19 May 2000

Scots organic push

By Shelley Wright

and Donald MacPhail

A NEW organisation, due to be launched late this summer, aims to almost double the organic output from Scotlands farms within the next three years.

Organic Scotland is being established by the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) – the main organic registration body in Scotland – and the Soil Association.

A prospectus released this week highlights that Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK in meeting the growing demand for organic produce. The reasons given include lack of producer support – due mainly to a lack of money – and under-developed and fragmented marketing which has led to problems of continuity, quality and volume of supply.

While Scotland rates highly in terms of the land area currently converted to organic farming (2.5%, compared with just 1.3% for the UK), the prospectus points out that this figure is deceptive because about 85% of the organically certified land is rough grazing. "A mere 2.5% of the organic land in Scotland is used for arable or horticultural cropping. This compares with 20% for the UK as a whole," it says.

Organic Scotland, registered as a charity, hopes to provide an integrated service for organic producers and potential converts. It aims to expand Scottish organic production by 30% a year for three years from the current base of 515 farmers and 300,000 ha (741,300 acres).

The ultimate aim, if sufficient funding can be found, is to base the organisation on an organic demonstration farm in central Scotland, which would be open to the public and offer training facilities.

The move by the Scots comes in a week when the safety of organic food has been questioned by the press, which carried the claims of US-based researchers who said organic lettuce contained 100 times higher levels of the E coli bug than conventional produce.

But the Soil Association dismissed the article saying it was inaccurate.

and published a point-by-point rebuttal of the press article.

The association says, contrary to the articles claims, there are strict controls on manure under an organic regime, requiring proper treatment to kill bugs.

There are no such controls on conventional systems, says the Soil Association.

The association says cases of organic poisoning cited in the article occurred in private gardens, which could not be organically certified.

It adds that E coli bacteria are everywhere, many of which keep people healthy by crowding out pathogenic bugs.

These harmless bacteria were the ones found on the vegetables mentioned in the article, it says.