The Soil Association says it will continue to certify organic products sourced from farms taking part in the badger cull, despite criticism from a wildlife charity.
Care for the Wild had called on the association to make a stand and stop certifying products from farmers who take part in the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire this summer.
The wildlife charity also urged the Soil Association, a charity that campaigns for organic food and farming, to give strong support for steps being taken to expand the vaccination of badgers as an alternative policy for tackling bovine TB.
Care for the Wild chief executive Philip Mansbridge said there were two key reasons why the step would be a positive one for the organic industry.
“Organic sales have been dropping over the past couple of years, while brands such as RSPCA Freedom Foods and Fair Trade have increased. So despite the recession, people are still making choices over what they eat. Care for the Wild did a survey last year, which showed that one in three organic buyers could potentially boycott organic dairy products if they came from cull farms,” he said.
“The cull could cost the organic sector £175m if they aren’t clearly anti-cull. On the other hand, making a stand could increase their customers, as people try to find genuine ‘cull-free’ products.
“The organic sector should also be thinking about the animal welfare side of things. A third of people who buy organic do so because they expect higher animal welfare – so they won’t take kindly to badgers being shot on organic farms. A clear statement from the organic industry, which shows that they are not anti-farm but they are anti-cull, would be a win-win.”
But in response, Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director insisted the charity would not be changing its policy on the badger cull.
“Our policy is to leave it to individual farmers to make their own decision [over whether they cull badgers] and to see the long-term solution as vaccination.”
Mr Melchett said that the Soil Association “strongly agreed” with Care for the Wild over the importance of vaccination and was supporting wildlife trusts that were trialling vaccines.
But he added: “We think that groups such as Care for the Wild should recognise the much higher levels of farming wildlife on organic farms and welcome that.”
Care for the Wild also called on organic food companies to refuse to use products from badger-cull farms. The move could “help boost the [organic] sector financially, while also acknowledging the animal welfare concerns of customers”, it added.
Last month, Farmers Weekly exclusively revealed that organic producer Yeo Valley “will not cull badgers” on its farms.
See our dedicated page on Bovine TB and the badger cull