Oily fraud? Virtues of organic certification

Charles Redfern - 12 January 2012

Organico olive oilLast week, the Guardian published two articles on olive oil fraud.

While both reported on some breathtaking scams, one showed readers how to tell the real thing, and, neither mentioned the virtues of organic certification for protecting the consumer.
Firstly organic olives are grown without chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
Then, when it comes to processing, organic olive oil (like all organic oils) is not allowed to be chemically treated, heat-treated, refined or had any solvents added.
This is to ensure the product is as near to its natural state as possible, to conserve as many nutrients as possible. According to organic principles, quality, taste and nutritional benefits are safeguarded - right from the start.
A product with an organic seal of approval is equivalent to the purest non-organic cold-pressed extra virgin oil. But while non-organic food is subject to generally food laws, organic products are subject to above-and-beyond scrutiny. 
Designed to ensure organic integrity, organic certification has a level of control and a quality-standard that is obvious, open, transparent, traceable and checkable.
There all sorts of checks and counter-checks to ensure organic integrity. These include annual on-site inspections (and random surprise ones) by the organic certification body as well as checks by the certifying body’s certifiers.
Organic is a legal definition enshrined in EU-law and enforced by Trading Standards EU-wide. Tests for organic purity would quickly show up any adulteration.
I am not saying that organic fraud does not exist as the Verona 2011 incident shows, or that we might not get caught out.
But it is worth remembering that many of us are in the organic trade for all the right reasons - our heart and soul is in the philosophy and therefore the organic standards.
We won't deal with anybody who doesn't inspire trust. As the saying goes "Let me down once and you're the fool but let me down twice and we both are."

Charles is the founder of the ethical canned fish company, Fish4Ever, the sister company of Organico, both based in Reading. Fish4Ever's motto is Land, Sea and People. Its land ingredients are 100% organic - supporting traditional fishing communities is as important as saving the fish. He is currently involved in a number of awareness-raising campaigns working with WWF, Sustainable Fish City, the Environmental Justice Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

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Catherine Fookes
25 January 2012 14:19

Yep - what price trust? I bought some amazing organic olive oil with a hint of lemon last year at the Real Food Festival and its absolutely delicious. I keep it for using neat on my salads. Wonderful stuff!

Elisabeth Winkler
16 January 2012 08:47

Thanks, Charles - good to know organic certification provides extra legal back-up on cold-pressed olive oil (makes me think of how organic provides additional certainty to the term "free-range" too). Thanks, Maria. "Bleaching, degumming, deodorising" do indeed sound appalling processes...Viva real food. Viva organic!

john burns
14 January 2012 18:57

how is organic status of organic soya from China verified?

Charles Redfern
13 January 2012 12:51

Hi Maria. Thanks for great comment. Mega-thanks for picking up on typo - now corrected. To clarify: Yes, organic olive oil is mechanically extracted - stone pressed or pressed with metalic presses like a big cork-screw. Thanks again, Charles.

Maria Cross
12 January 2012 17:54

Organic is always preferable, but did you mean to say that organic olive oil is not mechanically extracted? As I understand it, that is precisely how the oil is extracted, instead of using heat or solvent methods.Also worth pointing out that unless it's cold-pressed.ordinary olive oil undergoes the same appalling refining methods as other common culinary oils - bleaching, degumming, deodorising. So many reasons to go organic!

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