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Ever wondered about Organic certification, what it means and why it matters?

It's no secret that we, Equinatural, choose to supply ingredients from Organically Certified suppliers. However, owing to Trading Standards legislation, I'm not permitted to advertise our herbal products as 'organic' because as a company we're not registered 'organic'.

Reasons? Manyfold ...

  • To claim a product or business is 'organic' you have to hold a (very costly) Organic Certificate, which we don't, therefore we can't advertise our herbs and blends as 'organic', nor label them as such. Hence why we advertise our range of herbal products with an asterisk and state * Produced to ecological standards and free from agro-chemicals.
  • It's super-costly! In order to maintain an Organic Certificate, this involves a yearly inspection which when passed we'd receive said Certificate for which we pay!
  • There's also a huge paper audit trail that the law requires is in place, in order to trade with organic products. Every organic item that comes into the building and every organic item that goes out, has to be recorded. Paperwork has to also show procedures carried out with the packing of the products, health & safety, cleaning procedures, product specifications … the list goes on. Sadly, being a two-man (husband and wife) family-run cottage industry we simply don't have the manpower or time do manage this huge administrative role.

Yes it's frustration that other equine herbal supplement companies out there are advertising their goods as 'organic', when they're very definitely not - we know of several ourselves and it's galling that these companies appear to be under the radar of Trading Standards. Trading Standards themselves are also not the easiest to deal with - we continually have to rewrite our website, even down to what our clients say in their testimonials! One of our suppliers was even told that in order to sell tinctures, they should hold an Alcohol Licence!.

That said, behind all this pain there are very good reasons for all this legislation, and it's all about protecting you and what you're buying into. Literally.

The Soil Association and 'Organic' Certification

Today, over 75% of agrichemicals are sold by 4 global companies - they also bought out the seed industry, so these Big 4 control both the supply of seeds and the use of agrichemicals, completely dictating the direction that agriculture has taken. Sad to say more about profit and not necessarily about producing ‘healthy’ food or maintaining farmers’ incomes.

Back in the day we were assured that these agrichemicals were safe. If they were safe then but they’re proven not safe now, how are we supposed to believe the government when they tell us that that it’s safe to use neonicotinoids? There’s no safe level for a nervous-system-disrupting insectide … a hormone-disrupting herbicide. Not for a bee, not for a carrot, not for a human. And certainly not for a horse.

Agreed, progress is vital - the mechanisation of farming, together with fertilisers and herbicides increasing crop yields, has made creating cheap food on a vast worldwide scale possible, on an intense-farming basis, while feeding livestock hormone treatment and antibiotics boosts growth and helps prevent disease (although my personal opinion on this? Nuff said ...).

These practices really got going after WWII, to the point that inexpensive food became the main driver in how our diets have changed. As the world’s population boomed, it made perfect sense and seemed safe/sensible. Compared to how our grandparents lived, shopped and ate, this became the new modern-day normal.

However, there were still 'natural food' diehards out there. By the 70s a distinction between two types of farming systems began to become buzz words in the kitchen – mechanised ‘conventional’, and small-scale, chemical-free ‘organic’. UK subsidies were on the side of conventional, while smaller organic farms had the double whammy of much smaller subsidies while having to shell out a fortune to certify themselves as ‘organic’.

For many years, organic farming and its farmers seemed to be on the back foot, sniped at as ‘mung-bean hippies’, perceived as expensive and, as the rumour mill spread, a big ‘con’ - my ancient dad's thrown this one at me!

In stepped the Soil Association, originally formed in 1946, who lead a group of scientists, farmers and health professionals who were concerned about what was happening in the fields across Great Britain. They saw that while yields from conventional farming were high, the soil was in an increasingly poor state, food quality was decreasing, the well-being of livestock was compromised, and wildlife seemed to be in decline.

Their work became part of a worldwide push towards a better stewardship of the land, with standardised practices put in place to help make this happen - these eventually became accreditation schemes. Since then, all 'organic' food and drink ensures:

  • no synthetic chemicals
  • no genetically modified seeds
  • land/soil has been free from prohibited chemical inputs for a number of years (in the UK, usually 2)
  • livestock are fed, housed and bred to specified high standards of animal welfare
  • detailed written production and sales records are kept so there is an audit trail
  • a strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products
  • regular on-site inspections

Why does it matter?

  • A better chance for bees and wildlife to thrive - on average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms. This biodiversity is important, not just because nature deserves it, but because wildlife includes both pollinating and pest-controlling insects, who are crucial to crops.
  • Healthier soils - organic farmland soil is a great carbon sequester and teeming with micro-organisms, helping to combat climate change and prevent flooding/drought. Soils on conventional farms, routinely stripped of organic matter by years of chemical input, have now been recognised as being at a major disadvantage. 95% of our food comes directly or indirectly from our soils, never mind the fact that just 1-cm of topsoil can take up to 500 years to form, so this is a vital piece of the jigsaw.
  • Fewer pesticides, amd no artificial fertilisers or herbicides - there are around 300 pesticides available to non-organic farmers, while all but 20 are banned in organic farming. Not surprisingly there are also fewer pesticide residues found on organic produce, with more traditional methods, such as companion planting and encouraging natural pest control, used first and foremost.
  • No GM - organic certification is the only way you can guarantee a product as GM-free. GM continues to be controversial, such as the rise of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and the proclivity of an industry dominated by wealthy corporations set to ruin subsistence farmers who become reliant on their seeds.

