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24 Jun 2009

Organic Fish

Photo: Organic fishAn EU directive has decreed that nothing captured or harvested from the wild can be labelled as 'organic'. The reasoning behind this is obvious, if you can't be sure of the history of a product how can you be sure it will meet organic standards without extensive and very costly testing.
Currently only farmed fish can be given the organic label with only salmon and trout being readily available but swimming over the horizon we have organic cod, halibut and sea bass. Fish farming is seen by most Europeans as a fairly recent and clever idea wheras it has been in existence for thousands of years in the Far East. The common Carp, a target for sport fishing in the UK, actually provides more protein to a hungry world than cattle. Siezing on the notion we in the West added our own little twist by pumping chemicals into the water and feed in order to get the largest fish in the least time. Fortunately many fish farms are recognising the financial, as well as ethical, benefits of going organic.
Certification bodies are currently working on this area, with issues to contend with such as:

  • pollution levels in the sea

  • over-fishing and depleted fish stocks

  • environmentally aware fishing techniques

  • pesticides treatments in conventional fish farms
In the meantime there are reputable organic sources of farmed fish and an emergence of 'eco-friendly' labelling systems that give guidance for the concerned consumer.

General information about organics

The world of organics is detailed and complex with governments, organisations, businesses, interest groups and individuals from many countries attempting to form a consensus on what it is to be 'organic'. In this section we hope to bring some clarity to the area, but will focus heavily on UK organics.

Organic statements:

  • Organic food production, both livestock farming and agriculture, is undertaken using methods that avoid any form of artificial intervention.

  • Organic methods do not harm the surrounding environment and wildlife, avoid the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. The idea is to work in harmony with nature, using the tools that nature provides, rather than trying to dominate nature with man-made pesticides, medicines and fertilisers.

Included in this section:

IFOAM organic principles

The guiding worldwide principles for organic agriculture are defined by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and are detailed below:

  • To produce food of high nutritional quality in sufficient quantity

  • To interact in a constructive and life-enhancing way with natural systems and cycles

  • To encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system, involving micro organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals

  • To maintain and increase long-term fertility of soils

  • To promote the healthy use and proper care of water, water resources and all life therein

  • To help in the conservation of soil and water

  • To use, as far as possible, renewable resources in locally organised agricultural systems

  • To work, as far as possible, within a closed system with regard to organic matter and nutrient elements

  • To work, as far as possible, with materials and substances that can be reused or recycled, either on the farm or elsewhere

  • To give all livestock conditions of life which allow them to perform basic aspects of their innate behaviour

  • To minimise all forms of pollution that may result from agricultural practice

  • To maintain the genetic diversity of the agricultural system and its surroundings, including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats

  • To allow everyone involved in organic production and processing a quality of life conforming to the UN Human Rights Charter, to cover their basic needs and obtain an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment

  • To consider the wider social and ecological impact of the farming system.

  • To produce non-food products out of renewable resources, which are fully biodegradable

  • To encourage organic farming associations to function along democratic lines and the principle of division of powers

  • To progress towards an entire organic production chain, which is both socially just and ecologically responsible
Many of the foregoing aspirations are equally applicable to non-organic food production and manufacture.
Reference: Institute of Food Science and Technology

Organic farming

Organic farming standards are very detailed and vary considerably from one end product to the next. For example, the rules covering beef production are different from the rules covering pork production, and from the rules governing crop production.

Common organic farming practices:

  • animal welfare - care is taken to ensure that livestock can freely express natural behaviours, have sufficient space and freedom to roam

  • environment - conservation and the impact of farming upon the local environment are key concerns; organic farms seek to preserve and encourage local insect and animal wildlife, and therefore care for local habitats surrounding farmlands

  • health - "we are what we eat" is a well known phrase; the food scares of recent years have reinforced this, and have contributed to the increase in demand for organic produce; organic standards seek to prevent the incidence of artifical chemicals and other toxins from the food we eat

  • conservation and resources - organic farming practices avoid the use of artificial chemicals, keeping pollution to a minimum, and caring for surrounding lands

  • GM Free - the use of genetic modification is banned in organic production; this is a serious concern, since GM trials conducted too close to organic lands could compromise the standards achieved by organic companies

  • processing and distribution - methods used seek to keep pollution and the use of raw materials to a minimum; packaging should be recyclable and the transport of produce from "farm to fork" should not be via Timbuctoo

  • irradiation-free - organic food is not bombarded with radiation to prolong shelf-life.

A guide to organic food accreditation

The word "organic" is one that is strictly defined by law, and may only be used by producers and manufacturers who are registered with a recognised organic accreditation organisation. In order to become registered, members must:

  • follow a strict set of guidelines laid down by national and international law

  • keep thorough and accurate records of production processes

  • submit to annual and random inspections.
Organic certification mainly applies to food products at present. There are several organic certification bodies within the UK, all of which conform to the standards laid down by the EU

  • UK1 - DEFRA

  • UK2 - Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G)

  • UK3 - Scottish Organic Producers' Association (SOPA)

  • UK4 - Organic Food Federation (OFF)

  • UK5 - Soil Association Certification Ltd (SA Cert)

  • UK6 - Demeter / Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Association (BDAA)

  • UK7 - Irish Organic Farmers' & Growers' Association (IOFGA)

  • UK 8 - (see note below) - Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd

  • UK9 - Organic Trust Ltd

  • UK10 - CMi Certification
The standards set by DEFRA conform to the minimum standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM).
The DEFRA UK Compendium of organic standards - set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) - offers a baseline for all UK organic production and each certification body owns its own standards which are based on the Compendium.
Both Soil Association and SOPA standards in particular are higher than this baseline, though other certification bodies also have higher standards. Further information can be obtained direct from these organisations.
Note: Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd provides organic certification for farmed salmon in the UK. While UK regulations permit local certification, EC regulations do not yet address organic fish farming.

