The Swiss organic farming association, Bio Suisse, has announced ambitious plans to increase organic meat production in Switzerland by 500 per cent over the next four years.
At a press conference in Bern on Tuesday, Bio Suisse said the sale of organic meat was lagging far behind that of other organic products and that it wished to corner ten per cent of market share by 2005. The current level is two per cent.
Christof Dietler, the director of Bio Suisse, said the ultimate goal was 20 per cent of the Swiss market with hopes pinned on beef.
"It's a high level but we think it's realistic," he said. With beef, it's possible because we have a lot of grass and a lot of cattle in Switzerland."
One of the difficulties of persuading consumers to buy organic meat has been distribution. The two giant supermarket chains, Coop and Migros, only sell it in certain outlets.
However, Cordelia Galli, head of marketing for Bio Suisse, said the greatest deterrent for consumers was cost, with prices up to 50 per cent higher than non-organic produce.
"We have to communicate the emotional value of organic meat," she said. "We have to explain to consumers why they are paying so much more for the meat.
"We have to explain that the cow had a better life, was outdoors nearly every day and that most of its food was organic. We have to communicate these values and until now we haven't reached the consumer with this message."
The market for organic food is growing by about 20 per cent a year and is worth more than SFr780 million.
Nine per cent of Switzerland's agricultural area is now under organic management but there are marked regional differences.
In mountainous canton Graubunden, 43 per cent of the farming is organic. In canton Fribourg, where stockless arable farms and horticulture crops dominate, the figure is just 2.4 per cent.
by Vincent Landon