When talking about healthy eating, there is one word that we can hardly dissociate and that is the word organic. Organic foods refer to a chemical-free, pesticide-free environment in which the crops we are buying grew in and were conditioned in, respecting to the maximum level, their true nature.
I have to admit that when I do see the word organic on a product that I buy, I conveniently assume that it is safe and clean… I wished that was that easy, but in fact, while some of our neighbourhood retailers may close one eye on the authenticity and traceability of their organic suppliers, we, as consumers, have the choice to investigate further for our own sake, and understand a little more about this $16-billion business worldwide.
With that being said, while doing some research, being on my usual healthy food hunt in Bangkok, I came across an organic brand called RAWGANIQ. It is a very young brand as they have been on the market for less than a year, but behind it, the two co-founders Mrs Jidapa Julakasilp and Mr Warren Barr have a background in the medical industry, a passion for real food, and they have a lot to share. Today, they will help us decrypt an organic label, and thanks to their insights I was able to understand more about the organic scene in Thailand.
A bit about “Truly Organics”
Truly organics is the company behind the brand “RAWGANIQ” and was started 2 years ago in Thailand, in order to provide clinics and health centres with dietary supplements in their purest forms. The idea was to make available to doctors and therapists some safe and health-promoting foods with high levels of nutrition for their patients, while working on removing toxins from their bodies.
And as the keen interest for whole foods and plant-based foods made its way from the Western world to the East including Thailand, Truly Organics today has extended its range of organic foods to everyone willing to incorporate more nutritious, raw, vegan and organic certified products in their daily lives.
So what is behind the word organic?
– First, let’s talk about the FDA
There are several factors that come into consideration when granting the organic label to a product.
But to start with, one of the first signs of quality and traceability we can find while reading a product label is for the product to be FDA registered through an FDA number.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), being responsible for protecting the public health of its country, is here to ensure about good manufacturing practices including the cleanliness of the water used as part of the production process, the sanitary conditions of the facilities, and the proper labelling of the products.
Every product that is FDA compliant has an FDA number, which you can trace online. On this image you can see the Thai FDA icon that you could look for on your products, followed by a series of numbers.
Let’s take an example with RAWGANIQ’s raw cacao powder:
See the FDA number on the label? Now, in order to verify this number, or any FDA number on one of your products at home, use this link that will lead you to the page below (although it is all in Thai), all you need to do is key in the FDA number you want to look up, press on the button and the result will appear as highlighted on the screenshot bellow.
– Then, let’s understand the organic labels
With a growth rate of 20% per year, we can understand that the organic world and its meaning is facing fast changes. One of them unfortunately being a confusion (on purpose?) on the organic label system.
The most renown and said to be reliable organic labels are those of the EU and the USDA. It is in fact quite common to see either the one or the other, if not both, on organic imported products. There are even some agreements by which the EU recognizes the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) as equivalent to the EU Organic Program. Read more here.
Growers and manufacturers of organic products bearing the EU or the USDA seal would have to meet the strictest standards of any of the currently available organic labels, so seeing those labels could be an indication on the true organic nature of the products you are buying.
But did you know that the EU organic seal has to come with some wording such as on the visual below to be valid? And that the USDA label is only relevant if the name of the third-party certifying agent (such as Ceres on the example below) is also mentioned somewhere on the label?
There are about 80 agents who are currently authorised to certify farms and businesses to the USDA organic regulations, worldwide, and only once they do, the label is granted.
So remember, to always look for that piece of info too!
Let me add a note here….as maybe some of you are sceptical about labels, especially from big organisations, so big and powerful that they seem to be able to do as they please. Well, I am too! But I have also made the choice not to live in fear! and I believe that some sort of traceability and endorsement is better than none.
– What is the situation like in Thailand?
Organic products seem to be widely available here in Thailand, if we were just to have a glance at hypermarkets’ organic sections.
But as we understand now, the word organic is not enough to certify anything, and having only an organic label with no complimentary information is not enough either. That kind of reduces our options, doesn’t it?
So why are there so many levels of organic-ness even within the same country?
One thing to have in mind, is that for a land to be officially called “organic”, it has to be free of pesticides and herbicides today but also for the past 3 years.
Plus, one important detail is that getting an organic certification has a cost, and unfortunately not all farmers can afford it, so obtaining an organic certification for their crops can be quite challenging. Also, not only the crops have to be organically produced, but the whole supply chain through which the products are going through before being sold also has to be totally organic.
In addition, although there is an Organic Agriculture Certification body in Thailand, the ACT, as they say themselves on their website: “many organic operations in Thailand and South-East Asian countries are at the early development stage” so they “developed special organic standards for these operations.”
What is to be understood here? That some Thai farmers are willing to follow certain standards to guarantee the quality and organic nature of their products but at this “early stage”, the standards set by the ACT are not yet clearly defined nor recognised locally and even less internationally.
So why would some farmers spend their hardly-earned bahts for a certification that follow no (or very little) organic labelling rules? What is the value of such certification? The freedom and laxness around the use of the word organic is the “number one problem” in Thailand according to Jeeda.
– Green Net Cooperative
Luckily, there are, like in other countries, some Cooperatives whose role is to link sustainable farmers and community enterprises with consumers. Here in Thailand, there is the Green Net Cooperative, focusing on promoting the organic agriculture and development of alternative fair markets, and for the distribution of the diverse products of its farmer members including: rice, coconut milk, herbal teas, soybeans, and eco-textiles.
Green Net’s mission is “to serve as a marketing channel for small-scale organic farmers, incorporating fair-trade principles in its marketing activities” by combining organic agriculture and fair-trade as its core policies.
Green Net’s motto is “Live Fair, Live Organic”
In my humble opinion…
As many studies, including this one, found that organic foods were better for fighting diseases and contribute to a better health, I have introduced organic food as part of my shopping and eating habits.
Whenever possible, I prefer to buy products that are free of chemicals for all the good reasons we know, but also, whenever possible again, I would rather buy from retailers who source directly their products with as little “middle men” as possible. Whether I go to a restaurant or to the market, knowing that the producer is maybe only 2 handshakes away from me, is kind of reassuring. I feel that more profits for his hard work will go back to him, and also that my product is as fresh as possible.
Do you guys feel the same?
And as in Thailand the standards of organic farming are not yet established, my suggestion is to always do a bit of research yourself and go towards the suppliers and products that reply the best to your own criterion.
One thing about fruit and veggies, whether you buy them “organic: or not is to wash them thoroughly.
Warren mentioned he is using an Ozonator. Some people recommend using charcoal, and I have also read that baking soda, or even washing adding a bit of white vinegar is efficient.
What methods do you guys use?
Many thanks to Jeeda and Warren who took the time to share some of their experience with me, and I highly recommend you guys to try their products if you haven’t had the chance yet.