Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers
Union of Scotland (F 34)
1. The Union is responding to a consultation
on organic farming following an invite via press release from
the House of Commons Agriculture Committee dated 5 May and a covering
letter from the clerk to the Committee dated 8 May.
2. In summary, the Union's views are:
It is a commercial judgement for
farmers whether latent demand for organic food is sufficient to
The Union would welcome an increase
in organic production in Scotland, so that more of consumer demand
for organic food would be met by domestic produce.
Organic aid should provide a genuine
incentive and should be available on comparable terms to that
provided to producers elsewhere in Europe.
Standards for organic conversion
and organic produce must be attainable by producers in Scotland
and should not be stricter than those required by other EU Member
The Union recognises the House of
Lords Select Committee on European Communities' report into organic
conversion, which found that organic farming does bring benefits
and that government support is justified. However, in respect
of nutritional quality and food safety there is no evidence for
or against organic farming relative to conventional farming.
3. The Union supports the principle of voluntary
participation by producers in environmental programmes.
Whilst the Union does not advocate any particular
farming system, an increase in the volume of organic production
in Scotland, so that more of the consumer demand for organic food
can be met, is welcome. However, it is a commercial judgement
for producers whether latent demand for organic food is sufficient
to justify conversion.
4. One of the most important trends in food
consumption is that consumers are demanding an ever widening variety
of food. There is growing retailer and consumer interest in organically
Organic food is produced in limited ranges.
This is a factor preventing further demand for organic food being
generated. And much of the existing demand for organic produce
is met by imported supplies.
5. Organically farmed produce may be a worthwhile
extension of the range of produce in Scotland. Indeed, the definition
of "organic" may allow many existing producers to be
classified with little change to their businesses. The Scottish
Agricultural College which provides a farm business advisory service
has reported a substantial increase in interest by hill livestock
producers. Extensive sheep producers may be motivated by the much
larger premium available for organic lamb when prices are otherwise
6. Organic aid should provide a genuine
incentive. And it should be available in equivalent terms to that
provided to producers elsewhere. But aid should not be used to
create unfair competition between different classes of producer.
7. The Union welcomes the formation of Organic
Scotland, a new Scottish charity being established by the Scottish
Organic Producers Association (SOPA) and the Soil Association.
Its purpose is to promote the principles of organic food and farming
in Scotland to consumers, producers, processors and policy-makers.
8. The Union has previously said:
Few producers in Scotland have applied
for aid under the Organic Aid Scheme (OAS) which is a component
of the UK's CAP obligations to have agri-environment schemes.
The Union believes this kind of assistance should be available
on comparable terms to that provided to producers elsewhere in
The choice of converting all or part
of holdings, with support, should continue to be available to
An EU-wide obligation to include
a standardised system of support in agri-environment measures
would ensure equitable treatment for UK producers who want to
Commercial judgement is required
of what part(s) of the emerging demand for organically produced
food may be viably supplied from Scotland.
In making the judgement to convert,
producers should have a clear indication of the incentive available
through the aid scheme.
Producers should be fully informed
of the technical and business experience of past conversions to
As far as is practicable, retailers'
long term commitment to organic produce should be confirmed as
part of the information made available to producers.
Assistance should not favour the
competitive position of new producers over established producers.
Common standards should be applied
to all producers wishing to join the scheme.
9. The Union responded in May of this year
to a consultation paper from the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs
Department on the standards for organic livestock and livestock
products as laid down by UKROFS (United Kingdom Register of Organic
Food Standards). The summary of the Union's submission is relevant
for the scope of this inquiry:
The UKROF standards must be attainable
by producers who wish to participate in organic livestock production
The Union welcomes UKROFS's intention
that in general terms the standards applicable in this country
should not be stricter than those required by the EU and applicable
in other Member States.
Certain aspects of the proposed standards,
such as those relating to feed availability, need to be adjusted
to reflect conditions in the Scottish less favoured areas.
10. Evidence was also submitted on aid to
organic conversion to the House of Lords Select Committee on the
European Communities in March 1999. The Union would refer the
Agriculture Committee to the subsequent report and its findings.
To briefly summarise;
The House of Lords Committee considered
that organic farming does bring benefits and that government support
is justified. They rejected on-going subsidies but they said that
initial support for conversion to organic production should continue,
bearing in mind the time lag before produce is accepted as organic
and the costs involved in getting there.
They said that training should be
supported, both for those starting organic production and those
established in it.
They did not accept that organic
farming was the only way to achieve environmental and other benefits.
With respect to food safety, no evidence
was found for or against organic production relative to conventional
On food quality, evidence suggests
there is no difference in nutritional quality. However, consumers
may be expected to be expressing other preferences in purchasing
food, other than the content of the food itself.
Retailers supported the view that
purchasers of organically produced foods believe that they taste
better and this is the main reason for buying them.
The Committee was critical of the
lack, scientifically based, standards for the processing of organic
produce. Further development of organic production standards by
UKROFS should also be scientifically based.
Co-operative selling should enable
producers to improve their supply relationship with supermarkets.
12 June 2000