The Soil Association, the UK-based organic food promoter, has welcomed the recommendations of a new report on the future of British farming, and in particular the importance it places on increasing organic agriculture.
The report was by the Policy Commission, an organisation set up in August 2001 to advise the UK government on how to create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector in the light of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, enlargement of the EU and increased trade liberalisation, and the Soil Association's director Patrick Holden said that if the recommendations were implemented in full it "could lead to the biggest break through in the organic movement's 50-year history."
"It is a landmark that the Commission recognises the environmental benefits of organic systems and recommends on-going stewardship payments for organic farmers, as well as a strategy encompassing the entire organic sector," Holden said. He urged the British government to act on the recommendations as soon as possible.
"We also strongly support the commission's statement on the sourcing of organic food by public bodies, the activities of the GM industry, promoting local food, the need for investment in methods which avoid pesticides and the development of a national nutritional strategy."
Among other things, the Commission recommends on-going, per hectare, stewardship payments for organic farmers, saying that this would bring farmers in England into line with their counterparts in Europe who get £700 per hectare each year.
This would help British organic farmers better able to compete with their overseas counterparts, thus reducing the high level of imports. Two-thirds of the organic food sold in the UK is currently imported.
The Commission also recommended a review of the current policies on organic procurement to ensure that more public services supply organic food. For example, although nearly half of the baby food sold in the UK is organic, very few nurseries or schools offer organic menus according to the Soil Association. Many local authorities for example are forced to buy the best value products rather than taking other issues into account, such as the higher vitamin and mineral content of most organic food.
The Soil Association also highlighted the recommendations of the Commission regarding the protection of organic crops from GM contamination. The commercial growing of genetically modified crops around the world, and the trial sites programme in the UK, are two of the greatest threats to the integrity of organic food, the Association said.