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Are you sure it's Organic?

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With less than 2 weeks to go until the most important organic food event of the year - The 2005 Organic Food Festival in Bristol, the organic food industry is suffering from an identity crisis.

We buy organic food because it makes us feel good about ourselves because we are buying a high quality, high welfare item with low food miles. In return we happily pay a large premium over the standard item. But what if you cannot be sure that it is organic? Put simply how can you be sure that the food you are buying at a premium price is actually organic at all?

This has been highlighted by a report in today's Sunday Observer.

This has highlighted growing concern over the provenance of organic food. This was kick started by the first successful prosecution of a shop "Organic World" in Richmond, West London and a £6,020 fine.

Following this Richmond Trading Standards investigated other shops and farmers markets in West London and successfully prosecuted Somerset Organics , for misleading labels. Somerset Organics are listed on this site, they have a website which is currently "under maintenance". Other vendors were found to be falsely claiming Organic status.

The worrying point is that this is the first time that a Trading Standards office has seriously investigated organic food and has uncovered a whole stack of issues. Dorset Council has recently set up a new unit to investigate organic status.

The Observer article also highlights other concerns - such as spraying organic food after dark, farmers using non organic manure and the lack of a definitive test for checking organic status.

The spread of box schemes and farmers markets where products are sold loose or without labels has also led to greater risks of mis labeling.

What do you do?

The key point is trust between the consumer and retailer but this must be backed by regulation. The sceptic in me thinks that the organic food industry has become complacent and is relying too much on it's "wholesome" image. Time for the organic food bodies to take note and reassure us!

The Soil Association has a guide to buying organic food.

If in doubt ask the retailer or ask to see organic labeling or certification. If he is vague or waffles, don't buy!

Most organic food is fine and lives up to the ethos and high standards of the organic movement. We just need to make sure we get what we are paying for.

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