Are we sure that the fact that an organic peach costs up to 7 times as much as a conventionally grown peach is simply a question of higher quality?

According to the Bologna Chamber of Commerce’s weekly price list, updated on 24 August 2017, organic peaches are sold at 2 euro per crate, compared with 0.32 euro for conventional produce. The same applies to nectarines. Plums cost up to 5 times more (1.90 euro compared to 0.48), onions more than 6 times (1.85 euro compared to 0.28).

What is the reason for such large price differences?

For example: leaving aside the indirect costs for our health and the well-being of the soil, which is the real bad news, and focusing on the cost of the product, organic goods cost because organic farming costs.

Take vegetables. With chemical fertilisers, and nitrogen fertilisers in particular, yields per hectare are high and uniform. Chemical fertiliser stimulates water absorption so larger quantities are obtained by adding “mass” to crops that on their own would not reach the minimum weight required for them to be sold. With organic fertilisers, which are more expensive, the effect is greatly reduced. The other great problem for vegetable growers is eliminating weeds. Conventionally, this is done with herbicides, whereas organic farming uses mechanical weeding equipment or manual techniques. Organic farms also need to adopt crop rotation so that soil balance and fertility can be restored, with a high general cost for the operation, since rotation is usually not practised in conventional cultivation. This is one of the answers, but it does not wholly justify the price difference, leading to the conclusion that a systemic study of price trends of the sort already performed in France, for example, is needed in Italy too.

Because while the organic market is growing in Italy, even if it is still at the embryonic stage (3{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of the total market, for a value of 4.9 billion euro, with an increase of 19.7 {f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} from 2016), organic is a complete system in France. A system with a longer, well-established history, with a deeper and larger production fabric, and consequently subject to greater monitoring. To the point that, according to the French association Ufc – Que choisir, for the same amount of fruit and vegetables, a French citizen would spend 660 euro for the “organic version” compared to 368 euro for conventional produce. An obvious disparity that leaves Italy open to question too, given that although little data is available (the Bologna Chamber of Commerce figures are one of the few examples), empirically we encounter the same huge difference.

These differences grow and are particularly obvious in the mass merchandising sector, where large purchase volumes and extensive distribution networks enable operators to keep the prices of conventional products at extremely low levels.

But if consumers are not footing the bill (in relative terms, of course) who is?

If a product is cheap, it is probably almost always at the expense of the producer (who has to accept a low purchase price), the worker (whose wages depend to a large extent on the sales price of what he or she produces) and the environment, which certainly has everything to lose from downward agricultural policies.

So the real question is: how can the right price be established? Clearly the solution is not to lower the price of organic goods, but to create a more economically balanced distribution system: in other words, if the up to 6-fold margin on an organic onion were spread across the entire supply chain, back to the grower, trade would be fairer and more sustainable, and action could also be taken to raise consumer awareness, making purchasing decisions incisive drivers for the market and the environment.

Fortunately, there is an “educational” initiative that has been promoting fair trading for many years: the “transparent price” policy. NaturaSì, a well-known chain of shops specialising in the sale of organic products, decided to take up the policy about ten years ago, to create a consumer who would be more aware of the phases that create the price they see when they do their daily shop. «The transparent price helps create a community and loyalty throughout the supply chain, from producers to distributors and through to consumers,» explains NaturaSì chairman Fabio Brescacin. «We haven’t got anything to hide! The right price is right for everyone and means everyone can live and eat with dignity.»

The right price and the responsible role that can be played by mass merchandising will be the key theme of the 29th SANA international exhibition of organic and natural products to be held in Bologna from 8 – 11 September.