Organic products are now fairly common fare in the local markets and supermarkets here in the UK. There are a variety of products including everything from pet food, beer, carrots and yogurt to baby food. To signify their organic status, there are several different labeling schemes with a range of standards which are not necessarily specified on the package; nor are all the labeling schemes created equal.
What is a discerning consumer to do? For those of us who want to shop ethically, there is a mind field of labeling schemes and industry jargon to sift through. Is it really organic? Is this just white wash? What the hell does that label mean? Is this something created to make middle class people feel better about themselves? What impact does this actually have!?!?
So I find myself at a crossroads, standing at a market holding 2 bags of similar looking carrots. One is labeled organic and costs £1.30, and the other just says ‘carrots’ and costs £.85. My mind wanders: is it better to buy organic? Am I falling into a price trap? Does it actually cost more to produce or are they charging more because some think ‘ethical‘ can mean ‘luxury‘? Are they actually going to taste better? Does any of this matter, and where is the beer, I need one!
The only solution to this conundrum is to be a more well-educated consumer, and I am going to use organic beer as means to that end. Our wallet is one of the powerful weapons we have in terms of dictating demand, so I want to use my hard earned pounds well.
My goal is first and foremost to better understand the facts behind the organic market. With each review of an organic ale, I will investigate something further about organic products, displaying this within the review and also back here on this page as a repository of gathered facts. With time, I would like to be more knowledgeable about organic products, and come to understand the organic beer market as a metaphor for the whole.
- The Soil Association is a charity which operates as a members’ organisation supporting organic production through direct action and advocacy. It was founded in 1946 by a, ‘group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health’. (from the Pitfield Brewery Review)
- The Soil Association Certification is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soil Association which certifies 80% of the organic products for sale in England. It certifies products in line with European Union labeling legislation (no. 2091/92). (from the Pitfield Brewery Review)
- A product can gain organic certification if it has at least 95% organic ingredients. There are non-food items such as salt, yeast and water plus some additives allowed, but no artificial colouring or sweeteners. For more information see here. (from the Pitfield Brewery Review).
- The global organic market was estimated at £38.8 billion in 2011 with sales growing by 8%. Despite this overall trend, UK sales fell by 3.7% , while box schemes, home delivery and mail order increased by 7.2% to £161 million (from the Bath Ales Wild Hare review).
- Eight out of ten households in the UK purchased an organic product in 2011. In fact, the average consumer purchased 13 organic products last year (from the Bath Ales Wild Hare review).
- Globally, there are 37 million hectares of land now farmed organically. That’s about the size of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Ohio together – all as organic farmland. Or just shy of 3 times the size of England or 1.5 times the size of the UK (from the Bath Ales Wild Hare review).
- Why do people buy organic? ‘Fewer chemicals’ is the number 1 reason. People evidently do care about the chemicals that they ingest, and this is a driving factor in choosing organic. The next time you bite into an apple or a carrot, just keep that in mind (from the Black Isle Brewery review).
- There are over 500 farmers markets in the UK with a turnover of £2 billion. There is another 1000 farm shops selling products as well. The sales of organic products in both of these markets fell to roughly £48m in 2011, but continue to be an important outlet as most large supermarkets have reduced their organic offerings (from the Black Isle Brewery review).
- McDonald’s (yup, McDonald’s) serves organic milk in all of its coffees and tea in the UK. (Go ahead, ask why not in the US?) In 2011, they saw a 9% increase in volume for a total of 20 million litres of organic milk from UK dairy farmers. However, this was not enough to turn the tide of the overall organic milk market. Sales slipped 9.2% in volume or 9.9% in value. This is not helped by the price wars being fought between supermarket chains and the average price of non-organic milk being cut by 5.1% as a loss leader for chain shops (from the Black Isle Brewery review).
- Organic cotton comprises approximately 1% of the world’s annual cotton production (240k metric tonnes). Non-organic comes at an extremely heavy cost though, ‘using almost one quarter of all the world’s insecticides and 10% of pesticides, social conditions for cotton growers can be poor, with poverty, health problems and suicide common, and thousands of chemicals are used to turn raw material into clothes, towels, bedding and other items that we put next to our skin every day’ (SOIL Association). Look for the label as well as that of the Fairtrade label to ensure that the environment and farmers are given a fair deal (from the Saison Dupont Foret review).
- Did you know you can set up your own local organic buying cooperative group? Or that the SOIL Association has a wealth of resources to get you started? (from the Saison Dupont Foret review)
- Maybe you already have a local market or a good selection at your local grocer – good on you. For those of you living in and around Islington, there is an amazing company called Farm Direct which brings the farmer’s market to you. Oh, and they sell organic beer along with stellar meat (from the Saison Dupont Foret review).