Horsing around with meat is one thing but investigators should crack the whip on carrots

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There’s more than meets the eye in this horse meat scandal. The shortcuts that large food producers are taking casts a spotlight on the shady practices that have been kept from public view. Substituting horsemeat for beef is despicable but finding no meat in a beef pie in Iceland is another thing. Smell a vegetarian conspiracy here?

All the fuss about substitution of beef products is important because we want to know what we are eating and paying for. But what about other foods such as bread, grains and fruit and vegetables?

At a recent visit to a fresh foods market in Johannesburg, an organic produce farmer was trying to convince me to buy his carrots. Just one look at them was enough for me to say no. His bunch of tiny carrots were so gnarled and deformed that I wondered what might have happened to make them look otherworldly. Could he have accidentally grown them near a nuclear waste dump site? Waking up at night and opening your fridge door to see these little ominous orange critters would sure scare the hell out of me.

Organic is perceived to be healthy, good for you, back to Mother Nature. And that’s true to a certain extent. Studies in Europe have shown that organic produce has more health benefits than the mass-produced variety. Potatoes have more vitamins C and tomatoes more nutrients, for instance. But studies last year showed that there was little evidence that organic foods had more nutrients than conventional foods.

And I’m not talking about finding spiders in your fresh fruit because of the lack of pesticides. A Connecticut woman found a black widow spider in a bunch of table grapes. There’s a lot of evidence out there that organic foods can pose a health hazard when animal manure is used, when there’s a buildup of E. coli, and experts have even found organic brown rice containing high levels of arsenic.

I’m sure there are many small-scale organic farmers who take extra precautions to ensure that their farm fresh produce is prepared to high health standards. But without certification, who can you trust?

Small businesses and start-ups who wish to profit in the organic produce market need to build confidence and trust in the products that they sell to consumers. Organic farming is not an easy business but without quality assurance things could get unnecessarily hard.

I was going to say organic farmers need to get their ducks in the row but I almost forgot – an organic duck farmer recently lost 1,000 of her “organic” ducks because she needed to let them roam freely. Illegal, over-the-fence hasty “shopping” before Christmas from nearly wiped her out. Now with Easter nearly upon us it’s best to keep those free-roaming ducks under lock and key.

Horsing around with meat has got consumers worked up but wait until they wake up to the dangers of what can lurk in inside organic foods. It will be pandemonium and could provide a severe setback to the industry.

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