12 March 1999

Organic on the rise in France

ORGANIC production is increasing in France, but retailers desire for own-brand organic products and competition from cheaper EU imports is forcing prices down.

Ofival, the French office of national statistics, reports 6500 producers have converted 235,000ha (580,450 acres) of land to organic production. About 80m litres of organic milk is produced annually commanding a 30% premium over conventional supplies, while meat attracts a 50% premium. But all this could end as internal competition forces prices down.

A spokeswoman for an organic milk producer/processor based at Croix, 217 miles south-west of Paris, which processes 2.5m litres a year from its 500-cow herd, said retailers are copying UK fashion for own-branded products to drive down organic produce supplies costs as competition increases.

"We dont expect organic prices to continue with high premiums, particularly for milk. Already cheaper imports from Germany and Belgium are having the effect of reducing premiums," she said. However, a litre of organic milk was selling for £1.15 (10 francs) at the show compared with prices of 71p on UK supermarket shelves.

According to Jean-Louis Bignon, director general of Interbev, the French equivalent of MLC, organic meat sales are only forecast to account for 5% of domestic consumption by 2003.

"Its a market that is developing quickly, but unlikely to overtake official meat labelling which infers quality. These marks, for example Label Rouge, will account for 15% of meat sales."

But the French ministry of agriculture takes organic – known as biologique – seriously and its suggested that many smaller units will convert. At the show a large area was devoted to organic meats, dairy products, vegetables and wines. Prime fillet steak was selling for £14.71/kg (128 francs).