Southern Europe accounts for 39 per cent of the organic farmland in the European Union yet its organic meat and dairy sector is the most underdeveloped in Europe, according to recent research by Organic Monitor.
The three countries of Italy, Spain and Greece have 1.4 million hectares of organic farmland but only a fraction of this is used for organic livestock production.
There are many reasons for the underdeveloped state of the organic livestock industry in Southern Europe, Organic Monitor said. Much of the interest in organic farming has been from growers of organic fresh produce of which many have converted to organic production methods to tap the revenue potential of export markets.
Many of the organic crops grown in the Mediterranean countries cannot be produced in other parts of Europe. For instance, organic olive oil, organic citrus fruit and organic kiwi fruit can only be grown in these European countries. High growth rates in the western European organic food industry and the absence of trade barriers have encouraged production in Southern Europe.
Another major factor is that all three countries have been relatively late to implement EU Regulation 1804/99 for organic livestock production. Greece was the last country in Europe to introduce regulations for organic meat and dairy production.
This results in very poor availability of organic meat products and high volumes of organic dairy products having to be imported. Many dairies in Spain and Italy import raw organic milk to produce organic dairy products due to domestic shortages. Although the number of organic meat and dairy producers is increasing substantially in these countries, the industry is projected to remain undersupplied for a number of years due to consumer demand outpacing domestic supplies.