Labour committed to
LABOUR will introduce maintenance grants for organic farmers and set a specific conversion target if it wins the next election.
Junior farm spokesman Elliot Morley said his party was committed to supporting organic farming, but declined to say whether Labour would adopt a 5% conversion rate demanded by environmentalist Jonathon Porritt.
Britain is at the bottom of the league in terms of payments to farmers converting to organic production.
Mr Morley said funding for the organic sector would come through a revised Common Agricultural Policy which would lower direct production subsidies in favour of rural support. He criticised the privatisation of ADAS, warning that it could hit the organic sector, and supported a Food Standards Agency and the introduction of a fourth hurdle when discussing genetically modified crops.
"We believe that committees should look not only at quality, safety and efficiency, but its social and environmental impact as well."
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Con, Cirencester and Tewkesbury), who farms 364ha (900 acres) in Norfolk, said MAFF was committed to organic farming even though cash left unspent from the organic budget had been handed back to the Treasury.
Mr Clifton-Brown blamed this on the BSE crisis, saying the £3.3bn being spent on BSE over the next three years was equivalent to a 2p rise in income tax and that savings had to be made.
He said MAFF had committed £1m to organic farming this year, but called upon multiples to offer organic farmers long-term contracts to boost the sector.
And the MP, who is parliamentary private secretary to farm minister Douglas Hogg, said it was up to farmers to spread the organic message to consumers, who he claimed, were not at present prepared to pay the premium prices.
Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman, pledged that the Liberal Democrats would support a 5% organic conversion rate, saying it would find the funding through cuts to arable area payments. Four farmers in eastern England each received £1m through payments last year.