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Dispelling the Myths of Organic Food

07-15 15:37 《财经》杂志 《财经》杂志
To claim that organic food is more nutritious and safer would be misleading consumers, and ultimately hurt the trust between producers and consumers.

By staff reporters He Tao, Gao Shengke and Cai Tingyi

 Due to food safetyconcerns, the public, especially the urban middle class, is increasinglyturning to organic food products. As of 2013, China had 731 certified organicfood companies with annual sales reaching 13.48 billion yuan. The rapiddevelopment of the market has even prompted investors with no agriculturalexperience to join the fray, such as Wanda Group, conglomerate Legend Holdings,and beverage giant Huiyuan.

Organic food isnot only a hot topic in China; the term “organic” is a buzzword worldwide. Thedifference is that European consumers’ love for organic food is not primarily dueto concerns over food safety. Instead, it is more about reducing the damagechemical fertilizers and pesticides do to the environment in order tocompensate for the ecological environment.

But in reality,organic agriculture and aquaculture cannot completely avoid the effects of air,soil, water and other environmental factors, and "zero pollution" is notpossible.

In early 2014,Caijing conducted a field survey in Liuminying Village, Changziying Town,Daxing District, also known as "China's firstecological agriculture village.” Existing national standards require that thewater, soil and air quality of organic production bases meet secondarystandards, but official information disclosure showed high levels of benzene,carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene and other organic pollutants in thegroundwater of Beijing's southern suburbs.

Soil suitable fororganic production is not easy to find. According to the results of a nationwidesoil pollution survey released in April 2014, 19.4 percent of China’s arableland is polluted to one degree or another. As a result, in practice, organicfarm operations must first begin with improving soil conditions. Even afterthree years of soil improvement, residual amounts of pesticides and chemicalfertilizers cannot be eliminated entirely, only reduced by about 70-80 percent.

Air pollution inthe form of thick smog, which plagues urban residents, is also a bane fororganic agriculture. Air quality in smog is often vastly lower than national standardsmandate. The settling of pollution particles on plant leaves upsets plantgrowth, and the resulting acid rain or particulate matter (PM) directly affectssoil and water quality. According to data collected by the Beijing MunicipalEnvironmental Protection Bureau, 189 days in 2013 reached levels that wereconsidered polluted or heavily polluted, as measured by the PM 2.5 standards. The national standardfor good air quality is 35 micrograms per cubic meter, while last year'saverage was 89.5, 1.5 timeshigher than the national limit.

Organicfertilizers and natural pesticides used in organic food also pose a security risk.So-called "organic fertilizers" are primarily made up of manure fromchickens, cows and other domestic animals. Because feces may contain deadlybacteria and parasite eggs, they must undergo a months-long compostingfermentation process before they can be used to fertilize fields. And if themanure is not fully composted, more pollution will be generated. In addition, mostorganic fertilizers on the market originate from large-scale breeding of cattleand other livestock contain large amounts of heavy metals and antibiotics.

Moreover,sufficient scientific evidence doesn’t exist to support the view that organicfood is more nutritious. To claim that organic food is more nutritious andsafer would be misleading consumers, and ultimately hurt the trust betweenproducers and consumers.

“The whole [organic]industry lacks the courage to tell consumers the truth. Chemical agricultureand organic agriculture are the same, it’s only that their targets aredifferent,” said Sun Dewei, an organic farm operator. Zhang Xiangdong, chairmanand president of China Beijing Organic and Beyond Corporation, said the idea ofrelying on organic farming to resolve the food security crisis is completely wrong.

Full article in Chinese: http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/2014-07-14/114329328.html


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