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“Organic Problems” in the UK

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The demand for home-grown organic food accelerates away from the possibility to supply. Supermarkets fill the gap with imported food, sometimes air-freighted from the other end of the world and the new question coming up is if organic is still “green”. There are also increased reports of fraudulent labelling, fuelled by the shortages of organic food.


According to one source, Sainsbury’s (picture) could find only 30 per cent of the organic milk to meet British demand last week. Supplying beef, pork and fruit is problematic as well. Supermarkets can buy only 40 per cent of their organic apples in Britain; Tesco receives organic beef from Argentina. Justin King, chief executive states that his company Sainsbury’s aims to source 70 per cent of its organic produce and all of its meat in the UK and there will be significant challenges in meeting demand this winter.


76 % of organics are sold in supermarkets in Great Britain, but British farming’s failure to keep up with it is partly the store chains’ fault. Buying practices have kept farm profits low and discouraged this investment. Last year, the area in organic production in Britain fell by 8 per cent. In 2005, supermarkets were sourcing two-thirds of salad vegetables and more than a third of other vegetables abroad, supermarkets imported 34 per cent of all organic food they sold in that year altogether. The move to imports throws up major problems for the organic movement, since many consumers do not only demand organic food for their personal health benefit, but also because they want to have local products for environmental reasons.


Of course, sourcing food from local farms is not a new invention of the trade. In Great Britain, the Soil Association has been fighting for local food since their start in the trade. But now their yearly turnover 13.3 million Euros partly consists of certifying imported products from all over the world. Many of the organic apples sold in Great Britain are sourced from New Zealand, a journey of over 16,000 km. Potatoes come from Israel, 3,500 km. The British Potato Council estimates that the UK imports about 350,000 tonnes of potatoes a year, including imports during the UK season. Prawns are flown in from Indonesia, 12,000 km. Prams and shrimps are now farmed intensively in many parts of south East Asia. Beef is imported from Argentina and sometimes even from Australia, a journey of at least 11,000 km.


Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, worries about this development and states that the tipping point in this market has just been passed. Organic farming must be promoted, but not industrialized organic production. In recent weeks, there has been a rash of initiatives from the big supermarkets. Sainsbury’s will subsidise English apple-growers, Tesco will promote organic beef farming. This seems to be ironic for these who know how small, multi-crop farmers have faced bankruptcy because of supermarkets’ pricing over the last 20 year. This year Sainsbury's will sell 40 million pints of organic milk and expects to sell 50 million next year. Since there is a shortage in supply, the chain is buying milk from farms that have promised to go organic but have not yet completed their conversion.


To underline the urge for conversion, the Observer states that the number of dormice lost in the past 30 years because of non-organic farming amounts to 500,000. Furthermore, there are 400 different pesticides routinely used in conventional farming. High levels of pesticide traces have recently been found in baby food, spinach, dried fruit, bread, apples, celery and potatoes.


This was also confirmed by a recent study of WWF. 119 toxic substances were found in 27 samples of food products of large consumption like dairy products, meat, fish, bread, olive oil, honey and orange juice, belonging to 8 different chemical groups. The 27 samples came from Great Britain, Poland, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Greece and Finland. None of the products, all bought in supermarkets and of common brands, says WWF, was free of traces of chemical substances; all 119 toxic residues were present - even DDT among them.



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