Use of non-organic feed prompts calls for clarity from DEFRA

DEFRA is investigating claims that derogations are being issued which allow feed compounders to include up to 50% non-organic ingredients in organic rations.

An August 2005 DEFRA ruling permits the use of non-organic feeds in organic livestock rations if organic ingredients cannot be found.

But Ian Proctor, managing director of Derbyshire-based Hi Peak Feeds, has written to DEFRA claiming that in some cases little or no effort is being made to source organic material, as compounders try to cut costs.

“Conventional beans, for example, are £100/t cheaper than organic beans, so if you can use 20% non-organic in a ration, that will save you £20/t,” he said.

Mr Proctor said derogations should be issued on a national basis (eg, in the event of a poor harvest), rather than case-by-case and be specific to a particular product, with a specified maximum inclusion rate.

“This would ensure a level playing field, prevent a sector body acting unilaterally, remove some of the ambiguities that have crept into the interpretation of policy, and enable decisions to be made from a national standpoint.”

A representative from DEFRA’s organic branch said it was an issue “reasonably high on the agenda”, but was something it was trying to resolve through regular meetings with feed manufacturers, merchants and regulatory bodies.

The Soil Association’s Sarah Hathway acknowledged that the existing derogation system was very difficult to implement, but she said she did not believe tighter policing was required.

At present the “Green List” details products – eg, molasses, potato protein, sugar beet – that the industry accepts are not available in sufficient quantity in an organic form and compounders notify the SA if they use anything on the list.

To use non-organic products not on the Green List – eg, peas and beans – feed manufacturers must first notify the SA, which checks availability before granting permission.

Denmark and parts of Germany already use 100% organic feed for ruminants, and UK producers will have to do so by December 2007, said the SA’s Francis Blake (see panel). Derogations for monogastrics will last until the end of 2011, but more problems are anticipated sourcing sufficient quantities of suitable protein for these animals.

  • Ruminants – 5% non-organic feed, will be phased out by end of December 2007
  • Pigs and Poultry – 15% non-organic until 2007, 10% until end of 2009 and 5% until end 2011
  • Products gradually being taken off the Green List – soya likely to be next
  • Some products – eg, molasses, potato protein – have no organic alternative at present, so substitutes will be needed
  • Some flexibility on the use of non-organic raw materials likely to remain in the event of organic supply problems
  • Demand for organic feed outstripping domestic supply, but insufficient incentive for organic cereal producers