Concerns prompt some shoppers to go organic
Organic food markets are becoming more popular throughout Turkey.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 30/11/12.
As an increasing number of health-conscious Turks turn to organic food, weekly markets are fast becoming shoppers' priority throughout the country.
The success of these markets in Turkey is attributed to the freshness of the foods, their environmental friendliness, a wide range of seasonal products, and a variety of organically certified vegetables and fruits from around the country.
Okan Sevinc, a retailer at one organic market, told SES Türkiye that early on consumers thought of organic food as a passing fancy, but in time became aware of the benefits of organic food consumption.
"First few years, people were coming to such markets because it was a trend in their neighbourhood. But now, they ask the origin of what we're selling; they want to know how we cultivate vegetables. So, the trend has become a conscious lifestyle."
Increasing awareness of cancer risks is another factor behind the flourishing of organic markets in Turkey, operators said. Now consumers worry more over long-term health effects of unidentified pesticides and residuals in their food, which officials have viewed as a good sign of public health awareness.
For example, according to a recent Greenpeace survey released in July, 83 percent of Turks oppose consuming genetically modified food.
Sevinc said that although prices of organic food are a bit higher than of conventional food, people do not want to give up eating organic once they taste it.
"By now, there are dozens of such markets in the country and each is becoming an attraction for customers, with a splendid and friendly atmosphere of various stands set up from early morning," Sevinc said.
Eda Kurtulus, an Istanbul resident, frequently shops at the Atakoy organic market and comes with a long list of items in hand.
"I want to make sure that I'm eating healthy and natural," Kurtulus told SES Türkiye. "I know that foods, fruits and vegetables sold at this organic market are well supervised by the inspection authorities, and are organically certified. I prefer coming here instead of shopping in malls, because I can find everything I look for, with cheaper prices."
Some producers and retailers insist that organic foods be backed by strict inspection measures, and a clear quality standardisation.
For that purpose, in June Turkey's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock announced its Organic Agriculture Strategic Plan from 2012 to 2016, which states that Turkey must fully develop its organic products monitoring system. But the ministry did step up its monitoring efforts two years ago by assigning the responsibility to the ministry's local authorities, and municipalities.
Batur Sehirlioglu of the Bugday Association told SES Türkiye interest in organic foods is broadening.
"Organic markets are, in fact, not an aim but an instrument to generalise the organic consumption trend to all segments of society, instead of limiting it within specific shops," Sehirlioglu said. "According to the statistics, Turkish people started talking about organic agriculture just after the opening of first organic market in 2006."
He said that there would be far more Turkish people who consume organic food if they better understood the organic production process.
The first organic markets opened in Istanbul's Sisli district in June 2006, with only 25 organic producers and retailers.
Turkey started organic food production in 1984, and has a high potential in organic agriculture because of its longstanding farming experience, biodiversity, and various climatic assets, analysts said.
Nilgun Kolak is an organic food consumer who also sees a rising interest in organic foods.
"Organic markets are becoming a magnet for customers like me who want to buy the healthiest foods and who ask [about] the organic certificates to check them," she told SES Türkiye.
Gursel Tonbul, who operates a 3,000 square-metre organic farm in Kusadasi on the Aegean coast, told SES Türkiye she believes many consumers are reacting to food supply concerns.
"I think that day by day people notice the apparent 'food terror' in what they are eating and they are witnessing its harmful effects on their health systems, which leads them to increase their knowledge about organic farming," Tonbul said.
Tarik Nejat Dinc, who heads the Greenpeace Mediterranean Agriculture Campaign, told SES Türkiye the expansion of industrialized food production and mega-grocery stores helped fuel interest in organic foods among consumers seeking higher quality.
He and others think the changing consumer interests are not a short-term fashion, but rather a long-term practice as seen in other countries.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government is providing some incentives for good agricultural practices and is supporting organic farmers with area payments. According to 2011 data, 1,350 tons of organic meat, 15,000 tons of organic milk and 26 million of organic eggs were produced in Turkey.