The World of Organic Products

Heinz W. Kuhlmann
Representative for NürnbergMesse in Japan

Organic agriculture is practiced in almost all countries of the world, and its share of agricultural land and farms is growing (see tables). The total organically managed area, including land in conversion, is almost 25 million hectares world-wide. In some countries with very large areas, such as Australia and Argentina, a substantial portion is used as pastures.

In addition, the area of certified “wild harvested plants” covers at least another 10 million hectares, according to various cortication bodies. Furthermore, there are huge areas of non-certified organic agriculture in developing countries which do not have a certification system because it is too costly and/or does not make much economic sense. This topic is explored in detail in the Greepeace study “Organic and Agro-ecological farming in the Developing World’.

Frequent scandals in agriculture and the food industries have resulted in stricter food laws and more efficient procedures for certification and traceability Early standards for production, inspection and certification were developed by private organizations, followed by governmental regulations. The major importing and consuming markets, such as Europe and the USA, are leading, but countries like Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Japan and Korea are following their path. Today over 60 countries have already implemented their system or are on the way of doing so. The Codex Alimentarius, with its organic chapter, defines the common international ground for governments. Nevertheless, there are substantial differences in the quality and reliability of certification, and it is still necessary to achieve a minimum of world-wide equivalency guaranteed throughout the system.

Non-food products
Organic products are mainly associated with food and beverages. However there are many other natural products, such as cosmetics and body care products detergents and cleaning agents, textiles, building materials, furniture, paper and toys, which all contribute to a natural and healthy life style. Such products cannot be certified in the same way as food, but they must meet strict criteria to be admitted to BioFach.

Even though the demand for organic products is increasing world-wide, it is still very difficult to gather clear information and precise figures (see tables). This applies also to Japan which in spite of drastic changes after the introduction of the Organic JAS Standard is still the third largest consumer market in the world, after the USA and EU. In 2000, prior to the introduction of JAS, the Japanese market for natural products (including so-called green healthy and organic products) was valued at US $3 billion, however, the new JAS with strict definitions for organic food products caused revenues to shrink to US $250 million in 2001. Following the consumer demand for safe and healthy products, the number of retailers offering natural and organic products is steadily increasing (see article Asian Organic Food Industry).

Focus on Asia

BioFach Nürnberg, the leading World Organic Trade Fair with about 2000 exhibitors, has developed a global strategy bringing this event and its concepts to other continents. Along these lines BioFach America and BioFach Japan were established two years ago to reach the major consumer markets. In addition, BioFach Japan is also intended as a platform for producers from the Asian-Pacific region. For many countries in this area Japan is already a major export market for conventional foods, and organic producers are also eager to enter the Japanese market. Therefore, several articles in this guide book focus on Asia.

Acknowledgements: The information for this article was drawn from various sources among them IFOAM publications and web sites (see Information Resources). Special thanks and credit are due to Mr. Amarjit Sahota, Director of Organic Monitor for the permission to use for this article a part of the Asia chapter of their recent report on the global organic food & drink market. Organic Monitor is a business and consulting company, specialised in the international organic food industry. Mr. Jörg Rosenkranz contributed three articles about Certification and Organic Agriculture in Thailand to this guide book.