Organic air ban raises fears for flavours

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food

The proposed restrictions on air freighting of organic produce into
the UK could have implications for the flavour industry, as some
valuable raw materials are grown far way and would not survive
lengthy sea freighting times.

The controversial plan to prevent produce that is flown into the UK being certified as organic until it meets ethical and fair trade standards was proposed by the Soil Association last month. Most of the attention to the issue has centred on fresh fruit and vegetable product. But Melissa Naish, global purchasing manager & European sales for Earthoil Plantations, said that that a ban could pose problems for some classes of produce. "Air freighting potatoes is ridiculous, as you can get them close to home,"​ she told at the recent FIE trade show. "But I don't think you can be sweeping with restrictions, as that will penalise more expensive ingredients." ​ A particular problem is essential oils, which often hail from a long way away, and agricultural methods and climate change mean that it is not always possible to find sources closer to home. For instance, organic mint comes from India, and organic rose petals are sourced from Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran. Some eight tonnes of rose petals are needed to make just one kilogramme of rose oil, but the raw material is expensive and sensitive, and would not survive a lengthy journey by sea. Naish said that the company has been working with the Soil Association on the proposed restrictions, and that it is aware of the problem. She expects that the final word on air freighting will take into account the problem for flavours. Ken Hayes, standards researcher at the Soil Association, told that the proposal is to give people confidence that carbon emissions from air freighting can be justified - and there are some situations were he believes they can be. He said that the association does not with the proposal to be viewed as a ban. But he added: "High value goods tend to be produced in small volumes. The cost of air freighting is not prohibitive, but the risk of shipping sensitive goods is prohibitive." ​ Hayes pointed out that the proposal on air freighting organics hinges on ethical and fair trade standards, and the cost of compliance should not be too onerous. What is onerous, however, is drawing up of the standards, and that is why the association has set a wide time frame of 2009 for the standards, and 2011 for compliance. Independent flavour and fragrance company Treatt made a strategic investment in Earthoil earlier this year, which is aimed at shoring up both companies' organic offerings. The Eartharome range of organic aqueous distillates is intended to mirror the options in Treatts' Treattarome range, and the companies are working at expanding this as more organic raw materials become available. Eartharomes are produced entirely from fresh botanical ingredients using a short duration, low temperature distillation process, and are intended to reflect the character of the original food in both flavour and aroma. They are also said to deliver a high concentration of flavour so a high impact taste can be easily achieved, even at low dosages. Eartharomes are made in the US, which makes sense since a lot of the organic raw materials are from the US. The company is continually seeking sources of new organic materials (cucumber and guava, for instance) as close to its facilities in Florida as possible. It often finds it is easiest to work with a cooperative, so that a number of producers can be feeding into the supply. Earthoil also has a range of essential oil isolates, called Eartholates, which are certified organic by the Soil Association and can be used in the production of organic flavours and fragrances. Claimed to be the only such certified range on the market, they are made by selective physical distillation or fractionation of the oils. There is considerable consumer demand for 100 per cent organic foods, and that translates into a stimulus for the organic flavours market. Organic Monitor estimates that the overall UK organic food & drink market grew by an impressive 25 per cent last year to be worth £1.97bn (c €2.9bn). This article has been edited from the original to represent The Soil Association's perspective that its proposal on air-freighted organics does not constitute a ban.

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