Organic Articles: Massive Government Commitment To Organics!

The Organic Consultancy

Massive Government Commitment To Organics!

by Simon Wright

This article originally appeared in the September 2001 edition of Organic Business.

The central London venue is full to bursting with 500 delegates eager to hear what the Minister will say. For many it is the first time they have heard her speak and she does not disappoint. With energy and enthusiasm she runs through her plans for her Department. And what radical plans they are: a national label that will cover all organic food with a second label that will highlight best practice in non-organic food, education about organic food in primary schools, developing EU organic standards to reduce the risk of fraud, carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of the non-vaccination policy for FMD, working to re-orientate the CAP system towards delivering environmental benefits, spending government money on a marketing programme for organic food and best of all a target that 20% of land to be organic within 10 years. She sits down to rousing applause from the senior industry and policy figures present.

Sadly for us in the UK the Minister was Renate Kunast, the German Federal Minister of Agriculture. She captivated the recent RSPB “Where Next For Organic Agriculture?” conference with her enthusiasm and vision. Kunast was a hard act to follow, and Margaret Beckett, UK Minister for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs struggled by comparison. I know it is early days for DEFRA but Beckett’s speech could have been written for any minister from John Selwyn Gummer onwards. She said that organic farming was “useful and important” and that she would like to see the sector develop further. No commitments, no plans, no timetables.

Afterwards it was suggested to me that Kunast has to initiate her agenda so quickly because the Green party that she represents could be out of government in two years. Whatever the reason she is certainly seizing the moment. At the RSPB conference speaker after speaker confirmed that the current political climate (post BSE, post FMD) offers our best chance to reform the CAP in order to bring EU agriculture spending more in line with the agricultural and environmental values that matter to increasing numbers of consumers across Northern Europe. Let us hope that DEFRA’s forthcoming Sustainable Development Strategy will provide a meaningful starting point for UK agricultural reform along these lines.

One of Kunast’s most attractive concepts was that of The Magic Hexagon – the name she has given to working simultaneously with the six key food stakeholder group, namely politicians, feed producers, farmers, food processors, retailers and consumers. Maybe if we had our own Magic Hexagon we could conjure up some more support for organics from Margaret Beckett