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Bio Kiwi. Bio Label in Germany. Image taken from: http://www.southafrica.diplo.de

My Latvian friends are very sceptical about my bio/ecological gifts from Germany, saying that I should  not pay more for what is no different from other products. So, it’s very hard to buy us, the ex-soviet countries, with the “Bio” sticker. However on the first month of my move to Berlin I was told that Germans are very strict with what they call organic, therefore it’s time to find out the real answer.

History

The agriculture has become more mechanical after The World War II. Chemical adherence and intensive farming techniques have caused food safety and environment problems. As a result, countries started looking for new methods, and organic farming became more and more popular. (Rehber and Turhan, 2002) Germany was participating in biological farming quiet actively from the beginning of the 20th Century. It became especially stimulating in the 60s and 70s.

The Federation for Organic Farming was established in 1988. Standards and policies for the organic food in Germany were setup in the 90s when bio agriculture started to develop rapidly.

What’s bio/organic, ecological, natural, green or eco-friendly?

A 100% natural product is made of natural ingredients like pure fruit, water, and sugar in the case of a juice. But when a product claims to be organic or bio it also means that its ingredients were produced without any synthetic inputs and do not have any chemical additives. (study-in.de)

➔The bio/organic-products do not contain toxic substances: parabens (butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben) who only act as curing agent; phthalates (dibutylphthalate, diethylphthalate) who preserve the pleasant flavour, the colour and texture of the product; sodium lauryl sulfate and other substances only produce foam; imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidin urea are used as curing agents; oil by-products (mineral oil, paraffin), lanolin.

Image taken from static.ddmcdn.com

➔A product called “Ecological” is a product developed in accordance with criteria for the formulation and packaging in order to have less impact on the environment. This does not mean that the product is respectful of the person and the environment throughout its life cycle. In the absence of a recognized label, the consumer has no way to know if these arguments are satisfactory if there are no specific and complete criteria to respect, or official organism to confirm the veracity of the responses to criteria.

➔A product called “natural” is a product extracted from nature. The word “natural” is more or less defined by legal instruments. On the other hand the term “natural” does not always guarantee a satisfactory respect of the person and the environment. Many natural substances are classified as “toxic” to the person and / or to the environment or are classified as allergens.

➔A product called “green” is a product that organic compounds are mainly of plant origin.

➔A product called “environmentally friendly” should have a very good biodegradability and low ecotoxicity and respect the person, because humans are part of the environment.

The European Ecolabel guarantees the consumer that the product which has obtained ECOLABEL “the European eco-label” has satisfactory environmental qualities.  (http://www.arbrevert.eu/)

Bio Labels & Standards

EU Organic Logo

Germany is the biggest organic importer in Europe, with almost 40% of the total market. In 2011 Germany was by far the most important organic market in Europe with a turnover of €6.59 billion. France took the second place with €3.76 billion, and the UK €1,88 billion. 6,2% of agricultural land in total is being used for organic farming, that is 1034355 hectares. With Berlin being the least active, and Bavaria the most productive. More recent data, in German, can be found: HERE

There are several organic associations in Germany: Demeter, Bioland, Biokreis, Naturland, Biopark, Ecoland, Ecovin and Gaä that have contracted farmers all over Germany (press on the name to read more). Some of them operate worldwide and follow much stricter rules than EU ones. Demeter for example, which is bio-dynamic, rather than basic organic and uses holistic approach*. But all of the above mentioned ones meet very high standards and are advisable for use.

*Holistic agriculture has an aspect important for the environment: fertile soil can sequester carbon. That our soils are no longer alive is a major cause of global warming!
In Egypt the SEKEM initiative for example has been working for 35 years according to the principles of holistic agriculture. To date, nearly 700 acres of desert has been made fertile by SEKEM alone.

Other bio names

Cheaper bio named products (without any labels) from EDEKA, NETTO and LIDL meet only basic organic regulations and are not so advisable (read EU rules: here).  First let’s clarify that the simply claim “100% natural” or “without preservatives” written on the packaging doesn’t make it a bio-product.

The rules also vary from region to region. But regular checkouts are carried out through the country in order to control the liability. (auf Deutsch: hier ) Currently, 4,269 companies use the organic seal on 66,941 products. The mimimim organic level in germany is 95%.

