Organic is booming but is bio a healthier diet?

The organic stall at the market in Souillac, Lot, is busy even when the local fruit and veg offerings are restricted due to the season – but, year-round, most organic stalls are the usual riot of colour, although some items will be imported

Organic products have never been so popular, with latest 2016 figures showing more shoppers going “bio”, the opening of new specialists all over France, a rise in the range and amount of organic products in supermarkets and the number of farms converting from conventional methods.

Florent Guhl, the director of Agence Bio, a public body created by the Ministry of Agriculture which promotes and develops organic farming in France, says he believes buying organic is now an established trend which will continue to grow.

“I am very confident about the future and I think consumers are now convinced of the virtues of buying organically and that the rest will now follow, even though we will need time to help and persuade enough farmers to convert, and to produce enough.”

A study for Agence Bio found that in 2016, seven out of 10 shoppers bought organic produce regularly; the number of producers rose by 12% from 2015 and an extra 16% of land was turned over to organic. The year also saw sales rise to €7billion from €5.76bn in 2015.

While organic farming remains marginal with just 5.7% of farming land given to organic production, France is in third position in Europe behind Spain and Italy with the UK sixth. 

Eight out of 10 shoppers buy bio in supermarkets, a third use specialised shops which include the Biocoop chain of organic supermarkets, 28% from the market and the rest buy directly from organic producers.

Biocoop itself saw its turnover increase by 25% in 2016. It now has 431 shops with 52 opening last year and 60 planned for this year.

It is now common for supermarkets to have an organic food section and Carrefour, for example, boasts 800 different products on its shelves.

So, is supermarket bio the same as organic brought from the local market? Mr Guhl says yes, when we are talking about food produced without the use of chemicals and genetically modified ingredients.

“If a product is labelled organic with the European green leaf or the French AB it has been subjected to the same rules and has to have 95% of its ingredients organic with a possible 5% from a tightly controlled authorised list where its inclusion is necessary and there are no organic substitutes.

“The difference is they tend to be more industrialised and less likely to come from a small or local producer.

“People think supermarkets will be cheaper but this is not necessarily true and shoppers should look carefully at the prices.”

However, he welcomes the introduction of organic food into supermarkets because it makes it more accessible to a larger number of people.

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