What is organic food?
A product is not called organic unless it has a recognised label. Organic is defined by law, therefore all organic food production and processing is governed by strict rules. Any organic produce sold in the UK must display a certification symbol or number. When you see a symbol or number you can be sure that the product complies with the minimum government standards set by UKROFS (UK Register of Organic Food Standards).
Anyone involved in the production of organic products must be registered with one of the certification bodies. All of these bodies have been approved and are constantly monitored by UKROFS.
Fruit, vegetables and cereals are cultivated from non-genetically modified seeds which do not contain pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Organic food production uses the most natural ancestral production methods: rotation, recycling of organic materials, respect for the seasons etc.
Meat, fish, eggs and milk come from farms where the use of growth hormones and non-organic animal flour is forbidden. Antibiotics are used in a reasonable way and the animals must have sufficient living space.
Processed organic produce (dairy produce, biscuits, ready meals etc.), have to be made from at least 95% organic ingredients and should contain no GM, chemical products, food additives or preservatives.
The benefits of organic food
- Respect for the natural and animal environment. Organic agriculture is one of the strongest links of sustainable development. It contributes to the reduction of pollution from pesticides and nitrates.
- No toxic substances. You don't need to worry about eating GM foods, fertiliser residue or pesticides.
- Taste. Organic food is not tampered with, especially fruit and vegetables. It retains its original flavour.
- Better nutritional value. Although the difference between organic and non-organic is not significant, most recent studies show that organic food contains more micronutrients. So organic potatoes, tomatoes, peaches, apples, lettuce, cabbage, spinach and so on contain slightly more Vitamin C, magnesium, iron and polyphenols than other foods. Organic meat, fish and dairy contain more Omega 3.
- Cost. Following good farming practices comes at a cost that farmers claim back through retail prices. Organic food is around 20-30% more expensive than ordinary food.
- Shorter shelf-life. Fewer preservatives means organic produce doesn't last as long, especially meat, fish and dairy produce.
- Stronger taste. This is an advantage for some but can put others off. Organic bread made from wholewheat flour, for example, has a strong flavour that's not to everyone’s taste. The same goes for dairy produce.
Eating organic should firstly be about protecting the environment. As we don't know the true long-term effects of pesticides, additives and preservatives on health, eating organic food can be a way of anticipating these health issues. As for nutritional value, the difference between organic food and regular food is small. The problem with organic produce is the cost; however, due to increased availability of organic produce in both markets and supermarkets, prices have started to come down.