The definition of ‘organic’ provided by statutory regulations does not match what most consumers consider to be organic – namely safe, chemical-free and environmentally friendly products and services. Unfortunately, all current statutory organics regulations fail to meet the three basic ‘organic criteria’: safe, sustainable and natural, whenever feasible.

Sustainability and environmental protection are the most neglected factors: food packaging of certified organic produce was found to leach toxins into food,[5] while non-recyclable packaging adds to landfill. Worse still, statutory regulations only cover farmed ingredients, even though the factors beyond farming cause a much greater environmental impact than the farming industry itself.

The lack of global consensus causes confusion for the consumer

Even where statutory organics regulations are in place for food products, they differ starkly between countries. In the USA, there are regulations that clearly define the terms used to refer to organic products; for instance, a differentiation is made between ‘100% organic ingredients’ and just ‘organic’, with the latter only requiring 95% organic content by weight, while the remaining 5% has to be made from natural agriculturally produced ingredients which are not available in an organic form (excluding salt and water content).[6] In contrast, in the European Union (EU), 95% is the minimum content of organic agricultural ingredients required for the product to be labelled ‘organic’. Nevertheless, these EU organics regulations do not define the minimum content of agricultural input required in processed food;[7] for instance, if agriculturally sourced ingredients amounted to 50% of the contents of a product, then only half of the content would be subject to the 95% organic rule by weight. This means that less than half of a processed product may be made from what is officially classified as organic, and yet manufacturers can use ‘organic’ on the label. In this example, in every 100g of ‘organic’ food, as much as 55g could be non-organic content, such as synthetic chemicals and preservatives like sodium nitrate.

Statutory organics regulations are not comprehensive

For both services and non-food goods such as household and personal care products, there are currently no restrictions on the use of the terms ‘organic’, ‘eco’ and ‘bio’ worldwide, allowing their misuse by manufacturers without penal liability.

As for organic food, regulations need to improve to account for whole product safety and sustainability, and to guarantee that non-recyclable food contact materials (FCMs) used for organic food packaging do not leach toxins into the food and do not go to landfill.[8]

Why buy organic produce if it is sold in toxic and non-recyclable packaging, damaging our health and the environment?

5. European Food Safety Authority (2012), Report of ESCO WG on Non Plastics FCMs.
6. US Government Publishing Office, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Title 7: Agriculture, Part 205: National Organic Program, §205.301.
7. Official Journal of the European Union (2007), Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, Article 23.
8. External Organics Council communication with Defra: response statements, §3.2.