DID YOU SAY ORGANIC?

 Freshly harvested organic fruits & vegetables

   

What are the conditions for organic farming?

 

More varieties with organic produce

Opening to more varieties with organic farming

 

A generally accepted definition of organic farming starts with a set of farming practices that are respectful of Nature, including natural cycles of plants but also animals. It encompasses a set of principles aimed at maintaining quality of natural resources, improving soil fertility by natural means and enhancing landscape biodiversity.

Organic farmers select crop varieties that are less famous, rustic and more resistant to pests, diseases and bad weather conditions. They often propose the widest range of food ingredients and varieties. Depending on where you live, different certifications exist, insuring that good practices of organic food production are followed not only by farmers but also by food processors.

All organic certifications have the same basic requirements, given by the Codex Alimentarius, which lists the international food standards provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). These basic requirements are common to all registered countries[1] and can be summed up as follows:

Codex Alimentarius

Soil rest for land reconversion

Soil rest necessity for land reconversion

 

In terms of regulation, some countries have taken a stricter approach than these basic requirements, while others have taken a looser one. The list of prohibited chemicals may vary between countries: for instance, China displays a shorter list than that in the US. The number of years for reconversion to organic also differs. 

While 18 months is needed for reconversion of a farming parcel in Hong Kong, 2 to 3 years will be needed – depending on what is cultivated – in the European Union. Indeed, the requirements differ  if farmers are growing annual plants or perennial ones (most of the fruits come from perennial production, but not all of them).

In Hong Kong, some farms produce organic vegetables, but most of the organic food products are imported from China, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This is slowly evolving, due to the rise of awareness on organic products and health consciousness trend: there is now more than 300 organic certified farms in Hong Kong[2]. The difficulty, however, comes from the immediate environment of the city. Water pollution can impact the quality of crops, as well as air pollution which may affect the soil quality and impact the plants growth[3].

What certification to trust?

 

Organic Certifications

 All organic certifications do not reflect the same requirements

 

In order to protect the quality standards of organic food within the country, there are  controls and certifications that can be considered equivalent between countries.

For example, Chinese requirements for organic products have been created to fulfil US and Japanese market standards, so Chinese products could be exported to these markets. However, China is not part of the “organic food supplier list of the third country” created by the EU for its own market.

 
Yet, for all these exporting countries, controls by domestic certifiers and international certifiers[4] have to be made on farms willing to export their produce. These farms have to comply with the regulation of the final consumption country. It is usually very costly for producers willing to export to these countries.
 

In Hong Kong, to be able  to sell organically produced food only requires to have an organic certificate from the origin country. It does not require additional control from other external certifier. The quality of the product and its “level of organic” depends therefore on the regulation that is in place in the origin country where the food was grown/processed. .

Knowing that, consumers have to be careful when looking at the certifications: some of the logos can be confusing, like the Chinese ones called Green Food labels that are less strict than organic certifications, even if the logo looks similar. It only guarantees that the use of chemicals is regulated to a certain degree, and tolerates GMOs[5].

 

Chinese Labels

In China, Green Food certifications are delivered by the China Green Food Development Center (Ministry of Agriculture), whereas organic certifications can be delivered by the General Administration of Quality Supervision (Inspection and quarantine of PRC) or the China Organic Food Development Center (Ministry of Environmental Protection of PRC).

In other places like the US, different levels of organic food are implemented:

  • 100% organic”: the totality of the ingredients come from organic production
  • Organic”: there is at least 95% of organic ingredients in the composition of the product
  • Made with organic”: at least 70% of organic ingredients are in the composition of the final product[6]

Some certifications are provided by the government, and some other by independent organizations, that put their own standards and logos. This is the reason why we can find 7 different certifications for organic products in Australia[7]. 

In Europe, there is only 1 certification, delivered by the European Commission (the French certification that you can find on French Organic products – AB or Agriculture Biologique – meets the same requirements as the European one).

Here are some of the different certification logos you can find in supermarkets in Hong Kong:

Selection of Organic Certifications

All of those certifications are based on the international standards given by the Codex Alimentarius. However, they do not address exactly the same constraints. Some countries used these standards as the foundations of stricter regulations.

Farmers using conventional farming can change their practices anytime and switch to organic farming. In order to obtain the certification, the grower has to apply for it. Once the application is accepted, regular controls of the farm are organized, and a scheduled period of ‘’reconversion’’ starts. The length of such period varies depending on the regulation of the country where the farmer operates:  

Reconversion Schemes

Beyond certification equivalence

In Europe, certifiers take into consideration the farming practices of the crops nearby the plot that apply for an organic certification. Indeed, pesticides used in the vicinity affect the quality of the soil and air all around the area and not just their fields. Some of these pesticides are ‘’systemic’’ which means they are taken up by roots and distributed throughout the plant. No matter how many times they are washed, residues of these pesticides will not be removed.

Pollution through air, water and soil also affects the quality of fresh produce growth. The environmental surrounding of a farming area has therefore an impact on the quality of fresh produce one may buy at the end of the production cycle. Last but not least, it is important to consider the credibility of a certification in terms of level of transparency and control in implementing specifications to get an organic certification. Nowadays, the European certification is recognized for its high level of inspections and detailed control mechanisms to ensure the traceability of products throughout the supply chain.

Healthy Summer Apple Garden

Sources:

[1] Codex Alimentarius : International Food Standards http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius

[2] Agriculture and fisheries. Available on: https://www.afcd.gov.hk/english/agriculture/agr_orgfarm/agr_orgfarm.html [consulted the 03/09/2018]

[3] How air pollution affects agriculture. 2015. Available on: http://www.monitor.co.ug. [consulted the 11/09/2018] 

[4] International Organic Farming Certifiers operating in China :

  • Organic Crop Improvement Association (US origin);
  • European Organic Certifiers Councils (European origin);
  • Institute for Marketecology (Switzerland origin);
  • Organisme de contrôle et de certification ECOCERT (French origin).

[5] Stenfeld E., 2009 – Organic Food “made in China”. Civil society forum. Available on :  https://www.eu-china.net/materialien/organic-food-made-in-china-2/ [consulted the 21/08/2018]

[6] USDA – Introduction to organic practices. Available on: https://www.ams.usda.gov/. [consulted on 11/08/2018] 

[7] Why are there 7 different logos for organic certification in Australia? Available on : https://www.bellamysorganic.com.au/ [consulted the 21/08/2018]

[8] The National standards of the People’s Republic of China: Organic products. Available on http://www.agrichina.org/. Consulted the 31/10/2018 // JONA Organic standards. Available on: http://www.jona-japan.org. Consulted the 31/10/2018 // Reglement (CEE) n. 2092/91 du conseil du 24 juin 1991. Available on : https://eur-lex.europa.eu/. Consulted the 30/10/2018 // Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre Certification Limited, 2017 – Organic production aquaculture and processing standard. Available on : http://www.hkorc-cert.org/. Consulted the 25/10/2018 // [12] Conversion, general requirements. Available on: http://organicrules.org/467/. Consulted the 30/10/2018 // Transition to organic crop production. Available on : http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/. Consulted the 30/10/2018 // Certification system. Available on : https://static1.squarespace.com/. Consulted the 25/10/2018 // Going organic: what you need to know. Available on : https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/. Consulted the 26/10/2018.

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