Organic Food

‘Food is power. Are you in control of yours?’ – John Jeavons

It is no secret that many illnesses have been linked to the food we eat. With today’s hectic, high paced life, the majority of people in the developed world eat excessive quantities of highly processed pre-packaged foods. Most of us have little idea of the chemicals that we are exposed to everyday through the food we eat.

 

Food Additives

In Australia, there are more than 300 substances which are approved for use as food additives including synthetic chemicals made from petroleum. Each of these is identified by its name and a number, and classified by the function it performs.

Food additives are used to replace the nutritional value and taste lost in processing, enhance the texture or appearance, prolong shelf life, stop food from decaying, replace ‘real’ ingredients to enhance flavour, giving extra taste to otherwise bland products and to make junk foods more appealing.

Most of the food additives’ long term safety is untested and questionable, especially the combined effect of literally hundreds of synthetic chemicals found in food. Many have been linked to allergy, headaches, mood problems, asthma, hyperactivity in children, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Under the current legislation, manufacturers are not required to list additives if they are present in an ingredient that comprises 5% or less of the product. They also do not have to specify whether additives are natural or synthetic. The law also does not require many additives in processed foods to be labelled as such. The only way we can avoid the harmful effects of food additives is to educate ourselves and choose foods that do not have ‘nasties’ in them.

The use of food additives is restricted in organic food. They may be used only when they are essential to ensure safety of food or when required by the law. They are allowed in organic food only if the product cannot be produced or preserved without them. The total additive ingredients cannot exceed 5% mass of the final certified product excluding water and salt. They cannot be genetically modified or irradiated.

 

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Organic Milk

Organic milk is produced the way nature intended and without the use of antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic dairy cows graze on organic pastures that contain nutrient-rich grasses and plants that have not been treated with any synthetic chemicals.

Organic dairy cows cannot be kept indoors in unhygienic, cramped conditions, thus less likely to suffer from health problems associated with overcrowding. When a cow becomes ill, it is treated with natural remedies and no antibiotics are administered. If antibiotics or other treatments have to be used as a last resort treatment, the milk from that cow cannot be sold as organic for 6 months.

Organic dairy cows are treated with respect and dignity. They are not subjected to intensive milking. Dairy calves are not treated as waste products of the industry. Cleaning products used to clean the milk collection vats must be made from natural ingredients.

Organic dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream and cream use only organic milk with no genetically modified ingredients, synthetic additives, colourings and flavourings.

 

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Organic Grains

Organic grains are grown without the use of any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They are milled, processed and stored within certified organic facilities that have not been fumigated or treated with toxic chemicals.

Organic grains are processed in the most natural way possible, commonly by physical methods such as stone milling. The stone ground process is a slower, traditional method that avoids overheating and dehydration. This process ensures all the germ, bran and endosperm of the whole grain, along with the vitamins and minerals are retained and distributed evenly throughout the milled flour.

All organic bread, organic baked goods, pastas and cereals must contain at least 95% of organic ingredients, and be without any artificial preservatives or colourings and genetically modified ingredients. For bread to be certified organic, individual ingredients and the bakery itself must be fully certified.

Organic bread and bread flours are exempt from otherwise mandatory fortification with iodised salt, folic acid and thiamine. Organic flour cannot be bleached and synthetically made commercial yeast is prohibited. Many organic bakers do not even use yeast, but prefer to allow the bread to rise naturally. In making sourdough breads, the slower fermentation process (18hours) allows the beneficial lactobacilli to fully develop.

 

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Organic Fruit & Vegetables

Organic fruit and vegetables are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. As they are grown in organic soils that contain a rich source of nutrients, they tend to have more nutritional value and superior taste. Organic fresh produce is not subjected to irradiation and is not treated with harmful preservatives or other chemicals. They are not grown from genetically modified seed stock.

 

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Organic Meat

Organic livestock are grown in a way that conforms to the natural processes of growth and development. Animal welfare is high priority on organic farms with emphasis placed upon allowing the animals to express their natural behaviour and social interaction.

In organic farming, animals have free access to fields or outdoor areas with adequate shade, shelter and protection from predators at all times. They are also provided with natural bedding, plenty of indoor areas and clean and fresh drinking water.

Organic livestock graze on organic pasture totally free of any synthetic chemicals, herbicides and pesticides. Any grains, hay or other feeds must be certified organic, with up to 5% chemical-free, non-organic feed allowed only where absolutely necessary. The use of synthetic nitrogen supplements, animal by-products, additives, growth hormone promoters and genetically modified products is prohibited.

Good nutrition, rotational grazing practices and natural treatments are used to help prevent pests and diseases in organic livestock. Routine vaccination is not permitted unless required by law or where it can be verified that organic management practices cannot control the disease in question. Antibiotics can only be used under exceptional circumstances and the treated animals and their products must not be sold as ‘certified organic’.

Animal transport and handling is arranged in such a way as to minimise stress and prevent contamination. Trucks are cleaned to eliminate residue from previous transport. There must be enough room to ensure the animals are not injured and synthetic tranquillisers are not permitted. Certified organic feed and clean water are to be made available before and after transport.

Organic standards also extend to how livestock are slaughtered and must be handled by certified organic abattoirs. Slaughter must be carried out quickly and without undue stress. Certified organic butchers are important as the last link in the production chain of carefully grown and handled organic products. They provide the assurance that what you buy is organic all the way from paddock to plate.

 

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Organic Fish

Fish taken from the wild cannot be labelled as organic as there is no control over the pollution levels in the habitat of the fish and what they eat. Only farmed fish can be certified organic.

Organic fish are produced in a sustainable manner. They have lower stocking densities and must meet standards in breeding, animal welfare, water sourcing and quality, disease management, harvesting, feeding and environmental impact. They have to be grown using methods that ensure minimal impact on the environment and natural fish communities.

Organic fish cannot be fed fishmeal that contains synthetic colouring, growth regulators, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, appetite stimulants and genetically modified ingredients. Fish are fed with certified organic feed.

The organic aquaculture industry is currently in its infancy. There are very few certified organic fish farms in Australia at the moment although that number is expected to increase in the coming years as the demand for pesticide and chemical free seafood increases.

 

More information on this topic can be found in Chapter 4 of the ‘Go Natural’ Book.

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