Organic food hits the big time

Organic foods are a victim of their own success, with purists claiming that the initial ideals of clean, natural and healthy produce have been sacrificed for profit.

by: Mathilde Richter | 23 Jan 2008

Sales grew 15% in Germany last year and by almost 10% 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.

The flip side of the coin however 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.

But for many it is also a profession of faith in a healthy lifestyle that respects the environment – a view that fits poorly with tomatoes flown from Chile or lamb from New Zealand, generating pollution in the process.

How can one be sure that dried fruit from Turkey is produced according to the same criteria as those in France, for example?

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," Gerber complained, but organic is or should mean as much more than that, being a broad "respect for the environment and for nature" and linked to "an emotional quality."

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