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Why we support the labelling legislation that stands alongside the consumer protection act when it comes to use of the word organic

Why we support the labelling legislation that stands alongside the consumer protection act when it comes to use of the word organic

I think I need to cover this topic again after the types of conversations we’ve been having this week and issues topical to the space.
Our position on labelling regulations when it comes to the use of the word ‘organic’ is clear.
If something is not certified organic – the product cannot be described as ‘organic’ on the label.
This does not mean that we only support ‘certified organic’ produce. Far from it. Certification is not at the stage yet in this country where it can represent smaller farmers and artisans. It is an expensive and laborious process that is primarily more suited to larger farming operations.
Due to the consumer support for ‘organic’ still being in relative infancy in this country, there isn’t a large enough market to support the costs of needing to prove that you are organic.
We support many farms who are farming in a way that we believe are on a sustainable journey and we check them out so that we can support the best of them.

You won’t see the ‘word’ – ‘organic’ on that produce though if it isn’t certified.

I will tell you the real story of that farm and we do our homework. But we won’t call it ‘organic’ because supporting the labelling legislation in this regard is important.
This is critical because where it is breached it opens up the space for real fraud to happen with labelling – fraud that we know absolutely does occur.
Let our chocolate sociopath be our forever reminder.
Have I seen other examples of deliberate fraud since the chocolate con man?
Yes, regrettably.
I see more examples of ignorance than I do fraud though along with examples where people are overselling and a little too enthusiastic about using the word without really understanding all the implications.
So to just trust the word ‘organic’ when it isn’t certified and you don’t have a certificate from the certifying agency to say that they have checked the farm out and declared that it conforms to their regulations for organic – is a very dangerous game.
I’ll give you a real live example – that mimics too many I come across over and over again – too regularly for this to be a negotiable concept.
An organic ‘dairy’ product, marked ‘organic’ that isn’t certified. I speak to a passionate and diligent cheese maker who utterly insists that his product is organic and when it’s pointed out that without being certified he isn’t allowed to use the word ‘organic’ he says he wasn’t aware of that and doesn’t take the regulations all that seriously as the organic legislation is so weak in this country.
Which is true – the consumer protection act and labelling legislation that supports it however – is very clear and not at all weak.
We know that the departments who are meant to take action against people who break the laws have no real teeth and that’s why it is so easy to get away with labelling fraud in this regard. Yet still – the regulations written for the consumer protection act are clear. Possibly some of the best ever written. These are there to protect and assist the consumers. That they aren’t enforced – is a sad reality that makes it even the more important that we do our homework thoroughly on producers.
Back to the passionate cheese maker – doing great things making a good effort at a compelling artisanal cheese and who is sure it is ‘organic’. We get on to the milk – the most important ingredient of them all and learn that grass is being planted for the dairy cows who are for the most being pastured outdoors. A little alarmed as I know that the region he is speaking of is not dairy producing terrain and that if a grass is being planted there – it is highly unlikely – unless it is a strong organic dairy farmer who knows what he’s doing – that herbicides aren’t in the mix. Of course – the next question is to check that glyphosate isn’t one of them! What if?
So that question is asked and the dairy producer calling his dairy organic says that he does not know the answer to this question and needs to find out.

Can you just imagine, a scenario where we just put that dairy out being called organic – and it turns out glyphosate is being used on the grass being grown to feed the cows producing the milk?

Further questions about the nature of supplement feed – again I know that it is highly unlikely in that region that it would be possible to do dairy without supplement feed – our cheese maker can’t answer that question because he doesn’t know.
It just might be that it all checks out and that herbicides aren’t being used or artificial fertilizers. Although in that region unless you have a good organic dairy philosophy – again I have to say it’s unlikely ,it might check out that it’s only a small top up supplement feed being given that doesn’t contain antibiotics or growth promoters and that still has some dependence on GM soy or maize. We would need to be transparent about as we work with the farmer to change that to non GM feed as the terrain in this country opens up with more non GM feed solutions.
However which way the story unfolds – we would never call that ‘organic’ and if it turns out that glyphosate is on the grass – we wouldn’t be able to have this in store no matter what it’s called.
These are the types of complexities we face all the time when choosing produce for the store.

