Organic Food Crisis – Problems with Paper Trail

According to the Britian’s Observer newspaper:

Britain’s organic food revolution was facing its first serious test last night after an Observer investigation revealed disturbing levels of fraud within the industry.

Farmers, retailers and food inspectors have disclosed a catalogue of malpractice, including producers falsely passing off food as organic and retailers failing to gain accreditation from independent inspectors. The findings raise concerns that consumers paying high premiums for organic food are being ripped off.

… Figures from market research agency Mintel suggest three out of four households now buy some organic food and environmental groups said fraudulent activity within the industry must be stamped out for the sake of customers and legitimate farmers.

“It is not right consumers are paying over the odds because of fraudsters,” said Vicki Hird, Friends of the Earth’s food campaigner.

“These people are causing economic damage to other businesses who are playing by the rules,” said Jenny Morris of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

There are fears an increasing amount of ‘organic’ food is coming in from overseas making it difficult to establish its provenance.

“There are no tests for proving food is organic,” Morris said. “So it comes down to traceability, you have to follow a paper trail.”

So it all comes down to a paper trail?

12 Responses to Organic Food Crisis – Problems with Paper Trail

  1. Rick August 26, 2005 at 7:37 pm #

    Nah, you don’t need a paper trail. Non-organic food is readily identified by blue yolks in the eggs, chickens with five drumsticks and the veges all glow in the dark.

    This reminds me of the recent item I heard on the ABC from someone who apparently represented the egg industry. This chappy claimed that about half the free range eggs sold in Australia are just repackaged eggs from cage birds.

    Why should organic foods be somehow insulated from the market forces that apply to every other commodity? What do people think is going on; does all this organic food come from sharing and caring earth mothers and brothers who wouldn’t rip you off? Jeez guys!

  2. jennifer marohasy August 26, 2005 at 7:44 pm #

    … and I only buy eggs labelled “free range”. Because I like the idea that the chooks have walked around a bit.

  3. Graham Finlayson August 26, 2005 at 7:57 pm #

    Of course there should be traceability, and accountability……and truth in labelling.
    Thats exactly what you and your GM mates so vehemenently oppose.
    And yes there will be rip-off merchants around trying to muscle into the premiums that real organic products are receiving. Let them get what they deserve if they are not accredited.
    Surely you are not condemning everybodys right to choose because of some shonky operators.
    Thats what it should be…choice. If people choose not to care then they are free to eat what ever they want.
    If its labelled “organic” then you and Louis can easily walk past it.

  4. Rick August 26, 2005 at 10:38 pm #

    Truth in labelling is fine, but the point is “there are no tests for proving food is organic”. From the mouth of the Chartered Institute itself – the differences are immeasurably small and you pay a premium for the placebo effect.

    So if organic food is to be sold at premium price and people want to pay for it then that’s okay, but should the label also display the Institute’s quote that effectively says “there is no measurable difference between this expensive organic food and the cheaper product on the shelf below?” That way consumers are able to make an informed choice.

    “Please note: there is a probability of 0.5 that these eggs labelled free range are in fact laid by birds kept in a substandard caged environment. You are welcome to pay twice as much for this product simply because it makes you feel better about the food you eat, and, heh, look on the bright side, there’s a probability of 0.5 that these eggs really are free range.”

    If you want truth in labelling, fine, but apply it to all products, not just those products grown from GM seed produced by Monsanto, that evil running dog of US capitalism and purveyor of evil globalism to the poor suffering farmers of the world.

    The main criticism of Monsanto et al seems to be that they are trying to maximise profit. If that’s the real problem, then let’s talk about it, instead of using the “Frankenstein food” smoke screen. Honesty – let’s have some from all sides.

  5. Stephen Dawson August 27, 2005 at 8:23 pm #


    The free range thingy was an ABC Background Briefing in June. ‘The Free Range Fiddle’ is here:

  6. rog August 28, 2005 at 5:47 pm #

    Its quite right to say “there are no tests for proving food is organic”. There is a test for a Certified organic product and that is by an audit by the certifying body of the paper trail.

    All food is essentially organic. “Conventionally grown” food can contain synthetic chemicals. There are tests for these chemical residues and there are tests for nutrient levels. Most “conventionally grown” food is permitted to contain an amount of chemical to a pre determined MRL (mininum residual level). There is no data on how these chemicals perform on the body when mixed together, the “cocktail effect”.

    Vistoria DPI ran tests on certified organic food and found them to be almost all chemical free, I think there was contamination in 1 instance from a food carton.

    There have been tests on antioxidant levels and these have shown to have been higher in certified organic produce.

    Certified organic food producers must demonstrate a total environment management system, must be able to provide records of inputs and outputs (the dreaded QA paper trail) and comply with animal husbandry criteria eg stock are not transported more than a certain distance to reduce stress. There are no battery hens or feed lots and there are no test for these pratices.

    There is no test for proving a steak is a good steak except by eating it. Experience has shown that stressed animals give tougher meat which has led to the reintroduction of mounted stockmen in preference to helicopter mustering. Experience has shown that 20 year old cows generally produce tougher steaks than 2 year old which has led to the evolvment of the cattle care program along with mandatory tagging (there’s that paper work again!). Tough steaks lose market value and give poor returns therefore better farming practices are value adding and should give higher returns.

  7. rog August 28, 2005 at 6:51 pm #

    I might just add to my monologue that any certified product, and in this case certified organic food, is one that can be tested for compliance to a standard by an independent authority that is also tested for compliance.

    The certification gives assurety.

    The same principle applies to planes, boats & trains.

    Anybody can say ‘I swear my product is XYZ’ and you only have his word to take for it. Maybe it is maybe it isnt, that’s the risk you take.

    As for ‘free range’, when can I pick up my free eggs?

  8. Forester August 28, 2005 at 7:47 pm #

    This could also damage public perception of market based mechanisms including those designed to pay for ‘public good’ imposts on farmers.

    We shall wait and see if an ideological fight develops between the ‘regulators’ and ‘marketers’ over who’s mechanism prevails in the management of natural resources.

    The watermelons who want to destroy agriculture and forestry will want the regulatory model to prevail.

    By damaging public confidence in the market based approaches they can maintain the status quo.


  9. Roger Kalla August 29, 2005 at 11:04 am #

    There are no tests to prove that organic produce is what is stated on the label. However we can measure things that matters in the eggs and chickens we consume such as dioxins and avian flu. There are a number of examples of free range chicken that has passed on dangerously high levels of doixins in their eggs and in their meat from contaminated soil that they were foraging in.

    Also one of the main concerns with the avian flu that is spreading from South East Asia through migratory birds sharing food and water supply with free range chickens (most recently causing outbreaks in Russia) is that it is only a matter of time before these birds arrive here in Australia in our spring and summer.

    I for one would prefer our chickens to be safely locked away and fed GM soy than exposed to the real publich health issues associated with free range or ‘organic’ farming practices.

  10. Phillip Done August 29, 2005 at 1:12 pm #

    Dioxins ! – do we have any evidence that this has happened? Don’t have any problems with the GM soil meal – but what about the antibiotics?

    And if we’re worried about avian flu we can use barns. I seen disease absolutely decimate conventional sheds. 1,000s of dead chooks…. all depends on the operator- regardless of farming method.

    Would have thought the issue with free range/barn laid is about letting animals express normal behaviours… and that’s the $2 ethical decision you have to make or not make at the supermarket egg section …

  11. jennifer marohasy September 2, 2005 at 9:54 pm #

    BAckground Briefing Radio National, Free Range Egg Fraud:

  12. imogen November 3, 2007 at 8:37 pm #

    hi, im called Imogen and im only 13, but i am stereo-typed to be a VERY strict vegetarian, i dont eat meat, nor fish, gelatine or barn eggs, so if a product just says ‘eggs’ then how am i supposed to know which type of egg it is? a Caged hen egg or a free range one? this really annoys me! please someone help! x x

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