Organic Articles: Testing Times

The Organic Consultancy

Testing Times

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the January 2002 edition of Organic Business.

Organic legislation establishes a system under which organic food can be grown and processed. If you follow this system your products are organic by definition. Any inadvertent contamination of an organic product with low levels of pesticide residues is unfortunate but does not automatically invalidate the organic claim. So why start testing organic products for pesticide residues ?

Firstly, interviews with the new organic consumers show them to expect the total absence of pesticides from the organic food they buy. Secondly, the organic industry is now contemplating a higher level of deliberate fraud than hitherto suspected. Thirdly, a proposed amendment to EU 2092/91 would require maximum pesticide levels to be fixed for plant and plant products at the lower limits of analytical detection. As a result pesticide testing is now very definitely on the agenda for many in the UK, with one possible aim being a “due diligence” defence in the event of organic products testing positive for pesticides.

Organix Brands drew the trade’s attention to the problem through the release of a report last August which highlighted the problems they have experienced in keeping the Baby Organix range pesticide-free. Working with the Central Scientific Laboratory in York Organix Brands found detectable residues in 16% of the organic ingredients they were offered. At the November 2001 Agra Europe Organic Foods In Europe conference Dr. Jochen Neuendorff raised a few organic eyebrows in his assessment of current levels of organic fraud. Although there have been well publicised cases of German and French traders passing off non-organic grain as organic his view is that this happens much more often and over a much wider range of products than previously believed.

If enough laboratories analyse enough organic products the indications are that they will find pesticide residues, whether caused by accidental contamination or through deliberate fraud. Explaining this to consumers will be a challenge. High time to widen the organic debate so as to emphasise that there is much more to the organic brand than merely the absence of pesticides.