‘Organic agriculture is not a synonym for safe food’: United Nation’s FAO challenges misleading marketing and public misconceptions

Credit: Ashutosh Viramgama
Credit: Ashutosh Viramgama

Organic food is often seen by consumers as healthy, tasty and environmentally friendly, but the organic food certification is not necessarily a synonym for safe food. Organic refers to a product that has been produced in accordance with certain standards throughout the production, handling, processing and marketing stages; it does not refer to the characteristics and properties of the finished product.

In fact, “organic” certification actually indicates the implementation of standards which aim at a different set of benefits: better incomes for small-scale farmers and increased food security, environmental benefits such as improved soil and water quality and biodiversity preservation, and improved animal welfare.

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In March 2021, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific published a booklet entitled “Organic foods – Are they safer?”. This concise resource discusses the social and economic aspects of organic agriculture and its relationship to food safety, and it helps acquaint readers with agroecology, an approach that favours the use of natural processes and limits the use of external inputs.

Related article:  How genetics could help agroecology—the science, not the political movement

Organic labels rely on rules that prohibit or limit the use of synthetic fertilizers and agrochemicals, which is an attractive feature for consumers, but pesticides that are physiologically produced by plants are still used in organic agriculture, and at high dosages they also may have negative effects on human health. Including food safety measures in the existing organic certification schemes and raising awareness that organic agriculture is not a synonym for safe food are important steps to promote wise food choices. Examples of how organic agriculture can be implemented while guaranteeing food safety are included in the booklet, and links are readily available for those who wish to have greater knowledge of organic agriculture and agroecology.

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