Code of Practice for organic food processing
In Europe, consumption of processed organic food constantly increases. While organic farming is strictly ruled by EU law, organic processing is not. Which processing technologies are in line with organic principles? What do consumers expect from processed organic food?
ProOrg will develop a flexible and practicable Code of Practice (CoP) for processors of organic foods and labelling organisations. The CoP aims to provide the operators with strategies and tools for making decisions to help them take the best choice for careful processing methods and formulations with a limited use of additives. In doing so, they will consider organic principles, high food quality, low environmental impact and a high degree of consumer acceptance. Regarding labelling organisations, the CoP will provide an assessment and decision support tool to evaluate the compliance of process innovations with the organic principles while taking consumer expectations into account.
Thus, the Thuenen Institute will focus on what consumers expect from selected processing technologies and how they will deal with trade-offs between e.g. naturalness and convenience.
Processors and labelling organisations
The development of the Code of Practice will be based on an iterative process. In a first phase, knowledge and data gathered and collected by the scientific part will be integrated by the information, needs, and experiences from the processors and other stakeholders to produce a first draft of the Code of Practice. This will be tested at industry level (case studies), accomplished with scientific experiments and analytical determinations. This phase will allow trans-disciplinary work. Studies will be performed to identify consumer preferences and acceptance of processing technologies of organic food. Often, consumers have a very limited knowledge of processing technologies. Therefore, the project will focus on how to communicate organic food technologies in the best way. The proposed communication strategies will be included in the Code.
In the last phase, the Code of Practice will be disseminated and promoted. A dissemination plan completes the organization of the project.
Regardless of which technology was discussed, the participants had different and often contradicting opinions and were little aware of the processing technologies. The participants mostly associated additives, artificial flavours, preservatives, E-numbers, chemicals and plastic packaging with processed foods, mostly negatively connotated. But participants also mentioned advantages of processed foods: easy and quick preparation, simple portioning and the possibility of consuming a wide variety of non-seasonal products. According to most of the participants, the same advantages of processed food also held for processed organic food. However, some of the frequent organic buyers rejected higher degrees of processing. Furthermore, transparent and sustainable value chains were linked to organic food. For most participants, processing technologies were not part of their concept of organic and were rarely mentioned.
The preferences for milk mainly depended on participants’ lifestyle and habits. For most participants, homogenization was in line with their idea of "organic" since nothing was added and the ingredients of the product were not changed. Pasteurized milk was also accepted and for many, microfiltrated ESL (Extended Shelf Life) milk, i.e. "fresh milk" with the claim "longer lasting", was a good alternative to pasteurized milk due to its longer shelf life. For some sceptical consumers, the degree of processing of ESL milk was too high.
UHT milk was the most debated. Some rejected UHT milk because it did not meet their idea of organic processing, naturalness and freshness, others bought it out of habit or convenience. In general, for many participants animal welfare was more important than how milk was processed.
In the discussion about orange juice, juice from concentrate triggered a spontaneous negative reaction in some participants, while other participants were positive towards juice from concentrate. They emphasized the equally good nutritional values and the ecological advantages of transporting just concentrates instead of juice or fruit.
The majority preferred fresh pressed organic orange juice. However, the relatively short shelf life of seven days was a challenge for some. As a result, participants were generally very positive about high pressure processed (HPP) juice, which has a longer shelf life, although there were concerns about the potential high energy consumption and the use of PET bottles. They found the necessary high pressure to be unproblematic as long as the nutrients are preserved, and shelf life increases. Some participants associated less food waste with longer shelf life.
Organic products such as milk or orange juice are sometimes advertised with the term “carefully processed”. Despite the use of the term on food packaging, the participants did not have a common understanding of the term “careful”. Rather, the discussion with the other participants resulted in a variety of associations. Processing technologies, ingredients and quality aspects as well as environmental aspects, small-scale farming and animal welfare were associated with the term “careful”.
With regard to the processing technologies discussed above, the participants unanimously classified UHT milk as not being careful. In the case of orange juice, direct juice was perceived as being more carefully processed than juice from concentrate. With HPP and pasteurization, there was no agreement as to whether high pressure or heating was more careful. Some frequent organic buyers found none of the processing methods discussed to be careful. The participants expected a clear definition of the term “careful”, especially within the organic sector, where transparent communication was even more expected.
The project will continue at the University of Kassel, Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences, from April 2020 on.
5.2018 - 4.2021