Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Jo Ripley, Friends of the Earth, Devizes & Marlborough (F 8)

I would like to make a contribution on behalf of Devizes and Marlborough Friends of the Earth to the inquiry into organic farming which is to be conducted by the Agriculture Committee.

Overall organic farming provides more employment than conventional farming which in turn has a beneficial knock-on effect on the local rural economy.

  Demand for organic produce has greatly increased and the UK has to import about 80 per cent of organic fruit and vegetables to meet domestic demand. This is clearly a lost market opportunity.

  The UK lags behind many European countries in targets set for organic conversion and production. I organise, on behalf of our group, monthly Farmers' Markets in Marlborough and am unable to have organic vegetables on sale throughout the year (which, to fit the criteria of Farmers' Markets must be of local origin) because of lack of availability. The demand, however, is very high.

  I have organic producers of meat and fish and other producers under conversion to organic production. For one this was a more recent decision and was made difficult when organic conversion grants "ran out", similarly, a farm manager of a very large local farm (not involved in the Farmers' Market) who planned to convert approximately 1,000 acres faced uncertainty for the same reason, before the government decided to inject more money into these. There has to be a secure financial structure for farmers to plan and implement the process of conversion.

  The growing of Genetically Modified crops poses the greatest threat to organic production from the threat of cross-pollination and from contamination of seed. A buffer zone between any GM crop and organic farms and smallholders, fruit and vegetable growers and orchards must be six miles to safeguard organic status and public confidence. Unlike beehives, land cannot be removed to a distance beyond likely contamination distances. Current buffer zones round the farm-scale trials are wholly inadequate and it is vital that legal redress and compensation is available for any contamination that occurs.

  The government needs to change the charging structure for abattoirs in line with the rest of Europe, as I understand, so that the costs for vet inspection do not fall disproportionately on small and medium-sized abattoirs. The charging should be on a "per head" basis. The closure of smaller, local abattoirs from the restructured government charging system, will have a detrimental effect on organic meat production; the costs will be prohibitive for small farmers and, for others, there is animal welfare concerns since animals will have to travel much greater distances.

24 May 2000

  Addendum: The Soil Association's Biodiversity Report provides evidence that organic farming is better for wildlife than conventional farming

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