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An organic systems approach to the provision of public goods

Date Published: 06/02/2018

Organic regulation

This paper presents how a cyclical and regenerative systems approach to farming and land use can provide key environmental (and other) public goods and form a critical component in delivering a post-Brexit agriculture policy aligned to Defra’s priorities to secure a healthy natural environment; a sustainable, low-carbon economy; a thriving farming sector and a sustainable, healthy and secure food supply.

Agriculture is a fully devolved issue, so although this paper is directed towards Defra, the arguments apply also to the devolved nations where there is an awakening of interest in organic and agro-ecological production.


The external costs of food and farming are placing an increasing burden on society and these costs arise from a failure to recognise and value the provision of social, economic and environmental public goods adequately. These must now be an integral part of any future food and farming policy within the UK, Europe and beyond.

The paper sets out an integrated definition of public goods, taking into account the need to measure and reward their delivery. We argue for the development of both Government policy and business practice that supports the increase in uptake of organic farming as it represents a coherent land use that ensures multi-functional environmental benefits, and has other benefits besides. The paper also highlights that organic food and farming systems do successfully internalise external costs, currently borne by the final consumer of organic food but which should, in the context of delivering public goods, be borne by society.

We urge Government to recognise the particular ability of organic production to deliver public goods in a systematic way within a highly regulated and verifiable framework.

Through the development of the England Organic Action Plan it will be possible to identify the distinct measures to encourage more organic food and farming, and evaluate the extent to which this contributes to living within sustainable limits.

Defra are currently undertaking in depth analysis of post-Brexit policy options through five work streams that can be considered from the point of view of the public goods and the current systemic failures discussed in this paper. The development of a ‘pilot scheme’ that effectively rewards organic production for the ‘system level’ benefits it provides would be a landmark initiative and be in line with developments in devolved nations, elsewhere in Europe and around the world.

For the OF&G Policy Paper in full download here