Select Committee on Agriculture Second Report



92. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

Claims made for organics
1.We have seen no evidence to enable us to state unequivocally that any of the many claims made for organics are always and invariably true. All claims need to be properly evaluated in order to help consumers make their own judgements on the benefits of organic produce (paragraph 5).
2.We believe it important that the claims can be tested and verified in order that consumers know what they are really buying (paragraph 6).
Market for organics
3.It is clear that there is a huge opportunity for UK producers to expand still further into organic farming to meet a ready market (paragraph 22).
4.It is vital that the organic industry develops its ability to market its products effectively so that they appeal not to sentiment but to proven benefits. The industry may need to be less messianic and more marketing-orientated in its public presentations (paragraph 32).
Local marketing schemes
5.We recommend that the Government encourage the further development of local marketing schemes, such as farmers' markets and box schemes, through the provision of advice and ERDP funding (paragraph 33).
Supermarkets and organics
6.Supermarkets will be the main, although not the only, distribution channel for organic produce. It is critical that they are involved in the design of and encouraged to co-fund future initiatives to further organic conversion (paragraph 37).
Supplier partnerships
7.We recommend that the Government work with the bodies responsible for the promotion of organic production to ensure that rural development funds are channelled into the development of supplier partnerships and farmer-controlled co-operatives in the organic sector (paragraph 38).
8.We welcome the additional aid for small and medium sized abattoirs announced in the Rural White Paper and await with interest details of the package and we urge the Government to stimulate the development of new small abattoirs, including mobile abattoirs (paragraph 40).
Certification bodies
9.The multiplicity of bodies with their different standards and symbols is a significant weakness and we believe that the certification bodies should be encouraged by the Government in their efforts at closer co-operation, which may lead ultimately to mergers (paragraph 46).
Farm assurance schemes and organic certification
10.We recommend that MAFF facilitate discussions between the farm assurance schemes and the organic certification sector with a view to ensuring agreement on common core values and inspection protocols and with the goal of a single inspection process and shared symbols (paragraph 48).
European regulation on organic production
11.We recommend that the Government ensure that the European Commission reports regularly on the implementation of the regulation and actively encourage the European Parliament to monitor this implementation. The Government should produce a "Non Paper" for distribution at the Agriculture Council to further this end (paragraph 52).
12.We further recommend that MAFF be pro-active in drafting EU regulations and ensuring their scientific validity before they are written into law. MAFF should also, either directly or through UKROFS or the FSA, seek to monitor the effect of regulations to ensure that other public policy objectives are not compromised (paragraph 52).
Organic production standards in third countries
13.Unless these discrepancies are removed, there is a real danger that confidence in organic food may be damaged (paragraph 53).
14.We believe that IFOAM accreditation has much to offer in gaining acceptance for the standards met by imports from third countries and that the Government should support its widespread adoption (paragraph 56).
Setting standards
15.We recommend that the Government endorse the involvement of the certification bodies in setting standards, with UKROFS acting as a check and balance in the system, and that the Government provide sufficient funding to ensure the rigour of standard-setting procedures (paragraph 56).
EU livestock standards
16.It is notable that UKROFS' assurances on the suitability of the EU livestock rules for the UK and their potential impact upon animal health and welfare were qualified in both cases. This is unsatisfactory (paragraph 58).
17.We find UKROFS' arrangements for monitoring the effect of the standards unsatisfactory and we are concerned by the lack of resources within UKROFS to conduct the necessary research into either animal welfare or the competitiveness impact of the regulations. We recommend that the Government ensure that the impact of the EU livestock regulations upon animal welfare and upon the competitiveness of the UK industry be monitored over the next decade with a view to recommending changes if necessary (paragraph 60).
Competitiveness and standards
18.We recommend that UKROFS be charged to take into account the competitiveness implications of any proposed regulations and to publish the results of its analysis before agreeing on any changes to organic standards (paragraph 60).
Processing standards
19.We recommend that the Government work in the Council of Ministers to present the Commission with a deadline by which to develop new standards for organic processing (paragraph 62).
20.The present Chairman of UKROFS admitted that when he took up his post he was "appalled at the level of resourcing and the pressure which was put both on the civil service secretariat and upon the board members of UKROFS by the sheer size of the workload". This will have to be resolved (paragraph 64).
