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The term organic today stands for healthy nutrition, sustainability, fair animal husbandry and freedom from genetic manipulation and pesticides. But what exactly is behind the term? How did the organic movement and certification develop? And how does a product qualify for one of the coveted seals? We take a closer look at organic food and the business surrounding it.
The birth of modern organic cultivation is usually dated to Pentecost 1924. The Austrian publicist and lecturer Rudolf Steiner held courses on the relationships between nature, our cosmos and agriculture in front of about 100 farmers in Breslau. Steiner demanded respect for the biodynamic principle to achieve sustainable agricultural growth: a farm as a closed organism. Held animals should be allowed to be fed exclusively by food from own cultivation. The animals thereby provide enough manure to feed plants. In times of the economic boom of the 1920s, Steiner’s views clearly stood opposite from the booming assembly line technology and large-scale industry.
Another pioneer for organic farming was the Swiss agricultural politician Hans Müller. In the 40s and 50s he developed the organic biological principles for farming with his wife Maria and the German bacteriologist Hans Peter Rusch. In the golden twenties, Müller already fought against the industrialization of agriculture with his peasant homeland movement. Like Rudolf Steiner he also advised smaller family businesses to maintain closed operating cycles. The smaller farms should remain competitive with higher quality and better products compared to industrial agriculture: the “organic product” was born.
Fueled by the “Free Spirit” movement of the late 1960s, the trend around organic food was unstoppable. During the 1970s, hundreds of so-called Naturkostläden (health food stores) were established in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 raised further awareness of organic products in the general public. At the same time, the first legal regulations and numerous certification and cultivation associations for organic food were created throughout Europe.
In 1991, the EU adopted the first eco-regulation. The terms organic and eco have since been protected throughout the EU. Only products whose agricultural ingredients are at least 95 percent organically grown may use the terms. In addition, the establishments are visited at least once a year by a control body. The organic logos of the EU countries and Switzerland were supplemented in 2010 by the now known EU organic seal. The most important certification associations in German-speaking countries include Bioland, Demeter, Naturland, Bio Suisse and Bio Austria. Numerous other cultivation associations such as the Dutch EKO, the American USDA or JAS Organic in Japan act for the worldwide certification.
State and private organic labels all require similar qualification factors. The differences usually arise in the stronger or weaker evaluation of individual criteria. The three feet of the organic certifiers are ingredients, fertilizers and pesticides as well as animal husbandry and feeding.
According to a 2010 GfK survey, gene-food is definitely out of question for 53 percent of respondents. Here, the seals of the organic certifiers create clarity for the consumer. For example, organic products or their ingredients must not be produced by genetically modified organisms. In Switzerland and many EU countries, offering genetically modified food is prohibited by law. Other countries, such as Canada and the US, are much less strict in this area. In addition to genetic engineering, the cultivation associations also prohibit sweeteners or stabilizers as well as synthetic dyes, preservatives and flavor enhancers in organic goods.
Cultivation and manure should be carried out in accordance with the organic biological principles Hans Müller already presented in a similar way over 60 years ago. The operation should be managed in a cycle. Accordingly, organic products today may contain only five percent of conventionally produced ingredients to be successfully certified. In addition, the products must not be exposed to ionizing radiation and should not be grown using synthetic pesticides or slightly soluble mineral fertilizers. Only a few natural or traditional pesticides are allowed. These include copper, sulfur or herbal active ingredients such as the pyrethrum from the chrysanthemum.
The criterion of factory farming and species-appropriate feeding has gained importance both in the eye of the public and in the crosshairs of the organic certifiers in recent years. The keeping of cows, pigs and chickens is strictly regulated according to square meters. For dairy cows, for example, six square meters of stable area are required. In addition, the outer surface must be guaranteed and, for example, perches for sleeping for chickens. Also, no genetically modified food may be used to feed animals. In contrast to most state seals, cultivation associations such as Demeter and Bioland also prohibit conventional compound feed and fishmeal. Cow trainers, dormancy in cattle, sheep and goats, power surges in slaughter and sedatives are also prohibited.
More than half of consumers pay attention to features such as animal welfare, sustainability and organic farming when purchasing food. This was the result of a survey among German buyers by TNS and the state-owned BML. Also, just under 50 percent of respondents indicate that they often buy organic products. At the international level, similar figures emerge. Organic is and will remain to be on the rise. Healthy nutrition, animal welfare, environmental protection and no additives: It is not without reason that product packaging is provided with appropriate instructions. In addition, state and private certification guarantees customer safety and sets the standards for organic agriculture. As an instrument of industry, it should make fair and successful business possible worldwide.
As part of the honorable businessman’s thoughts, Kündig attaches great importance to sustainability and organic farming. We soon recognized and utilized the European organic trend of the 70s and since the beginning of the 80s have been heavily involved in the development of the Hungarian certification organization Biokultura. Kündig is today considered one of the pioneers in the field of certified organic raw materials. We have 15 certifications from state-owned and independent agencies. These include quality labels such as EU Bio, Bio Suisse, Fairtrade, Demeter, Kosher, Halal and ISO 22000. We are consistently expanding our organic expertise and cooperating with agricultural businesses. This way we offer grain, feed and legumes in pure ecological organic quality.
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