Organic Articles: Not Fully Understood

The Organic Consultancy

Not Fully Understood

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the October 2002 edition of Organic Business.

Last month’s Organic Business carried full details of the new Organic Action Plan. I am delighted that we have it, whilst also being concerned that sufficient resources exist for the OAP to deliver. The OAP is an enormous step forward for everyone involved with organics my congratulations go to Elliott Morley, John Parkin and the OAP team for delivering such a good piece of work in such a short time.

The launch of the OAP was slightly marred by a breaking of ranks within the team. The OAP group was commendably diverse with some very unlikely organisations co-operating in a very impressive way. How disappointing then that just before the official launch the NFU stick out a Press Release from NFU President Ben Gill bemoaning the state of organic agriculture in the UK. The NFU even managed to persuade The Grocer to print a story alleging that the OAP would recommend moving to a single UK organic certification mark and that the Treasury had agreed to fund this. No such recommendation was contained in the OAP report, although it remains one of the NFU’s key aims and received a lot of coverage on the back of the OAP report. The negative way that the NFU has behaved meant that a lot of the media coverage of the OAP was critical with titles like “Organic farmers losing out to imported goods” and “Cash crisis puts organic farming at risk”. So an opportunity to talk up the good work being done in the UK has been lost.

A recent NFU survey puts “the amount of imported produce” as the number one issue of concern for an (unspecified) number of UK organic farmers. The OAP has already accepted this point and aims for organic import substitution wherever possible. However some in the NFU have gone further and in private have alleged that imported organic produce involves lower organic standards and inferior conditions of employment. Codes of conduct, import checks, independent certification and EU 2092/91 all exist to ensure that organic production from outside the EU continues to offer both producers and farmers a good deal. Casting aspersions on organic products just because they are grown outside the UK goes beyond legitimate promotion of UK organic production and into xenophobia and protectionism.

For many years NFU senior management have been hostile towards organic farming and they have only moved towards organics reluctantly in recent months after realising it offered the best economic prospects for many of their members. Now they seem anxious to make up for lost time, pushing for a single set of standards (whose?) and a single marketing scheme for UK organic production. Is the NFU aiming to take over the UK organic sector ?