THE SOIL Association is warning the integrity of some organic poultry producers is at risk following an announcement by junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw has decided to allow organic farmers not certified by the SA to keep flocks of up to 12,000 birds (layers or meat birds) in a single house.

The SA is quoting new research showing only 4% of organic consumers think that flocks of up to 12,000 birds should be allowed on organic farms.

This compares with 64% who think that flock sizes should consist of 2,000 or fewer birds.

In addition, 82% of organic consumers say that six or fewer birds should be allowed per square metre, which is in line with SA standards.

Under DEFRA‘s decision, 12 laying birds per square metre will be allowed, the SA points out.

The SA has written to Mr Bradshaw, asking him to explain the basis for his decision.

The organisation says such large flock sizes are bad for animal welfare, and it will only certify farms with a maximum flock size of 2,000 laying birds or 1,000 meat birds.

But it recommends that its farmers have a flock size of just 500 birds.

The EU rule allowing no limit in flock sizes for existing flocks (in practice normally up to 12,000 birds) to be kept under organic standards was due to end in the UK on August 24 next year, when a maximum flock size of 3,000 birds was to be introduced.

Mr Bradshaw announced on September 21 that he had decided to extend this until 2010 to bring the UK into line with other EU member states.

This is despite a lengthy discussion on June 17 by the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards which advised Mr Bradshaw to stick to the plan to bring an end to large flock sizes in 2005.

SA director Patrick Holden said: “Mr Bradshaw has ignored the wishes of consumers and the views of his own advisors.

“He has also betrayed the public‘s trust of organic standards. The Soil Association is urging him to reconsider this ill-advised action.”

“This decision will cause economic hardship to many poultry producers working to achieve high standards of production in line with consumer expectations.

“The intensive poultry industry will be rewarded, who we fear had no intention of complying with EU law,” Mr Holden said.