What does ‘Organic’ really mean?

Posted by: Scott Ko

On a recent visit to the Queen Victoria Market, I came across an entire section devoted to organic produce. ‘Vic Market Organics’ particularly caught my eye with the large variety of fresh and packaged organic food on offer. I was directed to Paul or as his mates call him – ‘ Heepsie’, who gave me the basic 101 talk on organics.

What does organic really mean?

According to ‘Australian Organics’, to be certified organics means to ‘grow or manufacture a product free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics’. In terms of meat and dairy, the livestock must be free-range and pasture raised. Fruits and vegetables must be GM free (non-genetically modified) and the agricultural processes used to grow these fruits & veggies must be water efficient and environmentally friendly.

What kind of organic products are out there?

A range of products can be certified organic from food, drink, clothing and cosmetics. Look out for the following logos to ensure your buying 100% organic : Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Organic Growers of Australia (OGA), National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA)

Top reasons for buying organic

1. Animal welfare benefits

Livestock must be free range to be certified organic. This means no cages, no stalls, no synthetic growth hormones and no antibiotics (read more here). Animals have access to direct sunlight, pastures and natural breeding takes place. The welfare of the animal is considered of utmost importance with live export practices also prohibited.

2. Environmental benefits and no pesticides

Organically grown products encourage agricultural and farming methods that are environmentally friendly. Paul explained to me that organic farms have a lower environmental impact compared to conventional methods. Much of this is to do with restoring soil fertility and maintaining biological cycles. Conventional farming methods causes loss of soil integrity and nutrients, as the same soil is used to grow vegetables and fruits. Organic farms employ management techniques such as companion planting, minimal tillage and crop rotation to prevent the above occurrence. It is also much easier for the plants to absorb nutrients from the soil.  Maintaining sustainable water usage and biodiversity protection is also important.

3. No Pesticides / Chemical fertilisers

Prohibition of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides is not only beneficial for the end consumer but also prevents harmful chemicals from entering the waterway.

3. Taste

Not much to say here but organic produce tastes better and fresher.

4. Nutritional benefits – Organic vs Conventional

In conducting my own research on the topic, I came across a controversial study conducted by Stanford University. One of the commonly stated benefits of eating organic are the health and nutritional benefits. However, results of the study found no significant differences in the vitamin content of organic produce vs. conventionally grown produce. The only exception was milk, which contained higher levels of omega-3- fatty acids.

But don’t feel duped if you’ve been buying organic over all these years. When it comes to food and nutritional studies, results tend to be inconsistent.  For instance, you can find many articles stating the health benefits of caffeine contradicting the articles stating the harmful effects. I’m not surprised that consumers are confused. Anyhow, there are many other proven benefits of buying organic (as described above), so don’t feel apprehensive !

Where can I buy organic?

If you do a google search on organic produce, a number of outlets should come up in your geographic region. There are also many online services that deliver organic produce straight to your door. My personal preference is going to the markets. ‘Vic Market Organics’ and ‘Ripe’ at Prahran markets are fantastic stalls. The employees are very knowledgeable and passionate about their produce and they stock a range of fresh and dried produce e.g pasta, quinoa, flour, chocolate (pictures below). So, if you live around those areas, make sure you give your local organic vendor a visit.

Locations

1. Ripe Organics
Shop 7
Prahran Market
163 Commercial Rd
Prahran

2. Vic Market Organics
I shed, stall 58-64
(opp. Therry St shops)
Melbourne

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