OF&G blasts Sunday Times report

Date Published: 19/02/2007

An article in the Sunday Times on organic chicken has been criticised by a leading organic body for being one-sided and misleading.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which inspects and licenses the majority of UK organic eggs and poultry, said the piece (Sunday Times, 18 Feb 07) failed to examine the realities and benefits of organic production and instead attempted to portray the sector in the worst possible light.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “I think there has been an attempt here to create a sensational story when the reality is very different. We engaged openly with the Sunday Times on many occasions while it was preparing this story because we, as a certifier, and the industry as a whole, have nothing to hide. Yet it has failed to include any of the reasoned explanation we gave at any point. The issues are far more complex than has been portrayed.

“Perhaps the most heinous claim made is that the organic standards are being dumbed-down in favour of big business and the supermarkets. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no dumbing down of standards and the supermarkets would be the first to cry out if this were to happen because they, rightly, place huge value on public trust.”

The article fails to recognise the fact that organic standards are constantly being tightened and does not mention the fact that chickens destined to become laying birds must now all come from flocks that are managed to organic feed and veterinary standards. This is a step towards full organic management but recognises the economic realities of forcing such a move on the industry overnight.

There is criticism of the use of vaccines, yet these are carefully controlled in organic farming. In the case of salmonella, vaccines are the reason the UK has one of the lowest incidences of this illness, among people and poultry, in the world. When vaccines are used in organics they must be fully justified and approved.

The article also criticises feeding practices, particularly the allowance of a small proportion of non-organic feed, but makes no mention of the fact that there is currently not enough organic feed for all birds to be raised on 100 per cent organic rations, even though this is the ideal which the sector is working towards.

OF&G is working hard with the industry to encourage more arable farmers to convert to organic growing because there is a real opportunity there, both for the farmers and for the sector to meet it’s targets of 100 per cent organic feed.

Mr Jacobs added: “This article was an exercise in emotive language and included none of our reasoned response, which we consider highly unfair and damaging to the organic sector as a whole. The integrity of the already rigorous organic standards is our number one priority. The piece even dragged in the Bernard Matthews bird flu outbreak, even though there is no link and no comparison between that enterprise and organic poultry farming.

“Fortunately I know the British shopper has more sense and better understanding of the food they buy than to believe unbalanced sensationalism.”