It is sometimes a bit stressful to write an investigative story, but it always excites me. On this occasion, I was really lucky to meet some farmers who were willing to talk about the hidden side of the organic market, but it was not easy to build up trust with them and persuade them to talk about some of the more sensitive issues.
I tried to visit as many organic farms and organic markets as possible in the New Territories and carry out a little research before I started to do interviews. Gathering background information paid off during interviews as
my contributors seemed to respect the fact that I knew something about the industry and opened up a little more.
I also visited some self- proclaimed organic strawberry farms on the mainland and found that most of them did not have any certi cation. There are a lot more certi cation centers on the mainland and the situation is more complicated. But not having unlimited time I decided to focus on the organic market in Hong Kong.
The main story reveals certain “secrets” of organic farmers and also highlights frequent infringement of the regulations. I have also tried to explain the reasons behind some of the malpractices which have been the subject of reports by agricultural experts. The second story covers some of the public misconceptions about organic food. Finally I have presented an opinionatives ummary where I share some important facts and figures with you.
Facing the onslaught of a growing number of cheaper agricultural products imported from the mainland, Mr Yu Soeng-Kwong has been
suffering greater and greater losses. He learned from his peers that selling organic vegetables was much more profitable, so he finally decided to start practicing organic farming.
However, making the change did not make Mr Yu’s life easier. Having undergone a radical change in his farming methods he also went through the rigorous procedure to obtain organic certification. Since establishing himself as an organic farmer his biggest headache has been trying to compete with a number of farmers who sell their self-proclaimed organic vegetables at a much lower price.
In research conducted by the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center (HKORC) in March 2014 it was said that nearly 80 percent of stalls in
90 street markets were selling self-proclaimed organic vegetables without any official organic certifications.
Higher profits have lured farmers into taking the risk of selling fake organic vegetables which have been palmed off on a lot of unsuspecting customers. The lack of regulation and control of organic produce and surging prices are two major causes of the chaos in the organic market.
In Hong Kong there are two main organizations which provide organic certification and have the right to issue green labels – the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center (HKORC) and the Hong Kong Organic Certification Center
(HKOCC). Certificates issued by these two centers have to be renewed annually with a payment of HK$ 3000 and HK$ 10,000 respectively.
Farmers who successfully achieve certification agree to adopt the organic standard, growing produce without using chemical fertilizers
and pesticide, genetically modified organisms, preservatives, additives and irradiation, according to the Food and Health Bureau.
However, the reality can be very different
and complex as the organic verification system
is fraught with loopholes and grey zones. Can customers have any confidence in the organic certification system and those green labels? To what extent are organic farmers complying with guidelines or is it all just about fake products and high prices.