11 February 2000
Organic targets good for all, say MPs

By Alistair Driver

EVERYONE would benefit if the government set specific targets to increase the size of the organic sector over the next 10 years, MPs have claimed.

Farmers, consumers, the environment, retailers and the government itself would all be “winners”, according the cross-party alliance of politicians.

They want the government to adopt a specific strategy to address the “absurd” situation where 70 % of the organic produce sold in this country is imported.

“Our farmers desperately need to diversify into organic production, retailers are crying out for more organic supplies and the public are demanding more and better quality organic food,” said Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall.

Mr Tyler is sponsoring the Organic Food and Farming Bill, the second reading of which is scheduled for early next month.

The Bill is supported by senior members of other parties and 50 groups, including consumer and environmental organisations and supermarkets.

Time constraints seriously limit the bills chances of becoming law. But Mr Tyler hopes it will pressure the government to increase organic farming support.

“The Prime Minister has committed himself to some 500 targets across the whole range of government policy and we believe this is a natural addition.”

The Bill recommends that 30% of UK farmland should be organic or in conversion by 2010 and for 20% of all food consumed to be chemical-free.

It also calls on the government to address the problems of market infrastructure and the need for local food distribution networks.

The strategy should include training, infrastructure, transport and research.

Although the government is showing signs of increased commitment to the organic sector, Mr Tyler was critical of its “start-stop funding approach”.

All government money currently available to help farmers with organic conversion has been allocated, he said.

He contrasted this with the more structured approach towards funding and strategic planning in some competing EU member states Sweden and Denmark.

“A Bill and strategy would create long-term stability in the market,” he said.

“On current production rates we will not even be in a position to supply a third of the demand that would exist by the end of this year, let alone the demand that will exist by 2010.”

Another private members Bill, proposing that country of origin be included for every major ingredient on every food product, has also been published.

Stephen OBrien, the Conservative MP for Eddisbury, said his Bill is designed to give the British consumer a real choice when buying food produce.

The Bill, which has cross party backing, is supported by the Consumers Association, the National Farmers Union and the National Pig Association.

The NPA wants better labelling of pigmeat products so consumers dont unknowingly buy imported products reared to lower standards illegal in the UK.