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How can you be sure that the organic vegetables you buy are vegetarian?

January 15, 2011

That is a question we have been asking ourselves for a while.

Not all wine is vegetarian, sometimes isinglass (made from fish bladder) is used to filter the wine (and pigs blood may be used to filter cider, beers and whiskeys also sometimes use animal products as filters). Although there is no isinglass left in the wine when it is sold, wine made by this method is not considered vegetarian.

Organic farmers do not use chemicals to fertilse their crops but they are able to use products derived from animals. And this includes fish, blood and bone (and other bits of animals from abattoirs).

So if a vegetable has been grown using organic methods can we be sure that it is suitable for vegetarians?

It has been a question that Andrea and I (from the vegetarian guesthouse, 3 place des arbres) have been debating amongst ourselves for a while now, and so Andrea sent a question to a new column in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper – Ask Leo and Lucy.

Her question was as follows:

I have been vegetarian for many years and try to eat organic produce, if possible. I am grappling with the issue that many organic fertilisers are of animal origin and wondering if the animals that the fertilisers are derived from are of organic origin, too? Where does it start or end? I don’t really want to eat food that has been grown in a way that causes harm to animals, but I realise that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are potentially damaging to me and to the environment. Help. Are fish, blood and bone fertilisers the most commonly used for growing organic vegetables, or are there other sources? (A local organic farmer tells me that she uses only horse manure and I try to buy as much veg as possible from her … we live in France.)

Andrea Humphreys

It generated a huge number of responses (some more helpful than others) and I recommend you read the column

This was the response from the Vegetarian Society

Sadly, society’s attitude to animals as disposable commodities or inconvenient pests makes it almost impossible to live without causing them harm. While organic produce is very likely to have been produced using animal-derived fertilizers and soil improvers, the fertilisers and pesticides used in conventional farming cause significant harm to wildlife. Manure from kindly kept animals is one positive option, vegan organic food production is another, but neither currently produce food on the scale needed to allow ordinary people to truly live by their principles. Consumer demand makes a huge difference so Andrea and others should keep asking questions and demanding higher standards. Being a vegetarian is one of the most positive life choices anyone can make – for themselves, for the planet and, of course, for the animals. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is one that millions of people enjoy every day and bit by bit we can all make a truly cruelty free lifestyle more of a reality. Visit for free information and advice.
And this was the response from the Soil Association

Farms listed by the Vegan Organic Network won’t have used any animal products so that’s one way to be sure. Ian Tolhurst of Tolhurst Organic Farm is a Soil Association licensee. Another option is asking the producer what inputs they have used. Fish, blood and bone is fairly expensive and is not most commonly used for growing organic vegetables – the main ways of building fertility are by using animal manure or compost, and green manures including clover which are also used in crop rotations. Fish, blood and bone is a by-product derived from slaughter-house waste (mainly non-organic), which is properly treated before being sold for use. It is allowed in fertilisers approved by the Soil Association so buying organic products is not a guarantee for avoiding. It might occur as a fertiliser in potting compost, used for transplants of young seedlings or in glasshouse production where nutrient requirements are slightly higher. It also might occasionally be used for top fruit production (e.g. apples and pears).

It is an interesting debate and I again recommend you visit the Guardian column, and add to the debate (although of course you are more than welcome to comment here too!)

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