The point is though that this dairy has been labelled ‘organic’ – not through fraud but ignorance in this case and this comes up over and over again.

So I can’t afford to accept a label that says ‘organic’ without certification. Even if I find it’s a farm I think worth supporting. I’ll tell you the story as it is, heaven knows many of our farmers are farming beyond organically and it wouldn’t help them or us for them to go and incur the cost of certification for such a small market – but that’s not the point – we won’t’ call it ‘organic’ in respect of the labelling legislation that is there to make sure people that people are detracting from misleading claims.
We have to do our homework thoroughly in this regard and insist that the artisans we support respect this because it is right for the whole.
We don’t just do that with the word ‘organic’ – another recent example was of a chicken that some of you saw at another store and asked us to stock.
A beautiful free-range and pastured chicken environment it was indeed but no matter I couldn’t accept it for our store as the feed for the chickens contained routine antibiotics as well as an additional specific group of antibiotics used as growth promoters.
So whilst it was a great farm and the farmer wasn’t lying at all about the feed – I couldn’t have it in this store because we have a policy about not supplying meat or dairy from farmers who use antibiotics or growth promoters – even if the farm is ‘free range’.
We find it misleading because we are certain that you are presuming that free range and pastured wouldn’t contain antibiotics and that isn’t true.
Another example – a corn chip marked organic without being certified. I do my homework and discover a treasure. It is a farm with maize connected to the godfather of organic grain farming in this country James Moffett who you will be hearing much about over the next 6 months. Anyhow – this corn is absolutely organic – the story behind it is incredible and they’re doing all the right things.

The farm is organic in conversion though so technically the word ‘organic’ shouldn’t yet be on the label but my exploration leads me to trust what they are doing.

I have their conversion certificates and GM tests on file and still I will just put stickers over the word ‘organic’ for the time being because I need to respect that law even though I know in this case – that in all the right respects – the corn they are using is organic and this isn’t deceptive or misleading at all.
We will shortly have our policy up on the site describing what we check for and stand for across all our ranges so that it is even more clear when you come here what we choose and why and what we do and don’t accept.
As you can see – the terrain is complex and it’s for that reason that you have to weigh up all sorts of considerations and that’s where you’ll see the metal of the retailer in what they choose to stock and the clarity with which they make those choices – but while it is this complex – we have to wholeheartedly support the labeling legislation when it comes to the use of the word ‘organic’.
If you see ‘organic’ on a label without a certification stamp, you need to do your homework or hope that the retailer bringing it to you has done that for you. Without the certification of assurance it just might turn out that their understanding of what ‘organic’ means isn’t the same as yours or isn’t in line with the dominant philosophy which would never include glyphosate for example.
I do not believe that labels are all that important when it comes to real relationships. They have become the stuff and nonsense of marketing speak which is why we find it more valuable to just find farms that we believe are making good effort to be sustainable and as close to organic – and often beyond –  tell you their story and the truth of where their farming is at but you won’t find the word ‘organic’ on the label in contravention of a law that is there to protect us from the possibility of deceit.
You will find the farm name and always on the blog a link to the story of my visit there and why I have decided to have it in store.
That’s what we offer here and why I shall ever remain the ‘strict more uncompromising’ lady.

There is nothing in this store that I’m not happy to feed my family and it’ll stay that way – and in the larger store that status quo will remain.

We’ll stay in dialogue with you, as we do about what we are stocking and why I find it compelling and hear how you feel about it. There are compromises I just can’t make and never will and that’s the place where it is my greatest strength and greatest weakness both – that I don’t think like a retailer, its integrity and principles first – the rest we’ll iron out as we go along.
For so long as we are here though I take to heart the fact that you’d like to rest in a place where you don’t have to scrutinize all labels and where you can trust I’ve done my homework for you and perhaps that makes or growth slower but like I said, this matters little to me because we run deep, not broad.
You call me ‘the strict lady’ so often and your strict lady I shall remain. Over and over you tell me that what you love about this store is the fact that you can relax and don’t have to scrutinize labels. I need to contain this space in that spirit for you.  It’ll make our growth slower because we are building a solid foundation on tight principles.

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