Chemical-free fad of the few that turned into a mass-market success

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The Independent Online

Organic food is perhaps the greatest sudden success story in the retail world since supermarkets arrived from America in the 1960s.

Organic food is perhaps the greatest sudden success story in the retail world since supermarkets arrived from America in the 1960s.

Available mainly in health food shops until only a few years ago, a succession of food scares culminating in the BSE tragedy have turned it from a minority to a mainstream purchase by shoppers - mainly young mothers - who will pay a premium for produce they think is safer.

British supermarkets like Tesco have avidly joined the trend, and their organic sales have rocketed from £105m in 1993 to £200m in 1997 and £546m last year. Sales are currently growing at an annual rate of 40 per cent. Organic farming - of which Prince Charles was an early champion - rules out any use of synthetic chemicals, such as artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and builds up soil fertility and pest resistance by natural means such as crop rotation. But certain naturally occurring substances are allowed for pest control under limited circumstances - which is what Mr Hollis pointed out to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Farmers have to undergo a two-year "conversion period" for their land before it can grow produce certified as organic. Britain produces only about 30 per cent of the organic food consumed here, but the number of farmers is thought to have doubled to about 2,000 over the last two or three years.

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