Natural Foods Merchandiser

Iceland's volcano impacting food imports, exports

Six days after Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano first began spewing a giant ash cloud - grounding flights across Europe - planes are beginning to fly again. But the lifting of the flight ban comes too late for organizers of the NutraIngredients Antioxidant 2010 Conference, who are being forced to postpone the event in Brussels for a date later in the summer.

Airline representatives have said it could take weeks to repatriate all stranded travelers. With flights grounded, international air freight has been paralyzed as well. In Britain, where about 1.5 percent of produce is imported by air, exotic fruits and fresh flowers are becoming scarce.

“While we won’t run out of fresh produce on the shelves, if this continues it will impact exotic products. It is already having an impact on individual companies that specialize in these particular products,” a spokesperson for Britain’s Fresh Produce Consortium told The biggest impacts are being felt by produce and flower farmers in Africa and South America, among them Kenyan growers forced to dump upwards of 60 tons of broccoli, snap peas and other vegetables due to spoilage.

EU exports are also on hold, with the biggest impact on fresh and perishable items. “I’m having serious issues with supply and demand,” said Allen Schaffer, meat and seafood buyer for Treasure Island, a Chicago-based retail chain specializing in European foods. “This week I had to pull my ad for organic Scottish and Norwegian salmon because of the effect of the volcano. Salmon prices are skyrocketing, with my wholesale price up two dollars a pound if I can get it at all.”

Some experts say the volcanic eruption underscores the fragility of global food supply chains, and may steer more consumers toward local options. “This is the system that we've become uber reliant on, that grew at the expense of our local food infrastructure,” blogged Susan Smillie, editor of’s food blog Word of Mouth. “It can only be hoped that any shortages will boost the flourishing interest in localizing our food system.”

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