The amount of organic land in the UK has almost doubled in the last year, and sales of organic food are the second highest in Europe, according to new figures from the UK organic certification body, the Soil Association.
The area of fully organic land is equivalent to three times the size of Greater London (having increased from 240,000 hectares to 458,600 hectares). According to the Soil Association, almost 80 per cent of households buy organic food, spending around £920 million (€1.454bn) - second in line to Germany as the biggest European spenders on organic food.
The data is published in the Soil Association's Organic Food and Farming Report 2002 - a comprehensive survey of the organic market drawing on information from organic businesses, retailers, 15,000 shoppers and the UK government.
Figures from the Soil Association also show that there are now nearly 4,000 licensed organic farms throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The south-west of England remains the most popular region, and is home to over a quarter of all organic farms.
"This is an exciting time for the organic movement - and the organic market is one of the fastest-growing areas of the UK food and drink sector," says Patrick Holden, the Soil Association's Director. "The majority of households now buy organic food, all the leading supermarkets see organic food as a major growth area and in the last year, organic farming has been given crucial financial backing from the government.
The challenge ahead is to encourage consumers and retailers to increase their support for UK farmers by choosing home-produced organic food wherever possible."
As part of this challenge, the Soil Association's report is calling for more effort from supermarkets to honour 'buy British first' policies, greater co-operation between farmers, wholesalers and supermarkets to help give farmers confidence to commit to organic farming in the long term, and an organic action plan in Scotland as well as increased funding for organic farming in Scotland and Wales.
Further details about the report are available from the Soil Association.