Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 21

Letter from the Chief Executive, J G Quicke and Partners, to the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (F 29)

RE: AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEE, HOUSE OF COMMONS: ORGANIC FARMING

  I enclose an observation on organic farming, framed in non-technical language. This newsletter (not printed), sent to delicatessen owners, food writers and influencers, was very well received as a counterweight to the media presumption that "organic" is the sole indicator of quality in food. I can put it in more technical language with more reasoned and quantitative argument should you so wish.

  Other points to include are:

  1.  Organic standards reflect the concerns, interests and understanding of the relatively small and coherent group of people on the UKROFS committee. The limitations of this are:

    (a)  inexperience eg the traditional coatings of lard and cheese cloth for cheese were not organic because none of the committee know that was how traditional cheese was made (I have now had the issue resolved, but it makes the point);

    (b)  belief—the drivers of the legal standard are belief and commitment, not logic, so that UK organic standards reflect hobby horses not a wider consensus. For instance, in the UK; organic pigs must be outdoors, with questionable welfare and environmental benefits and questionable fulfilment of organic principles. In most other European countries, organic pigs are not required to be outside. This matters to cheese because feeding whey to pigs is fulfilling organic principles but becomes quite unsustainable if it must be tankered out to outdoor pigs (power requirement, damage to soils, expense of specialist pipework to a new area each year).

  2.  Organics is attempting to seize the environmental and quality "high ground". The success of organic "brand" deflects attention and credibility from other markers of quality, like "Specialist Cheese".

  3.  Organic farming has gained a privileged hearing in Whitehall, for instance with R&D funding ear-marked specifically to organic food and farming. Long term, consumers and the environment will be better served by upgrading of standards throughout the industry. The organic R&D is carried out for the "organic cartel" and does not see itself as interacting or feeding into mainstream or other specialist food or agricultural research. A wider remit and would serve the whole industry better.

  4.  Since organics is a legal standard, legal standards of proof and regulation apply. For greatest consumer benefit, a reversal of the prescriptive standards of proof to a risk assessment basis (ie prove to your EHO or trading standards that your system complies to organic farming principles) and you will lose the nonsense of the personal and belief-motivated minutiae of the organic standards.

  I hope these comments are useful and I would be delighted to provide more support if you wish.

30 May 2000


 
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