A reader recently asked about finding organic food in Ecuador.
“My wife and I and our 2 year old son are considering a move to either Cuenca or Antigua, Guatemala. One thing that is very important to us is the availability of organic food. We were excited to find that Cuenca had a market called the Coopera that sold mostly organic food at good prices. Upon further research the market appears to be shut down. Can you verify if the Coopera market is shut down? Are there still good options for getting organic food?”
That’s a great question. In this post I’ll share what I know – and I hope that you’ll do the same in the comments below.
A related topic is GMO in Ecuador where we have an active discussion as well.
Organic Food in Ecuador?
I’ve read on other expat blogs and forums the idea that all food in Ecuador is organic. A few people have stated that Ecuador can’t afford chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) so they grow everything organically.
This is (obviously) unfair and untrue. We have seen many growers – large and small – spraying their crops with backpack sprayers. The chemical has a unique smell – one I remember well from growing up in the agricultural focused Annapolis Valley (Nova Scotia). From a business perspective, it makes sense to use chemicals to ensure a good crop.
I don’t know that any meat (chicken, pork or beef) exists that hasn’t had vaccinations and other shots. Some livestock here is grass fed – some chickens only eat bugs and corn. But the majority eat only “balanceado” – a manufactured chicken feed with added vitamins and chemicals. While everyone prefers free-range, almost everyone uses this for healthy animals.
How can you be sure if it is organic?
Food Labeling in Ecuador
The laws in Ecuador are very similar to what we were used to in Canada. What appears to be different is the enforcement.
Some products at the grocery store don’t even list ingredients (snacks, sauces, etc). Others are printed as 100% pure (like honey) when they aren’t. It seems to be a fairly uncontrolled sector.
There was a brand of honey that we regularly bought and it was fine. It seemed to be pure – it was Eucalyptus flavor – amazing! But then the consistency suddenly changed. Instead of being slightly sticky it was like glue – like corn syrup. I have a significant allergy to corn – so when I ate it and got very sick – it wasn’t hard to determine that corn had been added. It has been almost a year since I have had honey – I am afraid to experiment with the other brands. I don’t feel that I can trust the labels.
3 Ways to Ensure That Your Food is Organic
I think that there are three ways to ensure organic food.
- Purchase packaged food that is exported (or imported): When a locally made product is exported, they need to comply with international rules. An example is Pacari Chocolate. This Ecuadorian made chocolate is sold primarily in the US and is certified USDA Organic. The other side of the coin is to purchase imported food from a region with enforced labeling rules.
- Know the grower: If you have a relationship with the grower, you can be confident that it is organic. Especially if you live in rural Ecuador and you can buy from your neighbor.
- Grow the food yourself: While this might not be an option for most expats, this is a good way to be sure that it has been grown chemical free.
What has been your experience with organic food in Ecuador? Please share your tips and stories below.
Also, what is the situation with the Coopera Market? Is it still open? Is it certified organic?