Healthy choice

The Prague Post

Country launches organic food campaign

Many people are choosing to go organic when they reach for a certain fruit, vegetable or even bakery product. Reasons vary — some go green because of food allergies or to avoid unnecessary chemicals in their diet, while others want to support local economies and farmers. And then there are those folks who simply think that naturally grown food tastes better.

But what exactly is the state of the organic food industry in the Czech Republic these days, and how do you know if what you are consuming is truly an organic product?

Such questions are among the issues the country’s State Agricultural Intervention Fund (SZIF) hopes to answer in the coming months through an educational campaign it recently launched with money from the European Commission. The group — through print advertising, billboards, a Web site, information center, leaflets and a shopping center road show — hopes to make consumers more aware of their organic grocery options.

With a diet heavy in meat and dumplings and slim on the veggies, one might wonder if organic food products could even find a niche in this country.

But, according to Tomáš Václavík from Green Marketing, an agency dedicated to helping organic farmers, producers and retailers market their products, “the organic food market is booming.”

“It started from a low base,” he says. However, within three to five years, Václavík says he expects the organic food market here could grow as much as 70 percent.

“I expect organic food to be at least three to five percent of total food consumption,” he says.

While most of the information the SZIF campaign will be dispensing over the next several months is geared toward Czech speakers, there are still ways foreigners will be able to make sure they are buying wholly organic when out grocery shopping. Last June, the European Union passed a regulation on organic production, mandating that such products carry the EU organic label on their packaging. Czech shoppers may be familiar with the “KLASA” logo, which is the National Quality Food Mark. The minister of agriculture grants this status to quality food products grown locally, which may or may not be organic.

In order to receive the EU’s stamp of approval on such products, at least 95 percent of the ingredients must be organic, and the location where they were farmed must be shared with consumers. In addition, the food cannot be made with genetically modified organisms.

The growth of organic farming can be seen throughout Europe. Statistics from the Agricultural and Rural Farming branch of the EU say the organic farm division grew by about 25 percent from 1993 to 1998. Since 1998, growth has been about 30 percent. In 2005, EU member states reportedly farmed about six million hectares organically.

In the Czech Republic, there are three independent certification bodies accredited by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture to control and certify organic farmers, manufacturers and retailers.
“They guarantee that the EU regulation is maintained,” Václavík says.

Despite all this, the Czech organic food market is still evolving.

“In Germany, for instance, there are about 50,000 organic food products,” Václavík says. “In the Czech Republic, the number is about 1,000, but many more are imported.”

Václavík estimates about 65 percent of the organic food sold here comes from countries like Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria. This is because their organic farming systems are much more developed than the Czech Republic, Václavík notes. However, a small but steadily growing number of local consumers prefer organic.

“About 4 percent of Czechs regularly buy organic food, and 25 percent irregularly,” says Václavík. “Organic food can be bought at more than 2,500 stores all over the Czech Republic, which makes the local organic food market the most developed all over the Central European region.”

He advises visiting a specialty organic food shop for the widest range of choices, but any supermarket will offer the basics.

So the availability is there for those who want it, and with an upcoming advertising blitz, Vilém Frček, head of the independent public relations unit for SZIF, hopes more shoppers will think a little more about their grocery choices.

“I hope there will be a higher interest in organic food, thus increasing the purchasing of products from ecological farms,” he says.

Václavík agrees.

“The best and freshest deal is to be had from an organic farm.”