I'm a food lover; in fact I live for food! I enjoy the whole process of planning meals, buying the ingredients and then the cooking/preparing (not that I'm very good at that part though). The trouble is I find it really hard to find produce that is local, free-range and organic. But what does that actually mean? How can I be sure that what I buy is what I'm expecting?
Let's start with the term "organic" - it's a fairly new term, that's been flying about recently but is it actually new? The answer to that is certainly not! Organic farming has been happening for generations; it's just with the introduction of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, amongst other modern farming practices (which began in the early 20th century) that the term has been used to separate this type of farming practice.
According to the EU regulation, organic farming aims to develop:
On top of this, the regulation specifically mentions using internal resources and inputs (e.g. you grow the organic hay that you then feed to your organic livestock), however if this isn't possible then you must only use organic materials from other organic farms, use natural substances that are obtained naturally and use mineral fertilisers with low solubility. There is an exception though, and that is synthetic resources may be used if there are no other alternatives. These synthetic resources will be scrutinised by the Commission and EU countries before allowing its use.
But how do I know if what is labelled as organic is actually organic? The UK government have stated that to use the word organic on a product, at least 95% of the ingredients need to be organic - so that's only 5% to worry about where it's come from! They've also said that the producer needs to be registered with an approved organic control body. These include: Organic Farmers and Growers CIC, Organic Foods Federation, the Soil Association and more.
So keep an eye out for some of these labels:
I could go on and on about organic practices but as I'm trying to cover three phrases, I best save that for another blog post!
The next phrase that is often used is "free-range". Although I like to imagine free-range veggies, the term is generally only applies to meat. Again, it is a fairly new phrase as it's not until recently that we've been "factory" farming livestock; housing them in barns with no access to the outside world, and the subsequent over-use of antibiotics because animals are not designed to live in such conditions.
The RSPCA has strict requirements for poultry; they must have no more than 13 birds to a square metre, be 56 days olds before slaughtering and to have continuous access to outdoor runs with vegetation for at least half of their lifetime to be able to be labelled as free-range. The other half of their life is generally indoors.
Pork is something that I have really struggled with understanding the labelling on the packaging until recently. I find it completely heart-breaking the way pigs are treated in some farming practices.
Did you know that pigs have the same cognitive capabilities as dogs, elephants, dolphins and even outperform 3 year old (human) children?
Unfortunately there are no such guidelines for pork as there are for poultry so you have to take the labelling with a pinch of salt.
I will adamantly only buy free-range pork as it's the only practice where the pigs are born outside, in fields and will remain outside until their slaughter. Another term often used for pork is "outdoor reared", which means the piglets are born "outside", but only the sow has access to an outside area (the piglet remains in a pig ark). The piglets are kept like this until weaning at 4 weeks old, then they will be brought into a barn for fattening up (normally with no bedding, just grated flooring and the odd plastic "toy", if they're lucky). The final term used is "outdoor bred" which is the same as the "outdoor reared" but the expectation is that the piglets are kept for an extra 4 weeks "outside" before being moved into a barn.
Beef and mutton/lamb almost always spend part of year outdoors (in the UK) anyway, so the term free-range generally applies. I've read somewhere that it is advised to buy grass-fed, as it's the closed to the animals natural diet when housed during the winter months.
Gosh, this blog is a lot longer than I expected! I hope you're all still with me! Finally, my last phrase, locally produced.
There is no defined distance to this, so you can choose what you feel is local. For me, I generally classify it as a 65 mile radius from central London. This is fairly important to me, but no where near as organic and free-range. But the choice is yours!