Since September 2001, all agricultural products and foodstuffs from organic farming may be labelled with the national Bio-Siegel (eco label) of Germany. The small hexagonal logo with the inscription <- “Bio” brings about clarity, uniformity and orientation for organic or eco products respectively. Consumers can rely on it: “If it says ‘Bio’ on the outside it contains organic products.” For only producers and manufacturers who comply with the provisions of the EU Organic Farming Regulation and subject themselves to the mandatory inspections may sell their products as organic or eco goods and label them accordingly with the Bio-Siegel.

The Eco-Labelling Act contains criminal and administrative fines for misuse of the organic label. (list of regulations auf Deutsch: hier )

The guidelines of the German organic farming associations are stricter than the EU legislation on organic farming in some points (says http://www.bmelv.de/). Most of the market chains have their own bio label, this one on the left is from ALDI ( I did not know it was bio).

“I know a girl in Hessen who worked for a company that packs exclusively for Aldi and Lidl. The testing is fucking rigorous and the quality is heavily controlled.” (Bad Doggie from ToyTownGermany)

McDonald’s Beef in Germany is organic

Someone in France on the Fool’s Day made a joke about McDonalds going organic, while Germans are pretty serious about it.

In the presence of minister Renate Künast, McDonald’s has signed an agreement with organic farmers(2001). Now the “Qualitätsfleischerzeugergemeinschaft Weidehof” in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
belongs to the list of official suppliers to the well- known fast food restaurant chain. Full article in German can be read HERE 

Testing

I found two type of tests (for food and everything else): Warentest and  ÖKO-TEST

Warentest was established in 1964 after the decision of the German Bundestag to offer consumers comparative testing of products and services through an independent and objective support.

  • We buy – anonymously
  • We test – using scientific methods in independent institutes according to our specifications.
  • We rate – from “very good” to “poor”, exclusively on the basis of examination results objectified.
  • We publish – free display test in our magazines and financial test and online at http://www.test.de.

Recently for the misusage of the Warentest label on the mattresses, LIDL had to pay €25,000. 

You have seen their label in Rossmann and Kaiser’s. It’s just a quality test, when the EOKO-TEST is the ecological test, which existed now for over 25 years. OEKO-TEST works only with specialized laboratories, which have proven their qualifications for the testing through the appropriate approval (accreditation).

EOKO-TEST also publishes their results and especially the violations. See the full list of label violations HERE. In case of breaking the law it asks companies to donate between a few hundreds and a few thousands to the Green associations in Germany. Both testing companies put a date of the label issue, and it is valid until the product is changed.

BIO labels in cosmetics

With cosmetics being bio/organic, they have different from food labels. Most common ones I found are:

Bio Cosmetics' labels

Bio Cosmetics’ labels

I started using only organic cosmetics after I read an article a year ago, which counted the terrifying amount of chemicals a woman puts on herself every day. Even though it is very hard to prove what exactly causes cancer and allergies I decided to switch in order to stress my body less.

I use mostly cheapest companies like: Alverde, BIO Belle and Sante. Now the last thing for my birthday will be the bio parfume, which also lasts up to 6h and costs no less and no more than the regular parfumes from famous companies.

Even my toothpaste after 27 years is bio and without fluoride.

Like so many everyday substances that have been found to be toxic, fluoride has its roots in World War II research into weapons of mass destruction. Massive quantities of fluoride were essential for the manufacture of bomb-grade uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War.

Post-WWII, fluoride was a popular form of rat poison. However, as fluoride production began to greatly outstrip its use as a rodenticide, scientists were spurred on by industry and the government to find other uses for it.

Today, fluoride is routinely added to the water supply of around 10% of the UK population (though this figure is set to rise) and more than 60% of the US population. These figures are in stark contrast to the 98% of Western Europe that has rejected fluoridation on the grounds that it does not work and that it is morally reprehensible to forcibly medicate whole populations of people.

There are significant differences between naturally occurring calcium fluoride and what is essentially industrial waste – namely, hydrofluorosilicic acid, a byproduct of the phosphate-fertiliser industry – added to our water, and known to contain human carcinogens in a toxic mix of arsenic, beryllium, lead, cadmium, mercury, silicon and other major contaminants, including radioactive polonium.

