Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Russia to publish organic standards

Back at the turn of the last century I ran some training workshops on organic farming to academics, farmers and various industry bods in freezing classrooms across Russia, fortified with vodka and caviar sandwiches.

Good fun it was too but at the time I wasn't sure it was being taken all that seriously when what everyone really needed was access to affordable food which was organic anyway because no one had funds to buy chemicals or fertiliser.

So naturally I'm taking full credit for setting the seed fourteen years ago that resulted in the Russian State Duma Committee announcing the start of public comments and expert evaluations of a draft of National Standard (GOST/ГОСТ) “Regulations of Organic Production”.

That process is now complete and a new draft version of the standards is to be published later this month, with a helpful translation.

Which is timely as organics in Russia is hitting the headlines with stories that fledgling organic producers are seeing an opportunity to expand market share as sanctions restrict food imports and consumers are considering more deeply how and where food is produced.

Around the time I was talking organics with the Ruskie's I was also running a module on organics to British ag students who thought organic farming was the daftest thing they had ever heard and when was the bar open again?

Over time I think I managed to get the students to see that organics was basically a marketing opportunity, they shouldn't feel threatened by it and they could still home and spray the bejesus out of every living thing because that’s the way Dad did it but if someone else wanted to capitalise on a niche market that just left more room for conventional producers.

The organic market share in the Russian food sector is about 0.1% which seems optimistic to me as in all my years of travelling Russia I have never seen any, been offered any or to my knowledge eaten anything that was classed as organic.

I have eaten a lot of excellent, fresh, good quality, seasonal food that would have been organic in as much that it was grown without pesticides or bagged fertiliser but would not satisfy the comprehensive and ridiculously extensive list of accreditation requirements that make up most organic standards.

The Russian organic sector has failed to catch on for a number of reasons but a lack of clear organic legislation hasn't helped so this initiative to produce a set of national standards should be a step in the right direction.

I'm intrigued to see the standards and I'll update when they are released.