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Belgium - Country Report 2007

by Petra Tas, Bioforum


For an update see 2013 country report for Belgium.

For statistical updates see Website of the OrganicDataNetwork, statistics pages.

General situation

Belgium is one of the smaller countries of the European Union, surrounded by the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany, France and, with the Channel in between, the UK.

Belgium has a surface of 30’528 km2 and 10.5 million habitants. This results in a very high population density (344/km2 in 2006). Belgium is divided in two principal regions, Flanders and Wallonia, both with their own official language: Dutch and French. There is also a small German speaking minority.

Today agriculture is of minor importance: Only 1% of the gross national product GNP is realized through agriculture. The total agricultural area is about 1’371’955 hectares (in 2007) with 47’936 farms.

In 2004, Belgian families spent 15.8% of their budget on food, drinks and tobacco. That makes food, drinks and tobacco the second most important group. Belgium uses the Euro as currency.

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Development of the sector, comparison with surrounding countries, expectations for growth

Status quo of the Belgian organic sector

The Belgian organic sector has known an important growth in the late nineties until 2001. After five years of fall and stabilization, the sector has grown again slowly since 2006. This evolution should however not be seen apart from the general evolution in agriculture: the number of farms tends to decline every year (in 2007 by 4 percent) as well as the agricultural area (minus 0.8% in 2007). From that point of view, the growth in organic is rather remarkable.

The regional differences in the organic sector in Belgium are quite important: Flanders reaches only 0.6 percent (in 2007) whereas Wallonia comes up to 3.9% (2007). As a whole, Belgium achieves 2 percent which is comparable to the Netherlands.

The weak growth in Belgium has several causes. The intensive character of the agriculture in Belgium, and especially in Flanders makes the conversion difficult. Belgian agriculture demands a lot of (expensive) work and capital; organic agriculture is even more demanding, and the conversion is financially difficult to bear.

Moreover the country is very small, quite urbanized (especially Flanders) and import from the surrounding countries (like France, Germany, the Netherlands) is very common. The Belgian population is rather conservative and is not easily convinced to change its buying habitudes.

Finally, until 2007 the most important general farmers’ organization was only marginally interested in organic production and did not stimulate conversion.


Since the early 1990s several non-profit organizations have been promoting organic agriculture: Velt, Belbior, Probila-Unitrab, Unab, Nature & Progrès and others. In order to strengthen their actions, they professionalized and some of them united in Flanders into one organization - BioForum Vlaanderen - in 2008.

The demand for organic products seems to be growing. In 2007, domestic sales were evaluated at about 283 million Euros. The organic sector has a share of approximately 1.87 percent of food sales.

Politically, organic production gains more and more recognition and has been supported over the last few years by several Ministers of Agriculture. However it has been considered more as an experimental agriculture, interesting enough to try out techniques that can stimulate agriculture in general to become more environmental friendly, but not as a full alternative. In June 2008, the Flemish government started a new action plan to stimulate organic agriculture.

The most important farmers’ organization finally seems to be interested in organic agriculture, which could make a big difference in the number of conversions. In Wallonia the growth of the organic area is obvious.

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Most organic products bear the Belgian label Biogarantie. This label is a private label existing since more than 25 years. Being private, it can only be used after having received an additional certificate and after payment of the royalties. The label is owned by the non-profit organization Biogarantie vzw. During 2008, BioForum will become the licence holder of the label.

However, this label is not compulsory. Some organic products only mention the word 'biologisch' or 'biologique', with additionally the name or code of the inspection body. With the words 'biologisch' and 'biologique' being legally protected, they guarantee the organic character of the concerned product.

There are quite a lot of foreign organic products on the Belgian market, with one or more labels. The current European label for organic production is not very common due to some additional conditions.

Most of the European countries have their own organic label. In Belgium, the most known are 'EKO' from the Netherlands and 'AB' from France.

Foreign organic products can obtain the Belgian label Biogarantie as soon as they have been certified as equivalent. This will facilitate recognition by the Belgian consumer.

