Aliyah tip #8- Are you sure that food is organic?
Making the commitment to eat only organic food is not something easily done when you have a tight budget. Unfortunately, healthier food seems to always be more expensive than processed junk food, and organic produce is no exception. Israel is a major exporter of organic produce to the EU- 13% of our exported produce is organic, which translated to 85,504 tons of vegetables, 2192 tons of fruits, and 2230 tons of citrus in 2013. It might surprise you to learn that until 2008 there was no legislation governing organic produce- for example what conditions it can be grown under, what products can be used on organic fruits and vegetables and what symbols are acceptable to identify organic produce. Since the new law was passed in 2005 (it did not come into effect until 2008) these issues have all been addressed as well as a penalty for falsely labeling a product as organic when it is not. The law has been written in English and Hebrew so feel free to follow the link and read for yourself.
All produce that is certified organic in Israel must have the Ministry of Agriculture’s symbol, shown here:
In addition, each certified organic product must have the symbol of the certifying agency that inspected the operator. There are three approved agencies and their symbols are shown below.
In order to ensure that these foods are truly produced without unapproved chemicals such as pesticides, the Ministry of Agriculture samples fresh fruits and vegetables as well as processed foods such as bread and rice cakes and submits them for laboratory analysis. The results of those tests have recently been published and it is good news for organic consumers. When products were first tested in 2009, 24% showed the presence of unapproved chemicals. In 2010 the percentage dropped to 8.6%; 2011 went down further to 3.6%, 2012 went back up to 6.8% and 2013 again showed a downturn to 3.8%.
Since Israel exports organic produce to the EU, it is subject to periodic auditing from the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission. In 2013 they performed an audit on the production of organic produce in Israel. The full report can be found on their web site along with the Israeli government’s response. Overall they were satisfied with the Israeli legislation (which is based on the European legislation) and its implementation. They felt that Israel’s sampling technique and the amounts sampled should be improved as well as the quality of inspections performed at the producer level. They did find the presence of certain illegal pesticides which the Israeli government agreed to enforce more strongly. One comment I did find disturbing was that the Europeans were dissatisfied that “foreign” produce was intermingling with Israeli produce and being labeled as Israeli produce. What is this “foreign” produce? Produce that comes from the West Bank- Yehuda and Shomron. What was Israel’s response? That this matter is an issue for the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the European Commission to decide. Once it is agreed upon at that level, it will be implemented on the “ground level”.
For a list of products that can be used on organic produce, click on the Organic Pesticide Publication (Hebrew/English)