NFU president Peter Kendall has urged caution after the government was asked to consider relaxing organic farming rules to help producers survive the recession.
The Soil Association has asked DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn to consider letting organic dairy and livestock farmers use cheaper non-organic feed. Over a dozen other organic groups are backing the proposal, it claims.
Although animals fed conventional feed would not be sold as organic, the idea is that farmers would not have to repeat the lengthy and expensive process of returning their land to organic status when the economy recovered.
Mr Kendall acknowledged that organic farmers were losing premiums as sales had fallen. But he warned: “I wouldn’t do anything that confuses consumers into thinking organic [status] is something you can turn on and off.
“We have enough problems with our organic farmers facing competition from imported organic product that has different production standards, so I am nervous if we give out a confused and mixed message,” he added.
Sales of organic foods are believed to have plummeted by 13% over the last three months alone. Although the NFU does not only represent organic producers, some 7% of its 55,000 members farm organically.