Figures released by The Soil Association, the UK's main body promoting organic food and organic farming, indicate that sales of organic produce grew by 10% over the past year. Sales of organic food now amount to £1.12bn (US$2.07bn) a year and are growing by £2m a week. This growth rate is twice as high as that of the overall grocery sector.

The study also concluded that, although 90% of all organic food is sold through supermarkets, the share of the retail chains is falling as consumers increasingly choose to buy food directly from producers. British consumers spent £108m in farm shops, markets and box schemes over the past year and that figure is growing.

Farmers' markets reappeared in 1997 following the BSE crisis. They differ from ordinary street markets in that producers sell their own goods directly to the consumer, bypassing any intermediaries. This arrangement is mutually beneficial. Farmers and other producers increase their profits and consumers are guaranteed the freshest possible produce.

Markets also offer consumers certain guarantees that supermarkets do not. As all food is sold by its producers, its origin is traceable and certain. It also has to be locally produced and is therefore seasonal - seasonality being something that has all but vanished from supermarkets that source their food on a global scale. Consumers are growing more aware of the shortcomings of food sold by supermarkets. "Fresh" fruit and vegetables have often travelled vast distances, refrigerated or surrounded by inert gases to prevent decomposition.

Meat on the other hand, and particularly beef, is generally not aged enough, resulting in a relatively bland flavour. Many consumers are now choosing to eat higher quality products in lesser quantities, even if this is more expensive. Indeed, meat - and especially poultry - is forecasted by the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association to enjoy the highest growth within the farmers' market channel.

From an ethical perspective, shorter travelling distances for food mean less energy consumption, there is less packaging to dispose of, no meat from intensively farmed animals is sold and many consumers prefer to pay farmers directly rather than to reward supermarkets for forcing producers to sell at artificially low prices.

For all the convenience and low prices that supermarkets offer, the growth of the organic foods industry is likely to remain strong for the foreseeable future as consumers increasingly look for high quality, ethically produced and tasty foodstuffs.

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