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Organic Sector: Updates 2007

Summer 2007

Organic standards and airfreight
Sustain's deputy coordinator Kath Dalmeny participated in discussions with the Soil Association certification department, on the issue of airfreight of organic food. A proposal to ban airfreight has been issued for public consultation by the Soil Association, and a stakeholder meeting will be held in July, which Sustain will attend.

Organic Action Plan
The England Organic Action Plan(OAP) steering group met on 14 June, with feedback given from the UK Action Plan Forum meeting held on the 27 April. Issues raised by the OAP group, in light of the meeting report, included the need to consult the sector on the new regulations. The secretariat agreed to consider the possibility of organising a stakeholder engagement meeting. There was no agreement on GM thresholds for seeds, and the secretariat undertook to investigate this issue.

The Soil Association’s Peter Melchett presented a paper on the contribution that organic farming makes to supplying public goods. The paper is being further refined in light of members’ comments, and will be used as part of the library of evidence needed to inform the mid-term review of agri-environment schemes. Lawrence Woodward, from Elm Farm Research Centre, also presented a paper on how the supply of organic goods from UK production might be maintained. Two key issues which that emerged from the presentation were lack of confidence in the market, and continuity and availability of supply.

Organic Centre Wales’s Co-ordinator, Nic Lampkin’s presentation focused on the promotion of organic food. EU funding is available, which must be match-funded by individual member states. The group was unanimous in their support for Levy Board receipts being used to support this initiative. Discussions will take place between Sir Don Curry, and John Bridge, Chair designate of Levy Board UK.

Sir Don Curry will be chairing the next meeting on 24 October where Sustain's paper on public sector procurement (prepared for the June meeting) should be presented.

Note: Establishment of Defra's Organic Action Plan and steering group followed Sustain's successful Organic Targets Campaign. An archive of Organic Targets Campaign material is available online.



Spring 2007

Organic Action Plan
Sustain project officer Emma Hockridge has produced a policy paper on public sector procurement for the Organic Action Plan group, which will be discussed at the next meeting on June 14. This will be presented alongside a number of other papers, to form the core of the group’s workplan. Themes covered include the contribution of organic farming in supplying public goods, and how to maintain the supply of organic goods from UK production.

Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS)
Sustain consultant Catherine Fookes continues to contribute to the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards(ACOS) sub-committee on standards for organic farmed fish. There the contentious issue of organic cod standards has received attention over recent months. Catherine has continued to express her reservations about organic cod standards, for several reasons, but principally:

  • The source of feed for carnivorous fish can be a problem area, with a very low conversion rate from feed to fish produced (some estimates suggest that 8kg of feed may be needed to produce 1kg of fish). This seems inherently wasteful and out of line with organic principles.
  • The source of fish feed can be trawled or otherwise indiscriminately fished, resulting in conservation problems.
  • Current cod standards allow 24-hour lighting, which may have animal welfare implications, affect nearby wildlife, and consume excessive energy.

In January, Catherine spoke out about her concerns (shared with others, such as Elm Farm Research Centre) about 24-hour lighting on a Channel 4 documentary, which resulted in a review by ACOS of its policy on interactions with the media. Catherine had presented her concerns and media plans to the chair of the committee in advance of the interview. In the resulting review, despite ACOS being a Defra committee, Defra did not comment on the relationship of standards committees with the media. ACOS may also consider how to resolve issues where consensus is lacking or concerns have not yet been addressed.

Winter 2006-07

Organic Action Plan
The next meeting of the Organic Action Plan group, following its revamp at the last meeting in October, will be on 8 March. Sustain project officer Emma Hockridge will be among the six “champions” presenting papers on the group’s priorities (public procurement has been assigned to Emma, due to her involvement with Sustain's Good Food on the Public Plate project).

Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS)
Catherine Fookes, consultant to Sustain, attended the December meeting of the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS), at which there was a brief discussion on the European Union’s organic regulation, and poultry flock sizes. Catherine is also represented on the ACOS committee exploring the development of organic aquaculture standards, but she was unfortunately unable to attend the last meeting.

New Campaign for Real Organic Poultry
However, Catherine did attend a December conference at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, organised by the Organic Research Centre - Elm Farm. The event saw the launch of the Campaign for Real Organic Poultry (CROP) and the Organic Growers Association. CROP believe standards for organic poultry - both layers and table birds - should improve by, for example, limiting flock sizes to 500, ensuring 100% organic feed, stipulating appropriate breeds, and closing the rearing system by using only organic chicks. There were useful discussions on the importance of keeping organic standards in general to a high level so that they meet consumer expectations. 

Organic Sector Development: We are helping to bring the organic message to the UK consumer with the Organic. Naturally Different campaign.

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