Fresenius Conference "Organic Food"
Experts discussed distribution, legislation and quality of organic products at International Fresenius Conference in Germany
Dortmund, Mainz (Germany), 25 November 2010
The EU organic label, introduced on 1st July 2010, can be issued to foods deriving at least 95 percent of organic production. Organic food also has to display a reference to the source of its raw materials. But what about the consumers’ attitude and what are the implications for the food industry? Which quality issues play a role in organic food? Experts discussed these and other questions on the International Fresenius Conference "Organic Food" in Mainz (near Frankfurt/Main, Germany) from 17 to 18 November 2010.
"Organic" is not defined by the final product composition and its components but by the process of the production "from farm to fork". The organic sector is derived from interaction and dialogue between consumers and producers, resumed Dr. Alexander Beck of the Association of Organic Food Producers (Germany). Organic farming, processing and trade would be developed and dynamically adapted through this dialogue. "By doing so the organic sector has reached a tremendous awareness of the people all around Europe – organic has become a term for responsible behaviour in the food sector," Beck concluded.
The organic production concept was transferred 20 years ago into a legal framework which is known as the European organic regulation (EC) No 834/2007. The practical outcome was an integrated farming concept taking care of environmental tasks and animal health. Beck predicted growth rates from 10 to 15 percent per year: "The market for sustainably produced foods, that means organic foods, will grow constantly over the next years. But parallel we have an urgent need to develop further on the organic concept in place." His conclusion: To ensure that consumers’ trust in organic food will be protected or strengthened there is a need to develop new tools for quality assurance and to improve the control and certification system continuously.
The new EU organic label: Trust in the green leaf?
As a novelty, the new mandatory EU label for organic food must be accompanied by an indication of the origin of the raw materials "EU Agriculture", "non-EU Agriculture" or "EU/non-EU Agriculture". Only in the case where 98 percent of the agricultural raw materials have been farmed in the same country, the name of that country can be used. Meike Janssen (University of Kassel, Germany) dealt with the new EU label for organic food regarding to the consumer expectations and implications for the organic sector. Currently, it remains to be seen how consumers will react to the new label: "In an empirical consumer study in five European countries we found that the introduction of a mandatory EU label was generally welcomed by consumers. However, consumer trust in the underlying production standards and the inspection system was not very pronounced," Janssen explained. The analysis of consumer preferences for different organic labels showed that products with an organic label were generally preferred over organic products without a label. Beyond that, well-known organic labels were preferred most.
Janssen’s recommendations for producers, processors and retailers are to display well-known organic labels in addition to the mandatory EU label in a transition period. Retailers should inform their customers about the new EU label. Moreover, the specific aspects of organic agriculture should be communicated to consumers as well as the fact that organic food is certified and controlled under governmental supervision. A product differentiation strategy based on stricter production standards in addition to the European standards could be successful only if consumers understand and value the differences, she made clear. Stricter production standards should focus on aspects that are really important to consumers, such as animal welfare and fair producer prices. Due to the fact there is an increasing preference for local food, a product differentiation strategy in terms of "origin" could only work if much effort is put into local sourcing of raw materials, Janssen concluded. Therefore, a communication strategy tailored to the local origin should be implemented.
Fair trade – social issues in the organic food production
Andreas Biesantz, Demeter International (Brussels), mentioned the situation of social standards and social issues in organic food production: "Social performances in food production mean a service for people and the public which exceeds the usual standard of services. It does not matter whether they are marketable or not." According to this definition social food production creates an added value for society, he inferred. Fair trade is one example for this: it is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of higher prices to producers as well as social and environmental standards with the focus on exports from developing countries to developed countries. "In 2008, fair trade certified sales amounted to approximately 2.9 billion euro worldwide, a 22 percent year-to-year increase. It is estimated that over 7.5 million producers and their families were benefiting from fair trade funded infrastructure, technical assistance and community development projects," Biesantz said.
He demanded that the WTO agreements on global trade respect fair trade with all its specific aspects and practises social standards in the food production and distribution chain. The introduction of social standard certification and labels could be of interest for certain producer and consumer groups. Agricultural and food production systems are not social when externalizing environmental damages as follow-up costs for the tax payer and increase unemployment in rural areas. Social food production and consumption comprise promotion of public goods (e.g. environment, biodiversity and recreation areas), fair trade practices and animal welfare.
The complete Fresenius conference documentation including scripts from all the presentations can be purchased at the Akademie Fresenius for 295,00 € (plus VAT) or here
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