The Soil Association today welcomed a number of key recommendations made in the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee enquiry into organic farming. In particular, they are delighted with the Committee's conclusion that much greater Government investment in the sector should be made.

 The Committee supports a UK organic action plan and makes several specific recommendations to develop the sector, based on a sound rationale. These include targeting aid at sectors that are lagging behind in conversion (such as arable and horticultural crops), increasing the R&D budget and addressing specific production and marketing bottlenecks.

Patrick  Holden called on the Government to put these recommendations into practice, 'Until now the Government has played a passive role towards organic farming. Governments in other EU countries have pledged to make organic farming a strategic priority and we should do the same. Widespread organic farming would bring the country major benefits in terms of public health, rural employment, environmental protection and also economic savings. A proper rationale should mean the Government will give support in proportion to the sector's ability to deliver these objectives.'

Mr Holden continued, 'We are particularly delighted that the Committee proposes 'organic stewardship' payments for farmers in recognition of organic farming's proven environmental benefits. This should facilitate the expansion of UK organic production and help the Government meet its ambitious biodiversity targets.' This follows on from recent support for stewardship payments given publicly by the Ministers Nick Brown and Elliot Morley.

The Soil Association believes that if a package of measures is adopted following the recommendations, this will greatly improve the economic climate for organic production and help bring down the cost of organic food in the shops. Meanwhile consumer confidence in organic food must be maintained by strict adherence to organic standards throughout this period of rapid growth, and as further research will help prove the benefits of organic food and farming.

Patrick Holden
Soil Association Director (in London)        m 07774 846858

Simon Brenman
Soil Association Agriculture Development Director        m 07771 667422

Notes for Editors

  • Current Government expenditure plans will take sector to about 6% in England by 2006, a tripling of the current area.  The R&D budget is currently only 2% (£2.1 m) of the total agricultural research budget.
  • The UK is in a small minority of EU countries which do not pay on-going payments for organic farming.
  • 10 other EU countries have adopted targets for organic farming. 256 MPs are now supporting Simon Thomas's Private Members Bill for a target of 30% of land in England and Wales to be organic by 2010; this includes 177 Labour MPs.
  • Conversion of the livestock dairy sector to organic farming is proceeding at a fast rate, but conversion of specialist arable farms and horticultural operations is lagging behind.  This is because of the much greater cost of conversion in these sectors.