Organics’ growth set to continue

Exports and imports of organic foods are growing like a weed

Danish citizens remain the world’s largest consumers of organics per capita. Of all the foods sold in Denmark, more than seven percent are organic – meaning that they have been grown without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified genes, and have never been irradiated nor treated with chemical additives.

In 2010, one third of all the milk Danes drank was organic, as were 20 percent of all the eggs they ate, and nearly a quarter of all the fruit and vegetables they consumed. Annual sales in organic food products top 5 billion kroner, according to the latest figures from the agriculture and food council Landbrug & Fødevarer.

And that number is set to rise, as the government has set itself the goal of making the food in public-sector kitchens – including schools, nursing homes and workplace canteens – 60 percent organic by 2020.

It's an ambitious goal that could have a big impact on total organics consumption, as the public-sector accounts for more than one third of all workplaces and its kitchens serve up half a million meals every day.

“The public sector should be an engine for the demand and changeover to organic foods,” the food minister, Mette Gjerskov (Socialdemokraterne), told the health magazine Økologisk.

Another factor that could drive organic sales in the short-term is the recent scandal involving the use of illegal pesticides and fertilisers on hundreds of Denmark's conventional, non-organic farms.

Increasing demand for organics, including everything from staples like carrots and lettuce, to tropical fruits and prepared convenience foods, has turned organics into a high-growth business sector for Denmark.

Danish organic growers tripled their exports – mostly to other EU countries – between 2006 and 2010. But, because of the high domestic demand for a wide range of organic products, the trade deficit was still 347 million kroner in 2009, according to Danmarks Statistik.

Imports of exotic, organic fruits and vegetables, as well as organic grains and animal feeds – largely from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy – make up the bulk of Denmark's current organic food imports.

But with the new US-EU organic trade agreement, prepared and processed organic foods from the US – those that are higher up the value chain than, say, a sack of oranges – could soon grab a share of the food market, as long as their prices are competitive with those of EU producers, Landbrug & Fødevarer's organic team leader, Kirsten Lund Jensen, told The Copenhagen Post.

While many argue that shipping organic fruits, vegetables and meats across the ocean is hardly ecologically sound, Jensen countered that it's often the best solution for the environment if consumers demand non-local and non-seasonal foods.

“If you produce tomatoes in Denmark in the wintertime you have to use a lot of energy for heating. In that case, it can be better from an environmental standpoint to import them from a warm country. The energy use for transport is very minor compared to production,” she said.

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