Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 17

Memorandum submitted by WWF (F 23)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  WWF welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the House of Common's Agriculture Committee into Organic Farming in the United Kingdom. WWF is a global organisation with a network of 15 European National Offices (active in 22 countries) and a European Policy Office in Brussels. WWF combines a strong European presence with nationally based offices in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, enabling it to give a truly UK as well as global perspective.

  2.  Farming is one of the greatest threats to Europe's wildlife, yet it is the industry that can make a huge contribution to conservation. As a leading environmental organisation concerned with the protection of wildlife, WWF supports organic farming because it benefits people and nature. It avoids the release of toxic pesticide residues into the environment, and it supports rural development, fair trade, food safety, animal welfare, and market-oriented production. No other farming system encapsulates all these benefits in a way that the public can easily recognise.1

EVIDENCE ON THE EXPANSION OF ORGANIC FARMING IN ALL AGRICULTURAL SECTORS

  3.  According to MAFF there are currently 540,191 hectares of organic and in-conversion land in the UK. This represents 3 per cent of the total agricultural area in the UK, more than double the figure from April 1999 when there were 240,000 hectares of organic and in-conversion land or 1.3 per cent of the total agricultural area.2

  4.  The expansion of organic farming across the EU has been attributed to EU legislation introduced in the early 1990's3, including Regulation 2078/92 which encourages farmers to carry out environmentally beneficial practices on their land and 2092/91 on the organic production of agricultural products.

  5.  WWF supports the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill which, if enacted, will ensure that by 2010 at least 30 per cent of farm land in the UK will be in organic production, and that at least 20 per cent of the food consumed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be organic. The Bill will also ensure that policies are put in place to reach this target, including financial support to reward organic farmers for the environmental benefits they provide, to encourage others to consider the organic option and to support them through the conversion stage. WWF would like to point out that there is some debate about the issue of area payments, and wishes to note that area payments could be used as an instrument to meet the targets set out in the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill.

  6.  WWF is concerned to note that while the Scottish Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill is starting to go through the legislative process, the Bill for the rest of the UK failed to get its second reading on 3 March 2000. WWF urges the government to proceed with the passage of this Bill through Parliament.

MARKET TRENDS AND CUSTOMER DEMANDS

  7.  Public concerns about successive food scares, genetically modified products, animal welfare and fear about the effects of artificial pesticides and fertilisers on human health have lead to a rising demand for organic food at a rate of 40 per cent per year2. In 1996-97 the total retail value of organic food sales in the UK was £200 million, this rose to £390 million in 1998-992, meanwhile supermarkets are continuing to expand their range of organic products to meet consumer demand, for example, a leading UK supermarket has increased its organic product lines from 42 in 19977 to currently more than 6008. WWF believes that these concerns are likely to increase in the future and therefore continued rapid expansion of demand may be expected.

  8.  WWF believes it is imperative that organic produce should be available to all, including those on low incomes. WWF supports the aim of the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill which will ensure that organic food is more widely available and that the price differential between organic and conventional produce is reduced. WWF believes that the market demand for organic produce would clearly be much greater if the size of the organic premium were to be reduced. The reduction of organic premiums to, say 10 per cent, would clearly affect incomes and may provide a reason for continuing payments to producers.

ROLE OF ORGANIC CERTIFICATION ORGANISATIONS

  9.  Organic certification organisations need to be effectively resourced to ensure that they can maintain the integrity of the organic brand and ensure that it delivers environmental benefits. WWF works with and supports the Soil Association. For example, we have recently funded research into the production standards of organic food and have helped publicise the biodiversity benefits of organic farming.

SETTING OF ORGANIC STANDARDS AND TOLERANCES

  10.  WWF wants to see continuing advances in organic standards. This includes expansion to new areas such as food miles, packaging, processing waste and energy use. WWF also wishes to see improvements in biodiversity standards, through measures such as the maintenance of traditional management practices on species-rich meadows and maintenance of existing hedges and stone walls using traditional methods and materials, and has contributed to research with the Soil Association to achieve this4.

  11.  WWF would also like to note that the EU Regulation 2092/91 on organic production needs to be altered to allow activities to reflect local environmental conditions. We urge the government to take action at the European level to achieve this alteration.

ROLE OF FARM ASSURANCE SCHEMES; THE AVAILABILITY AND SUITABILITY OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ASSISTANCE FOR ORGANIC CONVERSION, INCLUDING THE ROLE OF TRADE ASSOCIATIONS, FOOD PROCESSORS, SUPERMARKETS AND THE GOVERNMENT

  12.  As they are currently designed and presented WWF is sceptical of the added value that farm assurance schemes offer to consumers of the type promoted in the action plan for farming.

