Italy expects sales of organic food to quadruple in the next four years, reflecting a boom in  a sector noted for its wild growth that is also causing concern.

A current study undertaken for Coldiretti, a major producer association, says consumption of organically produced food will gross a massive Lit10,000bn (US$4.8bn) in 2005, reaching 3.3% of entire food consumption compared to 0.8% at the moment.

The study, announced during a natural food convention ending over the weekend, also reported that in 2005 a total of 60% of organic products will be purchased in supermarkets (currently 27%), 33% in special organic food shops (now 67%) and 7% in special restaurants (6%t).

The concern emerges, according to Coldiretti, over lack of guarantees for consumers on the veracity of claims that a product is truly produced in an organic manner.

Another study unveiled during the convention disclosed that one out of four Italians has never heard of organically produced food and only one out of seven is sufficiently informed.

Italy leads EU in the cultivated area for natural food (some 1 million hectares) and the number of firms active in the sector (around 50,000).

By Hilmi Toros, correspondent