Memorandum submitted by Novartis UK Ltd
1.1 Recent public interest about agricultural
techniques, and in particular issues surrounding genetically modified
(GM) crops and the use of pesticides, has heightened awareness
about methods of crop and food production.
1.2 Novartis welcomes this opportunity to
respond to the Agriculture Committee's inquiry into organic farming.
We are supportive of open debate about these issues and we firmly
believe in providing a choice for farmers and consumers. As a
manufacturer of crop protection agents, and a seed producer delivering
both conventional, GM and organic seeds for agriculture, Novartis
believes that all three systems, conventional, GM and organic
do not need to be incompatible as long as a fair and consistent
regulatory framework exists. For this reason, we are keen to see
a regulatory environment based on fair comparisons and standards
applied to all methods of crop production.
1.3 This submission outlines our thoughts
on how this choice can be achieved and how the development of
appropriate regulation can promote it. We also comment on some
of the environment, social and economic impacts of organic agriculture
and describe how we see organic agriculture developing alongside
other methods of agriculture, including those that employ modern
The Role of Novartis in Agriculture
Novartis Agribusiness is one of the UK's largest
supplier of crop protection products and seed varieties for farmers.
It employs 17,000 people worldwide and 340 in the UK, based in
Novartis Seeds is one of Europe's foremost cereal
plant breeders, the UK's main supplier of sugar beet seed and
has a leading position in the breeding and supply of oilseed,
maize, vegetable and flower varieties, including seeds for organic
farmers in the UK and abroad.
Novartis Crop Protection develops innovative
technologies, products and services designed to deliver efficient
solutions to agricultural production problems. It is a major supplier
of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and seed treatment products.
Novartis BCM, part of the Crop Protection sector,
is one of the world's leading producers of beneficial insects
and mites. It is a pioneer in the development of integrated pest
management programmes, providing cost effective and sustainable
solutions for insect and disease control.
Novartis intends to spin-off and merge its crop
protection and seeds business with Zeneca Agrochemicals to create
"Syngenta", the world's largest dedicated agribusiness
company. Completion of the merger is expected in the second half
of this year.
2. NOVARTIS AND
2.1 Novartis is clearly in favour of providing
a choice for farmers in the methods they employ for crop production.
We believe that, with a fair and appropriate regulatory framework
in place, all methods of crop production, whether organic or otherwise,
can progress side by side in the UK to give this choice.
2.2 Similarly, Novartis supports the free
and informed choice of consumers to buy the type of food they
prefer, but again this choice should be based on fair and appropriate
comparisons with food produced by other methods.
2.3 To achieve this, it is essential to
have in place consistent, verifiable and scientifically valid
standards throughout the food chain. These standards should be
applicable for conventional, organic and GM crops.
2.4 Therefore, we believe that the same
rules and regulations should apply to organic food production
as for other methods of food production. This includes assessment
and control of the risks to human health and the environment.
Currently, many potential issues relation to organic agriculture
are overlooked. All potential risks, such as levels of potentially
harmful micro-organisms or pollution of waterways by organic fertilisers,
should be evaluated so that consumers are able to make a fair
and appropriate comparison with other crop production methods.
2.5 Published claims about the benefits
of organic food should also be subject to verification and be
scientifically proven. Clearly, labelling regulations should reflect
2.6 To avoid misleading consumers who are
often paying a premium for organic produce, standards should be
well-defined and this information made freely accessible. The
unique feature of organic agriculture is the exclusion of almost
inputs. However, some chemical treatments, such as copper-based
fungicides, sulphuric acid, nicotine and sulphur are permitted
by organic accreditation bodies. Additionally, exemptions are
occasionally allowed when certain conditions threaten to destroy
a whole crop.
2.7 New practices in organic food production
should be monitored in the same way as other methods of food production.
This should take into account post-harvest treatment of crops,
For example, techniques used to reduce pathogenic micro-organisms
and their potentially toxic by-products should be fully evaluated.
3. ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
3.1 Novartis is a major investor is biotechnology
research worldwide, across both our healthcare and agribusiness
sectors. We believe that the responsible application of biotechnology
has a significant contribution to make in the development of new
medicines and environmentally sustainable options for modern agriculture.
