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Body caller for simpler, co-ordinated organic message

Date Published: 07/04/2009

Organic food and farming needs a more concerted approach to promoting its message, according to a leading organic control body

Organic Farmers & Growers accepted that there was credence in comments made recently by Sainsbury’s CEO, Justin King, that organics has failed to communicate what it stands for.

Quoted in The Times and other publications, Mr King suggested that organic farmers and food producers had not explained clearly enough to shoppers the benefits of organic food and farming and that this was harming sales.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which is one of the largest UK control bodies that inspect and license organic food, said Mr King’s comments reflected an ongoing lack of cohesion in explaining the reasons for choosing organic. However the organisation also stressed that feedback from its licensees suggested that the outlook for organic food was not as gloomy as some were making out.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “Justin King’s comments are not a great surprise and they do have the ring of truth about them. There are thousands of farmers and food manufacturers involved in the production of organic food and most of them are doing an excellent job of promoting their products and brands, but this is happening in a fragmented way. We’ve said for a long time that there has to be more co-operation, as well as resources, in communicating to shoppers why buying organic is a sensible option. This can only happen if the sector works together and then focuses on getting the right messages across.

“Organic farming brings clear animal welfare benefits for livestock, as well as improved habitats for wildlife, with stronger insect and wild bird populations. At this time when there is heated discussion on our finite resources for the future, particularly water, people need to understand that organic farming works to improve the soil, enhancing its water retaining properties and making best use of the resources we already have, protecting them for future use. It is also much less reliant on fossil fuels, such as used in artificial fertilisers, and does not make routine use of antibiotics on animals.”

Organic Farmers & Growers believes a failure to co-operate and pool resources among the various charities and education and trade bodies, has seen the key messages of organic food get lost among a welter of welfare schemes and labels.

Mr Jacobs added: “What is disappointing is that there are a number of groups whose remit or aim is to promote organics, but their messages seem to be getting lost because they are not co-ordinated. In some cases it seems that self-promotion comes before the need to communicate a simple, clear message to remind people why supporting organic food and farming is the right thing to do. OF&G does what it can, but our role is primarily to provide a service. We don’t have a campaigning arm.

“Other parts of farming are working well to promote themselves and we should be doing the same, bearing in mind that organic is the only system that guarantees by law that what you are buying meets strict, unequivocal criteria. We should be simplifying and promoting that message at every turn.”