  13.  The high cost of conversion deters farmers from converting or organic, together with a lack of long-term confidence in price premiums, making farmers unwilling to take the risk of investing in conversion. The Rural Development Regulation provides an opportunity to develop support for organic farming, further to that already provided for conversion by the Organic Farm Scheme. However, WWF believes significantly more funds should be allocated to agri-environment support, which could be diverted from damaging subsidies that currently support intensive farming, to reward farmers for the benefits that organic provides.

  14.  In order to meet the targets set out in the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill increases will be needed both in an advisory capacity and in financial support for conversion. WWF believes that both private and public sectors have a role to play.

  15.  Some of the benefits provided by organic agriculture are clearly public in nature. This is the rationale for support for organic agriculture from the public purse.

  16.  WWF also believes that large private sector organisations play a key role in bearing the risks associated with conversion to organic production and believe that the private benefits should be paid for through private assistance and recouped through the price of food.

  17.  It appears from the high levels of premiums paid by consumers for some products there are inefficiencies in the marketing chain and problems with tightness of supply. The government clearly has a role to play in bringing the various players together to ensure sustained supply at reasonable prices.

OUTLETS AND DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS FOR ORGANIC PRODUCE AND RETAIL PRICING

  18.  WWF believes that it is desirable that food should be consumed as close to the point of production as possible. We will encourage supermarkets to source produce locally and urge the government to do the same, but we recognise that there are major problems in ensuring continuity of supply.

  19.  Because of the endocrine disrupting chemicals found in some conventional produce, WWF believes that the choice to avoid these chemicals should be within the reach of all of us. This requires, in accordance with the aims of the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill, a substantial reduction in the price differential between commercial and organic food.

LEVEL OF IMPORTS AND EXPORTS

  20.  The UK currently imports around 70 per cent of the organic food sold. It is desirable that demand should be met locally so that the environmental costs associated with transport are avoided. WWF supports the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill which will ensure we increase our own organic production to avoid import and will promote the desirability of local or regional food economies.

INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS

  21.  Organic farming in the EU is worth some £4.8 billion a year and around £10.3 billion worldwide3 (using exchange rate at 8 June 2000). Overall, European organic farming has increased by 25 per cent per year over the last 10 years5, with only 6,300 organic farms in the EU in 1985, compared with over 100,000 in 19986.

  22.  The area of organic and in-conversion land across the EU varies from country to country as the following figures show:

THE AREA OF ORGANIC AND IN-CONVERSION LAND FOR SELECTED COUNTRIES IN EUROPE

  


Country
1999-2000
% Agricultural Land

Sweden
268,000 ha
11.2
Austria
345,000 ha
10
Italy
900,000 ha
5.3
UK
540,000 ha
3
EU Average
2.2

Source:2

  These figures illustrate the growth of organic farming across Europe, but it also signifies that while the UK holds above the EU average, there are substantial opportunities for growth in the UK.

  23.  A number of Member States have introduced targets and initiatives for organic farming. For example, Denmark's target is to reach 50 per cent by 2010, Sweden's target is 10 per cent by 2000 and Wales' is 10 per cent by 20055.

  24.  Most EU Member States offer continuing public assistance to organic agriculture. The absence of this support in the UK clearly favours the location of production in other Member States.

  25.  The UK's Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill will help us compete with the already expanding European market so that we can become better able to meet consumer demand, while reaping the many benefits that organic farming provides.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

  26.  The growing level of public concern about food quality shows no sign of abating, thus demand for organic produce appears likely to increase. WWF believes expansion in organic farming benefits farmland biodiversity and, with CAP reform and expansion of agri-environment schemes, will help stem declines in wildlife. WWF therefore seeks a threefold increase in organic produce purchased by 2005. However, whilst recognising the benefits of organic, increased government support for organic farming should be part of a package that also includes significant increases for other agri-environment schemes.

  27.  There is a danger, as shown in Austria and Finland, that the organic market will stop growing when 10 to 20 per cent of market share has been reached. The challenge for the UK is to reach and break through this level of production so that the environmental benefits of organic farming to people and nature are available to all.

REFERENCES

  1.  Soil Association (2000) The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming.

  2.  www.soilassociation.org.

  3.  www.ecoglobe.org.nz/news1999/d289news.

  4.  Stopes C, Redman M, Harrison D (1999) The Organic Farming Environment. An Assessment of the Agronomic impact, biodiversity and landscape benefits of enhanced organic conversation standards. Soil Association.

  5.  www.sustainweb.org/tagetorganic/targnew2.

  6.  Lampkin N, Foster C, Padel S and Midmore P (1998) The Policy and regulatory environment for organic farming in Europe, Technical Deliverable: Ri, FAIR3-CT96-1794. Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, Aberystwyth University, Wales.

  7.  www.pighealth.com/News99/ORGANIC.

  8.  www.sainsbury's.co.uk.

12 June 2000


 
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