Organic Explained: Part 1

Organic Artichokes and Romanesco Broccoli

 What is organic?

We're always talking about different types of produce and ingredients at Wild Child HQ, but recently our thoughts keep coming back to one aspect of the food industry: organic. What does it really mean? Is it always better for us? Why is it more expensive? We have decided to write a series of thought pieces on the subject and will be covering different areas such as the ethics, health benefits and environmental considerations of organic produce. 
There's quite of lot of confusion around the exact definition of organic. So to start with, we wanted to share some of the basics we have learnt, and our reasons for using organic produce wherever possible. We realise it isn’t always easy for families to buy organic, especially if you are buying pre-packaged foods or dry cupboard stores. However, we do think it is worth the extra effort.   
The demand for organic products is growing fast. In 2016, the organic industry rose by 4.9% in the UK and is now valued at almost £2 billion; our increasing appetite being driven in part by socially conscious millennials who have strong ethical and environmental values. They, along with other consumers, are choosing organic because they want to know where their food comes from and are happy to pay more for it. 
Despite this growth, the messaging around the term organic has led to confusion for many consumers. There is not one single definition across our food supply chain. When referring to food or farming methods of organic produce, the dictionary definition of organic is:
Produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals: organic farming, organic meat.
This definition gives us a basic understanding of organic produce, however organic certifications do vary between food types. Organic farmers and producers must adhere to strict rules in order to be accredited as organic. These include restrictions on animal feed, antibiotics, pesticide use, food additives and much more.
When it comes to hen eggs, many people assume that free range eggs will also be organic. Free range means the hens have been allowed to roam outdoors for a minimum of eight hours a day. This isn’t the same as having the organic certification. As chickens naturally live in smaller groups, organic standards require smaller flock sizes, which in turn promotes happier and healthier birds. Organic hen farmers must also provide a larger number of 'pop holes' for the hens to roam freely and expose themselves to as much natural light and space as possible. Organic birds are fed on GM free feed, which is not a requirement for free-range chickens. If you are looking to buy organic, free range eggs, double check the egg carton has both the Organic Farmers & Growers and Soil Association Organic Standard certifications.
You can also look at each egg for the stamp which will show the farming method, country of origin and specific hen laying farm number. 
0= Organic
1= Free Range
2= Barn
3= Cage 
All British eggs will come with the Red Lion stamp. However, if you buy eggs fresh from a farm for your own consumption, stamps are not a legal requirement.
In meat farming, organic standards encompass feeding and welfare. For example, organic beef and dairy cows must eat a 100% organic diet. Organic cows also spend most of their lives outdoors and graze naturally on grass - keeping cows indoors all their lives is banned by organic standards, unlike many other farming systems. We will be exploring the ethics of organic farming in more detail later in this series of articles.
Customers have also asked about the use of antibiotics in organic farming. For example, if an animal gets ill, no farmer is expected to withhold necessary treatment. But, after being treated, the animal’s meat, eggs or milk will no longer be classed as organic.

Organic Beef from Rhug Estate 

We use organic beef from the Rhug Estate

However, for organic fish, it’s a slightly different story. The primary aim of organic fish farming is to establish sustainable marine environments with consideration for naturally occurring ecosystems. Due to a number of specific problems organic fisheries face, such as sourcing and certifying organic juvenile fish, different rules apply. Antibiotic treatment in small amounts is allowed to help maintain a steady ecosystem.

We are proud to work with Southbank Fresh Fish, one of the UK’s leading certified organic fish providers. Their fish is always sustainable and seasonal. However, while they can offer a large range of organic fish, not everything we get from them is organic. We use salmon from Loch Duart in Scotland, which although not certified as organic, never uses hormones, antibiotics, growth promoters or GMOs. Their ethical practices make them leaders in sustainably farmed salmon and the quality of the fish we receive is outstanding.

Loch Duart Fisheries

We use salmon from Loch Duart Fisheries

We also use sustainably caught wild white fish in some of our dishes as wild fish cannot be certified as organic. This means that we are reliant on the sea, so will sometimes have to change the ingredients in our menu. We may swap one tasty fish for another due to seasonal availability but also ethical reasons if one species is over-fished. A good example of this is cod – a British favourite - which, at present, is running the risk of being seriously over-fished. After much discussion, our team has decided to use pollock, hake or coley instead where possible. 
Organic fruit and veggies are slightly less complicated! They are essentially grown without relying on artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Crops must be rotated and other forms of conservation must be used to maintain the fertility of the soil.
At Wild Child Kitchen, almost everything that goes into our food is made from scratch which gives us peace of mind that we are doing all we can to maximize the traceability of the products you buy from us.
When sourcing organic food, the simplest advice from us is to double check the packaging and make sure you can see a clear organic certification. The most common in the UK are the Soil Association and the Organic Food Federation. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions – you deserve to know where your food comes from and how it was farmed, caught or made!
Of course, there are multiple factors that influence our food choices. Just because something is organic does not necessarily make it the most suitable option for your family.  We will be exploring many other important considerations - including environmental, ethical and financial - over the course of this series, to try and help you decide which are most important to you.
The Organic Market Report 2016 – The Soil Association
*Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2016

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