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No compromise in 0rganic standards despite recession says Soil Association 10.03.09

Organic beef

The recession is proving a tough time for organic livestock farmers, particularly those in transition from input heavy techniques to organic. The hardest hit have been livestock farmers as the price for organic animal feed, the single largest cost for farmers, has risen in price until it is now twice the price of non-organic feed.

For livestock farmers in transition this has been a double whammy, while having to incur the high cost of organic feed they are unable to benefit from the premium prices enjoyed by certified organic producers. Farmers undergoing the transition do receive support in the form of English Organic Entry Level Scheme, with similar schemes in Scotland and Wales, for five years. One of the key issues is however that it is a one way process, if a farmer cannot economically continue through the transition process and has to revert to chemically enhanced farming then the full sum has to be repaid despite the costs the farmer had incurred by trying to turn organic. There has been a great fear amongst farmers undergoing this process that they will go bust trying to achieve organic status, and go bust if they don’t.

The Soil Association had suggested to allow a window for farmers in transition to be allowed to revert to feeding their animals non-organic non-genetically modified feed that would allow them to reduce their costs until such times as the economy picked up. Animals feed this non-organic feed could not obtain organic status, their product not sold as organic, and they could not be sold as organic meat upon slaughter. All other organic criteria would remain in place allowing the farmer to revert back to full organic transition as and when.

The Soil Association has been conducting a consultation with their members on this change for the last month to weigh up the pros and cons of allowing a window for farmers in transition. Following a this consultation the Soil Association’s independent Standards Board has decided against making any changes. All food certified by the Soil Association and sold as organic will continue to be produced under full organic standards.

According to the Soil Association, “180 responses were received in response to the recent consultation; the majority were from Soil Association farmers and growers. Three quarters of the respondents were opposed to allowing any changes to the standards covering animal feed.

Respondents noted the importance of retaining the integrity of Soil Association standards and expressed concern about the potential for damaging consumer confidence. They also pointed out that what might help livestock farmers could do damage to the organic feed market and the arable farmers who supply it.”

Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association Standards Board, said: “The Board agreed that making ad hoc changes of this sort would damage the integrity of the standards and could rock consumer confidence. Consumers expect ‘Soil Association Organic’ to stand for the highest quality in organic food and that is a reputation the Standards Board wants to retain.

Peter Shield

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