While most of us have been taught that fluoride protects teeth, research does not bear this out. Most studies into the benefits of fluoride are based on calcium fluoride rather than the more toxic form that is added to our water supply. (http://www.nyrnaturalnews.com/article/qa-whats-so-bad-about-fluoride/)

In addition, several review papers have attested to the fact that dental decay does not increase when communities stop fluoridation.

“Generally, in Germany fluoridation of drinking water is forbidden. The relevant German
law allows exceptions to the fluoridation ban on application. The argumentation of the
Federal Ministry of Health against a general permission of fluoridation of drinking water
is the problematic nature of compuls[ory] medication.” (Gerda Hankel-Khan, Embassy of
Federal Republic of Germany, September 16, 1999).

Eco cleaning

The bigger the company the more likely it will cheat. There are several cleaning supplies’ companies available in Germany, one of them is pretty famous also outside the country – Ecover. It is interesting, but Ecover WC cleaning I have at home now does not have the eco label, it only has the label saying “The green bottle”, which means good for recycling, but about what’s in the bottle?

According to businessgreen.com, Ecover commissioned an independent investigation into 15 washing products that currently carry the label. 13 did not meet the European Commission’s criteria. (read full article HERE

From my personal experience the best on the market seems to be Sodasan, it smells extremely well and carries all the eco labels. It is also significantly more expensive than Ecover.

Bio box

Image taken from schmaelzle.com

There are several farmers’ associations, which offer fresh bio boxes of fruits and vegetables just picked from the fields. They will usually offer you the best quality (because they have to follow extremely strict guidelines), for a reasonable price between 14 and 30 euros. They deliver everywhere in Germany. There are 46 Bio Box companies, but only ten received 5 start rating.

TOP TEN:

Dirks Bio-Kiste
Dirk Agena, 69256 Mauer

Guidohof
Armin und Silke Lucht, 09212 Limbach Oberfrohna OT Uhlsdorf

Die rollende Gemüsekiste
Herrmann Haas-Hübsch, 86444 Gebenhofen

Hof Engelhardt Ökokiste
Hartmut Engelhardt, 74547 Untermünkheim

Bioland Gemüsehof Hörz
Die Grüne Kiste, 70794 Filderstadt

Bioland Gärtnerei Hüsgen
Rita und Till Hüsgen, 53773 Hennef-Süchterscheid

Hofgut Letten Vertriebs GmbH
Beate Mayer, 83670 Bad Heilbrunn

Martinshof Biobus GmbH
Gerhard Kempf, 66606 St. Wendel-Osterbrücken

Rengoldshauser Hof GmbH
Geert Neyrinck, 88662 Überlingen

Naturgarten Schönegge
Erhard und Horst Schönegge, 85405 Nandlstadt

To find a bio box in your region use this website: oekokiste.de

Lines and numbers on the products

In school a chemistry teacher told us that the lines on the toothpaste indicate the quality: black being the worst and red – being the best. No surprise, I thought, I never saw the red line in Latvia, thinking we get only law quality toothpastes. But today I found out that it is actually not true. In reality, these are merely marks used in the printing process. They are referred to as “eye marks” and read by a sensor in the manufacturing process in order to detect and align squeeze tubes.Typically, the color of the square is also a color of something else being printed on that side of the tube.

However, there are numbers on eggs, which indicate the quality. If the long code begins with 0 – it is fully organic, when 1- free range, 2 – don’t buy. And guess what, I have the twos…

Egg number decoding system

Organic studies

However there is no study which would show that people who eat organic are more healthier and those who don’t – experience health problems. Wiki actually says there is no difference for the organism, as the study could not prove that there is. Some people buy organic tomatos just because they taste better in comparison to cheap hybrids.

Although it has not been scientifically proved yet that these products are healthier than the ones produced with normal techniques, it is believed that the more natural a product is grown and the fewer chemicals it was exposed to, the better it is for our health. (study-in.de)

http://www.test.de/unternehmen/ueberuns/

All in all it’s a debatable question how much better our lives are with organic products, however putting chemicals down my body I do not feel indifferent, and when the cost between a bio a non-bio product is not that high, my choice will be organic. Plus, a bio apple will always taste better.

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