What does Organic truly mean?


It’s no secret that New Zealanders love for organic food is on the rise and you know times are changing when mainstream brands like Anchor launches an organic range of its milk.  Not so long ago, consumers used to only be able to purchase organic food products in a health food store or at the local farmers markets; now there are whole aisles dedicated to organic products in the supermarket. Hurrah!

It’s always good to have an opinion and even better when it’s an informed one - while we know organic is good for us, could many of us actually define what truly ‘organic’ produce even means?

Essentially it means farmers use mainly the resources already on their farms. Organic means that what you are eating is in its purest form, no synthetic pesticides have been used, no antibiotics, no genetic modification. It does mean organic farmers have to work harder to sustain the health of soils, ecosystems and stock. This is because an organic production system is designed to increase soil biological activity, maintain soil fertility, enhance biological diversity within the whole system and recycle plant and animal waste (compost anyone?) in order to return nutrients back to the land.

“Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality for all life involved”

  • The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements.

So what does it take to obtain organic certification in New Zealand?

At the moment in NZ, organic produce isn’t always strictly audited. So any certification is generally voluntary – but there are globally recognised certifying bodies like AsureQuality, which is government owned and a strict regulator e.g. under their organic certification, farms have to have converted to organic for a minimum of three years before being considered. They carry out annual audits to to renew and maintain organic certification.  That is no easy feat for organic farms and I imagine an expensive process.  Organic Farmers must have plans in place that would be invoked should there be a natural disaster or shortage of feed due to extreme weather conditions.  It doesn’t just stop at the farm though, it’s the whole process e.g. to be deemed organic, slaughtering of organic products and the processing of them cannot be contracted out to a party that is not organic certified themselves.

Why do we prefer organic?

To be certified, organic livestock farming must be free range, have access to pasture, open air exercise areas, open air runs, provide protection against rain, wind, sun and extreme temperatures and the maximum hours of artificial light must not exceed a maximum that respects the natural behavior of the animal.  For most people choosing organic is for ethical reasons, just as nature intended!

In reality, organic is not always the most affordable option and as milk is a staple in just about every household we applaud Anchor for stepping up their game and introducing relatively low cost certified organic milk to consumers with the bonus that it is available in supermarkets all around the country.  It’s giving consumers more choice. The Anchor Organic range also prides itself on traceability - the grass to glass story, as Anchor can trace any bottle of its organic milk back to the exact farm it has come from; I think this transparent journey is often a strong motivating factor for a lot of organic consumers when they make purchases as I know it is for myself personally. This way you know that what you are eating/drinking/wearing is produced in a way that benefits the land and animal - you can’t get much better than that!