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The Organic Market in the Present and in the Future

An interview to Roberto Pinton, Assobio's secretary

Ipsos' report “Food Farming: fake myths and new truths” states that the trend of the future is the creation of high quality products that combine tasty and healthy. How does organic food connect to this context?

I have a certain age, and in 1991 I had the occasion to participate to a conference about organic farming at UNO. When a german collegue indicated that the goal could have been reaching the 20% of organic cultivation, someone jumped out of his chair, someone else stared at thim with compassion.

But still, in 2015 the 21,5% of the Austrian cultivations was organic, the 16,9% of the swedish s was too, and also the 13,1% of the swiss, 12,8% of the latvian and the 12% of the italian: in Italy, one million hectares of land is organic. For those of you who cannot imagine what a hectare, an area or a centiare looks like, just imagine the whole surface of Tuscany, Umbria and Marche...we haven't reached the 20% mark yet, but we are getting closer really fast. And if we say that we need to increase this percentage, no one stares at us anymore.

In 20 years, from the agricultural census of 1990 to the one of 2010, the amount of traditional farming companies in Italy dropped by 46% and the amount of the organic ones increased by 898%.

And it is not just about mere numbers, this is the demonstration that we are going through a phase of agricultural renaissance, with a growth of organic agriculture thanks to its vocation to quality, to the protection of the envirnment and the well-being of the animals, to the safety of the products. It is all about values that more and more consumers are sharing, since they aren't likely to trade a low price with environmental damages, with pesticides that contaminate the water, with animales that are bound not to see the grass anymore, with unknown additives in the final products.

We can definitely say that, finally, the human agriculture is growing (and it is happening all over the world, as the growth of fair trade, which is really close to organic cultivation, shows), and looking for this kind of agriculture the consumers could become the true protagonists of a real ecological and eco-sustainable conversion of the economy.

According to you, is the success of organic the result of the growing sensitivity towards the enviroment and the increading attention on health or just a fleeting fashion?

Second life was fashion, but the sustainable prodution and consumption was not. The research on quality, safety and sustainable relationships with our planet is not a fashion, it is a growing trend that consolidates and develops.

And obviously, it is all about this: the selective garbage collection, for the kids, is not just a curiosity, but an obvious habit nowadays. The kids eat organic food in the school canteen, they visit petting zoos and grow vegetables at school.

Hybrid cars are not uncommon anymore, and also bike and care sharing are an habit now; the concept of re-using is increasing and there is a smore sober attitude towards the consumptions that, as the word itself says, consume the resources of our world. No, i don't really think that we are talking about fashion. Moreover, the bigger companies, that were initially doubtful, have now developped or are developping organic product lines to satisfy the growing request of this kind of product.

The same report highlights that the percentage of organic products in the shopping carts increased from 0,7% in 2000 to 3,1% in june 2016, for a turnover of about 4,5 billion. What should we expect for the future?

On the 31st March 2017, organic products affected the  food consumption by 3,4% in the big retail (and don't forget the over 1200 organic shops, that have been the pioneers in spreading out the consumption and especially the culture of organic). But, more than half of the whole wheat pasta italians eat is organic, and so is the 20% of pulses and cereals, 30% of the fruit spreads, one third of the milk replacements, 15% of the eggs, 8% of the flours we prepare bread, cakes and biscuits with, 5,5% of the yogurt. The consumption tripled in comparison 2009, and the incidence of organic products on food consumption doubled in comparison to 2011. during the last year, a quarter of the new products on the market was organic.

Those numbers are really impressive, and we definitely can expect them to grow more. The economical breakdown played its role. Someone thought it could kill us: “your products are too expensive, the consumers want to save money, there's no space for you”. Instead, the years of the breakdown were the ones where the consumption grew. The consumers reoriented their chioces, not to waste and to have simple yet high quality and filling products. And what kind of product besides the organic ones could have answered their requests?

Nowadays, many “traditional” companies included organic products in their range. What does the consumer that is choosing an organic product have to pay attention to?

The control system is the same all over Europe, both in Sweden and Italy, both in France and Germany, and it is based on the same rules, that ask for inspections (also unexpected), samples to be analyzed, the verification on the “mass balance”(which means, how much flour has been purchased and how many biscuits have been sold). The control system is the same for the bigger and the smaller companies (the only thing that can change is the amount of inspections and sample testings).

So, you just need to check if the european logo (a green leaf with 12 stars around) is on the label, together with the code of the authorized control organism and the code of the company that distribute these products. If someone is looking for more specific characteristics (such as the gluten free, vegan or dairy free, or wants to address to fair trade), he must look for the specific label or claim on the label. As an “expert of the trade”, I always sympathize for the companies, both producers and distributors, that 30 or 40 years ago already produced organic food: they didn't only move in the right direction, but with their job they have also been able to raise awareness and consciousness, and they kicked off the cultural turn we are celebrating today.