The environment and organic food go hand in hand

Environmental benefits of organic farming, inspiration from the Edible Schoolyard, the pleasure of food and getting together to help each other were the key elements of Økologifagdagen, a workshop for organic food professionals organised by Nofima.

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Several speakers also urged the public sector to increase its purchasing of organic products, so as to take its share of the responsibility of achieving the government’s goal of 15 per cent organic production and consumption in Norway by 2020.

Focusing on the distinctive and the pleasure of food

Einar Risvik, Research Director of Nofima’s food research division, welcomed delegates by encouraging organic producers to focus on developing new and distinctively organic varieties of raw ingredients by getting hold of genetic material from old Nordic varieties that are no longer in cultivation. The Nordic Gene Bank has its main store of material in Alnarp in Sweden.

“In this way, organic producers can create products that will automatically have added value because nothing like them exists today, instead of competing using products that are very much like the conventional ones,” says Risvik. He points out the value of knowing that a number of research contacts seem willing to spend money on developing new food varieties.

For Andreas Viestad, the key thing is pleasure in food. Taking his inspiration from Alice Water and the Edible Schoolyard, he wants to teach children and young people about the value of food. He intends to do this at Geitmyra Gård, a protected farm in the centre of Oslo – symbolic as the border between east and west. Here he will combine cookery courses with a reminder of where food comes from and he intends to increase awareness of the relationship between pleasure in food, nutrition and making healthy food choices.

Promoting the eco values of organic food

“Organic food is eco-friendly, so it should market itself as eco-friendly. This is not being done nearly enough at present,” says Heidi Sørensen, State Secretary at the Ministry of the Environment. “Because,” she continues, “the fact is that Norwegians buy more eco-labelled products than the Danes, but the Danes buy far more organic food than we do.”

Organic food has become a reaction to conventional farming and its industrialisation. There is a debate in Norway about whether organic is needed when conventional food is seen as eco-friendly in itself. But organic food has many environmental advantages and Sørensen believes that these must be promoted more clearly.

The biggest environmental benefits of organic farming come from natural diversity, less overgrowing and restoring the balance. For example, artificial fertiliser changes the balance between nitrogen and phosphate and creates environmental waste and drainage problems, while sprays are a great global problem. The wealth of different varieties is also much greater in organic farming, and Sørensen believes that the benefits of natural diversity are much undervalued. An example of this is the falling bee population in the USA, which raises worries about pollination.

“We have also underestimated the effects of nitrogen disturbance. Too much nitrogen is going into the natural cycle, and waterways are also being contaminated by water run off. An example of this is the environmental disaster in south Norway, where calcareous waterways have created perfect growing conditions for bulbous rush, and our suspicions are that this is due to liming, less phosphate and more nitrogen,” explains Sørensen.

More focus on organic dairy products

Røros dairy has begun production of organic extra light milk for Coop. This is creating a surplus of organic cream, and this is now being sold in 10 litre packs to the catering industry. The dairy’s Anne-Marie Estensen explained that they are also finding an encouraging growth in demand for organic sour cream. After supplying organic products for almost a decade, the dairy is optimistic about the future. Not least because of the distribution and sales collaboration through Rørosmat.

“We are 20 local food producers who work together and benefit each other,” says Estensen.

It is just a month since Coop launched Norway’s first own brand milk – Änglamark Økologisk Ekstra Lett. At present the milk is being sold in central and eastern Norway and Coop has carried out a number of sales promotion activities in its shops. The milk is currently being sold at the same price as Tine’s conventional extra light milk, and Coop’s environmental manager Knut Lutnæs explained that he has been surprised by some of the reaction from the Farmers’ Union that Coop has been selling the milk too cheaply.

“One of the reasons we started producing and selling our own organic milk was that we were worried about falling sales of organic milk in Norway, so we were very surprised about the lukewarm reception we have received from the Farmers’ Union,” says Lutnæs, who also mentioned that the aim is to sell four million litres of organic milk a year.

Organic optimists

Even though the latest figures from the Norwegian Agricultural Authority show that there is still a long way to go to reach the government’s 15 per cent target, those producing and distributing organic food in Norway remain total optimists. When Elin Røsnes of the Norwegian Agricultural Authority presented a report on production and sales of organic produce for the first half of 2010, many people pointed out that, although sales were down on the second half of 2009, sales for the first six months of the year had never been so high.

In the first half of 2008, sale of organic food and drink in supermarkets and health food stores totalled NOK 410 million, in 2009 it was NOK 473 million and this year it passed the half billion for the first time at NOK 507 million.

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