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Coffee12 December 2023

Organic farming and the organic label

At Belco the share of organic coffees in our volumes has been increasing by 15% a year since 2018. More than just a trend, organic represents a sustainable way of producing that aligns with today's environmental issues.

Consumer questions

Today's consumer is faced with a wide variety of production methods and ideologies, all brought together under the same label, the organic label. When it comes to imported products, the consumer is even more at a loss: what checks are carried out by certifying bodies? Do the products follow the same standards as French products? How can we be sure that a product is truly organic?

What are the pesticide residue limits?

For imported organic products, there are no specific pesticide residue limits in European standards. Instead, we use the limits applicable to conventional products, the MRLs (Maximum Residue Limits).

These are calculated on the basis of daily doses and health effects. The absence of established residue limits for organic products leaves a certain amount of flexibility, allowing cross-contamination to be tolerated without affecting the producer.

This tolerance, while sometimes beneficial to the producer, can lead to abuses. The absence of fixed standards favours the biggest players on the market, with their high bargaining power and ability to defend themselves in the event of a dispute with the certifier.

Organic quality control at Belco

Setting exacting specifications

To respond to consumer concerns and reduce the environmental impact of coffee production, Belco supports producers and works to reduce the use of pesticides.

To achieve this, at Belco we control our imports to the maximum, with total traceability and demanding quality control. The work of our sourcing, quality and field teams enables us to implement reasoned practices in order to rediscover the ideals of organic farming and offer a real alternative to current production methods.

With our certifier and in agreement with our suppliers, our specifications set precise residue limits and the various actions to be taken in the event of contamination.

Residue limits at Belco, and what they imply

  • Negative results : No action.
  • Results below 0.010mg/kg: These coffees are processed internally and with the producer. The producer is directly informed of any traces of residues, and work is carried out with the team of field engineers on traceability and alternative proposals.
  • Results between 0.010mg/kg and 0.020mg/kg: A second analysis is carried out. If the result is equivalent, the coffee is downgraded, our certifier is informed, and field work is carried out.
  • Results over 0.020mg/kg: The coffee is blocked and a second analysis is carried out. If the result is equivalent, the coffee is downgraded, our certifier is informed, and fieldwork is carried out. With these results, the certifier conducts an in-depth investigation to investigate the sources of contamination.

The role of our engineers in the field

Reducing contamination

The advice of our field engineers and quality engineers is aimed at reducing contamination and eliminating it during harvest.

We also aim to support farmers wishing to convert to organic farming. Residue analyses and the identification of sources of contamination are highly beneficial tools during periods of transition.

Verify results with new analyses

Following analysis of the results obtained and the implementation of solutions, some of last year's positive coffees show residue-free analyses for this year's harvest.

This is the case for certain Peruvian coffees, for which traceability work, identification of contamination and implementation of solutions have been carried out. As cross-contamination between neighbouring plots is frequent, plant barriers have been put in place to prevent it. These cases underline the importance of agroforestry and the implementation of barriers to control erosion and runoff.

Analysis of all the Microlots also enabled us to identify the plots where contaminants were present, and not to add them to our Terroir coffees. A single plot can contaminate an entire batch, causing major problems for a large number of producers if they lose their certification.

Promoting agroecological practices

Agroecological practices such as agroforestry, varietal selection, rational weed management and biodiversity are once again proving their worth as useful alternatives to the use and spread of synthetic products.

The solutions proposed to each grower following each positive analysis help to increase knowledge and the circulation of information between sources, engineers and growers.

Focus on 3 Belco case studies

In Ethiopia

As the cradle of the Arabica coffee plant, Ethiopia is known for its coffees with unique flavors and organoleptic profiles. Ethiopian production systems are at the root of these singularities.

These production systems are based on wild and endemic varieties (called Heirloom), ancestral agricultural practices and unique terroirs and shaded environments, known as forest coffees.

Ethiopia produces organic coffees by nature, only the accessibility of certification poses a challenge. For Belco, their ancestral production methods are completely in line with the organic and Belco specifications. Of all the Ethiopian coffees analyzed since 2019, none showed traces of residues. Belco also guarantees the absence of pesticide residues on the Forêt® coffee range. In the future, in order to increase producers' incomes and enhance the value of their practices, Belco would like to facilitate access to certification. Why not get involved?

Mexico, Finca Irlanda

Finca Irlanda is the first coffee farm to be certified Demeter - Biodynamic. It has been certified since 1963. Since Belco decided to import bags from Finca Irlanda, our aim has been to support Finca Irlanda in improving quality and to train in biodynamic practices alongside them.

Guatemala, La Bolsa - Encuentros plot

Our partner Renardo Ovalle de Vides 58 shares our philosophy and desire to work with sustainable practices. Together with our field engineer, Marjorie Canjura, they set off over two years ago to learn about organic farming from our partner COMSA in the Marcala region of Honduras.

Since then, over 15 ha have been converted to organic farming, and this year 96 bags were imported. These coffees are free of pesticide residues and are well on the way to being certified within a year.

Reducing the use of pesticides and promoting alternative agricultural practices are in line with Belco's objectives to promote healthier, more environmentally-friendly and more profitable farming. Once again, agro-ecological and reasoned practices are the only solutions for reducing inputs and increasing the sustainability of the sector. Just as traceability and quality analysis enable us to offer consumers a transparent product in line with their expectations.

Jean Etchats, Belco quality manager and organic analysis project manager