Flood of imports fear as organic demand spirals
The threat of imported
assurance and marketing
were key topics at the
Langford Food Industry
Conference in Bristol.
Marianne Curtis reports
ORGANIC imports of milk and meat could flood into the UK from Europe to meet an ever-increasing demand, warns Soil Association director Patrick Holden.
"If we are not careful the Europeans will steal our organic market," he told delegates at the Langford Food Industry Conference. "By 2010, 50% of Denmark will be farmed organically and 30% of Europe."
Stronger positive signals from MAFF to organic farmers were needed, according to Mr Holden.
"In Denmark, 58% of the agri-environment budget is spent on organic farming, in the UK this figure has only been 0.4% until this year when it increased to 7%. There is also more political motivation for organic production amongst European agriculture ministers than in the UK.
"Most farmers do not want to become park keepers and organic production offers an alternative."
Increasing demand for organic produce had come from processors and retailers. Many meat wholesalers were experiencing a shortage in supply of organic beef and could sell three or four times more than they were currently trading. The price for organic beef was £2.40/kg deadweight, said Mr Holden.
"Organic pigs are also in big demand and short supply, with prices running between £1.80 and £2.15/kg deadweight."
Organic production offered real opportunities for price setting, said Mr Holden. "With Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative controlling 80% of the organic milk market, its chairman, Sally Bagnell, has argued that organic producers should set their own price to cover costs and return a decent profit.
"Its milk is set at 29.5p/litre, which should hold for the next five years. There are immense lessons to be learned from this strategy."
But Mr Holden believed the cut-throat and undisciplined nature of the meat industry might hamper this approach.
"As meat producers, we are not good at co-operating or explaining to consumers what price we need and why."
He also emphasised the need to maintain the integrity of organic production. "Retailers must not take short cuts to satisfy demand for organic produce.
"The UK has some of the highest standards for organic production," he added.
• Imports threaten.
• Consumer demand increasing.
• Producers should set price.