There will be many readers of the Caithness Courier who strictly adhere to only consuming organic products. Others may do so occasionally as their budget and the availability of the produce vary and many more will stick to what they are familiar with and can afford. Certainly however, organic products are becoming increasingly common both in our supermarkets and at the popular Farmers’ Markets like the Saturday morning Inverness Farmers’ Market and the Highland Food Market.
Organic production is a system of farm management and food production that aims to create high quality products without the use of processes that harm the environment, or human, plant or animal health and welfare. Some experts have argued that before the development of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilisers in the early 20th century, all food production in the world was more-or-less organic.
Prompted by growing concerns about the use of chemicals in food production, and in spite of the higher price, in 2013 EU consumers spent over €22 billion on organic products, helping the EU organic market grow by nearly 6%. With 10.2 million hectares, the EU accounts for 24% of the world’s organic land, representing 13% of the world’s two million organic producers. A public consultation on organic agriculture carried out by the European Commission in 2013 highlighted the public’s concerns as being environmental and quality issues as well as the demand for uniform organic rules and control systems.
Organic food and drink is the only food quality label with common international standards. It is governed by an EU framework covering all aspects of the supply chain. In Scotland the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) works with the devolved Scottish administration to interpret and apply the EU regulations. There are several approved organic control bodies that operate in Scotland including the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) and Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd (OF&G).
To help consumers make an informed choice, in 2010 the European Commission introduced a specific EU logo featuring a leaf, outlined in stars on a green background. This comes with a framework of rules and requirements on the production, processing, handling and certification of organic foods. Organic certification can be a burden for small farms but is necessary to guarantee organic standards are met. Various terms such as ‘bio’, ‘eco’, or ‘natural’ can be misleading, so along with many other regulations including bio-diversity, responsible use of energy and high animal welfare, the EU logo can only be applied if fertilisers and pesticides have been authorised for use in organic production and at least 95% of the agricultural ingredients are organic.
The EU continues to be a forerunner in organic agriculture thanks to strong consumer demand, strict legal protection and support for organic production. With its outstanding natural resources and beautiful countryside, the Scottish Highlands have a great opportunity to further target this growing organic food and drinks market.
The largest global data collection of organics was published this year by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and can be found at: www.organic-world.net