Organic food in focus

A recent ministerial decree governing the production, certification and distribution of organic food products will do much to clarify the situation in the market, but it is also facing some criticism. The decree, issued after two years in preparation, specifies the responsibilities of all the organizations involved in the organic food industry. It also introduces a system that some sectors of the industry say is even more bureaucratic than the existing one. Nor does it address many of the concerns raised by both farmers and consumers of organic food, such as the accreditation of sales points, the ingredients permissible in sausages labeled as organic, or the conditions under which organic food is sold at open-air markets. According to Ministerial Decree 24590 (establishing supplementary measures on the implementation of Council Regulation 2092/91 on the organic way of farming) signed by the ministers for the interior, economy and finance, and agricultural development and food, the inspection system governing businesses in the organic food system will be managed by the latter ministry’s Organic Farming Department, along with the Organization for the Certification and Monitoring of Agricultural Products (AGROCERT) and private certification organizations. Both AGROCERT and the Organic Farming Department will oversee the inspection system. However, they do not have sufficient staff and are generally plagued by the same bad facets of other Greek state services. The ministerial decree establishes the relationship between certification organizations and ministry services, their obligations and their rights, since these have presented problems in the past. Irrespective of which certification organization farmers use, the products will receive a single kind of certificate so as not to confuse the consumer. The minimum conditions that should be set out in private agreements between producers and certification agencies are also to be established, as well as the schedules for the inspections and a definition of violations and penalties so that everyone is treated in the same way, whatever certification agency is used. What is important for consumers is the fact that the decree establishes the conditions for a farmer to switch from one agency to another. Producers often lost their right to certification after switching agencies. At the same time, farmers rejected by one agency for breaking the rules hastened to switch to another. Thanassis Dimakis, general director of the certification organization Q-Ways, believes that the ministerial decree is a step in the right direction. The provision, he says, should not be used to hold producers hostage. «The provisions should be published at once so that the philosophy of the decree is not canceled out in practice,» he said. Most of the criticism of the decree arises from the establishment of a national symbol for Greek organic products. According to ministry services, having a unified national symbol will help boost exports of organic products. Both Dimakis and Costas Pazarakiotis, head of public relations for the DIO certification agency, said that while the decree increases bureaucracy, it was a positive move, but that a national symbol could not be used instead of a certification symbol. Consumers of organic products are used to trusting the certification agencies and look for their symbols. A national symbol, said Pazarakiotis, if supported by the state, will help. «However, it should not detract from the responsibility and credibility of the work done by each certification organization,» he said.