European organic production is not keeping pace with demand and many fruits and vegetables have to be imported. In Europe, organic foods are a victim of their own success, with production no longer able to keep up with demand, while purists claim that the initial ideals of clean, natural and healthy produce have been sacrificed for profit. Sales grew 15% in Germany last year and by almost 10 per cent in France, with a multiplication of organic brands and the launch of such produce lines by large supermarket chains previously associated with cheaper foods.
Enthusiasm for all things organic began as a movement led by hard-core nature enthusiasts, mainly in northern Europe, but now gains more and more adepts.
A ‘Green Week’ at Germany’s agricultural fair saw organic brands with a hall of their own while visitors tucked into organically produced sausages before enjoying a glass of equally pure organic wine.
Problems with importing
However the flip side of the coin is that European production is not keeping pace with demand. Many fruits, vegetables and honey must now be imported from places as far away as Turkey and Latin America. Alexander Rogge of the French federation of commerce and distribution (FCD) says that “poses a problem of credibility”.
The organic label refers to methods of production which exclude the use of fertilisers and pesticides and which respect certain norms of animal feeding.
But Rainer Mihr, editor of the German food industry trade magazine Lebensmittel Praxis says for many, the term “organic” is also a profession of faith in a healthy lifestyle that respects the environment. This is a view that fits poorly with tomatoes flown from Chile or lamb from New Zealand, generating pollution in the process.
“For many, organic products are regional products,” he said.
Uli Schnier, who runs a group of Dutch organic distributors, questions the “situation regarding quality and certification” of imported products. For example, how can one be sure that dried fruit from Turkey is produced according to the same criteria as those in France?
Beyond the question of certification, for purists the rapid expansion of the sector itself poses a problem. “We are happy that the commercial sector, including major distributors, have joined the movement,” said Alexander Gerber, who runs the German federation of organic food traders. But finding organic foods in low-cost supermarkets gives him food for thought. “These days, quality is seen only from the point of view of the produce,” Mr Gerber said.
He says “organic” is or should mean much more than that, being a broad “respect for the environment and for nature” and linked to “an emotional quality”. For Wolfgang Gutberlet, head of the German supermarket chain Tegut. “Organic is not just the lack of toxic elements, it is something that looks at the entire production process”.
Organic sausages sold in certain supermarkets may have been made with organically produced meat but they can still contain additives that purists would reject, Mr Gerber said. He says in the end, you get the best products in organic food stores.