​​​The Ministry of Agriculture publishes its annual survey of organic produce in Israel

Where have pesticides been found in organic products? Will the consumer be able to find organic produce on their local retail shelves? How many farmers grow organic produce in Israel? And how many Dunams are cultivated organically? And more...

Among the findings: a 20% increase in organically farmed land area • Of 96 samples, only 9 produced traces of forbidden substances • 8% increase in the number of people involved in organic farming

In 2017, the number of people involved in organic farming increased over the previous year. In 2017, there were 693 licensed organic farmers, compared with 640 such farmers in 2016. In other words - an 8%(!!) increase. 

25 retail outlets for fresh and processed organic produce were tested in 2017. The tests included documentation and traceability, separation in storage, marking of sale shelves, laboratory testing etc. Additionally, 96 samples were taken for testing to detect traces of substances prohibited in organic farming. About 70% of the tests were from processed organic products. The remaining 30% were from fresh produce. The results have been encouraging: only 9 samples were found to contain traces of prohibited substances. Of these, 5 were samples from the processed organic products - paprika, rosemary, plum juice, red wine vinegar, and spelt crackers. 4 samples came from fresh organic produce - pawpaw, coriander (irregularities in two separate samples) and leek. In 56% of the points of sale the shelves were found to be labeled not as required by law. In 24% of the points of sale the documentation was found not to be in order, meaning it was not possible to trace the source of the produce (supplier or grower), and in 60% of the points of sale the survey found that there was complete ignorance of the Law for the Regulation of Organic Produce. 
This year the total land area cultivated organically increased by approximately 20%. Fruit cultivation increased by over 30% in the areas cultivating olives, dates and watermelon. Moreover, field crop cultivation increased by approximately 18%, including wheat, potatoes and alfalfa. A calculation of the total organic farming land area shows significant increases in organic field crop farming –  19,688 Dunams in 2016 compared with 22,953 Dunams in 2017; there was a decrease in organic vegetable farming – 3,318 Dunams of vegetables in 2016, compared with 2,641 Dunams in 2017; an increase in organic citrus farming – 1,574 Dunams in 2016, compared with 2,405 Dunams in 2017.

Background on organic farming

The fresh and processed plant-based and animal-based organic produce is supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the Law for the Regulation of Organic Produce passed in 2005, by the regulations for production and sale of plant-based organic produce from 2008, and by the regulations for producing and sale of animal-based organic produce from 2013. A consumer interested in consuming organic produce must seal the Ministry of Agriculture’s Organic Mark, which is identical for all organic products. This way the consumers can be certain the product they are purchasing has indeed been grown and produced in accordance with the organic standard and that it is supervised by one of the certifying and controlling institutions accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture (Secal Israel, Agrior, and IQC - the Institute of Quality & Control).
Since the law came into effect, the Ministry conducts annual “oversight” in addition to the routine ongoing inspections conducted by the organic produce certification and control institutions in Israel. These include testing for traces of prohibited substances and inspection of the traceability and labeling of the products for the consumer. Products which have been tested in the 2017 survey include fresh and processed produce, including: fruits and vegetables, breads, breakfast cereals, powdered drinks, etc.
Organic agriculture in Israel accounts for approximately 1.5% of all the agricultural produce in Israel and for about 13% of all agricultural exports. There are some 700 businesses involved in this sector. These include farmers, importers, marketers, etc.  Some 57,600 Dunams are cultivated organically as follows: Field crops – 40%, vegetables – 4.5%, fruit – 24%, herbs – 4%, miscellaneous – 23% (medicinal herbs, flowers etc.).
Ever since the law was enacted, the issue of organic produce in Israel has been regulated - which substances can and cannot be used on organic products, how organic produce is to be grown and under what restrictions (distance from an “ordinary” field, irrigation, erosion prevention), how to convert a “conventional” field into an organic field, how organic agricultural produce is to be packed, stored and transported, how organic products are to be displayed at the points of sale, how it must be packed and what labeling it must bear, what supervision and control is done on organic produce etc. 

So what should you look for?   Look for the uniform organic mark of the State of Israel (Ministry of Agriculture) on the product packaging (fruit, vegetables, packed products) and look for the mark of control from one of the certification and control institutions accredited to grant the organic farmer and manufacturer permission to mark their product as organic.

Where can you find organic products? Make sure the organic products are clearly separated from the ordinary products. In other words, if a store sells both organic and ordinary products, they are required to separate one from the other to prevent confusion. There has to be a separate area in each store for the organic products. This applies to fruits and vegetables, as well as to processed products such as pasta, ketchup, sauces etc. Stores selling organic only do not need to separate the different products. A sign must be posted at the point of sale bearing the inscription “Organic Produce”.