What is organic food?
Organic food is grown ‘naturally’ with nil or minimal use of harmful chemicals. Organic food is not the same as ‘spray-free’ or ‘residue-free’. Organic production is based on positive management systems which reduce or eliminate the need for most agricultural chemicals. One of the main differences between conventional and organic food production is the requirement for organic certification. Organic certifiers represent the consumer with a guarantee that the food is grown to an acceptable organic production standard.
Organic fresh produce and ingredients are grown without the routine use of agricultural chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, growth regulators, colour and flavour enhancers.
Organic processed products have been made using organic ingredients and with nil or minimal use of synthetic additives like stabilisers, emulsifiers, antioxidants, preservatives and colourants. The BioGro NZ Organic Standards Processing Module lists the allowable additives for processed products.
Why buy organic food?
Organic food reduces the incidence of toxic residues in your diet. Consumers buy and support organic food because they believe organic food is:
- Safer – no or minimal pesticides and other harmful chemicals
- More nutritious – some comparative studies show higher levels of minerals in organic food than conventionally grown food
- Higher quality than conventionally grown food – it has better taste, better storage and is more wholesome
- Better for the environment – organic production methods have less impact on soils, water, and ecological systems than conventional agriculture
Where can I buy organic food?
In New Zealand organic food can be bought from organic and health food shops located throughout the country. Due to increasing demand most supermarkets now stock some organic foodlines. If your local supermarket does not sell many organic products tell the manager that you would buy more organic items if they stocked them!
Some retailers have taken the additional step of becoming certified themselves. This is another reassurance for consumers that the organic products they buy are authentic. Certification of a retailer involves having systems and procedures to ensure no contamination of organic products by conventional products. Retailers with BioGro certification are showing a special commitment to organic consumers.
Is organic food more expensive than conventionally grown food?
The BioGro certified organic label has gained a high level of trust from many consumers. This has positioned organic food and products at the high-end of the market. Over the last five years the organic market has experienced rapid growth, partly as a result of lost confidence in some aspects of conventional agricultural methods, food scares, and because of genetic engineering.
As more funding becomes available to the organics industry for research and development the costs associated with organic production will reduce. These cost reductions should be passed on to the consumer. Similarly, as organic production becomes mainstream the price of organic food should also come down.
On the other hand, chemical farming systems may not take responsibility for or pay the costs of the downstream effects of their production methods, such as chemical pollution entering waterways. The costs of these ecologically harmful activities may not directly impact on the cost of conventionally grown food, but we all pay for the negative effects on our environment in the long-term.
Organic food is not expensive if you consider the value of organic food and organic production.
What does the BioGro trademark say about organic food?
BioGro guarantees that all food which carries the BioGro trademark is certified as organically grown in accordance with the internationally recognised BioGro NZ Organic Standards.
To obtain the right to use the BioGro trademark, all BioGro licensees must undergo a stringent certification process. To become certified as organic, BioGro licensees must comply with the Bio-Gro Certification Standards for three years. To maintain their BioGro certification status, the property, produce and production methods of each licensee are audited every year.
During the second and third years of the three-year certification process, licensees can label their products with BioGro’s ‘under conversion’ label only. During conversion, licensees may not use the full BioGro certified organic trademark.
The BioGro NZ Organic Standards are based on all relevant international organic standards and regulations with some adaptations to accommodate New Zealand conditions. The Standards specify what can and cannot be done in relation to the production of food which carries the BioGro trademark.
First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Oct 2005.