14 May 1999

Danes organic export drive to target the UK

By Jonathan Riley

THE Danish government has proposed a new action plan for its organic farming sector which specifically targets the UK as an export market.

The plan, which would provide a cash injection worth an equivalent of £194m to organic farmers, would treble Danish organic production over the next five years, bringing the sectors output to 10% of agricultural production.

Danish farm minister Hendrik dam Kristensen has spoken of his desire to see that grow to 50% within 10 years.

The new support programme is in addition to the already established government support scheme which covers half of research costs associated with new product development.

Among the aims listed by the Danish government for the new plan is the strengthening of exports to neighbouring countries, "especially the United Kingdom".

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, warned: "The Danes are gearing up to steal our market for a long time to come.

"Organic farming aid is preferred by the World Trade Organisation to production linked subsidies, which the Danes are fully aware of. This new Danish policy means they will be able to go on supporting their farmers long into the future."

He added: "The Danes have the foresight to forge ahead with organic farming playing a central role in policy. Meanwhile, our government still puts organic farming at the fringes of its policy and persists with the kind of support structure that the WTO is set to tackle and wants to see dismantled in the next round of talks which begin next year."

But despite a dramatic rise in UK land under conversion or in organic production, from 54,834ha (135,500 acres) in April 1998 to 274,519ha (678,340 acres) so far this year, government funds only amount to £6.25m.

"As we predicted this will run out within weeks and the government has commented that farmers begin converting now and apply for funds next year," said Mr Holden.

"This means farmers will not receive one penny until next year. Compare that with the forward thinking Danish approach – its pathetic." &#42