Expensive feed burden for organic farmers
Organic farmers in the United Kingdom have asked the
Government for permission to take a "holiday" from strict organic standards in
an attempt to survive the recession.
The drastic move by organisations including the Soil Association follows a
dip in sales of organic produce and fears for the future of Britain's 5,000
Sales of organic food slumped 10% in the 12 weeks up to
the end of November, according to the latest figures from the consumer
researchers TNS. Overall food sales over the same period were up
Organic certification bodies, including the Soil Association, want
their members to be able to use conventional animal feed instead of organic food
concentrate, which costs double.
Average organic feed prices are £320 a
tonne compared with £160 a tonne for conventional feed.
The plan, which
is also supported by Organic Farmers & Growers and the Organic Food
Federation, would still oblige farmers to follow other organic tenets such as
low stocking densities, minimum use of antibiotic treatments on animals and no
use of fertilisers.
But they would give up the right to label their food
"organic". The aim is to give farmers some leeway during the harsh economic
They want to establish new organic ground rules before the
market becomes even more depressed next year.
A new generation of organic producers is also preparing
to enter the market. There are currently 400 extra farmers converting their land
to organic production and many will be offering organic produce for the first
time next year.
The concern is that, if the rules on feed are not eased,
they will be left disenchanted and out of pocket if sales flounder over the next
couple of years.
The move has been condemned by the Organic Research
Centre, which fears that organic "holidays" will confuse shoppers and lead to a
further sales slump.
Richard Sanders, a centre spokesman, said: "Has UK
organic agriculture descended from high principle to flip-flop market tracking?
Any proper organic farmer should not be exposed anyway to the vagaries of the
feed market because they are supposed to be growing their own on the
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