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Can organic labels really be trusted?


Blog by Deni Archer

This article on Ethical Corp discusses the reliability of organic labeling. Focusing largely on the US and Europe, it holds some interesting insights worth considering. How labelling is done here in South Africa, I am not entirely sure, but there are surely many parallels. Here's a summary.

  • Organic labels vary in rigour. There's a sliding scale from '100% organic' to 'made with oganic ingredients' but the devel is in the details. Generally, products made with less than 70% organic ingredients cannot be advertised as organic, but can list the ingredients as organic.
  • Conventional and genetically modified seeds have occasionally been known to mix with organic supplies. In-depth testing on this is rare.
  • However, some labels are very rigorous e.g. the EU's new organic label with strict standards requiring that 95% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic.
  • Fraud - this does happen, and there have been some major fraud cases implicating retailers and large producers. In Europe there has even been a case where companies were found guilty of issuing fake organic certificates for conventional food. Governments are tightening restrictions.
  • China's own organic labelling and certifying system is less than robust, with banned toxic pesticides and other chemicals showing up on several occasions. Government claims to be cracking down on this.

The article goes on to discuss whether organic production really has positive environmental impacts. It discusses land use requirements, amongst other issues, and references Stanford University's recent study as being proof that "organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are nutritionally comparable", However this study has been strongly debated - see our blog on the subject.

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