3.2 In the UK, Novartis Seeds is currently
trialling varieties of sugar beet that have been genetically modified
to be tolerant to an additional herbicide. This has the potential
to improve crop management for farmers in terms of simplifying
and reducing herbicide applications whilst maintaining or increasing
yield. Research carried out last year in the UK showed that herbicide
usage could be reduced by as much as 30 per cent.
3.3 We anticipate that agricultural biotechnology
(GM crops) will become an integral part of crop management in
a concerted evolution toward increased sustainability. It is a
new technology geared towards improved solutions for crop protection
and crop production. Coupled with other technologies, biotechnology
provides new solutions for some of the old problems hindering
sustainable development and the achievement of food security.
3.4 Threshold values have been set by organic
accreditation bodies to allow a certain amount of material from
non-organic origin to be present in products classified as organic.
However, similar threshold levels for adventitious GM content
have yet to be established. Novartis believes this issue needs
to be resolved swiftly, as 100 per cent purity levels are scientifically
impossible to achieve in food production systems.
4. WIDER ENVIRONMENTAL,
4.1 For the reasons that follow, Novartis
believes that the pressure of a predicted global population increase
of 10 billion over the next four decades will prevent organic
agriculture from becoming anything more than a niche market for
the wealthiest consumers, now or in the future.
4.2 Yields from organic production are often
far less than from conventionally produced crops due to environmental
and pest pressures. In order to maintain an acceptable income
and to cover higher production costs, organic farmers demand substantially
higher prices to compensate for lower yields. Obviously, this
increases the cost of organic food to the consumer, whilst reducing
the UK's overall food production output. If this were mirrored
globally, an overall decrease in food production would reduce
the total world food surplus, disrupt the continuity of food supply
and ultimately result in price increases for the poorest consumers.
Recently, one UK food retail chain announced its intentions to
provide organic produce at no extra cost to its customers. As
the cost of organic production is intrinsically higher, we believe
that this position will have the effect of reducing profit margins
for retailers and will therefore be unsustainable.
4.3 Maintaining the same levels of global
food production by organic methods would clearly require far more
land to be farmed. Taking this into account, the rising demand
for food from an increasing population would require even more
land to come under the plough. As much of the world's arable land
is currently threatened by factors such as soil erosion and salinisation,
a large-scale conversion of agriculture to organic farming would
see a massive reduction of existing natural habitats.
4.4 Bearing these factors in mind, we believe
that a broad promotion of organic farming via heavily increased
subsidies will not contribute to attaining a truly sustainable
4.5 Crop protection products are still considered
as minor input costs for the farmer. Yet they have a decisive
effect on the output side: they secure the quantity and quality
of the harvest, and therefore assure farmers a reasonable income.
Only if yields and quality produce are secured, is the downstream
food chain able to offer an affordable food supply.
4.6 Because pests, weeds and disease will
always be present and because for many of them efficient solutions
are lacking in organic agriculture, Novartis believe that efficient
agricultural production, with the optimised use of crop protection
products included, will continuing to produce the bulk of the
5.1 In a world trying to meet ever-increasing
food demand without sacrificing additional land for agriculture,
Novartis believes high-yield farming is the only realistic answer.
5.2 As the best alternative to organic agriculture,
Novartis favours sustainable agriculture through the concept of
Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Integrated Pest Management
(IPM). This is a dynamic system, which makes full use of the latest
research, technology, advice and experience. Its toolswhich
combine crop protection products, biotechnological solutions and
practical crop management techniquesallow farmers to optimise
the use of synthetic inputs, minimise waste and pollution, and
maximise energy efficiency while producing abundant and high-quality
6.1 Organic agriculture is one option for
farmers, but is not likely to become more than an alternative
method for niche markets.
6.2 Novartis believes that the same rules
and regulations should apply to organic food production as for
other methods of food production.
6.3 With a fair and appropriate regulatory
framework in place, we believe that all methods of crop production,
whether organic or otherwise, can progress side by side in the
UK to give farmers and consumers an informed choice.
29 June 2000
29 Synthetic here is understood as: formulated or manufactured
by a chemical process, or by a process that chemically changes
a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal or
mineral sources. This term does not apply to substances created
by naturally occurring biological processes. Back
Dewar, A M (2000), Pest Management Science 56(4), 345. Back
Memorandum by Novartis UK to the Agriculture Select Committee
on Segregation of GM Foods, 8 October 1999. Back
Refer also to Less Intensive Farming and the Environment (LEAF).
Funded by MAFF (project LE0132). Back