Report on the Organic Monitoring Program of Baden-Württemberg 2011
The Federal State of Baden-Württemberg has been conducting a special monitoring program on organically produced foods since 2002. This monitoring is associated with Baden-Württemberg’s overall concept of promoting organic farming. It is executed within the scope of official food control. Organic products are systematically tested for residues and contaminants, as well as other relevant substances such as additives. The goal of the organic monitoring program is to prevent fraud by better tracking down cases of improper organic labelling in this fast expanding market and to strengthen the consumers’ confidence in the quality of organically produced foods.
The specific aims of our organic monitoring program are:
- Collection of data regarding residues and contaminants in organic products (e.g. pesticides, genetically modified plants, dioxins, etc.)
- Comparison of organic foods produced locally and in foreign countries, especially in third world countries
- Identifying improper organic labelling (prevention of fraud)
- Comparison of organically and conventionally produced foods
- Strengthening of consumers’ confidence in organic produce via an efficient control and transparency of the resulting findings
To be able to compare organic products with their counterparts, conventional products were also surveyed. Samples were taken from all stages of production and sales.
The monitoring program is being carried out as a joint project by the four official food control laboratories (CVUAs) of Baden-Württemberg, in close collaboration with the authority in charge of organic foods (Öko-Kontrollstelle im Regierungspräsidium Karlsruhe). CVUA Stuttgart is responsible for coordination and reporting. All the results are published annually on the Internet (http://oekomonitoring.cvuas.de) and the media has shown great interest in the findings. This is only a short summary of the monitoring results. A comprehensive report with detailed data can be found in German on the Internet.
In addition, because the organic monitoring project has existed now for 10-years, a summary report was presented in 2012, which covers the results from the years 2002 to 2011.
- Genetically modified (GM) plants: soy and maize products as well as linseed
- Mycotoxins: ergot alkaloids and fusarium toxins in bread
- Pesticide residues in foods of plant origin
- Organic contaminants and pesticide residues in salmon and eggs
- Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in salmon and eggs
- Production-generated food toxicants: furan in cereals, trans fatty acids in ready-to-serve meals
- Stable isotope ratio of nitrogen (15N / 14N) as indicator for the type of fertilization used in food production (foods of plant origin)
- The quality of raw and scalded sausages vis-à-vis the presence of microorganisms
Genetic modifications as a cause/source of contaminants in organic foods continue to be rare. Only in organic soy products were traces of GM soybean occasionally detected. The percentage of samples containing GM soybeans as well as the degree of contamination was much lower for organic samples as for conventional ones.
2.1 ergot alkaloids in rye whole grain bread and rye-containing breads
In medieval times, ergot caused feared epidemics and it lead to dreadful mass poisonings after consumption of ergot infested bread. The ergot alkaloids are responsible for its high toxicity. Due to their chemical structure, ergot alkaloids are not typical mycotoxins because they resemble the basic structure of several narcotic drugs.
In the years 2010 and 2011, 123 samples of bread with varying amounts of rye were analyzed for ergot alkaloids. The bread was mainly sampled from non-industrial bakeries. 110 bread samples with flour from conventional production and 13 bread samples from organic production were analyzed. Thus, a comparison between the different types of production (organic vs. conventional) is limited, due to the small amount of organic samples tested.
Eight of the monitored bread samples were organic rye whole grain breads. Concerning the frequency of occurrence as well as the contamination level, organic whole grain breads had an advantage compared to conventional ones. But also whole grain rye breads from conventional production were OK.
The overall picture of all the monitored bread is not encouraging. Almost every second bread sample from organic production and two out of three bread samples from conventional production were contaminated with ergot alkaloids. It is therefore imperative that farmers and millhands minimize the ergot alkaloids in cereals for the long range, via breed selection, cultivation methods and sanitizing of the mill.
2.2 Fusarium toxins in rye-containing breads
In 2011, 35 bread samples containing rye were analyzed for the Fusarium toxins deoxynivalenol and zearalenone. The samples were mainly taken from German non-industrial bakeries. No difference was detected between conventional and organic products; both the level and frequency of contamination were similar. Exceedances of the legal maximum limits for zearalenone and deoxynivalenol were not found this year.
542 samples of plant origin labeled as organic were tested in 2011. More than 550 different pesticides were analyzed in each sample. As in preceding years, organically grown fruit and vegetable samples differed significantly from their conventionally produced analogues, both in terms of frequency and in the total amount of synthetically produced pesticide residues found. In most of the organic samples no detectable residues of plant protection products were found. In the few cases where residues were detected, they mainly involved one active substance at a trace level (below 0.01 mg/kg), thus far below the usual concentrations which come about in plant products after pesticide treatment.