Some products comply with the standards of the organic-dynamic movement. They are considered to be the pioneers of the organic sector and respect an additional range of standards. Their label 'Demeter' is the same in the whole world. The Demeter-label and standards are developed by Demeter International. In Belgium only few farmers follow Demeter. Demeter products are only sold in specialized organic shops.

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Production and processing: scale & evolution

The organic area has known an important growth in the late nineties (1998 - 2000), partly due to some food scandals. At that time organizations and a single minister had the ambition of reaching 10% organic area in 2010. However, after a short period of expansion (until the end of 2001), organic production lost much ground. By the end of 2007, the organic area had recovered and counted for 2.4 % of the total agricultural area.

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Land area and farms

Table 1: Evolution of the organic area (organic and in-conversion) in Belgium 2002 to 2007

Land area (in hectares)








29 118

23 966

23 728

22 994

28 636


- of which Flanders







- of which Wallonia

25 221

20 522

20 509

19 841

25 369


Source: BioForum Belgium 

Table 2: Development of the number of organic farms in Belgium 2002-2007

Number of farms














- of which Flanders







- of which Wallonia







Source: Bioforum

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Land use

In the Northern part of Belgium organic production is very diversified with pasture, arable land, vegetables and fruit. In the southern part, organic production concentrates mainly on pasture for the cattle.

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Organic food processing can be found in the most diverse sectors: fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat, cereals, soups and sauces.  Unlike farm production, it is relatively easy to combine conventional and organic processing. Processors can therefore convert and respond quite quickly to a growing demand.

Table 3: Development of organic processors in Belgium 2003-2007

Number of companies









- Flanders





- Wallonia




Source: Bioforum

Organic food processing can be found in the most diverse sectors: fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat, cereals, soups and sauces. Unlike farm production, it is relatively easy to combine conventional and organic processing. Processors can therefore convert and respond quite quickly to a growing demand.

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The most important organizations

Politically, agriculture is a regional matter; this means that the politics on organic agriculture is quite different in the Flemish (northern) and Walloon (southern) part of Belgium.

The Flemish government has, since a few years, stimulated organic agriculture by means of an action plan (see http://lv.vlaanderen.be/nlapps/docs/default.asp?fid=34).

This action plan includes among other things, financial support for organic farmers and for the umbrella organization BioForum Vlaanderen, actions to manage the supply chain, to promote organic products, to integrate organic agriculture in educational programs, to improve the coordination of scientific investigation on organic agriculture, etc. The new action plan for 2008 is being written in close cooperation with the organic sector and the conventional professional organizations. It will be presented in June, during the national 'Organic Week': 'Bioweek'.

For organic processors or distributors, there is no specific support.

The Walloon government is favorable towards organic agriculture and they strongly hold on to the principles of organic agriculture. However, the support for the organic sector is rather minimal and is focused more on supporting the professional market channel. The interest group BioForum Wallonie receives less support than in Flanders.

Among the organizations that stimulate organic consumption and production, we need to mention the following:

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BioForum (www.bioforum.be) is the umbrella organization of the whole organic sector and unites farmers, processors and retailers. BioForum is separated in two regional chambers that operate distinctively due to the different approach of the regional government.

Both offer information to all professionals as well as consumers, organize several promotional campaigns (for example 'Bioweek'), follow up the legislation etc. BioForum is member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements IFOAM (www.ifoam.org).


Velt (www.velt.be) is one of the most known 'amateur organic gardeners' organizations that promote an ecological way of life. Eating (local) organics is one of their mottos. Their action radius is Flanders. 

Nature & progrès

is a similar organization to Velt but operates mainly in Wallonia.


used to be the Flemish organic farmers organization and Probila-Unitrab the national professional organization for organic processors. However, both organizations merged with BioForum Vlaanderen during spring 2008.


is the Walloon organic farmers organization.


is the national federation for food supplements and dietary products. They support both organic and non-organic supplements.


is an development organization that battles for sustainable and fair agriculture in the South and in Belgium. In Belgium their actions mainly concentrate on organic agriculture. They organize organic fruit supply in elementary schools (www.biofruitopschool.be) and support the production of products that bear both fair trade and organic labels.

