Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 19:35 GMT
Organic food demand 'threatens standards'
More and more people want pesticide-free food
The clamour for organic food is on the increase but the high demand is putting standards at risk, according to the Soil Association which monitors organic farming in Britain.
Speaking to a food conference in Cirencester, Francis Blake said that the rise in popularity of pesticide-free fruit, meat and vegetables posed a challenge to the industry.
"They are certainly struggling to keep pace with demand," he said. "As there is a two-year conversion period from conventional to certified organic farming, they cannot expand very quickly. So as demand grows we are forced to import more organic produce from abroad."
But he played down any fears of misleading labelling of imported goods. "You could argue that the further away the organic food comes from the greater likelihood there is of fraud," he said.
"There is always that risk as inspections are annual but our investigations show the instances of fraud are very low - a fraction of 1%. It is not a major problem - the major problem is that we do not produce enough in this country and have to import, and a lot of what we import we could produce ourselves."
Rise in popularity
Supermarkets are now selling large quantities of organic food to health-conscious customers prepared to pay the higher prices.
But as demand grows, retailers and wholesalers are struggling to keep up.
Addressing more than 500 delegates at the National Conference on Organic Food and Farming, Mr Adriano said that organic produce sales were at their highest levels yet with Sainsbury's selling organic food worth more than £1m each week.
The supermarket chain now has more than 400 product lines. What were once niche products are now part of the supermarkets' main product range, he said.
In 1996 Sainsbury's was selling just 40 organic products. It now sells up to 10 times that amount, with best-sellers in the dairy and produce categories and a major growth in grocery, frozen foods, bakery, fresh meat and delicatessen areas.
The Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, will address the conference on Saturday.
The three-day event, organised by the Soil Association at the Royal Agricultural College, will also discuss the controversial issue of genetically modified food.