Organic food: Helping EU consumers make an informed choice

Briefing 19-05-2015

Organic production is an overall system of farm management and food production that aims at sustainable agriculture, high-quality products and the use of processes that do not harm the environment, or human, plant or animal health and welfare. Prompted mainly by environmental concerns and in spite of the higher price of organic products, EU consumers spent over €22 billion in 2013, helping the EU organic market grow by nearly 6%. To help them make an informed choice, the European Commission introduced a specific EU organic logo in 2010, complementing earlier legislation setting up an extensive framework of rules and requirements on the production, processing, handling and certification of organic foods. While demand is mainly concentrated in North America and Europe, over three quarters of the nearly 2 million organic producers worldwide are in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The EU continues to be a forerunner in organic agriculture thanks to strong consumer demand, strict legal protection and support for organic production. Around one eighth of the world's organic producers – 260 000 – are situated in the EU, and in 2013 they cultivated over 10 million hectares of land. Within the EU organic market Germany has the largest share (€7.6 billion) followed by France (€4.4 billion), the United Kingdom (€2.1 billion), and Italy (€2 billion). While the sustainable nature of organic farming is generally conceded, its health and nutritional benefits are still widely debated. The use of (organic) pesticides and the possible presence of residues in organically grown crops also attract a lot of attention. Meanwhile, the increasing competition for shoppers and the recent market entry of retail discounters such as Aldi, make analysts fear a price war seriously affecting farmers and food manufacturers. The recent growth in organic farming has also given rise to the so-called 'conventionalisation hypothesis', according to which some big organic farms are increasingly functioning as modified models of conventional farms.