Organic food - labelling and packaging

Organic foods must meet EU standards with regard to the materials used in packaging and labeling. Materials must be recyclable, where possible, and carry the appropriate organic accreditation symbol. In addition, although it is not a legal requirement, organic products should strive to avoid all unnecessary packaging.

How do you know if something is organic?

Organic standards are enforced by organic certification authorities. If in doubt, check the packaging and look for a logo belonging to one or other of these authorities (see below).
All suppliers must be licensed in order to use the word "organic" in the product title. The term "organic" is a legally recognised term, the use of which is governed by trading standards legislation. The principles can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • If 95% or more organic ingredients are used, the product may be called organic in the title.

  • If between 70-95% of the ingredients used are organic, then the term "organic" may only be used in the ingredients listing.

  • If less that 70% of the ingredients are organic, then the term "organic" may not be used anywhere on the product packaging.
In addition, you can recognise organic produce by the use of logos from accrediting bodies, such as OFF and SOPA, or by the EU license code number printed on the packaging.
The UK code numbers are:

  • UK1 - DEFRA

  • UK2 - Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G)

  • UK3 - Scottish Organic Producers' Association (SOPA)

  • UK4 - Organic Food Federation (OFF)

  • UK5 - Soil Association Certification Ltd (SA Cert)

  • UK6 - Demeter / Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Association (BDAA)

  • UK7 - Irish Organic Farmers' & Growers' Association (IOFGA)

  • UK 8 - (see note below) - Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd

  • UK9 - Organic Trust Ltd

  • UK10 - CMi Certification
If you are buying food that is not packaged, but that is still called "organic" on the shop shelf, loose apples for example, the shop must be able to show you proof of organic certification if you ask for it.
Note: Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd provides organic certification for farmed salmon in the UK. While UK regulations permit local certification, EC regulations do not yet address organic fish farming.

Organic economics

UK food production has received significant bad publicity, seemingly on a regular basis, over the past decade. Much of the criticism centres on production processes and quality standards that are less than excellent. Ultimately it is the failure to aim for and to achieve excellence that has led to the problems experienced in recent years.
It is widely acknowledged that the UK cannot compete within the European market when it comes to cost in most fields of export. However, it can compete on quality!

Organic Britain

Organic products are one area where UK production is developing fast. In May 2000, The Independent newspaper ran an article about the rise in UK organic food sales, which have gone from an annual £200m to nearly £550m a year in just four years, and are predicted to hit £1bn at the end of 2001. We have almost reached the end of 2001, so it will be interesting to find out how accurate those projections were. Keep an eye on our News section for further updates.

No hidden costs

Organic farming and production methods keep the environmental impact of of their processes to a minimum, avoiding damage and pollution where possible. This means that organic production does not have the hidden costs of production that traditional methods usually incur. For example:

  • raised pollution levels in the surrounding countryside

  • chemical harm caused to birds, insects and wildlife

  • unnecessary use of antibiotics helping to reduce the effectiveness of antibiotic medication in both animals and humans

  • destruction of sensitive habitats through insensitive use of land

  • high levels of waste production involved in the use of raw materials in production and distribution processes.

  • various methods of waste processing technologies required to deal with ensuing rubbish produced, ranging from waste collection, landfill, furnace and recycling practices.

Organic food - fact vs. fiction

Surprisingly, there is opposition to the growing organic movement. Look carefully at each instance, however, and you will probably find someone who has a vested interest in undermining the growth of public interest in organic produce.
In the battle of the so-called experts how do you know who is right, or who is telling the truth? In an attempt to dispel some of the myths, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions.

Are organically grown foods more susceptible to microscopic pathogens?

No, there is no scientific evidence to show that organic food is any more susceptible than conventional food to any form of microscopic pathogen.
However, everyone should practice good hygiene when handling, preparing, cooking or storing food. Some basic tips are:

  • Keep fruit and vegetables away from meat

  • Always use clean drinking water when rinsing fruit and vegetables

  • Thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling raw meat

  • Use separate utensils and cutting boards when preparing meat or vegetables

  • Buy fresh produce that is not moldy, bruised or shrivelled

Does organic food cost more than conventional food?

There is not a straight yes or no answer to this question. Organic food prices depend on the costs of all the elements that contribute to the end product: growing, harvesting, processing, transport, packaging and storage, to name a few. Organic producers have to meet stricter regulations all through the process, and this makes the process more expensive in terms of manpower.
However, if the indirect costs of conventional farming were included in conventional food prices (clean-up of polluted water, garbage pick-up and processing, landfill and waste reclamation, environmental protection activities, health care costs), organic foods would probably be considerably cheaper than conventional foods.
Finally, demand for organic produce is high in proportion to the levels of supply, and this may also contribute to higher prices. However, the number of suppliers is increasing all the time, and this will help to bring down prices.

Does organic farming produce less than conventional farming?

Numerous studies have been conducted that demonstrate organic farming to be every bit as productive as conventional farming. The use of pesticides does not guarantee higher crop yields.

Which food safety processes are allowed in organic production?

Organic food is allowed to be pasteurised but irradiation is not permitted.

Why is organic food not allowed to be irradiated?

Ionising radiation has been used to prolong the "shelf-life" of a wide variety of foodstuffs, but in recent years increasing numbers of people have questioned whether this is good practice.

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