Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food for Thought: Why eating organic in Korea may prevent cancer

Going organic isn't easy, but it's steadily growing in Korea. So far, the Korean government has certified over 32,000 Korean farmers as organic and environmentally friendly. Not only is the green movement growing, but its gaining more publicity and approval. This month, the Korea Organic Farming Association (KOFA) hosted its 9th Annual Seoul International Organic and Natural Products Show. Additionally, the government has been known to make public service announcements, which tell consumers to eat organic.
Such actions have propelled Korea into a well-being movement the last decade. More and more Koreans exercise, especially in the form of hiking and yoga. Additionally, Koreans are trying to eat healthier, which for many mean eating organic.

Outside of this trend, the most prominent reason Koreans- and other residents of Korea- should eat organic has to do with large amount of pesticides used in produce. According to the Korean Organic Farmers Association, South Korea has one of the highest pesticide/chemical use out of industrialized countries. Korean farms use 15 times more pesticides than the United States. Although the government has intervened, and has the ambitious goal of 50 percent less pesticides by this year, there are still a number of harmful side affects. As a result of the high pesticide use, Korea has a 25 percent cancer rate. Additionally, many children suffer from skin diseases that stem from high pesticide use in food production.

Consequently, the biggest organic buyers tend to be concerned mothers who have children and ageing parents at home. Most women are urban housewives who purchase food for family members.

Interestingly, the term organic has different meanings depending on where you eat. In America, USDA standards of organic depend on how much of the food was created and produced through organic means. In order to qualify as even remotely organic, processed products must contain at least 70 percent of organic ingredients. The labeling standards for Korea are much more focused on the use of chemicals. 

The latest labeling system has recently downsized from four categories to three: grown without chemicals and chemical fertilizers for three years (green), grown without agricultural chemicals (blue) and grown with 1/2 chemicals (orange). Unfortunately, most of the "green" farming done in South Korea is "environmentally friendly (2.5 percent)," rather than organic (.2 percent). Under the definition of "environmentally friendly," farmers can still use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but in smaller quantities.

The majority of local organic products consist of rice and vegetables. Apparently, over 500 metric tons of organic rice are produced each year. Most fruit, however is "environmentally friendly" rather than organic.

Korea's organic food is regulated by the National Agriculture Products Quality Management Service (NAQS) as well as the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA). Although NAQS was the only agency allowed to certify farmers, now the Korean Organic Farmers Association as well as a handful of other non-governmental parties certify farms.
Even with governmental regulations, a number of dubious claims surround the authenticity of Korean organic food. Some reports suggest that organic companies have at times misrepresented their organic status, which led to lost confidence in Korean organics.

The most problematic issue is the definition of Korean organic food. According to an article by Chong-Woon Hong, who is part of the Agricultural Science Institute,  there is no precise consensus on the definition of organic farming in Korea. Ultimately, the broad definition focuses on the use of organic materials rather than chemicals and fertilizers.

There are a handful of stores and companies you can purchase organic food and products through. Most E-marts and Lotte department stores carry companies like Pulmone and other organic produce. Along with department stores, iCoop ( is a great way alternative to purchasing food in a grocery store. Rather, it's a cooperative of Korean farmers and producers who sell sustainable, local organic food. The food is cheaper versus grocery store purchases, and it includes free delivery. Additionally, there are organic stores like Huckleberry's, which is an organic grocery store that specializes in some imported organic food that include pesticide-free, non-GMO and cage-free options of the organic spectrum.
Regardless if organic produce and products are 100 percent organic, eating Korean organic appears to be better than the alternative, eating potentially-cancerous causing produce.

Lindsey Huster a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian.