Going Organic to Care for Gaia

By Adrian Goh

Organic produce is the new cool, in spite of rising food prices. Not just foods; now, skincare, bodycare, babycare, even clothes and detergents are drawing a strong following, especially from Asia. People are increasingly opting organic not necessarily because they have more spending power but because they are better informed about environmental impact, care more for Gaia – our mother Earth - and concerned about health.

Products organically derived and made, in sustainable quantities, do not harm the environment. This principle originates

Products organically derived and made, in sustainable quantities, do not harm the environment. This principle originates

Organic produce are shoppers' delight. from agrarian England when farming had a focus on protecting the health of the land. The practice was founded on keeping nature natural which means avoiding synthetic boosters in the processes; so ‘no’ to chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic manipulation, radiation and pesticides. Most importantly, out of this effort, consumption is harmless. So there are winners here all round.

Looking to recent trends in the popularity of organic food, Aaron Ash, owner of Gorilla Food, an organic vegetarian eatery in Vancouver, Canada, says his customers have “experienced miraculous improvements to their lives since turning to a diet of wholesome health.” Gorilla Food began three years ago with only three regulars and now enjoys 60 to 100 patrons a day.

In Asia, carriers of organic produce are citing similar inclines. Kim who carries vegetarian organic supplies and meals in Singapore’s business center estimates 120 purchases on a good day. C S Eng, a partner in Brown Rice Paradise, one of the bigger organic suppliers, says consumer demographics now include locals in the customer flow that was primarily expatriate ten years ago.

For organic foods, it is not just agricultural produce. The idea is also taken to livestock production where in this, animals are fed only organic feed that has no animal by-products and are bred in conditions that are tightly controlled against diseases and stripped of artificial interference like growth accelerants and genetic modification. While it might be an attempt, consumers are not biting and the cost (just for feed alone) in this approach makes it quite unsustainable.

Not just food, organic is now in cosmetics, skincare and bodycare. Consumers are asking for more: from organic scrubs, shampoos, soaps, sun blocks to makeup and lip colours. In early days, it was The Body Shop that first rose to the need.  Now with more informed consumers, a rash of new contenders has appeared.

No heavy metals, petroleum or animal extracts in this line.

No heavy metals, petroleum or animal extracts in this line.

“In Hong Kong, [organic] skincare was not a topic two years ago. There were few organic brands then. But now I see new brands emerging almost every week,” says Petra Bonnekamp of Lavera, a skincare brand. “It was mainly Germany in the West that took the lead in in turning to organic produce and it certainly won’t take 20 years for Asia to catch up.”

To assure quality, there are certifying bodies and watchdogs, particularly for countries in the business of production. Authorities like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Soil Association, Demeter (International) and Bundesverband Deutscher Industrie und Handelsunternehmen (BDIH) keep production honest through stringent standards policies and tests, placing their stamp of approval on a product after it goes through the rigors. More authorities include: IFOAM, OCIA, Ecocert, The Cornucopia Institute, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC).

Natural colours for production.

Natural colours for production.

“But no product (in cosmetics or skin/body care) can be certified 100% organic’,” says Denise Ho, DNA beauté’s country manager for Singapore. Clarifying her point on the importance of certification, she says that standards vary with each country; an ingredient like water for instance might pass one body’s policy and not another’s.

Even The Body Shop is not claiming to carry lines that are certified ‘100% Organic’, according to Nicky Tracey, director of values and communication in Singapore.

The signs are right. With increasingly Asian consumers hungry for all things pure and natural, producers have more reason to meet demand. Ultimately, when the right economic factors slide into place, prices may fall and more will be converted to a greener life.

But why wait till then to be good to Gaia?

Photos by Adrian Goh and Lavera.