The average amount of pesticides detected in the analyzed fruit samples labelled as organically grown was 0.002 mg/kg. If the “organic” samples suspected of actually being conventionally produced or a mixture thereof are omitted from the calculation, the overall average pesticide amount results in <0.001 mg/kg. In contrast, conventionally grown fruits contained on average 0.34 mg/kg pesticides (Surface treatment products were omitted from this calculation).
For vegetables, the samples labeled as organically grown contained an average of 0.005 mg/kg pesticides. If the “organic” samples suspected of actually being conventionally produced or a mixture thereof are omitted from the calculation, the overall average pesticide amount also results in 0.001 mg/kg. In contrast, conventionally grown vegetables contained an average of 0.22 mg/kg pesticides (without bromide).
As in the previous two years, no extensive residue problem was detected in organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables. In past years, isolated problems with some organic crops were found: herbicides in Italian broccoli and Italian carrots, the fungicide fosetyl in cucumbers of different origins, residues of surface treatment products and acarizides in citrus fruits as well as sprout suppressants in potatoes. These problems no longer exist. The percentage of nonconformity regarding all fresh produce labeled as organic has remained similarly low in regard to the last two years: 2.1% in 2011, 1.3% in 2010, 1.0% in 2009, 4.9 % in 2008, 7.5 % in 2007, 4.9% in 2006 and 8.4% in 2005. Only six samples of fresh produce labeled as organic had to be reported to the authorities due to an increased presence of chemical synthetic pesticide residues: two samples of tomatoes from Spain, a sample of broccoli from Italy, currants from Germany, lemons from Italy, mangoes from Peru and oyster mushrooms from Germany. In one of the reported tomato samples the residue of one pesticide exceeded the maximum residue level (MRL) set by Reg. (EC) No 396/2005.
Regarding processed organic foods of plant origin, 8.1% of samples were in breach of the acceptable threshold of pesticides. This was much higher than for fresh produce and was also above the percentage from the previous years: 6.3% in 2010, 1.4% in 2009. Especially fruit products (six samples), wines (six samples), and pulses (four samples) were problematic.
|Production type||Number of samples|| Samples
>0.01 mg/kg 1
> MRL 2
| Number of
pesticides > MRL
| Samples with multiple
|organic||72||20 (28%)||3 (4.2%)||0||0||7 (10%)|
|conventional||293||251 (86%)||164 (56%)||20 (6.8%)||27||201 (69%)|
|organic||92||16 (17%)||2 (2.2%)||1 (1.1%)||Nereistoxin||5 (5.4%)|
|conventional||328||281 (86%)||214 (65%)||30 (9.1%)||33||239 (73%)|
|organic||11||4 (36%)||1 (9.1%)||0||0||1 (9.1%)|
|conventional||89||48 (54%)||24 (27%)||2 (2.2%)||2||24 (27%)|
|organic||17||1 (5.9%)||0||0||0||1 (5.9%)|
|conventional||43||42 (98%)||35 (81%)||1 (2.3%)||1||38 (88%)|
|conventional||25||21 (84%)||13 (52%)||0||0||15 (60%)|
|organic||11||3 (27%)||3 (27%)||0||0||2 (18%)|
|conventional||41||28 (68%)||16 (39%)||0||0||1 (27%)|
|conventional||8||4 (50%)||1 (13%)||1 (13%)||1||3 (38%)|
Berries and grapes
|organic||14||3 (21%)||1 (7.1%)||0||0||3 (21%)|
|conventional||314||286 (91%)||258 (82%)||5 (1.6%)||5||265 (84%)|
|conventional||69||67 (91%)||57 (83%)||0||0||63 (91%)|
|conventional||179||165 (92%)||139 (78%)||2 (1.1%)||2||146 (82%)|
|organic||38||6 (16%)||1 (2.6%)||0||0||2 (5.3%)|
|conventional||147||145 (99%)||139 (95%)||11 (7.5%)||12||137 (93%)|
|organic||31||6 (19%)||1 (3.2%)||0||0||0|
|conventional||169||134 (79%)||96 (57%)||14 (8.3%)||17||102 (60%)|
In 2011, salmon from aquaculture and chicken eggs were monitored. As in 2008, no significant difference in the level of organic contaminants and pesticide residues between organic and conventional production were seen in the tested salmon samples. But compared to samples of wild salmon, which were tested in 2008, the residues were 10 to 20 times higher in the samples from aquaculture. The difference between residue levels in fish from aquaculture and those in wild salmon clearly shows that the feed of the fish contributes to the residue contamination.
