Sales of organic food in the UK are rising faster than in any other European country, according to a new report launched on Monday by the Soil Association, the UK's leading organic certification and campaigning body.
The retail market for organic food reached £802m (1,296m euros) in the last year, up from £605m (977m euros) in the previous 12 months and three-quarters of households made at least one organic purchase.
In addition, the area of fully organic land has more than doubled (from 103,000 hectares to 240,000 hectares) and the number of companies licensed to produce organic food has risen to 1,675 - an increase of over 50 per cent.
However, The Organic Food and Farming Report 2001 - the most comprehensive annual survey of the UK organic sector - warns that although the overall market is blossoming, many organic farmers desperately need support from Government, retailers and consumers.
Imports account for around three-quarters of organic food sales, at a time when many UK organic farmers are struggling to find outlets for their produce, particularly milk and beef. Despite the buoyancy of the retail sector, farm gate sales are worth just £100m(161m euros).
The report also expresses concern that supermarkets have increased their dominance of the organic market, at the expense of independent retailers and farm shops.
British supermarkets now have the highest organic food sales in Europe, accounting for 80 per cent of domestic sales. In contrast, sales through farm shops have decreased by 6 per centand the market share held by independent retailers has dropped by 2 per cent.
"Despite strong continued support from consumers for organic food - and a huge increase in the amount of organic land - reliance on imports, price pressure from retailers and centralised buying policies mean that many small organic businesses are seriously questioning whether they can continue to run a viable enterprise," says Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association. "Urgent action is needed by the Government, retailers and consumers to help our organic producers thrive."
The charity has recently submitted evidence to the Government's Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food which is due to report at the end of December.