When you see a product labelled “organic,” are you more likely to pick it up than one that isn’t? Organic foods should mean they’re the healthier option, right? But what does “organic” really mean and why is it such a booming trend?
In Australia, the organic food industry is growing fast. In 2010, the retail value of the organic market was an estimated $1 billion and consumer demand is growing at a rate of 20 to 30 per cent a year. More than six out of ten Australian households now buy some organic foods.
Organic food refers to how the animals or vegetables were grown or raised. The products are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals by farmers and food producers. These synthetic chemicals can include pesticides, artificial fertilisers, veterinary medicines, and genetic modification. However, not all organic foods are necessarily completely free of chemicals. There may be chemical residues due to being grown in an environment that was previously used for non-organic farming. There are also certain chemicals that are approved for organic farming, such as naturally occurring pesticides, like pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, and biological substances.
Organic farming can be highly beneficial to the animals, plants, environment and the humans that consume these organic products. Organic farming usually involves better animal welfare since animals are normally required to be raised in more natural and free conditions. This means more wildlife and biodiversity. Compare this to modern farming, which has led to a decline in soil fertility and an increase in salinity and clogging of waterways with blue-green algae.
For consumers, studies have shown that organic products have some differences in vitamin and mineral content. Some organic foods have lower nitrate levels and higher levels of vitamin C and selenium. Organic food is cheapest when bought directly from the source, like the farmer or producer. However, this kind of access is not easy for many people. Organic foods when distributed in supermarkets therefore are usually more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. If you want to introduce more organic foods to your diet, you don’t have to make all of your purchases purely organic. Prioritise what’s on your shopping list, such as flour, milk bread, butter and seasonal produce.
So, how can you tell if a product is truly organic? Organic farms require certification from key standards in Australia. These are The National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (for exported foods) and The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (for domestic and imported foods). They make sure that organic products retain their integrity and traceability. Requirements involve not only production, but preparation, transportation, marketing and labelling as well. Other certifications worth remembering are the Organic Retailers’ and Growers’ Association of Australia (ORGAA), the label “certified organic” from one of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) accredited certifying organisations and any certifications from these organisations: AUS-QUAL Limited (AUSQUAL), Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI), National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia Certified Organic (NASAA Certified Organic), Organic Food Chain (OFC), Safe Food Production Queensland (SFQ) and Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers (TOP). Always be on the lookout for these certifications. Just because a product is labelled “chemical-free,” “natural,” or “no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)” does not mean that it is “organic.”