More of the good stuff

  • Organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than their conventionally-grown equivalents. After years of dispute, this is now pretty much accepted by the scientific community.
  • Organic farming protects pollinators, which are essential for food production. There is up to 50% more wildlife on organic farms. With bee and pollinator numbers decreasing at the rate they are, we need to move away from the current model which is a threat to the food system.
  • There would be significant benefits for cleaner air, water, and improved biodiversity under an organic future.

And less of the bad …

Organic fruit and veg contain lower concentrations of pesticides and the toxic heavy metal cadmium.

Over a third of non-organic fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK contain a ‘cocktail’ of potentially dangerous pesticides, a new report has revealed. The report, named ‘The Cocktail Effect’ and published by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK and the Soil Association, exposes how mixtures of pesticides commonly found in UK food, water and soil may be harming the health of both humans and wildlife.

It found that some food items contain traces of up to 14 different pesticides, and listed evidence of pesticide cocktails in the environment, where up to ten different chemicals were found in samples of UK soil and water.

Using government testing data, the report found that, in 2017, 87% of pears, 64% of apples and a quarter of bread contained pesticide cocktails.

Over half of raspberries tested were found to contain multiple pesticides, with one sample containing four known probable or possible carcinogens, two endocrine disruptors which interfere with hormone systems, one developmental toxin which can have adverse effects on sexual function and fertility, and one neurotoxin which can negatively affect the nervous system and nerve tissue.

Multiple residues were found in more than three-quarters of grapes tested in 2018, with one sample containing traces of fourteen different pesticides.

“Because of the overuse of pesticides in UK agriculture, we are constantly exposed to a wide array of different chemicals which can interact to become more toxic creating a ‘cocktail effect,” said Josie Cohen of PAN UK.

Source: https://www.riverford.co.uk

How can you trust that what you're buying has really come from an organic farm?

Good question. There are two types of organic licence - farmers and growers have producer licences, while people who turn these raw materials into other products (flour into bread, pig into sausages etc) have a processor licence.

All Soil Association licensees are inspected annually to check audit trails (which ensure goods-in match goods-out), storage areas (to check non-organic and organic goods can’t get cross-contaminated), labelling and merchandising etc. Remember that paperwork trail I mentioned in the intro?

Understandably, it’s really strict. Let's take an example - a food company called Better Brand sells several products under their own Better Food brand. These products are organically grown from certified growers (their Italian passata and olive oil, Sicilian orange and Priors Grove apple juice, for example) but because the facilities they are sent to for processing aren’t certified (because they’re doing it on such a small scale and it costs a bomb to get certified), they can’t sell them as organic, or even mention the word on any labels or signage associated with the product.

Since the uncertified processor sites break the chain of organic custody, Better Brand can’t produce an unbroken audit trail so they can’t 100% guarantee the products are made from organic produce (though they are, by the way).

If they break the rules? Better Brand are scrutinised, audited, held to account, and ultimately banned from trading. This is why you can trust the logo - the logo is the seal of approval that all these checks and balances have been followed.

Is this why Organic might cost a bit more?

Exactly right. You’ll also find that organic supply chains tend to be less exploitative than some conventional routes - going to all this extra effort costs more, so this is reflected in the price. This isn’t me trying to justify why our herbs may be more expensive than purveyors of non-organic herbs (although there are some non-organic herb sellers out there who are more expensive than us!) - I'm just acknowledging as transparently as I can why this is the case.

On the other side, as oil and petrochemicals get more expensive, as soil erosion and other environmental factors become a cost to businesses, I'm quietly confident that organic prices will become more in line with conventionally produced prices. You could argue (I often do) that it isn’t that organic food is expensive, it’s that industrialised food is cheap. It’s unrealistic to think we can rampage on in the old ways, polluting and exploiting our limited resources.

Ultimately, factor in the benefits to health, and it's more a case of not what it costs, but what it's worth 😉

Organic Herb Trading Co's Certificate links

These are Organic Herb Trading Co's certificates that are behind every one of our herbs and blends. Click here to view OHT's website page with the links to view each certificate:

  • Soil Association organic trading schedule - Listing our products certified to both Soil Association and EU organic standards for food & drink products
  • Soil Association organic certificate - Confirming certification to both Soil Association and EU organic standards for food & drink products.
  • BRC certificate - Confirming grade AA certification to the British Retail Consortium food safety standard issue 7.
  • COSMOS certificate of registration - Confirming certification to the COSMOS Organic international standard for organic cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients.
  • COSMOS trading schedule - Listing our products certified to the COSMOS Organic international standard for organic cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients.
  • Fair for Life Social & Fair Trade certificate - Confirming certification for the Fair for Life Social and Fair Trade Programme.
  • Fairtrade certificate - Confirming certification to the Fairtrade standards.
  • Demeter organic & biodynamic certification for the herb field - Confirming certification for our herb field to the Demeter standards for organic & biodynamic growing (Organic Herb Trading grow many of our herbs for us).
  • BDA organic & biodynamic certification for processing - Confirming certification by the BDA for organic (EU regulation) & biodynamic (Demeter standard) products.
  • NOP organic certificate and schedule - Confirming certification to the USDA's NOP (National Organic Program).
  • Fairwild certificate - Registered distributor for Fairwild certified products.