During the last decade, organic agriculture and the organic trade have gained international recognition as a valid alternative to conventional food production. Retail sales of organically grown and processed food are expected to reach almost $20 billion annually by the end of the year 2000. While organic agriculture and the organic trade worldwide account for less than 1% of the total food industry, it has certainly become the fastest growing segment in the food sector. While the state of the organic industry differs significantly across countries, there are clear signs of a maturation process. The proposed National Organic Standards in the United States, the recently enacted organic regulations in Japan, and efforts to develop rules for organic agriculture in several other countries, among them Taiwan, are certain to further the standing of organic agriculture on an international scale. On another level, the emphasis for introduction of the International Standardization Organization (ISO 65) regulations as a means of standardizing procedures and documentation among certification bodies is expected to increase the international compatibility of certification procedures, and thereby better the organic trade environment. Last but not least the official observer status the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has received with the United Nations is a clear sign that organic agriculture and the organic trade are poised to leave their niche existence and become a respected option for environmentally sensitive and sustainable agriculture.
One of the many obstacles the organic industry is facing in making inroads toward the goal of being an important player on a level playing field is the information that is available for informed decision making based on reliable data. As virtually all official information sources and systems have been developed without taking into account the needs of organic agriculture, solid market information is scarce, if accessible at all. This deficit is most pronounced with respect to information on international markets. However, a shift is appearing. The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, among other government bodies, has recognized the need for sound information on organic agriculture and the organic trade and is actively addressing the situation. On the other hand, it needs to be kept in mind that organic agriculture and organic trade, despite the progress being made in recent years, is still a niche market, and the resources allocated are limited.
Therefore, the main goal of this study is to foster exporting efforts of US organic products by providing information on organic markets and trade opportunities in seven selected foreign markets. Two of these are in Asia (Japan and Taiwan), and five of them in Europe (Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). Another goal is to clearly determine existing information gaps, so as to be able to design strategies to fill those information gaps in the future.
It is obvious that this study can only be regarded as a starting point in regard to generating significant and valid export data. With no mandatory system of collecting data on organic agriculture and organic trade in place in the world, the effort greatly depends on the cooperation of the trade itself. We are convinced, however, that as a function of the growth and importance of the organic industry reliable information on organic trade on a word-wide will become more readily available in the years to come.