In eggs, DDT was the contaminant with the highest levels, followed by PCB 153. The median level of DDT was higher in organic eggs (3.5 µg/kg fat) compared to conventional eggs (0.8 µg/kg fat). Also, the average level of PCB 153 in organic eggs (6.4 µg/kg fat) was above the average level for conventional ones (<0.5 µg/kg fat). Although a clear trend compared to the contamination levels found since 2003 is not noticeable and the average contamination levels do fluctuate, the overall picture shows that organic eggs have a higher contamination level than conventional eggs.
In 2011, aquaculture salmon and chicken eggs from organic and conventional production were analyzed for dioxins and dl-PCBs. All 72 tested egg samples contained dioxins and dl-PCBs below the set limits. The alert level for dl-PCB was exceeded numerically by one egg sample and by another egg sample with statistical certainty. In all salmon samples the levels of dioxins and dl-PCBs were well below the legal limits and the set alert levels. The set limits are the same for conventional as well as organically produced foods and producers are strictly bound to comply with the very low maximum levels set by legal regulations.
Dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (dl-PCBs), as lipophilic environmental contaminants, generally accumulate in the fatty tissues of foods of animal origin. Due to the widespread environmental pollution of these substances, there is usually little difference between the amounts found in organically and conventionally produced foods. In case of the monitored eggs and salmon, the organically produced goods contained slightly higher levels of dioxins and dl-PDB than the conventionally produced goods. The detected values are still in such a range that they don’t hint at any special contamination source
6.1 Trans-fatty acids in ready-to-serve meals
In food industry oils and fats of plant origin are often hydrated for better processing. In other words, the unsaturated fatty acids are transformed via a chemical process into saturated fatty acids. This fat hardening leads to a higher melting point. Thus, liquid oils are transformed into solid, spreadable products (e.g. margarine). During the fat hardening process, trans-fatty acids are formed as a chemical byproduct. If hardened fats are used for the production of ready-to-serve meals, the amount of trans-fatty acids may be quite high. Trans-fatty acids have a negative impact on the cholesterol level in the blood. They increase the level of LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) and diglycerides and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood. The risk of arteriosclerosis and its consequences are increased.
The comparison of samples from organic and conventional production showed no significant difference in the level of trans-fatty acids. In fact, the level of trans-fatty acids depends on the type of ingredients used for production.
6.2 Furan in cereals
Ready-to-eat cereals such as breakfast cereals have become quite popular. In 2011, ready-to-eat cereals were monitored to see if there is a difference in the furan levels of organic products compared to conventional ones. 23 samples were tested. Muesli made with grains and dried fruits contained no furan, while popped or extruded cereals showed levels of 37 to 224 µg/kg of furan. A difference between conventional and organic cereals was not observed, but the number of samples was too limited for a clear statement.
Stable isotope ratio of nitrogen (15N / 14N) as indicator for the type of fertilization used in food production (foods of plant origin)
The stable isotope ratio of nitrogen (15N / 14N) in plant materials can be used as a hint for the type of fertilization (synthetic or organic) used in production, and thus may be an indicator for the type of farming (conventional or organic). According to EU legislation, only fertilizers from organic sources may be used in organic production. Scientific papers show that the nitrogen isotopic ratio may provide a valuable hint as to the type of fertilizer used. The isotopic ratio of mineral and organic fertilizers differs quite significantly, and this difference can also be detected in the fertilized plants.
For the three product groups of tomatoes, sweet peppers and salad greens a database on the nitrogen isotopic patterns was established for the past four years. Differences in the frequency distribution of the isotopic ratio of organic vs. conventionally grown produce were found in tomatoes, sweet peppers, as well as in salad greens. But there were also areas of notable overlapping. Thus, a statistical approach is needed, and a broad data base of samples with verified declaration of the fertilization type used is compulsory. Hence, more verifiable data will be collected.
In 2011, 49 raw sausages (31 organic and 18 conventional) as well as 69 scalded sausages (42 organic and 27 conventional) were sampled. In none of the samples were salmonellae, E. Coli, Bacullis cereus, pseudomonads, yeasts or molds found. Listeria monocytogenes was detected in three samples of conventional raw sausage, while enterobacteriaceae were found in one organic and two conventional scalded sausages. In 55% (23 samples) of the tested organic scalded sausages and in 37% (10 samples) of the conventional ones, no lactobacilli were found. In 9 organic and one conventional scalded sausage the tolerable amount of lactobacilli was exceeded.
Detailed information (including result tables) can be found in the German version of the monitoring report (PDF ).
If you have any questions concerning the report on the Organic Monitoring Program of Baden-Württemberg, please don’t hesitate to contact us.