The on-going rise of organic food sales in the UK is an indication of the public's increasing desire to buy and eat natural, unadulterated produce and ingredients.
Retail sales of organic food increased by over 10% during 2004, with annual sales worth £1.12 billion.
An increasing number of restaurants, hotels and catering companies - around 34 - are now certified to serve organic food; some are fully organic, while others may make one or two organic dishes of the day.
As well as serving food made from ingredients that have either been grown with the severely restricted use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides or raised in non-intensive systems, some business also use environmentally-friendly cleaning products, organic cottons for soft furnishings and recycled glasses.
Why go organic?
There are many reasons for choosing to go organic. Chefs and restaurateurs should be clear in their own minds why they have decided to operate an organic menu as it will be a major factor in marketing the restaurant and an important topic of conversation with customers.
The main benefits of serving organic food are:
•It's healthy - organic food generally contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants.
•It avoids additives, pesticides, genetically modified ingredients and the use of antibiotics - organics is the natural and pure way of farming and supplying food. By ensuring the food is unadulterated, there are potentially fewer health risks.
•There are no hidden costs - it currently costs £120m to remove chemicals from drinking water, which are present as a result of pesticides used in farming.
â¢ - It ensures high standards - the standards for organic food are laid down in European law, with all organic farms and food companies having to be inspected at least once a year.
•It ensures good animal welfare - organic animals have to have access to the outdoors and are not allowed GM foods, growth-promoting drugs or routine antibiotics.
•It is good for the environment - it is better for wildlife and there is less pollution from chemical sprays.
•It tastes better - organic meat is believed to taste better because the animals are reared under less stress, whilst fruit and vegetables generally have a better favour because they are grown more slowly and have a lower water content than non-organic varieties. The number of people buying organic food for the taste doubled from 24% in 2002 to 48% in 2004.
How do I go organic?
In order to offer a complete organic menu, or even just one or two organic dishes, a restaurant needs to gain certification from one of several organisations that operate under the guidance of the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) at the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The regulations - drawn up with input from the European Commission - are intended to protect the public from false organic claims.
Soil Association Certification is the most active body in the field, currently responsible for the certification of all UK restaurants that are registered as organic, but the Organic Food Federation will also certify restaurants as organic.
The process of certification is lengthy and arduous, with rigorous inspections carried out before licenses are granted. All ingredients have to be purchased from certified organic suppliers and stringent records regarding the composition of dishes have to be kept.
To serve a completely organic menu item, a minimum of 95% of the agricultural ingredients must be organically certified.
If a restaurant is preparing both organic and non-organic dishes in the same kitchen, the chef must be able to demonstrate how the two are separated to avoid cross-contamination and ensure organic integrity.
Changes are currently being considered by ACOS regarding the registration of organic restaurants. The intention is to strike a balance between the development of the organic market within the catering sector and the necessity for suitable regulation.
Further information and advice for restaurants considering going organic is available from the following sources:
Advisory Committee on Organic Standards
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Soil Association Certification
Tel: 0117 914 2407
Organic Food Federation
Tel: 01760 720444