Back home in Australia we are blessed with an abundance of fresh produce, all year round. Some of this is due to Genetically Modified foods (GM), which means the actual genetic makeup of the plant has been altered by scientists, or, much to the outcry of the general public, has been sitting in frozen storage for many months and sold as ‘fresh’ in season.
However, we are also fortunate in Australia to have many Farmer’s markets which sell organically grown produce, meat, poultry, dairy and seafood. Whilst I always knew organic was obviously better and more healthy, I never really understood why until I began studying nutrition. I mean, how could the government have regulations that allow the unsafe consumption of these pesticides, herbicides and hormones?
Because the government doesn’t really give a Basically because these chemicals have not been around long enough to truly monitor the long-term health effects. Consequently, the government has approached food (thus influencing our heavy grain-based diet) as purely a numbers game. We are a grossly expanding population and due to this consumer demand, chemicals and GM food have been introduced to maximise crop productions, growing rates, reliability and to apparently reduce the work of farmers. And, although a contentious opinion, to create a monopolisation of the world food market by large corporations controlling the distribution of GM seeds.
However, at what cost is this to our own mortality and evolution, the environment and the ecosystem?
I understand something had to change to feed the growing population, however why has the issue of food wastage not been properly addressed? Why do we have facts like this, that “All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.”
South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have regulations in place that some (percentage unknown) food waste is to be fed to pigs as opposed to anaerobic digestions (which in a nutshell is vegetable waste decomposing in airtight containers to produce methane gas). Since South Korea introduced penalties for food wastage, there has been a 60% decrease in overall wastage.
However, back to organic foods.
To be certified organic, farming practices must be free from synthetic pesticides, fertilisers, hormones, antibiotics, sewerage sludge, genetic engineering and irradiation (basically electronic pastuerisation). Not only does this result in a completely chemical free product and is less invasive to the environment, it also supports sustainable agricultural practices.
South Korea has its own standards for regulating pesticide residue in food. However, here they also use 15 times more pesticides than the United States. Additionally, any imported produce also undergoes a secondary testing and possible respraying if not suitable to Korean standards. There are also tariffs of up to 40% on certain imported fruits, explaining why four apples can cost a ridiculous ₩15,000.
Being a foreigner in South Korea, it is not always easy to find organic produce or understand the different regulations. See here for a breakdown of the different levels of the National Agricultural Products Quality Management System (NAQAS). As a health conscious country, South Korean government has made statements to reduce pesticide use, however, I am not aware of the outcome. There is heightened interest into the benefit of organic foods and as a result there is a wider selection available at high-end marts such as Shinsegae and Hyundai (at high end prices), as well as E-Mart.
Servicing the Seoul area, veggiehill.com provides locally grown produce and other organic foods from Dumulmeori region. What makes this such a convenient service is that the site is in English, they offer a delivery service, the prices are competitive to non-organic produce and Monica is very prompt and easy to communicate with.
A relatively new and exciting event is the Seoul Farmers Market held every Saturday until October 20, 2012. The market boasts around 340 items from farmers in Seoul and throughout Korea and are open from 10am to 5pm in Gwanghwamun Citizen’s Park (광화문 시민열린마당), adjacent to Gwanghwamun Square.
Janong Natural Farming has been around for nearly 60 years and president, Cho Han Kyu, is extremely passionate about not only chemical free farming, but the humane treatment of animals with high quality feed and life, free from artifical lighting, hormones and antibiotics, The Nutritive Cycle Philosophy harnesses a balance between the environment, where animals, insects, weeds, sun and wind create an intricate method of natural pest control and crop rotation.
Information Network Village is a very comprehensive website that extensively covers farming villages Korea-wide. Searches can be done via Province/Village or by selecting an item of interest, fruit, vegetables, meat, grains etc. The site covers what particular region is revered for a certain product, as wll as nutritional, storage and consumption information.
Finally, the overall cost of buying organic is more expensive due to a number of reasons; there are no government subsidies in place, organic certification is expensive, crop production is slower and crop size is usually smaller, better living conditions for animals costs more money and organic farming is more labour intensive. However, if you are shopping on a budget, the products you should really buy organic or go without are:
- Strawberries / Berries
- Milk (pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics)
- Bananas (But you don’t eat the skin you say? Due to the tropical location bananas grow in and their sweetness, they are sprayed heavily whilst growing, gassed in ethylene to ripen and then finally sprayed with ethyl bromide to prevent travelling pests when shipping. Tell me none of this permeates the skin….)
- Stone Fruit
- Leafy greens
- Green beans
- Capsicums / Peppers