CULTURE

Greece’s organic products on show

Organic fruit and vegetables are becoming more widespread in Greece’s supermarkets and speciality food stores. Over 70 producers are showing their wares over the next three days at the fourth Panhellenic Exhibition of Organically Farmed Produce, which opened at Zappeion Hall last night. The exhibition is organized by DIO, one of the three organizations in Greece approved by the State to certify a product as organically produced. DIO representatives will be on hand to answer the public’s questions as to how green these food products actually are. The products range from olive oil, wine, preserves and jams, pasta, olives, dried fruit and nuts, tea and coffee, sugar, tomato paste, honey, bread, baby food, biscuits, pulses and grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and, for the first time, veterinary products, which will all be on display at 11 different stands. The exhibition includes primary producers, manufacturers, owners of organic food restaurants and stores, certification groups and environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, WWF and the Hellenic Ornithological Society. Public interest is high – over 15,000 people visited last year’s exhibition, with over 25,000 expected this year. Interest growing – slowly Only 1.2 or 1.3 percent of Greece’s agricultural produce is farmed organically, but while low, this is not the lowest percentage in Europe and is a little higher than the 0.9 percent at the end of last year. Organic farming began in Greece in the 1980s and now covers 20,000 hectares. Legislation has been in place since 1993 to bring organic farming practices in line with European Union directives, which set out the specifications to be adhered to by farms, the type of organic fertilizers permitted for use, as well as the methods of protecting and processing, standardizing, preserving and selling organic products. Olive groves comprise 61 percent of the land under organic cultivation in Greece, with vineyards (including grapes grown for Corinthian raisins) second at 12 percent. Along with citrus orchards, they cover nearly 10,000 hectares. According to DIO, nearly half of the land being farmed organically is in the Peloponnese (16 percent in Laconia and 11.7 percent in Achaia alone) and in western Greece (15 percent). Over the past two years, livestock breeders have also become interested in organic methods. In 1999, 1,292 hectares of grazing land was being managed organically by 2,611 breeders. A year later, another 400 breeders were using organic methods over a total of 3,000 hectares. Apart from sheep, goats, beef and dairy products, poultry and pigs are also being raised organically. How green are your greens? Many consumers wonder just how organic these products actually are. At present, organic products are certified by one of three organizations (apart from DIO, there is SOGE and also Physiologiki, in northern Greece); all have been issued licenses by the Agriculture Ministry’s Organization for the Certification and Inspection of Agricultural Produce (OPEGEP). It is up to the producer to decide which agency to approach for certification. Despite some public skepticism as to the purity of these products, there are clear rules in place. Panayiotis Papadopoulos, an agronomist at DIO, said it is in the organization’s own interest not to make exceptions. It is to the benefit of our own good name to guarantee the quality of the products that bear our stamp of approval. The more people can depend on it, the more successful organic farming will be, he told Kathimerini English Edition. DIO received approval from the Agriculture Ministry in 1993 as an official agency qualified to inspect and certify organically farmed products and is recognized by the European Union. DIO’s certification is issued by an independent council headed by Professor Nikolaos Sidiras of Athens’s Agricultural University and comprises five experts in several fields including phytopathology, entomology, soil science, and food processing. Primary producers apply to DIO and sign a private contract that states the rights and obligations of both producers and the organization. Experts visit the farms (or factories) at regular intervals, both scheduled and surprise visits, to make chemical analyses. In 2000, in 583 analyses, traces of chemicals were discovered in the products of 52 producers. In contrast to inspections made of non-organic produce, these analyses are made before the goods go on the market and at all stages of the production process, not only during harvesting. Products approved by the independent council bear an official stamp, meaning that the product in question has been produced over the past two years using only organic methods. Products that have been organically farmed for one to two years are considered to be in transition and are marked accordingly. According to DIO, approximately 19 percent of organic products cannot yet be sold as such as they are being monitored, meaning that the producer has been using organic practices for less than a year. Around 39 percent are in transition and 42 percent are fully organic. Timetable The exhibition is open through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Zappeion Exhibition Hall. Entrance is free of charge. The organic restaurant Yiantes, located in Exarchia, will have a stand on site. Program of special events: Today 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Round- table discussion: The Contemporary Model of Agriculture and Nutrition. 5.30 p.m. – 8.30 p.m.: Conference on Prospects for Organic Farming and Livestock Breeding, organized by REA, the Greek Interdisciplinary Society for Ecological Agriculture. 9.30 p.m.: Concert by De Traces, featuring reggae, ska, calypso and Caribbean music. Tomorrow Midday – 2 p.m.: Children’s program 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.: Karaghiozi shadow puppet theater 9 p.m. – 11 p.m.: Concert by Palia Rezerva ex Anatolon, performing rebetika, Greek popular, folk and Byzantine music. Sunday 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Clowns, jugglers and acrobats in the Zappeion forecourt. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: National Meeting of Organic Farmers’ Unions.