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Green FAQs, Part 1

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How can I tell whether something is organic?

Organic is a legal definition when applied to food, so for a food to be labelled or sold as organic it must have been produced according to national organic farming and processing standards, and this is true worldwide. In the case of processed foods, such as cookies. US standards state that at least 95 per cent of all ingredients must be certified organic. The other 5 per cent can be non-organic only if approved by the certifier - this occurs only if there is difficulty finding an organic version of the ingredient and may be only a temporary measure.

What stops producers calling their produce organic anyway?

Certifiers in every country carry out regular inspections to ensure that organic standards are being met and will give products that meet these standards a mark or number as a guarantee of authenticity. If you want to be sure that the food you are buying is organic then look out for either of these on a label or, if buying unpackaged products, ask the retailer for proof.

Are all organic foods healthy?

Yes and no. Organic foods are less likely to contain chemical and antibiotic residues, and they are not allowed to contain hydrogenated fats, artificial additives, flavourings or preservatives, so in this respect they are healthier. However, they are not 'health foods'. You can buy organic ice cream, biscuits and chocolate, for example, none of which should be eaten to excess if you are concerned about your health. But organic foods are definitely healthy for the environment.

With so much organic food coming from overseas, how green can it be?

Organic imports feature heavily in many countries around the world, and there are clearly environmental costs to transporting food in this way. However, the environmental benefits of organic farming are so great that anyone serious about green living should buy organic. In addition, the more people that buy organic the more likely it is that farmers will convert their farms to organic production and that governments will help by subsidizing these farmers during the conversion process (up to three years).

Do buy as much of your produce locally as you can and eat seasonally. The organic community encourages both.

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