Hundreds of products unjustly sold as 'organic': report

Organic produce (Picture: Twitter/@OneGreenPlanet)Organic produce (Picture: Twitter/@OneGreenPlanet)

Hundreds of products are incorrectly sold as "organic" in Dutch stores. This involves products from over 200 farmers who do not comply with the organic rules on animal welfare, medicine use and the environment, RTL Nieuws reports based on its own study of more than 1,500 inspection reports from regulator Skal. 

Organic products tend to be more expensive, because they have to meet numerous strict requirements that do not apply to non-organic products. Nearly 1 in 10 organic farmers in the Netherland do not meet all the organic requirements, according to the inspection reports from 2017 and 2018 that RTL studied. The farmers often get a warning, but can continue to sell their product as organic - even if the violation has not been rectified. This means that Dutch consumers pay more for hundreds of products, even though they do not meet the organic requirements.

Dozens of farmers do not comply with the animal welfare rules, one of the pillars of the organic sector. Animals often have too little space in the stalls, or live in filth because their stalls aren't supplied with litter. Inspectors found animals that were tied up, and farmers giving animals preventative medication - which is not allowed in organic farming. Other animals are not given the obligatory grazing, which allows them to roam freely. One of the farmers did not feed his animals in the morning. Another farmer was caught neutering his own calves, while this operation may only be done by a veterinarian. 

Fruit and vegetable farmers were also caught breaking the organic rules. About 20 farmers were caught using fertilizers that are not permitted. Other farmers spray their crops with plant protection products that are not permitted in the organic sector.

RTL calls it remarkable how often regulator Skal let companies get away with violations. Skal has the authority to revoke a company's organic certificate if there are repeat violations, but RTL's research showed that multiple companies got away with the same offense for nearly a year and were still allowed to sell their products as organic.

Skal director Nicolette Klijn told the broadcaster that products that do not meet all the requirements can still be sold as organic. "An organic entrepreneur is assessed on more than 50 aspects. It's just like a report at school: there may be occasional failures in there and then you still pass." According to Klijn, entrepreneurs have the right to correct their mistakes. 

Food scientist Gertjan Schaafsma is "a bit shocked" by the results of the RTL study. "This means that products come on the market that bear the label of organic, but that do not meet the requirements of the EU. This has no consequences in terms of public health, but it does affect the wallet of consumers and the image of organic products that we would like to keep", he said to the broadcaster. Schaafsma believes Skal should be harsher in its reprimands. "If it appears repeatedly that a farmer does not meet the requirements set by the European Union, then I think that the farmer must hand in the certificate and the products may no longer be provided with the organic label."