Organic Food Scam
As the awareness of health rises, so does the popularity of organic food. Untainted by chemicals, it's better for our bodies. It's become a multi-million pound industry - one that's open for scams. When we buy organic food, we believe we're getting the real thing, but are we?
What Makes Food OrganicOrganic food can best be described as "food grown without most artificial fertilisers or pesticides and in a way that emphasises crop rotation, making the most of natural fertilisers and ensuring that the life of the soil is maintained. Animals are kept in ways which minimise the need for medicines and other chemical treatments."
The Soil Association established the first set of organic food standards in 1974, and in 1993 a European Community Regulation (EC2092/91) came into effect, to ensure consumers weren't misled.
Food may be called organic only if grown by a certified producer of organic foods. You might see on the label "Organically Grown Apples" or just "Organic Apples". Labels must indicate the organic certification body with which the packer of the produce is registered. This must be done using a code number, although the name or trademark of the certification body may also be shown. The rules are the safe for manufactured food with two or more organic ingredients. The manufacturer can use 5% of certain non-organic food ingredients but still label their product as being organic.
Every organic producer or processor is inspected at least once a year by the Certification Body with which they are registered (there are six in total). Another 10% are also checked by UKROFS (United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards), to make sure that the organic inspection carried out by the Certification Body has been completed to the appropriate standard.
How The Organic Scam Works2005 saw the first prosecutions in the U.K. for mislabelling food as organic, with a butcher being fined over £6,000 and a greengrocer more than £3,000. With organic food selling at premium prices, it's obviously a temptation for retailers and growers. They're aided by the fact that it's impossible to determine whether any food is organic simply by looking at it.
There have been instances of organic farmers using non-organic manure, for example, and even farmers falsely saying they have Soil Association accreditation.
Sorting the truth from the lies is very difficult, and certainly not something the consumer can do. It's usually the job of Trading Standards Officers, who have to follow a paper trail to fully determine the origin of the food. That takes time and money - it's often more expensive to prosecute someone than the fine they'll have to pay.
But with a growing number of organic producers (there were some 4000 in 2004), the policing becomes harder, especially if retailers misrepresent produce. Add in some 500 farmers' markets and all the box schemes around the country, and it becomes exceedingly difficult. On top of that, more than half of the organic food sold in Britain comes from abroad.
What You Can DoIn truth, you can't be certain that the meat or produce you're buying is truly organic. What you can do, at least in smaller retailers or farmers' markets, is ask to see the certification and ask questions about what they grow and how. Again, though, you have no way of being sure the answers are truthful (although the vast majority are).
Buy locally wherever possible. That way you know the origin, and can even go and look at the farm. Apart from supporting a local small business, it will give you more confidence in the food you buy.
Wherever you're buying organic food, demand to see the certification. It might not be conclusive proof, but it will increase the confidence. That's especially true if you're buying produce packaged by a particular farm, with their address and certification information on the bag.
Grow your own. The chances are that you won't be able to provide for your family solely from your back garden, but you can give them some home-grown vegetables and fruit - and you can be certain as to the growing conditions.
If you suspect someone is mislabelling organic food, report them to your local Trading Standards Officer. He will follow up on your complaint.
With the increasing concerns over GM foods and pesticides, the demand for organic food is only going to grow, and with it the number of organic food scammers. Use these guidelines to protect yourself and your family. The more you know, and the more questions you ask, the safer you're going to be.