Select Committee on Agriculture Second Report


The Agriculture Committee has agreed to the following Report:-



1. The demand-led expansion in organic production in the UK has brought great benefits in revitalising this sector at a time of great trouble in the rest of the agricultural industry. This is to be welcomed and we applaud the efforts of the organic movement in responding to this demand so swiftly. Inevitably, however, the sudden increase has led to problems in oversubscription of organic services, from Government grants to certification of farms and imported products. There is an argument over whether the Government should invest now to meet more of the current level of demand from domestic supplies or whether in the longer term this would do more harm than good by creating a sudden glut on the organic market, an agricultural equivalent of a boom and bust economic cycle. Indeed, there is a real question as to the extent to which the Government should be providing support at all when the market is so obviously strong. We believe that there is a strong case for caution. There are also fears that the growth in organic demand is leading to a loss of control by the industry over its traditional values and principles, as larger and more commercially-oriented farmers and the supermarkets become ever more dominant in the market. These difficulties can be resolved by the industry acknowledging the fears and by working towards better supplier relationships and stronger producer-controlled co-operatives.

2. There is clearly a strong consumer demand for organic products but we are very conscious that the consumer may attribute benefits to organic products which cannot be sustained in the present state of scientific knowledge and which cannot legally be claimed by producers. We have reservations about the claims made for organics and we believe that far more work needs to be done to establish a scientific basis for these claims. This would then sustain a rationale for the standards applied and, together with research into technical issues, could lead to great advances by organic farmers. It is vital that consumers get what they believe they are paying for, which is why we attach such importance to clear standards. It is also vital that the taxpayer gets what he or she is paying for, which is why we support an organic stewardship scheme under which Government grants would reward proven environmental benefits.

3. We end by stressing the need to see organic and conventional agriculture as interdependent. We wish to see the best techniques of both systems used to ensure the greatest benefits for farmers, consumers and the wider community. It is unlikely that organic farming can ever provide the amount of food needed for the whole country so conventional agriculture will continue to play a major part, making it all the more important that the systems work in tandem and learn from one another. Organic farming has much to offer in this partnership and we hope that it will continue to develop and expand in the UK. Organic farming is now a mature sector. Some of its apostles still proselytise with an almost religious fervour and, occasionally, a sectarian spirit. This helps nobody. The past perhaps belonged to messianics; the future belongs to marketing.

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