19 November 2001
Stores blamed for organic woes

By Alistair Driver

FARMERS are missing out on the UK organic boom because supermarkets increasingly dominate the sector, the Soil Association claims.

A report published by the organic body on Monday (19 November), says the UK is the fastest-growing organic market in Europe.

But supermarkets – which saw their market share increase from 74% to 80% in the past year – import three-quarters of their organic food.

And where they do use domestic suppliers, they are not paying them enough, claims the Organic Food and Farming Report 2001.

Many small organic businesses are questioning whether they can continue, says Soil Association director Patrick Holden.

“On top of the burden of foot-and-mouth, many producers have been affected by growing price pressure from the supermarkets,” said Mr Holden.

The report says that insufficient government support is adding to the problems, and calls for “urgent action” from ministers, retailers and consumers.

UK organic sales grew by a third to 802 million in the past year, with three-quarters of households making at least one organic purchase, claims the report.

The area of fully organic land more than doubled to 240,000ha, while the number of companies licensed to produce organics have risen by 50% to 1675.

Despite this boom, UK farmgate sales were worth just 100m in the past year – about 12.5% of the value of the retail market.

Mr Holden calls for retailers to show greater loyalty to domestic suppliers and pay them prices that reflect the true cost of production.

He urges the government to “back up its warm words with concrete action” to move the UK market away from being import dependent.

Mr Holden says UK farmers have struggled to compete with producers enjoying more generous subsidies elsewhere in the EU.

He calls for environmental stewardship payments and for ministers to encourage organic food consumption in hospitals, schools and other institutions.