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Organic feed break not an option

Date Published: 23/03/2009

A break from organic feeding during the current economic downturn is not going to be an option for farmers, it has been confirmed.

A group of leading organic control bodies and industry stakeholders had approached Defra to discuss possible scenarios to alleviate growing financial pressure on areas of the organic livestock industry, which has been hit by spiraling feed prices and, in some cases, a slowdown in sales.

One option explored was the notion of removing animals from the organic system and ceasing to feed them organic rations, while allowing land to continue to be managed organically and retain its certification. Defra has now confirmed that, under its current reading of the EU Organic Regulation, this would not be possible.

Richard Jacobs, Chief Executive of leading UK control body Organic Farmers & Growers, said: “Certainly there was not much confidence among the sector that a break in organic feeding was going to be permissible, but we needed to ask all of the relevant questions in order to know where we stood.

“Unfortunately in simply asking those questions the issue has been misunderstood and widely reported as something that would weaken the rigorous organic standards. We would never have allowed something that did anything to abuse the trust that shoppers must have when they buy organic. If animals had been allowed an organic feeding break they would have ceased to be organic, which would have been a desperate step for any farmer.”

Mr Jacobs acknowledged there would be many disappointed farmers who are struggling with costs and lower than expected sales and who had pleaded for a lifeline.

“We are well aware that there will be difficulty for licensees, many of whom have contacted us, but we hope they will continue to capitalise on the proven strengths of organic farming and promote those messages of excellent welfare standards and environmental benefits to their customers. The picture on sales is mixed but we know that many farmers, particularly those who have developed their own markets, are still in a healthy trading position.

“There is no doubt that, very sadly, we will lose some farmers from organics as a result of the current financial pressures, particularly from pig and poultry production. Our hope is that, whether organic or not, they can continue to farm for the benefit of their families and communities.”

However farmers currently converting to organic may be able to take up the option of extending their conversion period, thereby delaying full entry into the organic marketplace.

In its response to the question put by the stakeholder group, Defra has confirmed that extensions for currently converting farms are possible, thereby enabling them to avoid some costs, and defer their move to full organic status.

Mr Jacobs added: “Extended conversions may be of assistance to some operators and we certainly hope it will help them out. Obviously this is not an option for those already fully converted. Those people we would urge to look at how they can diversify their farming operation or build co-operation with their farming colleagues to try and share their marketing or cost burdens.”