautions are not always available or affordable.
Organic farming is also highly sustainable. Its reliance on natural methods encourages the recycling of what would traditionally be waste. The most obvious examples would be the turning of inedible plant matter into compost or using animal waste as fertiliser, as opposed to scrapping it and buying in synthetic substances to achieve the same ends, but other techniques include adding certain plants, such as clover or types of legume, to the crop rotation which help restore and maintain nutrients in the soil.
Benefits of Organic Food
In addition to the ethics of supporting organic producers, there may be, as mentioned above, health benefits to organic food. There is the aforementioned issue that pesticides can have adverse effects on health, such as headaches and dizziness, and in extreme cases may be linked to cancer. This scenario is unlikely to effect consumers much, as food safety laws dictate that produce should not have significant residue. While by law there should only be trace amounts left on food, the fact that some remains may be cause for concern; due to the methods involved, organic food inherently has less potentially harmful residues.
Organic foods are free from artificial additives, such as food colourings, preservatives, and flavour enhancers, which may cause a variety of health problems in large doses, using instead natural alternatives. Additionally, studies show that organically grown vegetables may have lower nitrogen content, while studies of milk and chicken both tend to show increased amounts of omega-3.
The downsides of organic produce are more practical. It is typically more expensive than conventionally farmed produce and may have a shorter shelf life.
Organic Food Regulations
There are a number of regulatory bodies for organic food, although the regulations themselves are, in the U.K., defined by the European Union and are thus standardised between the different bodies, although there may be differing opinions within these standards; for example, Organic Farmers & Growers have a stricter stance on GM trace elements than the EU regulation. These organic bodies are approved and themselves regulated by the government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Moo Free’s output is produced using organic ingredients certified by Organic Farmers & Growers.
United StatesIn America, what can be certified 'organic' produce is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Products that are made entirely of organic ingredients can be labelled '100% Organic', while those comprised of >95% organic ingrendients may be labelled as simply 'organic'. Both of these may display the USDA's Organic seal. Products with between 70% and 95% may not display this seal, but can be marketed as being 'made from organic ingredients'. Products with less than 70%, of course, cannot be marketed as organic, though individual ingredients may be listed as being organic in the product's ingredients statement.
CanadaUnder Canadian law, a product comprised of multiple ingredients becomes 'organic' when comprised of 70% or greater organic ingredients. However the organic certification logo may only be affixed to products with ≥95% organic ingredients. Products with between 70% and 95% organic ingredients may be labelled or marketed as having 'organic ingredients' provided the claim is preceded by the percentage rounded down to the nearest whole which is the same size and prominence as the 'organic' claim. Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list individual ingredients as organic in the ingredients statement, but may not be marketed as organic.
- Soil Association: What is organic food?
- Soil Association: Organic Farming
- Soil Association: Facts about organic food
- Soil Association: Non-organic food ingredients
- Soil Association: Non-organic non-food ingredients
- Soil Association: Wildlife
- Soil Association: Organic matter
- Organic Farmers & Growers: Introduction to organic food and farming
- Organic Farmers & Growers: Frequently Asked Questions about organic food and farming
- D+C: Small farmers benefit from export strategies geared to niche markets
- Global Medicine: Agricultural pesticide exposure, and its negative health effects on children
- Mayo Clinic: Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? (Page 2)
- MedIndia: Food Preservatives - Are They Safe?
- Wikipedia: Organic food (rev.2013/11/24)
- UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity Building Taskforce on Trade, Environment and Development (CBTF): Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa [PDF]
- Wikipedia: Organic certification (rev.2014/01/28)
- Canada Gazette - Organic Products Regulations, 2009