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Greenrock is working to empower individuals and companies to do their part in making Bermuda socially, economically and environmentally more sustainable.

Many consumers are questioning: what exactly is organic food and is organic food “better”?

The concept of organic food may be best explained by examining conventional farming practices. Most farming relies heavily on artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Around 350 pesticides are permitted, and it is estimated 4.5 billion litres of them are used annually. While there are Government rules about accepted levels of pesticide residues in our food, there can be concerns about their long-term effects on us. Agrochemicals and artificial fertilizers can harm the environment too.

On the other hand, organic agriculture is practiced by farmers who emphasise the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic farming is carried out to a set of legally defined standards. It strictly limits the use of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Antibiotics for animals are kept to an absolute minimum. Instead, it emphasises farming methods such as crop rotation to keep the soil healthy and natural pest-control systems. Genetically modified crops are forbidden.

Organic producers have their produce monitored and certified by one of several organic organizations. The Bristol-based Soil Association is by far the largest in the UK, acting as a campaigning and certifying body; its trademark is the best-known organic symbol and its standards are extremely stringent. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also put in place a set of national standards that food labelled “organic” must meet, whether it’s grown in the US or imported from other countries. Before a product can be labelled organic, a US Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to ensure that the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA
Organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified too.

There is no certifying agency in Bermuda, so any farmers who mark their foods “organic” follow certain organic farming principals but do not qualify as certified organic farmers because they are not regulated by an independent agency. Whether there will one day be a “Bermuda organic standard” remains to be seen.

Whether organic food is better than non-organic is a disputed topic. The USDA and the UK Food Standards Agency make no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.  However, results from a $24-million EU study examining the nutritional value of organically produced food compared with conventionally farmed food, released in October 2007, found that some organic produce contained up to 40 per cent more antioxidants, such as vitamin C, than their conventionally farmed equivalents, and other organic produce had higher levels of minerals and antioxidants.

In the end, consumers must decide for themselves whether going organic is best for them and the environment. Some people do it to support local farmers, thus reducing the carbon footprint of importing produce; some people do it to reduce their dietary intake of pesticides and chemicals; others find that the prices are too high.  However, as more and more people buy organic, this “niche market” will expand and prices will probably be reduced, so shunning organics due to their higher prices may be a counterproductive practice.

This article by Laura Semos was submitted to and printed by the Bermuda Sun on April 18, 2008.

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