First Delphi expert survey of organic food processing in 13 European countries
By Ursula Kretzschmar et al.
The development of a framework for the design of "minimum" and "low input" processing strategies, which guarantee the quality and food safety, is part of the goal of subproject 5 "Processing strategies" in the QLIF project.
The Delphi survey was used to encircle and define the most important aspects concerning organic food processing. The Delphi method is a qualitative research method, allowing a group of experts to participate jointly in defining and analysing complex problems or issues where information is fragmentary or inaccessible. The experts contribute to successive rounds of information gathering, receiving feedback and, as a result, refining the information gathering process in the subsequent round.
The survey was carried out as a two-step Delphi survey. In the first round, 250 experts from 13 countries in Europe were involved and were asked to respond to a standardised questionnaire in October and November 2004. The Delphi expert survey was designed in such a way that the most important and currently discussed aspects regarding organic food processing have been taken up.
Nationality and profession of experts
120 experts from 13 countries answered the first round: Switzerland 26, Austria 17, Germany 17, Czech Republic 13, Great Britain 10, France 9, Finland 7, Spain 7, Italy 5, Denmark4, Belgium 3, Nether land 1, Slovakia 1.
The profession of the experts were mainly processors in addition to a number of non-processors from different activity fields (fig. 1).
Figure 1: Description of the random sample with regard to activities.
Authenticity, freshness and minimum use of additives
In the first part of the Delphi Survey the main focus was to narrow and clarify definitions, which are often used to characterize organic food processing. When asking questions about minimum processing and freshness/fresh product the answers did not vary very much. However exploring the definition of careful processing and authenticity the experts have a quite different understanding of these terms. On the other hand in the second part of the survey, it showed that authenticity is seen as very important for an organic product. Therefore we have to clarify this definition in the second Delphi survey round.
Also interesting to see was that aspects like sensory quality, freshness, minimum use of additives and authenticity are the most important aspects for success on the market; all aspects that are recognizable by the consumer.
Processing regulations in EU
When asking, which aspects should be regulated on EU level or at least national level, then the result is different. In first place the minimum use of additives was mentioned, followed by minimum and careful processing. However quality/sensory aspects were not prioritized because they are quite different in the different countries of Europe. These are aspects that are important for the processors.
Regarding food safety most of the experts do not expect more problems with organic food compared to conventional food. Nevertheless there are some experts which mentioned more food safety problems. This point will be therefore analysed more detailed in the second survey.
EU regulation - sufficient or not?
When coming to the question if the EU-Regulation 2092/91 is sufficient we have a difference between the processors and the non-processors. 45.5 % of the food processors think that EU Regulation 2092/91 is sufficient compared with 33.3% of the non-processing organisations. This difference between the view of food processors and non-processing organisations is seen several times. We need to think about how this discrepancy can be reduced.
Organic processing methods
In general most of the experts expect special processing methods used in the production of organic food. But when asking in detail the experts had difficulties to select detailed processing methods that are usable or not usable in organic food production. Regarding the use of additives, the answers given however were very clear. There is a tendency to prefer additives from certified organic origin both from processors as well as non-processors view point.
Clear separations guidelines in order to reduce the risk of contamination with GMO or conventional pesticide were supported from much more from non processing organisations with 64.8% whereas the processors have a nearly equal result of 45.3% yes against 39.1% no. With regard to more stricter labelling requirements the non processing organisations prefer to be more stricter. The same preference was also expressed regarding packaging with regard to environment.
Second Delphi Expert Consultation
The second Delphi expert consultation has started at the end of February 05. The questionnaire is structured as follows:
- precised general questions regarding definitions
- some clarifying questions regarding controversial issues
- proposals for a new regulation in comparison with the existing EU regulation 2092/91
- 120 Persons, 48% answered the survey
- 42% think it would be helpful to have a partly more detailed EU regulation in comparison to 13% who would not like to have more regulations/standards
- Minimum use of additives is the most important question for 84%-> a regulation for all product groups is seen as a need!
- 20% to 25% expect food safety problems in the organic food sector
- There is an overall clear tendency to have additives like flavours, colouring, antioxidant, emulsifier and anti-caking agents in certified organic quality where applicable
- There seems to be a need to have micro-organisms certified in certified organic quality
- Specific processing methods for organic food production are generally expected but there is no clear indication which one are acceptable
- Stricter labelling guidelines might be desirable
- 71% are using or do prefer environmentally friendly packaging but on the other hand 69% favour the packaging that provides the best protection and less environmentally friendly packaging
- Only 32% think that it should be a goal for the organic food sector to deliver the same product range as the conventional industry
Ursula Kretzschmar, FIBL Switzerland
In cooperation with:
Dr. Alex Beck and Otto Schmid, Research Institute of Organic Agruculture FIBL
Prof. Dr. Angelika Meier Ploeger, University of Kassel, Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture
Marita Leskinnen and Marjo Sarkka-Tirkkonen, University of Helsinki, Mikkeli Centre for Rural Research and Training
Associate Prof. Niels Heine Kristensen, Thorkhild Nielsen, Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby
04 April 2005