The beef about organic meat

Survey suggest many butchers unclear about what’s fair dinkum

A CHOICE survey of butchers who sell organic meat has found widespread confusion in the information given to consumers about what the term ‘organic’ means and who certifies it.

In Australia anyone can use the term ‘organic’ and the only way to be sure a product is what it claims to be is to check that it is approved by a certifying body.

Out of 29 butchers in Sydney and Melbourne, only 11 were able to answer the straightforward question of which body certifies their organic beef. Seven butchers didn’t know or couldn’t reply directly but referred buyers to brochures or posters containing the information. Eight gave an incorrect or unclear answer, naming organisations such as Rural Organics or the RSPCA, which aren’t organic certifying bodies. Three had no information at all about who certifies their organic beef.

Genuine organic meat must comply with the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce, which includes requirements for the livestock to range freely, not be given growth promoters (including antibiotics) and for its feed to be free of synthetic pesticides.

“According to the CHOICE buyers only about half the retailers seemed knowledgeable about organic meat, including the certification requirements and where their meat came from,” said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

“About two thirds weren’t necessarily passing on accurate information. It hardly helps consumer confidence in this growing market.”

CHOICE says the best general tip is to question whether anything that seems too cheap is organic. The CHOICE survey found organic rump varied between $35 to $69 a kilo. Butchers selling it for $23 a kilo couldn’t tell the CHOICE buyers who certified their meat.

Standards Australia is currently developing a standard for organic products. It will not be mandatory but will give clearer guidelines for agencies such as the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), enabling them to take action.

A study released this week by the UK’s Food Standards Agency has found there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food but acknowledges many consumers buy organic foods for animal welfare and environmental reasons.

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