17 November 2000

Converts likely to remain loyal

HOUSEHOLD spending on organics has quadrupled within the past two years, but can it be sustained?

The organic industry is being stimulated and yet also held back by many factors believes Craig Sams, president of organic food company Whole Earth and treasurer of The Soil Association.

Market demand does not appear to be waning and people already buying organic produce will stay with it, he told conference delegates. With organic baby food taking 55% of that market, a whole generation will be raised on organic food, he said.

The industry has a healthy living label att-ached to it which has been promoted by EU regulations, environmental groups, health concerns, fair trade and social justice awareness and the media.

"Consumers see organic as value for money food that tastes good, is healthy and can be trusted – the feel good perception," said Lynda Brown, author of The Shoppers Guide to Organic Food. Traceability of local food is an important quality of organic food. "We can reconnect food on the plate to food in the field."

This idea was echoed by Julian Rose, an organic dairy farmer in the Chiltern Hills. "Regionalis-ation is important. We need to look at resources within an area and market produce locally – increasing specificity," he said.

However, certain issues could restrict growth in the sector, said Mr Sams. The expansion of GM cropping could lead to cross-contamination of organic produce and feed supplies and attacks from general scientific research could damage the market. Supply bottlenecks, irregular transatlantic and EU regulations and the governments inconsistent funding of organic conversion will all have a part to play.

Inconsistent funding was an issue also taken up by organic agronomist Alan Wilson. "There needs to be fair play in the EU – France is the only other country not providing continuity payments for producers. With only 1.2% of total MAFF agricultural research being spent on organic issues, producers need more technical information," he said. &#42

The market for organics will reach a plateau, but not decline, says Craig Sams.