Mercury Food and Wine articles No.3

Here is my November 2010 article.

Organic Integrity

I have heard a lot of opinion lately about the trustworthiness of food and other products that are purported to be Organic. There seems to be a definite level of distrust in products claiming to be organic.
The term “organic” has taken on many potent marketing associations. It has been used freely in marketing various products that have at best a tenuous link with true organic agriculture. The usage of the term “organic” is protected in most countries worldwide by legislation.

South Africa, unfortunately remains one of the few exceptions. Draft Organic legislation has sat with government now for a number of years. This has left open a loophole for unscrupulous traders and producers to exploit. Once the legislation is gazetted only properly certified producers and growers may claim the label Organic. At present anyone can label their products organic without complying with any standards. In fact they can be anything but organic.
Clarity is however on the horizon as the SA government is now about to finalise the draft organic standards.

The term “organic” is confusing in its definition and this has provided a further loophole for marketers to exploit. “Organic” as used in organic farming refers to a system of farming that sustains and improves the health of soils, ecosystems and people.
However, “organic” is also used to describe a branch of chemistry whose products are as far from the organic farming concept as can possibly be. DDT and Dieldrin spring to mind.

Another concern is that some growers on the whole comply with the accepted standards but are prepared to take short-cuts in order to increase profits.

What can the consumer do?

Ideally buy local, certified Organic.

Check to see if there is an organic bag or box scheme operating in your area. The organisers will be able to tell you of the origin of the produce. They should ideally be using certified produce and should gladly give you the farmers details.

Frequent the local Farmers Markets. This will give you the opportunity to meet with the actual farmers. Ask for certification or if they are not certified see if they would be happy for you to visit their farms. A word of warning. A number of stall holders are merely purchasing on the municipal market and reselling. Check that they are the real growers or that they are selling on behalf of a real organic grower.

If you purchase your produce from a supermarket or greengrocer check that the produce sold as “organic” has certification details on the labels. This needs to give the name of the certifying authority and the registration number of the grower or producer. It is preferable that the name of the grower be clear and some form of contact details be provided. This is not strictly necessary but shows that the grower is prepared to stand behind her produce. The grower can be traced through the certifying authority whom can provide details on the grower and will also provide copies of the certification standards.

Dedicated organic growers are proud of their craft. Some see it as a sacred duty to provide healthy, wholesome, real food and will be only to happy to meet consumers and show them what they do.

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About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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