As prices continue to soar in today's economy, whether we should invest our hard-earned money in organic products becomes increasingly polarizing. The debate rages on, especially considering the often substantial 20-30% price premium associated with organic goods.
So, what exactly is organic?
When a plant food, product, or ingredient bears the label 'organic' or 'organically grown,' it signifies that these components have been cultivated, harvested, and processed without synthetic chemicals or pesticides. This includes prohibiting insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, and artificial additives or hormones. Furthermore, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are strictly forbidden.
In Australia, however, the term 'organic' can be misleading due to the absence of proper regulation.
Currently, no stringent laws govern using the word 'organic' in Australia. A product labelled 'organic' may not have undergone the same rigorous scrutiny as a certified organic counterpart. Shockingly, some products claiming to be organic may contain as little as 2% organic ingredients but still carry an organic label.
In a survey conducted last year, 33% of Australian consumers reported feeling deceived by packaging that touted organic status, only to discover later that the product lacked proper certification. This issue is familiar; in 2013, Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) scrutinized claims that certain bottled waters were organic, leading to seven brands changing their names. Similarly, in 2017, a cleaning brand faced ACCC scrutiny for using the term 'organic' despite their product containing just 1-2% certified organic ingredients.
One primary source of consumer exploitation is local farmers' market vendors who claim to sell organic fruits and vegetables at significantly higher prices.
The Price of Certified Organic
Certified organic products often come with a slightly higher price tag, justified by various factors. The organic industry collaborates with Fairtrade and implements organic group certification schemes to ensure equitable compensation for small-scale farmers in developing nations. Sustainable production practices, rigorous certification procedures, and shorter shelf-life increase costs.
Are There Benefits to Choosing Certified Organic?
Research indicates certified organic foods can be more nutritionally dense than non-organic ones, providing more essential nutrients per calorie consumed. International studies have even shown that specific organic fruits, vegetables, and grains may contain significantly higher levels of health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants, which are linked to the prevention of conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Opting for organic also means avoiding food additives and reducing your exposure to pesticides and synthetic chemicals in food. While choosing an organic apple over a conventional one might not make an immediate difference to your health, the cumulative effects of such choices over a lifetime could outweigh the costs.
What's Really in Our Food and Drinks?
Artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives, chemical flavourings, and other additives are common in non-organic food and drinks to enhance visual appeal and extend shelf life. These additives have been linked to allergic reactions, rashes, headaches, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems, and hyperactivity in children. In contrast, organic food restricts or prohibits using such additives and chemicals.
Environmental Benefits of Organic Farming
Organic farmers must allocate at least 5% of their land to natural vegetation, promoting local biodiversity. This approach avoids synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), all of which can harm the environment.
Organic farming also prioritizes building healthy soil, which stores carbon and enhances drought resilience, reducing atmospheric carbon levels. Organic farms incorporate plant waste into the soil using natural compost, increasing organic matter and promoting biodiversity. This leads to up to 50% more plant, insect, and bird life on organic farms than on conventional ones.
In contrast, runoff from conventional farming, which relies heavily on herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators, contributes significantly to the decline of marine life and terrestrial ecosystems.
Additionally, organic farming helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, a significant contributor to emissions in Australian agriculture.
While the organic market lacks regulation in Australia, consumers should exercise caution, as many companies exploit the term 'organic' even when their products do not meet certified organic standards. If you choose to purchase organic, ensure that you select products certified by reputable industry bodies like ACO (Australian Certified Organic) or NASAA Certified Organic to guarantee their authenticity.