Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Organic farming needs regulating

By Lee Wu-chung 李武忠

Speaking at a forum on corporate social responsibility in Taipei last week, Pxmart grocery store chain president Hsu Chung-jen (徐重仁) — known as Taiwan’s “godfather of distribution,” — said that organic foods are all over the place in Taiwan, and the recent scandal over recycled cooking oil might be followed by one to do with organic produce.

Hsu’s observations once again brought to the fore the problem of bogus organic farm produce. The relevant government departments have said that Taiwan’s certification standards for organic produce are the strictest in the world, but this is missing the point.

Academics and businesspeople who know how the verification process for organic certification in the nation really works have pointed out again and again that the problem is not the certification process itself, but the quality of enforcement and subsequent monitoring. They say that verification and checks are lax and not enforced.

However, the government has not paid a great deal of attention to these warnings, with the result that there are still a lot of fake organic products on the market. If consumers discover that they have spent a lot of money on bogus goods, there are bound to be plenty of complaints. This situation limits the growth of organic farming in the nation and it is not be good for adjusting the structure of the nation’s agricultural sector or making products more competitive for overseas markets.

Organic farming should be encouraged, since it combines the features of ecological soundness and sustainability with food safety. However, the concepts involved need to be instilled over time. It is unacceptable for politicians and officials to try to embellish their achievements by creating loopholes that can be exploited by purveyors of bogus organic products. That can only lead to consumers losing faith in organic certification, which would have a negative impact on genuine organic farmers who work hard tending their fields. This is all the more so given that the commercial reputation of organic produce in Taiwan is still at the stage of being promoted and not yet firmly established.

In recent years, although government departments and businesses have strongly promoted organic farming, official statistics indicate that organic certification has only been awarded to 2,814 farms cultivating a total area of 5,696 hectares and mostly growing organic vegetables and rice. Compared with the nation’s total of 810,000 hectares of farmland, organic farming is still a niche sector.

The main problem is that agricultural authorities did not start out by establishing a plan for organic farming in exclusive zones, which would be the best approach with regards to soil quality, water resources, farming habits and sales channels. One result of this is that organic and non-organic areas of farmland often lie in close proximity to each other.

Hualien County’s specific geographical attributes give it favorable environmental conditions that are suitable for the development of organic agriculture. A plan could be drawn up for an exclusive production zone in the county which should be combined with a Japanese-style “six-level” industrialization concept. Under this concept, farmers and the county government or businesses would jointly set up a dedicated organic farm-product transport and marketing company, and adopt an integrated operation model to establish efficient sales channels. Effort would be put into cultivating consumers’ loyalty to the organic farm products sold by this company. If this were done, organic farming in Hualien County would have considerable potential for growth.

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