38. An obvious answer to the difficulty of the mismatch
between the need for economies of scale in dealing with supermarkets
and the small-scale nature of much of the organic production sector
is the development of supplier partnerships or co-operatives.
These arrangements strengthen the hand of the farmer, who is no
longer working in isolation and can make use of common facilities
and combined negotiating power, and are also welcomed by the supermarkets
who find it easier to contract with a group of farmers than with
individuals. There have been notable successes in creating such
co-operatives within the organic sector. OMSCo was originally
set up by a groups of organic farmers in response to the lack
of processing capacity for organic milk.
It is now the major player in the organic milk sector, acting
as a link between the processor or retailer to the farmer both
for contracts and for development. For example, Yeo Valley Organic
Company is working with OMSCo to encourage farmers to convert.
Similarly, in the livestock sector, the Organic Livestock Marketing
Co-operative was set up some five years ago by the Soil Association,
Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd and Eastbrook Farm Organic Meats
"to create an orderly marketing environment for primary producers,
with ex-farm prices fixed for long periods".
It may be harder for other sectors to develop such partnerships
but we agree with the NFU that "there are many opportunities
for co-operatives and other farmer-controlled businesses to flourish
in the marketplace".
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has often expressed
the view that such co-operatives should be encouraged in agriculture
more generally. We believe that there is an opportunity here for
the Government to assist the development of farmers' co-operatives
in the organic sector through the ERDP and other funds aimed at
rural development. We recommend that the Government work with
the bodies responsible for the promotion of organic production
to ensure that rural development funds are channelled into the
development of supplier partnerships and farmer-controlled co-operatives
in the organic sector.
39. A particular obstacle to the expansion of organic
livestock farming has been the availability of local abattoirs.
Processing capacity for organic livestock is limited by organic
protocols which require that animals are slaughtered at an abattoir
registered and checked by a certification body. The closure of
many small abattoirs over the last few years has left organic
farmers in the position that the nearest available facilities
may be many miles away. This is unacceptable in terms of cost
(organic livestock farmers tend to operate on a small scale) and
in terms of animal welfare.
Moreover, it could have a knock-on effect on consumer choice as
the lack of locally-slaughtered organic meat could lead to the
loss of independent butchers, farm shops, farmers' markets and
other speciality outlets.
We know of at least one case where a farmer was forced to forgo
his organic status because of the loss of a local organic abattoir
and the importance of such facilities was stressed to us in informal
discussions with others.
The NFU described the "lack of a local slaughtering facility"
as "the top of the list" of problems faced by organic
40. The recent spate of closures or threatened closures
of small, local abattoirs has been attributed to the charging
regime for Meat Hygiene Service inspectors.
The Government has tried to address this problem in the Rural
White Paper, published in late November 2000, by promising to
"target help for small and medium-sized abattoirs".
It announced "new, additional aid (worth £8.7m in 2001-02)
in respect of meat inspection costs to help secure the future
of small and medium-sized abattoirs".
We welcome this additional aid and await with interest details
of the package and we urge the Government to stimulate the development
of new small abattoirs, including mobile abattoirs.
71 Qq 303-4; Ev. p. 162, section 5; SA (1999), p. 23. Back
(1999), p. 22. Back
73 Ibid. Back
pp. 35-36; Ev. p. 85; Ev. p. 236. Back
p. 78, para 5.4. Back
p. 236, para 22-4; Ev. pp. 152-3. Back
p. 35. Back
p. 72, para 2.6. Back
p. 224. Back
435, 410, 434. Back
p. 213. Back
p. 235, para 19. Back
p. 36. Back
p. 155, para 11. Back
p. 163, para 6.2. Back
p. 250, annex; private information. Back
p. 155, para 11. Back
White Paper, Our Countryside:the Future, Cm 4909, p. 92. Back
95 Ibid. Back