Organic Sector: Updates 2008
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
Sustain consultant Catherine Fookes continues to make slow, but steady progress with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and representatives of the Organic Action Plan group to explore how the UK’s organic sector can successfully bid for EU funding to promote the organic sector. She is trying to arrange a meeting for the summer so an application can be made before the November deadline. Catherine is also persisting with her efforts to raise standards for organic fish farming via the various committees on which she sits.
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.
Organic Action Plan
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Organic Action Plan (OAP) is now on its last legs. Sustain’s Organic Targets Bill campaign had stopped short of pursuing the Bill into becoming an Act of Parliament, accepting an action plan and government promises as sufficient. Given the weakness of this approach, next time, we must hold out for an Act of Parliament. The two options now are to:
- Press to keep the Organic Action Plan
- Defer to Defra’s plan to deal with organics under the more general heading of the Sustainable Food and Farming Strategy.
Sustain's Council decided that the ‘game is up’ for the OAP, but Sustain should work with others to develop specific policies that would support the continued development of the organic sector. Defra’s ability, or otherwise, to implement these policies would serve as a litmus test for their stated support for the organic sector.
Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS)
Sustain consultant Catherine Fookes continues to attend meetings of the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) on Sustain’s behalf. At the December meeting issues of note included the following.
Organic feed shortages
Certification Bodies can grant derogations for organic feed to individual dairy farmers for a strictly limited period (until February 2008). This is because of serious disruption to supplies of organic soya from China and the absence of a suitable organic replacement. Producers have to prove there is no other available source of organic feed available to them, and that animal welfare would suffer without it. However, OMSCo (the largest organic milk supplier) has not welcomed the decision, and questions the need for it.
The organic inspector approval process
Certification bodies were keen to remove ACOS and Defra from the approval process for inspectors. Most ACOS members argued against this, as the involvement of ACOS ensures that the inspectors from all the certification bodies are at a consistent and high standard. Certification bodies and the relevant ACOS committee will meet to try to resolve this.
New EU logo and regulation
A compulsory EU organic logo has been developed which, from 2009, will be required on all organic products sold in the EU. ACOS members were disappointed with the logo as it uses the word "BIO" not organic which, in the UK, people associate with - at worst - washing powder, and at best nothing at all!
Sustain will offer help – if it is wanted by interested parties – to get funding from the EU to promote organic food to consumers. Funding was available last year, but no-one from the UK was successful in obtaining it due to lack of government support, and confusion in the organic sector itself.
Organic Action Plan
Sustain coordinator Jeanette Longfield attended the January organic action plan meeting where, among other things, Defra proposed disbanding the group and discontinuing the organic action plan process. At best this could integrate organic farming and food into mainstream Defra policies and practices. However, members fear this signals further marginalisation of the organic sector.
More positively, the revamped agricultural levy board now appears willing to meet to explore how levy-paying organic members could get more for their money. In addition, Sir Don Curry remains very supportive of everyone’s efforts to get more sustainable food, routinely, into public sector catering.
Kath continues to attend regular meetings of the Soil Association’s Processing Standards Committee, as a consumer representative. Kath has also been appointed Chair of the Catering Standards working party, presenting valuable opportunities to be involved in the development of organic catering standards, the Food for Life programme, and the Soil Association’s work on public procurement.
International organic standards
At the beginning of December, Kath spoke at a two-day conference in Brussels for the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Kath focused on consumer trust in organic standards, and what more the organic movement should do to improve local food systems, raise nutrition standards and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the food chain.