Bond Beter Leefmilieu

is the umbrella organization of the environment action groups. They support organic agriculture for being more environment-friendly.


is a division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery responsible for the promotion of all farm products. They also promote organic products.

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Action plan

As stated above the Flemish government works out action plans on regular bases with financial support for organic farmers and for the umbrella organization BioForum Vlaanderen, actions to manage the supply chain, to promote organic products, to integrate organic agriculture in educational programs, to improve the coordination of scientific investigation on organic agriculture, etc.

Action plans for organic production are always linked to the Ministry of Agriculture. Other Ministries like Health, Economics, Environment did not yet formulate goals for organic agriculture or food products.

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The market for organic food: Consumption - scale and evolution

Since several years, organic food sale in Belgium is evaluated by GfK, commissioned by VLAM, the Flemish promotion bureau for agriculture and fishery. Their figures are based on the purchases of a selected consumer panel. According to GfK, the sales of organic food products  reached 184 million euros in 2006. However this figure is in conflict with the figures gathered by BioForum Vlaanderen based on actual sales figures of the different distribution channels. According to BioForum Vlaanderen, organic sales reach an amount of 245 million euros in 2006 and of 283 million Euros in 2007.

As BioForum Vlaanderen only just started the market evaluation, there are no figures for the years before 2006 and comparison is not possible.

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The market share of organic products is about 1.65% in 2006 and 1.83 % in 2007 (only 1.3% in 2006 according to GfK). However, we see a great difference between the different product groups.

Table: Importance of organic products by product group

Product group

Marketshare in 2006 (%)

















Diary products








Source: BioForum

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Marketing channels

On the Belgian market, food is sold in supermarkets and discounter, groceries, bakeries, at the butcher's shop, on the market and at farms.

The last decennia we have seen the independent groceries in city centers disappear under the pressure of supermarkets and hard discounts. The last years, supermarkets tend to reinstall small 'grocery-like' shops in city centers. Bakeries and butcher's shops seem to be able to withstand the pressure of the supermarkets by their personal service and a broad range of fresh products.

Organic food is nowadays available in many different ways. We can distinguish supermarkets, specialized organic shops, market sales and farm shops. Unlike the common food market, there are very few organic bakeries and butcher's shops.

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The supermarkets of Delhaize and Colruyt both offer a wide range of products. Their shops are dispersed through the whole country in the neighborhood of every town. Most of the organic products that they offer are packed under their own name and label.

The Colruyt group also has an organic supermarket chain, named Bioplanet. With only 4 shops in 2007 (of which one in the Netherlands), they plan starting up several additional shops.

Carrefour, the third important supermarket chain has only few organic products, mostly under their own label.

These supermarkets reach a broad variety of consumers and therefore help the sector to grow and to improve market penetration.

The Belgian branches of  discounters such as Lidl and Aldi do not yet follow the trend of organics.

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Specialized shops

Apart from the supermarkets, there are approximately 365 specialized organic shops, most of them independent.

However, there are two chains of shops organizing themselves together for purchase, promotion and quality check, using the same name and identity.

In Flanders the Bioshop-chain unites +/- 26 of them. Origin'O is a small but important chain with 5 shops.

These shops usually offer a range of organic products quite different from the supermarkets: whole grain products, products without any sugar, without food additives, all kinds of vegetarian products and so on. Apart from fresh products (like fruit and vegetables) and food that keeps well, they usually sell a great amount of (often imported) organic bread and a choice of organic cheese. Often they not only sell food but also ecological cleaning products and ecological beauty products. These shops mainly reach a public that is already regular buyer and convinced of the quality of organic products.

Quite a lot of organic farmers (32%) market their organic products themselves. They sell at the farm, at the market or offer a weekly package of fruit and vegetables that the consumer can pick up in a sales point of their choice. (cfr. Voedselteams).

