7 September 2001

Organic fraud rife in Europe

BRUSSELS has admitted that fraud, involving conventional food being passed off as organic, is widespread with unscrupulous dealers reaping an illicit profit.

The admission came in an answer to a parliamentary question by south-west MEP, Caroline Jackson. She was concerned by reports of a growing black market in fake organic food, both in the UK and Europe.

In particular, she referred to a 20,000t cargo of normal German grain, worth £3m, which was shipped to the UK and sold as organic.

In its reply, the commission said it "had been informed of cases of fraud on a considerable scale in relation to organic farming in a number of member states over the last few years." As such, it was piloting an early warning scheme and tightening up the inspection guidelines.

"British consumers are very much at the mercy of continental organic producers because we still import so much organic produce," said Dr Jackson. "We all know that port controls on food are poor, so we have to take urgent action to stop such fraud."

But a spokesman for the Soil Association said he did not believe the problem was as significant as Brussels had suggested. "There is a loophole in that there is no system of certification or inspection for traders and merchants and we are pressing for this to be closed by the commission." &#42

Currently the UK brings in 75% of its organic food from abroad.

Organic farming has been growing at about 25% a year since the mid-1990s and now accounts for almost 3% of the EU farmed area, according to new German statistics. In total, almost 130,000 farms are registered as organic in the EU, (about 2%), most of which are in Italy and Austria.