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ZÉNA BUTT

Organic. A term that generates huge amounts of revenue in today’s heavily health conscious society, but what does it mean?

Does it really matter whether the packaging of your carrots has the word ‘organic’ emblazoned across it – each beautiful vegetable a different shape, a testament to its natural production?

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The current obesity epidemic is taking the world by storm; we are inundated with statistics from national and international health agencies telling us that the foods we are eating and the quantities in which we are consuming them are slowly killing us. In direct contrast, another media and marketing trend that is seeing rapid growth is the rise in popularity of all things free range and organic.

To the average consumer, traipsing down a supermarket aisle these days can sometimes require a dictionary. The term that we are most concerned with, the illustrious ‘organic’ is used to refer to a multitude of things, from vegetables and oils to chocolates and meat.

According to UK based charity, Soil Association, for foods as a whole to be labelled as organic at least 95% of the ingredients must come from organically produced plants and animals – the 5% window that allows for non-organic sources to be used is put into place because some ingredients are not available organically. Artificial colourings and sweeteners are banned in all organic produce. Using synthetic ingredients is a cheaper, more viable option for the majority of mass producers hence why organic produce comes with a heftier price tag.

In regards to organically reared animals, it is no exaggeration to claim that animals raised within an organic system are exposed to highest animal welfare standards. Organic animals are able to resist disease more than their non-organic counterparts, have a much larger living space and have a natural, non-genetically modified diet. Organic animals have constant access to the outdoors unlike animals that are raised free range, where they have monitored outdoor time, and this length of time that they are exposed to natural conditions can both vary and fluctuate greatly. Finally, there are animals that fall under factory farmed do not see the light of day at any point in their lifetime.

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Halal meat does come at a premium. An organically reared halal chicken for instance can sometimes be three to four times the price of the cheapest whole chicken at your average high street butchers. As with all things organic, when buying it you are purchasing a better quality product at a higher price – it all boils down to consumer choice.

From a religious point of view, is there a place for organic in the ever-expanding halal market? The Qur’an commands Muslims to “eat of what is in the earth lawful and wholesome” (Qur’an 2:168). There are various agencies that concentrate on the lawful side of halal slaughter but sole focus is not given to the concept of tayyab (wholesome) meat on a larger, corporate scale. In each instance where the word ‘halal’ is mentioned in the Qur’an, the word ‘tayyab’ is attached onto it and from a Qur’anic point of view the two are intrinsically linked to one another.

The Qur’an advocates sustainable living and champions animal welfare, and these concepts can be lost in mass meat production. The general trend at the moment is for small specialist suppliers to cater specifically for the halal organic market. In the UK for example, the most prominent is Willowbrook Farm and in the USA Norwich Meadows Meats.

Whilst it may be more expensive both to produce and to buy, the future of food benefits from embracing organic. There are clear advantages of consuming organic food in terms of taste, quality, nutrition and ethics. Value what you feed your body. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.