You may have heard those funny ads on the radio for Irish food, which highlight the fake brand phenomenon — “Killtefeelyballybridgewater…now where’s that again? Don’t tell me, don’t tell me!” The focus of this campaign is to make us aware that we are being misled and we need to look deeper into where our food is actually coming from. A number of large food retailers have all used the fake farm technique to make their mass produced products sound more appealing and to make us pay more for ‘farm fresh’ foods. More unbelievably this is perfectly legal!
Food labeling is one of my hobby horses. I think we need a lot more rigor in our labelling. We are constantly bombarded by marketeers with terms such as ‘natural’, ‘fresh’, ‘local’, ‘artisan’, ‘gourmet’ and ‘healthy’ none of which actually mean anything specific, as they have no defined or regulated meaning. This is very confusing for us as consumers, — and I actually think that confusion is the intended effect of a lot of food marketing strategies — if we are hungry and confused we will buy whatever product has the cleverest packaging!
This is one of the reasons I eat organic food. Organic food is clearly labelled, and Organic does actually mean something — it is a regulated term, it’s not just clever marketing speak. You can’t just call your eggs or your carrots organic because they are a bit dirty! Food can ONLY be called organic when it is actually Certified Organic and can be traced back to a certified producer. These organic producers must adhere to a very rigorous ethos and production rules.
So why does this matter to me? There are a number of reasons that this matters to me:
Quality: Firstly I think we should all be more aware of where our food is coming from, how it was produced and what has gone into it. I know how hard it is to get organically certified (in Organico we are certified to sell organic fruit and veg, which means a visit every year from The Organic Trust and a lot of paperwork to make sure we comply with all their standards). So when I see that a food producer has bothered to become Certified Organic I know they really must really care about their products, because becoming organic isn’t just something you do overnight.
Pesticides: More importantly for me is that I prefer my food not to have been sprayed with toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides. Highly toxic chemicals are routinely used in conventional farming. Residues of these chemicals are regularly found in a high percentage of fruit and vegetables, and in 2004 the European Commission stated that a risk to human health cannot be ruled out anymore. Scarily, earlier this year it was discovered that all 14 top German beer brands are contaminated with Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. There is also a lot of concern about Glyphosate levels in grains such as wheat. If you google ‘Glyphosate gluten intolerance’ you will see a lot of people arguing that the huge increase in gluten intolerance is possibly linked to increasing levels of this same pesticide in grains and hence in our breads, pastas and flours. Many people are now turning to organic flour to avoid this chemical, which is thought to be linked to digestive upsets.
Nutritious: Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals such as cadmium and pesticide residues than conventionally farmed produce, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date, which was completed by Prof Carlo Leifert and his team at Newcastle University. The study suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables could give the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended ‘five a day’.
Organic food contains no GMO’s or additives: Organic food doesn’t contain food additives, which have been linked to health problems such a heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, migraines, food allergies and hyperactivity. Among the additives banned by organic regulations are hydrogenated fats, aspartame and monosodium glutamate and all artificial colourings, flavourings and sweeteners. Also, genetically modified organisms or crops are not allowed under organic standards.
Organic farmers don’t use drugs: There is growing concern about the high use of antibiotics on farm animals and the possible risk to both human and animal health.
Organic standards prohibit the routine use of antibiotics and put animal welfare at the forefront of farming practices. The benefits of the organic approach are acknowledged by animal welfare organisations such as Compassion in World Farming. However, my personal preference for buying meat is to know who has reared the animals and exactly how they have been treated, which is why in Organico, we rear our own pigs to make our sausages and bacon and buy beef and lamb directly from local organic farmers. Luckily in West Cork we have some excellent organic farmers!
Delicious: Finally, to me, organic food just tastes better. I know that’s subjective but, for example, organic avocados are amazing, if you haven’t tried one yet you must! And at the height of the citrus season (a few weeks ago) the huge Navalina oranges we had in Organico were a revelation; to me they tasted like oranges did at Christmas when we were children.