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Import und export

Belgian food products in general and especially vegetables and fruit have an excellent international reputation. Nevertheless, the majority of organic farms and companies are relatively small and diversified. This makes it difficult to the sector to compete with the larger farms and companies abroad. The Belgian market cannot be seen apart from the surrounding European market. If the demand on the English or German market is very high, the Belgian producers do not only have more export opportunities, they also have less competition of imported goods.

However, the country being so small, having such an extensive road system and such a small organic sector, imported products take an important part of the market for primary products, food ingredients as well as for processed food products. A lot of imported products come from The Netherlands, France and Germany.

Exact figures on import and export for organic produce are however not available. The sector being so small, there are no separate (NACE-) codes to identify organic from conventional products. The National Institute of Statistics can therefore not provide figures. (see http://www.statbel.fgov.be/home_en.asp) Also the University of Ghent and the Flemish government have tried in 2007 to quantify import and export but without success.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that, for fresh products, the Belgian sector prefers local produce. When the supply of organic milk cannot follow the demand for example, the sector will in the first place try to convince local farmers to convert and invest in organic. Several actors are actually working on more conversion within Belgium.

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Analysis per subsector

Beef and pig production

Especially in Wallonia, beef production is an important part of the organic sector. Since food crisis of 1999 and 2000/2001, the demand for organic meat grew explosively. However, after the crises the demand decreased again clearly. In 2004, 1.3% of the national beef cattle was organic.

Organic pigs are much more limited in number. Only 12’000 animals were kept organically in 2006. This is less than 1%.

Only 10 butcher's shops are organic.  The supermarkets of Delhaize have offered organic meat for  several years. Colruyt supermarkets just started to offer a very limited number of meat products. Bioplanet has a wider range.
Unlike the non organic meat sector, organic meat usually comes from the Belgian farms and processors.

According to a study of BioForum Wallonie, more than half of the organic meat is exported. At the same time, there is a great demand for fresh ham to be dried (Corma).

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Vegetables and fruit

Some cooperatives/auctions as Brava and BFV sell organic fresh fruit and vegetables of their farmer members. They concentrate on Belgian products.
In the supermarkets a great deal, even more than 50%, of the fruit and vegetables are imported because of the lack of the Belgian products.

Most farms are small and a lot of farmers sell their products directly to the consumer. As the weather does not permit all year round production of all vegetables, these producers are not interesting for the big purchase units of the supermarkets who tend to import.

In off-season (January to April), vegetables tend to come from further away like Spain, Morocco and Egypt. A lot of fruit is imported from the Southern hemisphere in off-season (e.g. apples from Chile, Argentina, New-Zealand or South Africa).

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Processed food products

A great deal of the organic processed food products are imported. Bread, pasta, other cereals, dairy products come from abroad.

Belgian companies also export a lot of their organic products. High quality products like ‘Ganda’ ham, fruit juices and other local specialties are exported through Europe.

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Strengths and weaknesses of Belgian organic sector

Among the strong points of the sector, should be mentioned the following:

  • There is a tendency for healthy food in which organic food fits perfectly.
  • There is a growing interest in environment friendly production; it is more and more accepted and known that organic agriculture is indeed more environment friendly than non organic agriculture.
  • There is a national market for organic products that seems to be growing each year by 10% to 15%.
  • Organic products can be found in most supermarkets which stimulates sales and market penetration.

On the other hand, it is clear that the sector also has several weak points:

  • Non-organic food products also try to sell themselves as healthy. Within the mass of products with health claims, the consumers cannot see the wood for the trees.
  • Belgium is a very small country with a very extensive road system; import from the surrounding countries is very easy.
  • The price for organic products is relatively high compared to the price for non organic products, which reduces the opportunities of the sector to grow substantially.
  • Only few farmers dare to convert to organic agriculture; financial, social and practical problems prevent them to do so.

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Petra Tas, Bioform, Vlaanderen vzw, Antwerpen

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Petra Tas
Bioforum Vlaanderen vzw
Quellinstraat 42
2018  Antwerpen
Tel. +32 3 2869 278
Fax +32 3 286 92 71
Internet http://bioforum.be/v2/home.aspx