BIO: what is it really?

The trend has been very clear for some time now, people are becoming more and more aware of their health.  Some show this by doing a lot of exercise, others become vegetarian or even vegan. Others eat organic more often. And let that be something that is discussed a lot. In this article we will list some figures about the growth of this segment in the retail market. We also take a look at some of the existing beliefs and opinions that exist about organic products.

But first. What exactly is bio?

The EU Organic label is a European label that guarantees that the production of all products bearing this label is carried out according to the rules of organic farming, processing and sale. The products must be 100% organic, unless they are processed products. In that case, at least 95% of the ingredients must come from organic farming. The rules are quite strict, but in this way every European consumer knows better what he is buying when he sees this label on his product.

All well and good, I hear you think, but what does organic farming mean?

Agriculture can only be organic when no artificial fertilizers or chemical pesticides are used. Artificial fertilizers and synthetic pesticides are also out of the question. There are some approved additives that can be used. Furthermore, modified organisms may not be included in the organic segment. However, it is important to note that the EU Biolabel is not a social label and therefore does not take working conditions into account. What is taken into account, however, is animal welfare and environmental care.

The term ‘organic’ is therefore not a marketing term. It is legally protected and a company may only associate itself with it if its production complies with the rules laid down in European organic legislation.  If a company links itself it incorrectly, this can be punished.

Misconception reviewed: Fairtrade vs Bio

People often think that the Bio and Fairtrade labels are synonyms and that they both stand for about the same thing. This is wrong! Where organic labels fail, there the Fairtrade label puts its focus. In other words, Fairtrade is a social label. It is about trade in developing countries and protects prices and trading conditions for farmers. Where organic and Fairtrade do have a clear overlap is in the attention for a sustainable way of working.

The organic segment is experiencing enormous growth

Current social evolutions ensure that consumption is dealt with more consciously. In a study by Knack among a thousand respondents, almost half said they wanted to pay more attention to sustainable food. Most of them will buy more local products, while others prefer fair trade and organic products.

This is hardly surprising. The organic market was already in a growth phase, which current developments are emphasizing even more. Between 2010 and 2017, sales of organic products in retail doubled. In general, we can say that over the past ten years, the market for organic products has grown by an average of 11% per year. And at the start of the lockdown, mid-March, sales of organic products grew by 18%. So it is clear that, during the corona period, organic is bought more often.


We’re told bio is better for our health, but is it really?

Well, the benefits of organic are attributed to the absence of bad substances rather than the presence of good substances in plant products. This, of course, because the use of certain artificial fertilizers and pesticides is banned. Also the more natural growth, better soil quality and more outdoor air are used as arguments.

There is a whole series of contradictory studies on this subject. For example, it is not entirely known to what extent soil quality affects the health of products.

In the case of fresh animal products, it are mainly the living conditions of the animal that are considered. The food would therefore be healthier because the animal has less stress,  more freedom and receives more (natural) care. Although these are all important and logical reasons to choose organic, they won’t have a major impact on your health. So you better buy organic for the animal friendliness, the environment and simply because it tastes better.

Speaking of taste, how come organic products are often described as tastier?

Taste perception happens in our brains and when we link organic to this, our taste receptors feel completely happy. A study by UGent shows that when we see the Organic label on a product, we experience more positive feelings and feel happier. This is mainly because organic products are considered to be healthier, and because our expectations directly influence our experiences. But it is not because a product is organic that it is completely healthy. For example, organic chips are still unhealthy.

So are there any downsides to bio?

The first thing that comes to mind is the price tag. Organic products are estimated to be about 30 percent more expensive in the supermarket. This is not entirely illogical. This is mainly because the products are more expensive for the farmer to produce, because he has a better bargaining position and the supermarkets put less pressure on him to lower his price.

A second point is productivity. According to the most commonly used measurements, organic farming yields 20 to 25 percent less crop per hectare. This difference is therefore significant and is important to take into account when we open the debate on organic farming. That farmers should have enough income and that they have to produce enough food for the population is therefore a reasonable argument.

The answer to the big question ‘is organic healthier’ is: organic is certainly not unhealthier. So if you feel better when buying organic products and like them better, then those benefits are enough to prefer these products!