Organic meat sales are set to surge in the US as BSE sparks consumers’ fears for food safety, research indicates.

A new study by Organic Monitor shows that sales of organic meat products in Canada expanded by 35% in 2003, mainly because of the BSE scare. Many Canadian retailers reported record sales of organic beef last year due to BSE elevating consumer demand.

Sales of organic beef in the US could double in 2004 if suppliers can get sufficient volume into the retail trade, said Organic Monitor. “The BSE scare is raising consumer demand for organic meat products and retailers are likely to respond by introducing these products in their stores. Many consumers see organic beef as safer than non-organic beef since organically reared cattle are not fed animal remnants. There have also been no cases of BSE reported on animals that have been reared their entire lives according to organic production methods.”

The newly published study shows that organic poultry dominates the organic meat products market in North America, comprising over 70% of total volume. The relatively short production cycle, large production volume, and low price premium are responsible for organic chicken being the most popular organic meat with consumers. In contrast, organic beef is typically produced on a small scale, distributed via inefficient supply chains, and priced three times higher than conventional beef. Consumers also perceive organic beef to be very similar to natural beef, which is widely available in natural food shops. These are factors behind organic beef having a mere 0.02% share of the US beef market in 2003.

BSE is poised to accelerate growth in the North American organic meat products market. A large rise in domestic production volume is envisaged as the number of organic meat producers increases. Greater volume is to enter retailers as supply chains develop from farmers to retailers, and prices are predicted to decrease as organic meat products become more widely available in retailers. Sales are projected to surge in 2004 and 2005, however organic meats are expected to face stiff competition from similar products like natural meats in the midterm. A BSE-induced shake-up of the meat industry is envisaged that will raise meat production standards and improve safeguards, possibly limiting demand for organic meat products.

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