Ask LH: Do Organic Butter Labels Mean Anything?

Dear Lifehacker, I have been buying Aldi's 'Just Organic' Butter, but on closely reading the label the ingredients don't seem to be specifically organic based on the ingredients list. 'Just Organic' seems to be just the branding. How can we be certain that this isn't misleading packaging yet again? Thanks, Butter Madness

Butter picture from Shutterstock

Dear BM,

As we've noted in the past, organic food labels can be confusing and are occasionally willfully misleading -- Aldi itself has been busted in the past for claiming its Just Organic Honey was sourced from organic honey on Kangaroo Island (in reality, less than 10 per cent of the honey came from this region).

Organic butter primarily consists of organic milk from cows that have free access to pesticide-free pasture. It may also contain higher levels of vitamin E and omega-3 fats, depending on the country it was sourced from. Try comparing the container's label to a regular butter brand to see if there's any difference in omega-3 content -- if everything's identical, your suspicions may be warranted.

A 'true' organic product will carry a certification label from one of several Australian health bodies approved by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). You can find a list of recognised organic certification logos here.

If you do feel like you've been ripped off, you can contact the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). To register your complaint, either pay a visit to the ACCC's website or give them a call on 1300 302 502.

On a final note, the jury is still out on whether organic produce is actually better for you. Last year, an in-depth Annals Of Internal Medicine study found that there were no notable differences identified between organic and “conventional” foods when it came to nutritional benefits or health risks.

"Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence to support this perception," the report noted.

That said, organic farming can be beneficial to the environment and you certainly deserve to get what you pay for -- even if it is a placebo.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    From a chemistry standpoint, the butter will contain organic molecules if that helps

    Last edited 21/03/13 2:39 pm

      In fact apart from the salt and other trace minerals, butter will be pretty much ALL organic molecules.

    Saw a sign yesterday "$3 for organic water", I really hope that was a joke but I fear it was not.

    Organic farming most certainly isn't definitely better for the environment. It very much depends - would you rather an acre of land grew two tonnes of corn, and sent one to a country in need, or one tonne of organic? Or indeed half a tonne of usable corn, and half eaten by bugs. (I have no idea on the scale, but you get the principle).

      I understand and accept your crop yield concept point, but comparing sending 2 tonnes of crop off to a poor country versus 1/2 a tonne sold locally at a premium isn't how the farm gate business decisions get made.

        OK, so ethically and yield though, you get the picture. If all our food in Australia was organic, we'd produce nowhere near as much.

    I always though it was bunkum to buy organic, but am starting to reconsider due to the lack of availablility of frozen vegetables that are not grown in China.

    My issue with organic goods has been the advantage in avoiding pesticide consumption, not nutrition. Usually there is a withholding period from pesticide application to crop picking, but we trust that is adhered to. Besides, why financially would a farmer spray a crop just before it is picked?

    However, all you need is to have mixed market garden crops adjacent to one another, one field of say broccoli being sprayed the day before the downwind field of spinach is being picked. Then a situation of pesticide contamination and failed withholding periods has occurred and you get a good dose of broccoli pesticide on your spinach!

    And as farms in Australia are now being sold to corporate farm companies, profit becomes the overriding factor, not care for the land, good practices or the food safety of the crops. The driver in this business model is competition with China and getting costs even lower. Aldi has been caught out on their Honey and the jury is out on their Butter!

    So increasingly corner cutting in Australian grown crops will become standard and a corresponding increasing consumer food safety trust issues will occur as the Colesaldiworths are caught out. Non-corporate farmers will in future need to differentiate themselves on the product to stand out from the corporates (along with adherance to a farm-owned code of safe food growing practice).

    Right now when you go to Colesaldiworths, much of the displayed veg (frozen) is grown in China and packed in New Zealand. So at present I look out for the grown in Australia product. And this China product is the price point the corporate farmers are competing against.

    I do not trust that China is applying the right pesticides, at safe concentrations or at the right withholding periods. On top of that, they have also been caught using human waste and heavy metal contaminated sewerage as fertiliser on vegetable crops. So biological and heavy metal contamination is an added risk.

    So for me organic means:
    Not grown in China and packed in NZ
    No pesticides
    No pesticide overspraying errors
    No heavy metal contamination
    No biological contamination
    No need to know who the farmer is (corporate or owner-grower)
    No corporate lying/misinformation about the product

    And I am on the edge of deciding upon going organic because of these reasons, not nutrition.

    However, debunking the organic nutrition myth is the only win the corporates have over the communities of organics. Their only other win is when they lie to us - like with Aldi honey!

    Disclosure: I am an engineer (not a green), worked in manufacturing, have relatives as farmers, and presently work for one of Colesaldiwoolworths. I am happy to say it as it is.

    TLDR: Organic is about avoiding pesticides, heavy metal and biological contamination of your food. In comparison, nutrition is non-issue.

    Last edited 24/03/13 12:27 pm

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