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Is it really organic?

Posted on April 14th, 2011 by Alf | Print

I like walnut bread. Freshly made, straight out of the oven, with a hint of sweetness from the added honey and the crunchy texture of walnuts from my very own walnut tree, it really is hard to beat. (I have included my recipe for walnut bread at the end of this blog). As happens, I had run out of organic flour, so trundled down to the local health food shop to buy more. My local shop has recently begun stocking flour they called “organic”. And there it was – in a large plastic bin complete with a label proudly advising consumers that it was organic. I looked closely at the label showing the fat, protein, and carbohydrate contents. However, there was nothing on the label to say who had certified the flour was organic or where it had come from. When I asked the sales assistant to tell me who the organic certifier was, I was met with a blank expression signifying – I think – that she did not know what I was talking about. When I explained that, as a consumer, I was entitled to ask who the certifying body was, I was told I was being difficult, and was “giving her a hard time”. All because I asked for something that is standard practice for retailers of organic food!

My recent experience was not unusual. The very same day I went into a self-proclaimed “organic shop” to buy some organic vegetables (by the way, it is worth mentioning that just because a it calls itself an “organic shop” does not mean that everything it sells is organic). There were lots of “organic” fruits and vegetables to choose from, with prices that apparently reflected this (double or more the non-organic price). Once again there was an absence of certification details for much of the produce. In view of my earlier experience, I weighed up whether to risk confrontation with the shop owner and decided against asking them for the certification information and walked out of the shop. It further illustrated the consumer has to be quite assertive when shopping for organic food. But why should they have to be?

In Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, USA and many other countries around the world, there are systems in place to provide assurance for consumers that flour and any other food labeled “organic” has indeed been grown to legally defined conditions and standards. This includes being grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizers. This assurance comes through certification by an independent third party – An organic certification body or authority. Organic certification means the grower of the wheat, or any other food for that matter, has entered into a legally binding contract to grow their food under conditions laid down by the independent organic certification body. There is a lot more to it than this because the organic standards also include how the food is processed, packaged, stored, transported and how any animals involved in the production of the food are treated. If the grower fulfils his or her obligations under this agreement, then the grower is certified as “organic” by the independent authority and the grower and retailer are entitled to claim that the food is indeed organic and label it as such. As part of the certification process labels on organic foods should provide consumers with the identity of the certifier and a registration number. This labeling requirement is not simply some bureaucratic nonsense but rather is for the protection of consumers who are often confronted with labels such as “organically grown”, “minimal spray” or “pesticide-free”. As these terms have no legal definition, they are effectively meaningless are rely solely on the honesty of the grower, packaging company or retailer. They certainly do not necessarily mean the food was grown under the conditions set down by an independent organic certification body. It is also for the protection of farmers who have put in the time and effort and pay the costs of becoming an organically certified grower. The time and costs involved to achieve organic certification are considerable. To become an organic farmer may take up to three years during which time changes have to be made to convert any existing conventional agricultural production methods into those consistent with the standards set for organic production as laid down by the certifier. It also involves regular inspections and a higher level of auditing and record keeping. Changing from conventional to organic farming is a decision not to be taken lightly.

There are good reasons why consumers may want to know if a food is genuinely organic. One very good reason is the premium they pay for organic food, often double or more the price of non-organic food. Human nature being what it is, there is an incentive for a retailer or grower to obtain the higher price that consumers are willing to pay if they think a food is organic. There are also consumers who do not want to eat food that has been grown with artificial pesticides and fertilizers because they believe the pesticide residues present in conventionally grown food have the potential to do harm. There is evidence to support this view. Others want to eat organic food for ethical reasons because they believe it has been grown using methods that are not harmful to the environment. And finally, there are those who believe organic food tastes better and has a greater nutritional value than non-organic food. Whatever their beliefs, people who want and are prepared to pay for organic food have the right to get what they are paying for.

In response to repeated requests, Promoting Good Health book has published a book on organic food titled “Organic Food: A Guide for Consumers” which is available from the online store on this website. In this book we discuss the methods used to grow food organically and the differences between organic and biodynamic production methods. We also examine the scientific evidence for the belief that organic food tastes better and has more nutrients than conventional food. We also help you find organic produce in your area and how to tell if it really is “organic”. If you want useful and practical information about organic food to help you choose whether you and your family should go “organic”, unbiased information based on fact rather than hype, we recommend you read this book.

Walnut bread recipe

We use the following organic ingredients to make this bread although you can substitute non-organic ingredients if you wish.

Plain baker’s flour 500 grams (17.6 ounces)
Wholemeal flour 200 grams (7 ounces)
Honey – 1 heaped teaspoon
Filtered water – 450 ml (15 fluid ounces)
Dried yeast – 4 heaped teaspoons
Olive oil (you can use walnut oil if you wish) – 2 dessert spoons
Salt (no more than a ¼ teaspoon)
Walnut kernels – 60 grams (2 ounces)

Roast the walnut kernels at 180 degrees Centigrade (350 degrees Fahrenheit) for around 7 minutes. Cool and cut into small pieces. Warm the water to around 30-35 degrees Centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit), then add honey and dissolve. Gradually add the water containing honey and oil, to a mixture of salt, flours, walnuts, and yeast and mix either by hand or with a bread maker or Kitchen Aid until you have soft dough. Knead for a further 5-10 minutes adding more flour if necessary. It is not necessary to rise the dough more than once. Divide in two and place into oiled individual loaf tins. Allow to stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size then place into an oven at 200 degree Centigrade (400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before eating. Yum!!

Meanwhile, stay happy and healthy!

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