Organic cultivation and food production methods were developed in the 20th century by organic farmers, the processors of organic foods, and trading companies. Right from the start, consumers have had a major influence on the organic core values; natural processes, soil fertility, animal welfare, health, and honest pricing in the chain have been and still are the most important core values of the organic sector.
As the organic sector developed, the need arose to coordinate the various rules that the stakeholders in the various countries had developed. After years of discussion, the results were finally converted into European legislation. At first for organic agriculture and food, and in 2001 for dairy farming and food. From the beginning of 2009 on, the entire amended EU Regulation comes into force and will be further extended with sections such as wine, aquaculture and pet food.
The reason why the organic method is so unique is that it has been developed by the sector itself and that it is process-oriented and not product-oriented: the focus is on the method itself. The result of this methodical approach can be found in the products, which readily comply with the expectations of an increasing group of consumers in respect of natural, environmentally-friendly, animal-friendly and healthy products. Organic agriculture significantly contributes to biodiversity, landscape features/scenic merit, CO2 reduction and storage capacity. Organic food is of very high quality, because chemical pesticides and genetic manipulation are forbidden.
The rapidly-increasing demand for organic products and the widening distribution over regular sales channels such as supermarkets and catering establishments requires new demands from the organic sector.
1. New stakeholders are inclined to look only at product values. From the consumer viewpoint, an important value is that organic is better for people because it does not hold residues from chemical pesticides and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), for example. New participants in the market therefore require organic products to be completely residue-free.
2. The increase in volume combined with the added cost for organic raw materials makes it economically attractive to sell traditionally-grown products as organically-grown ones.
These new demands mark the beginning of a new stage, in which the process-oriented approach comes under pressure as a result of the product-oriented approach, which is strengthened because organic agriculture and the production of organic food is a complex process. In Europe, the organic agricultural area is approximately 2% of the total agricultural area. Refraining from crop-spraying with pesticides does not automatically mean that crops do not contain any residues. Contamination can happen in various ways. Persistent products such as lindane remain active for decades. If the wind is from the wrong direction, a "traditional" neighbour can cause the problem. Contamination can occur during transport and storage. But the presence of residues can also point to unintentionally-incorrect activities as well as intentional fraud.
Dutch organic businesses and the Dutch certifying control body Stichting Skal, anticipate these new demands. Individual companies have invested massively in quality control in the past ten years. Inspection of organic origin and analysis of a wide range of quality aspects, among which residue analysis, are currently a must. Fortunately, the analysis programmes of the past number of years all point in the same direction: 80% to 85% of the tested organic products are completely residue-free, 96% fulfil the strict baby-food requirements and in only 4% of the cases are the strict baby-food requirements exceeded. It is not without reason that baby food is usually made from organic ingredients.
Stichting Skal and the Dutch trading and processing association, VBP, have drawn up residue standardisation requirements and procedures if contamination is found. The cause of the contamination is examined case by case.
With BIOKAP, the collaboration between Stichting Skal and VBP is entering a new phase. This extensive monitoring programme's joint mission is to guarantee the high quality of organic produce and by that, meet the consumer's expectations. Improved knowledge and insight at Skal and among businesses where contamination is concerned should lead to the prevention of contamination and the tracking down of fraud.