17 November 2000

Strong organic industry must maintain integrity

By Hannah Velten

GROWTH of organic production reflects consumer demand, but the future of the market depends on integrity within the industry.

With 1131 lines of products making up 5% of total sales, organics are now considered mainstream at Waitrose and the supermarket chain is eager to promote a partnership with organic producers to ensure supplies continue to grow.

Speaking at a producers day held in conjunction with the Henry Doubleday Research Association at Ryton Organic Gardens, Warks, the supermarkets management said it was concerned that public perception of organic production remains favourable.

"Organic represents a safer, more comfortable method of producing food compared with conventional farming," said Mary Vizoso, head of food technology at Waitrose. But the integrity of the industry must be upheld so there is no gap between standards and reality to damage perception.

Many consumers turn to organic products as a reaction to food scares, concerns about the environment and genetically modified organisms in conventional farming, so organic standards must be strictly upheld. "Organics may be isolated from some conventional farming issues but does not avoid them all," said Richard Sadler, head of buying at Waitrose and a self-confessed organic cynic.

Bacteria contamination from manure, welfare exposés or variable control over import standards could damage the industry and market for suppliers, said Mr Sadler.

"The get-rich-quick category of producer will make short cuts to get the organic premium, leading to organic rip-off headlines," he added. "We are not enlisting more producers just for the sake of keeping up with demand. Integrity is essential as we cannot undermine peoples trust."

Greater control over certification is needed, said organic agronomist Alan Wilson. "The Soil Association needs to standardise audits to ensure there is no variation between producers. Greater controls are also needed on traceability and welfare of animals."

Because 70% of organic supplies are imported, certification regulations should be consistent within EU countries so industry creditability is not damaged, he added.

Organics is not isolated from contentious issues surrounding conventional farming, says Richard Sadler.

The integrity of the organic industry must be upheld, says Mary Vizoso, head of food technology at Waitrose.

ORGANICINDUSTRY

&#8226 Growing consumer demand.

&#8226 Must uphold integrity.

&#8226 No variation between standards.