Investigation finds oats illegally labelled organic

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic food

Batches of organic oats being sold in the UK could be flouting the law after an investigation found they contain the pesticides Chlormequat or Glyphosate, according to the Soil Association.

Routine analysis of products by the UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate, and confirmed by the Soil Association (SA), found that some batches of oats contained one or both of the pesticides which means they can no longer legally be described as organic.

The SA, which is a UK campaigning and certification organisation for organic food and farming, is advising companies with organic products which tested positive for the pesticides to withdraw them from sale to the public.

Both pesticides are permitted at certain levels in non-organic products and are commonly used in the production of oats. Chlormequat is typically found in around half of the non-organic bread sold in the UK.

However, organic oats should not contain detectable levels of these pesticides and the SA believes the likely source to be substitution of non-organic for organic oats at some point in the supply chain.

It said it is now conducting urgent investigations and working closely with the companies it certifies to determine which products are affected.

SA policy director, Peter Melchett, said: “As a result of this discovery, the Soil Association is increasing investment in random testing of the products it certifies as a supplement to the testing carried out by the Pesticides Safety Directorate and organic food businesses it licences.

“Once the source of the contamination is clear, the Soil Association will immediately implement further measures that better protect the integrity of organic food.”

Random tests

Random samples of organic oat products taken between January and May 2008 were discovered to contain Chlormequat and Glyphosate at concentrations below the maximum residue level permitted by the European Union.

Selling non-organic food containing pesticides at this level is legal under current food safety legislation but contamination of organic products at this level means they cannot be labeled organic.

A SA spokesperson added: “We were notified of the first results early in November and have been investigating since then.”

The SA said the full extent and source of the contamination and the number of products affected beyond those identified by the directorate earlier this year is not yet known.

It plans to update its website with the results of its further testing and investigations and any product it knows to be affected as soon as they are confirmed.

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