Bill is defeated but wins action plan and targets!
After a three year campaign, the Scottish Executive has finally established an action plan driven by targets for the organic sector in Scotland. The plan came out two days before the crucial debate the Bill was due to take place in the Scottish Parliament. The Bill aimed to secure a ten year commitment to action plans and targets but was defeated in the debate. However the Executive accepted the broad challenge laid down by the campaign and has brought out a plan which mirrors many of the original provisions in the Bill, including the setting of two targets to help increase organic production and the market.
Green Party MSP Robin Harper who has sponsored the Bill since the beginning said, "The gains for organic farming have been nothing short of miraculous since we introduced the Bill four months ago. The four-year plan we have won from the Executive will result in thousands of tons of pesticides staying in their drums and significant gains for wildlife, animal welfare and jobs."
Advice on the plan was given by Organic Stakeholders Group which includes all the Scottish organic sector bodies, the NFUS, SAC and other interested parties pulled together by the Executive last November as the Bill was being launched. The group, which originally had no remit to advise on an action plan, met regularly in the intervening months as the Bill was being analysed by the Parliament's Rural Development Committee. The Committee's open verdict on the Bill included a positive recommendation that targets and an action plan were important for the future growth of the organic sector.
The Executive plan sets a target to substitute imported organic produce with Scottish organic produce, so that a minimum of 70% of the market demand for organic products that can be sourced here is met. Unlike the similar target set by Defra in England as part of the English action plan, there is no timescale for its achievement. It does however represent a positive step towards supplying as much organic produce from Scotland for sale in Scotland, as the Scottish conventional sector currently delivers to its home market. The second target is an aspirational doubling of organic arable and improved grassland area by 2007, which if successful should help balance the
sector, which is currently heavily skewed with 85% of the Scottish organic area falling on rough grazing land.
Flowing from the targets there are a number of actions in the plan that have been identified. A consultation on the current funding arrangements for organic farmers will take place this year looking at:
- new payment rates to be targeted where environmental impacts can be
most beneficial, especially arable land
- a new conversion payment rate for vegetable and fruit production
- more support for advisory help for converters
- capital costs payments associated with conversion
- options for support beyond the conversion period.
In terms of marketing, there will be a prioritisation now for organic applications to the Executive's Processing and Marketing Grant Schemes and continued support for the Scottish Enterprise Scottish organic branding project. here will also be a review of where extra research needs to be carried out into organic farming, and an identification of what the Scottish priorities are for new baseline organic standards in the UK. Additional areas have been identified
for the Stakeholder Group to investigate including public procurement and the role of organic produce in healthy eating initiatives.
Despite the Bill's defeat in Parliament, MSPs from all parties welcomed it's tabling to enable the detailed case for Executive action to be recognised. Several backbench MSPs from the Labour benches highlighted the need for the Minister Ross Finnie to ensure that the plan is built on over time and does not slip off the Executive's agenda, as it has been up until recently.
Media interest in organic farming during the week of the debate and the launch of the plan was high, and several pieces on BBC radio and TV and in the newspapers continued to raise the importance of organic farming with the general public. Work will now begin by the Organic Stakeholder Group to flesh out more concrete actions with SEERAD in the months ahead.
Mark Ruskell from the OTB campaign said, "I would like to thank all those who have supported the campaign over the last couple of years from large and small businesses to campaign organisations and the many individuals who have written letters and e-mails. The results of your actions are plain to see and in many ways it is now the beginning of a new phase to actually deliver an organic future for Scotland."