...but that's no reason to regard the whole organic category as suspect, says Joanna Blythman
The One Food case, where a company director was jailed for passing off conventionally produced ingredients as organic, has been seized on by organic's detractors as evidence that all food with organic certification is automatically suspect.
"It's a huge swindle, the organic market," wrote Zoe Williams in The Guardian. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. What we are dealing with here is fraud, pure and simple, and no system of food production has dispensation from that.
As Bee Wilson demonstrated in her book Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, criminal adulteration is as old as food production. From Double Gloucester cheese coloured with lethal red lead to 'peppercorns' made of linseed oil, cayenne pepper and clay, there has always been funny business in the food trade.
I detect something deliberately obtuse and self-serving about the attempt to capitalise on the One Food case to undermine trust in organic food.
What about those tiger prawns from south east Asia that contained residues of illegal, carcinogenic nitrofuran drugs? Or Sudan 1 (not considered safe for human consumption), the shoe polish dye that was turning up in everything from chicken tikka to pasta sauce? Or the notorious case of Denby Poultry Products in Derbyshire, where meat that was either condemned or earmarked for petfood was being passed on to major supermarket.
None of these major (conventional) food scandals in recent times have prompted any suggestion that conventional food, as an entire category, is a con.
What spiced up the coverage of the One Food fraud was that the company supplied, among others, Fortnum & Mason. This allowed commentators to indulge their prejudice that organic food is a passing fad for the neurotic rich, purveyed, on occasion, by charlatans.
The objective truth here is that the organic sector is more heavily policed and audited than its non-organic equivalent. It has to contend not only with all the regulation and policing that relate to the food sector but all the extra requirements set by organic certification bodies. Organic or conventional, if you have rogue traders who are absolutely determined to lie to and mislead external auditors, be they Trading Standards, environmental health, retailers or organic certifiers, then it is pretty difficult to stop them.
Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.