Study into wet markets finds 80pc of organic claims are not verifiable

Wet markets study finds 80pc of organic claims not verifiable as stalls rely on clever promotion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 4:28am

Organic foodies beware - much of the organic produce sold at wet markets may not live up to the advertising, a university survey has found.

Of 440 vegetables stalls surveyed in 90 wet markets across the city, 93 claimed to have organic vegetables for sale. But 72 of these could not provide any certification or evidence that their produce had been sourced organically, according to Baptist University's Hong Kong Organic Resources Centre.

The centre, the city's first local certification body for organic products, hosted the city's seventh Organic Day yesterday.

The survey, conducted between December and January, found that the percentage of stalls that could not provide evidence of their organic claims was similar to last year. But they had grown more clever in their methods of promotion.

"It used to be that sellers would verbally claim their vegetables were 'organic'. Nowadays, they're cleverer, they'll use terms such as 'from the New Territories' or 'handpicked' to avoid getting into trouble," said Professor Wong Woon-chung of Baptist University's biology department.

According to the Customs Department, any person who sells goods or services with a false trade description commits a criminal offence.

Wong said since the city lacked a clear definition of the term "organic", unscrupulous promotion strategies could thrive. There was also no law to regulate organic certification.

The general definition of "organic" refers to produce grown without chemical fertilisers or pesticides.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the centre on 117 vegetable samples from across the city found four exceeded Australian and EU standards for heavy metal levels.

The vegetables, which did not breach Hong Kong's own standards, included choi sum, pak choi, shanghai cabbage and broccoli. All four samples were from the mainland.

Raymond Cheng Wai-man, general manager of the Go Green Organic Farm, said there was growing consumer demand for certified organic food, but the market was still small.

Food and health secretary Dr Ko Wing-man said the government was considering policies to support and regulate domestic agriculture.