The Rise of Organic Farming in Europe

Once seen as a marginal enterprise of interest only to health food fanatics, organic farming is booming in Europe. Over the last 10 years, the acreage under organic management has been growing by 25 per cent per year. At present growth rates, 10 per cent of Western European agriculture would be organic by 2005, and 30 per cent by 2010. But in some parts of Europe the growth rates are even higher. In Britain, within the last 12 months the acreage more than doubled, but even so the surge in demand for organic food greatly outstrips the supply, and 70 per cent has to be imported. Most supermarket chains in the UK now carry a range of organic products, and the market is growing at 40 per cent per year. By the end of this year, nearly half the baby food sold in Britain will be organic.

Why is this happening? It reflects a major shift in public attitudes, which are probably changing more rapidly in Britain than in other countrides.

First there was the trauma of mad cow disease and the emergence of CJD, its human form, contracted through eating beef. No one knows whether the death toll will rise to thousands or even millions; the incubation time can be many years. Then in 1999 there was the remarkable public rejection of genetically modifie foods, much to the surprise of Monsanto and their government supporters.

Recent surveys have shown the third of the public who now buy organic food do so primarily because they perceive it as healthier, but many also want to support organic farming because they think it is better for the environment and for animal welfare.

The rise in organic farming together with the continuing growth of alternative medicine are symptoms of a mass change in world view.

Governments and scientific institutions are not at the leading edge of this change, they are at the trailing edge. A major paradigm shift is being propelled by the media, consumers' choices and market forces. A change of emphasis in the educational system and in the funding of scientific and medical research is bound to follow, sooner or later.