21.We accept that at the moment UKROFS is not getting the support it needs from MAFF in terms of staff or funding. Nevertheless, we believe that there is scope for a complete reconsideration of its role. There is room for it to acquire a higher profile, as was hinted at by the current Chairman's intervention in the GM debate, and to perform a valuable role as the regulator between the certification bodies and the Government, but it is clearly not fulfilling that potential at the moment. We await the results of the review with great interest (paragraph 65).
Organic Farming Scheme
22.Given that there is a programme, we believe that the disruption in the provision of aid for organic farming at this crucial time has been highly regrettable. The Government should seek to ensure that the OFS is administered to provide even funding and applications across the whole year (paragraph 69).
The private sector and organic subsidies
23.The Government should discuss the design of its subsidy regime with retailers, processors and the water industry. It should encourage OFWAT to review whether water companies should be obliged to offer top-up payments (paragraph 70).
Objectives of Government assistance for organic farming
24.Before determining how best to offer financial assistance to organic producers, it is essential that the Government be clear as to the rationale for doing so and the objectives it wishes to achieve through this expenditure. These objectives must be tightly defined and made public (paragraph 71).
25.We believe that the benefits to be secured by organic farming need to be far more closely defined so that the Government can set measurable and achievable objectives for its financial assistance to organic farming (paragraph 75).
The 2003 review
26.We recommend that in advance of the review the Government commission research into the cost of conversion in different sectors in order that its consideration of differential payments be properly informed (paragraph 76).
27.The targeting of aid at sectors which are lagging behind the general trend towards organic conversion should be included in the options for consideration, if the current trend continues (paragraph 76).
28.We recommend that applicants to any organic subsidy scheme be required to produce a business plan which is accompanied by a statement as to its validity from a qualified adviser, such as a bank, accountant, consultancy or agricultural organisation (paragraph 78).
29.We recommend that, whatever scheme is devised, it be flexible, locally-run and as unbureaucratic as possible (paragraph 78).
30.We recommend that the Government devise proposals for an organic stewardship scheme as the centrepiece of its review of organic farming support in 2003, taking into account the need for clearly defined goals and for flexibility, simplicity and predictability. These proposals should be accompanied by a statement of objectives and plans for the achievement of those objectives, including the resources to be allocated to their achievement (paragraph 78).
Research and development
31.We believe that the Government should consider increasing its budget for organic research and development to take account of its expectations for the market and in line with the need for further research into the areas we outline below (paragraph 82).
32.We believe that there are three reasons why research into the claims made for organic farming is essential and should be carried out by a reliable source, independent of either the conventional or the organic sector. First, it is important that Government policy be based on hard fact, rather than supposition. Second, it would assist the organic sector if it were known that there was a scientific basis for the demands they were making of their producers in setting standards and the promises they were offering to consumers. Third, such research should also isolate the elements within organic production protocols which lead to the desired benefits, with the result that these techniques may be applied more effectively both on conventional and organic farms (paragraph 84).
33.We recommend that MAFF commission additional research into the environmental implications, technical issues, animal welfare and verification of claims made in connection with organic farming on public policy issues such as food safety to supplement its existing programme (paragraph 84).
34.We stress the benefits of treating organic and conventional production as part of the same spectrum, with the outcome of research in one sector being applied to the other (paragraph 85).
Advice and training
35.We recommend that MAFF review the provision of advice to the organic sector in the light of its commitment to organic farming, to ensure that the advice available is adequate and meets the needs of producers in conversion and post conversion and others involved in the sector (paragraph 87).
36.We recommend that the Minister actively encourage the development of organic training schemes within the English Rural Development Programme and promote the development of training schemes in the UK (paragraph 88).
Government targets and strategy
37.We accept Mr Morley's point that the inclusion of organic farming within the ERDP gives some flexibility to respond to developments in the sector as far as the budget is concerned. We are not in favour of a dirigiste approach to agriculture in the UK. Agriculture must respond to the market-place and farmers need to adopt clear plans that will allow it to do so. This is particularly true of the organic sector. However, we believe that the Government has a role in analysing the organic supply chain for bottlenecks and imbalances and devising policy tools to help remedy these (paragraph 91).

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