Greece’s organic meat subsidized but not reaching consumers’ plates

Greece produces large quantities of organic meat and vegetables but not much of it reaches the local stores, let alone markets abroad. Of the some 5,000 primary producers of organic meat, only a few dozen distribute their goods on the market and fewer than 20 sell their meat as organic. Unwieldy legislation and the lack of a distribution network and of interest on the part of producers themselves are what prevent these products from reaching consumers. The result is distorted development in yet another sector of agriculture, one that is achieving recognition around the world and which could prove to be profitable for many producers. What is happening, therefore, is that a new sector is becoming stuck in an outdated and pointless system of production for the sake of the subsidies provided. Increasing subsidies given to producers who decide to switch to organic methods has led many livestock breeders to switch over from conventional methods. These subsidies, granted for five years for all who want to breed animals organically, are supposed to provide support during adaptation to the new methods. As a result, about 4 percent of cultivated land is now estimated to be farmed organically, and the percentage for livestock breeding is also increasing rapidly. According to the Food and Agricultural Development Ministry, in 2002 there were 682 registered organic livestock farms, and 1,254 in 2003. In 2004 the number had grown to 1,416 and in 2005 to 5,078. One would expect, therefore, that stores would be inundated with their produce. Instead, stores sell mostly imported organic fruit and vegetables; the amount of organic meat sold is even lower, according to data provided by the organic certification organizations. It appears that producers prefer to produce organic dairy products rather than go through the process of selling their meat, since it means finding an organically certified abattoir and packaging plant. However, organic pork is heavily subsidized to the tune of 550 euros per sow annually. Of the 701 pork producers in the subsidies program, just one of them sold 74 tons of his produce for sausage meat. All the others combined sold 6 tons. In order to get his organic goods to market, a producer has to overcome many obstacles, more so with organic meat. So most accept the subsidies and then sell their meat as conventional, through the usual channels. Alexandros Vrontzos has goats, pigs and cattle which he began raising organically on the border between the provinces of Kozani and Larissa. However, he soon gave up the attempt to sell them as organic «at least for the time being.» «Everything goes well when you apply for the subsidy. The problems begin when you want to put your organic meat on the market,» he said. The abattoir, the butchering and packaging plants are all in different places and need to be approved for processing organic meat. It is a major undertaking that costs a lot. So he prefers to sell the meat as conventionally raised to avoid the hassle.