Who checks on claims of foods being organic?

The organic section of some supermarkets in Singapore has been expanded significantly. It must mean a higher demand for such products.

I also cannot help notice how perfectly formed the organic vegetables and fruit, supposedly grown without chemical pesticides and fertilisers, are.

In fact, many appear healthier and better formed than those that are grown conventionally.

This is puzzling, considering farmers in the world spend an estimated US$80 billion (S$111.6 billion) a year to ward off pests and diseases. They also use about 200 million tonnes of chemical fertilisers a year to get harvest that is pleasing to the eye of most consumers.

Another observation: These organic products cost much more.

In one supermarket, ears of organic sweet corn from Thailand were going for $5.50 a pair ($2.75 each), while conventionally grown ones from Malaysia were being sold at $2.45 each.

In another supermarket, the organic corn, supposedly grown locally, cost $3.20 apiece.

The Thai ones were certified to Thai Agricultural Standard, while the Singapore ones had no certification and were merely labelled "organic".

I do not have an issue with organic produce that is grown, certified by competent and non-corrupt inspectors, and sold in supermarkets that know what they are buying and selling and who they are buying from.

Are supermarkets here required to verify the claims of suppliers that the fruit and vegetables are organic?

Is there some criterion that suppliers must meet before their products earn the right to be on the shelves of the organic section of the supermarket?

Which authority in Singapore keeps a regulatory eye on what is being labelled and sold in the organic sections of supermarkets and stores?

We have the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to regulate the compulsory registration of chemical pesticides used on local food crops.

If there are claims on the labels that an overseas body has certified them organic, is this checked?

Surely, there is a need for a body to verify all these.

Liew Ching Seng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Who checks on claims of foods being organic?'. Subscribe