Memorandum submitted by WWF (F 23)
1. WWF welcomes the opportunity to provide
evidence to the House of Common's Agriculture Committee into Organic
Farming in the United Kingdom. WWF is a global organisation with
a network of 15 European National Offices (active in 22 countries)
and a European Policy Office in Brussels. WWF combines a strong
European presence with nationally based offices in Scotland, Northern
Ireland and Wales, enabling it to give a truly UK as well as global
2. Farming is one of the greatest threats
to Europe's wildlife, yet it is the industry that can make a huge
contribution to conservation. As a leading environmental organisation
concerned with the protection of wildlife, WWF supports organic
farming because it benefits people and nature. It avoids the release
of toxic pesticide residues into the environment, and it supports
rural development, fair trade, food safety, animal welfare, and
market-oriented production. No other farming system encapsulates
all these benefits in a way that the public can easily recognise.1
3. According to MAFF there are currently
540,191 hectares of organic and in-conversion land in the UK.
This represents 3 per cent of the total agricultural area in the
UK, more than double the figure from April 1999 when there were
240,000 hectares of organic and in-conversion land or 1.3 per
cent of the total agricultural area.2
4. The expansion of organic farming across
the EU has been attributed to EU legislation introduced in the
early 1990's3, including Regulation 2078/92 which encourages farmers
to carry out environmentally beneficial practices on their land
and 2092/91 on the organic production of agricultural products.
5. WWF supports the Organic Food and Farming
Targets Bill which, if enacted, will ensure that by 2010 at least
30 per cent of farm land in the UK will be in organic production,
and that at least 20 per cent of the food consumed in England,
Wales and Northern Ireland will be organic. The Bill will also
ensure that policies are put in place to reach this target, including
financial support to reward organic farmers for the environmental
benefits they provide, to encourage others to consider the organic
option and to support them through the conversion stage. WWF would
like to point out that there is some debate about the issue of
area payments, and wishes to note that area payments could be
used as an instrument to meet the targets set out in the Organic
Food and Farming Targets Bill.
6. WWF is concerned to note that while the
Scottish Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill is starting to
go through the legislative process, the Bill for the rest of the
UK failed to get its second reading on 3 March 2000. WWF urges
the government to proceed with the passage of this Bill through
7. Public concerns about successive food
scares, genetically modified products, animal welfare and fear
about the effects of artificial pesticides and fertilisers on
human health have lead to a rising demand for organic food at
a rate of 40 per cent per year2. In 1996-97 the total retail value
of organic food sales in the UK was £200 million, this rose
to £390 million in 1998-992, meanwhile supermarkets are continuing
to expand their range of organic products to meet consumer demand,
for example, a leading UK supermarket has increased its organic
product lines from 42 in 19977 to currently more than 6008. WWF
believes that these concerns are likely to increase in the future
and therefore continued rapid expansion of demand may be expected.
8. WWF believes it is imperative that organic
produce should be available to all, including those on low incomes.
WWF supports the aim of the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill
which will ensure that organic food is more widely available and
that the price differential between organic and conventional produce
is reduced. WWF believes that the market demand for organic produce
would clearly be much greater if the size of the organic premium
were to be reduced. The reduction of organic premiums to, say
10 per cent, would clearly affect incomes and may provide a reason
for continuing payments to producers.
9. Organic certification organisations need
to be effectively resourced to ensure that they can maintain the
integrity of the organic brand and ensure that it delivers environmental
benefits. WWF works with and supports the Soil Association. For
example, we have recently funded research into the production
standards of organic food and have helped publicise the biodiversity
benefits of organic farming.
10. WWF wants to see continuing advances
in organic standards. This includes expansion to new areas such
as food miles, packaging, processing waste and energy use. WWF
also wishes to see improvements in biodiversity standards, through
measures such as the maintenance of traditional management practices
on species-rich meadows and maintenance of existing hedges and
stone walls using traditional methods and materials, and has contributed
to research with the Soil Association to achieve this4.
11. WWF would also like to note that the
EU Regulation 2092/91 on organic production needs to be altered
to allow activities to reflect local environmental conditions.
We urge the government to take action at the European level to
achieve this alteration.
12. As they are currently designed and presented
WWF is sceptical of the added value that farm assurance schemes
offer to consumers of the type promoted in the action plan for
13. The high cost of conversion deters farmers
from converting or organic, together with a lack of long-term
confidence in price premiums, making farmers unwilling to take
the risk of investing in conversion. The Rural Development Regulation
provides an opportunity to develop support for organic farming,
further to that already provided for conversion by the Organic
Farm Scheme. However, WWF believes significantly more funds should
be allocated to agri-environment support, which could be diverted
from damaging subsidies that currently support intensive farming,
to reward farmers for the benefits that organic provides.
14. In order to meet the targets set out
in the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill increases will be
needed both in an advisory capacity and in financial support for
conversion. WWF believes that both private and public sectors
have a role to play.
15. Some of the benefits provided by organic
agriculture are clearly public in nature. This is the rationale
for support for organic agriculture from the public purse.
16. WWF also believes that large private
sector organisations play a key role in bearing the risks associated
with conversion to organic production and believe that the private
benefits should be paid for through private assistance and recouped
through the price of food.
17. It appears from the high levels of premiums
paid by consumers for some products there are inefficiencies in
the marketing chain and problems with tightness of supply. The
government clearly has a role to play in bringing the various
players together to ensure sustained supply at reasonable prices.
18. WWF believes that it is desirable that
food should be consumed as close to the point of production as
possible. We will encourage supermarkets to source produce locally
and urge the government to do the same, but we recognise that
there are major problems in ensuring continuity of supply.
19. Because of the endocrine disrupting
chemicals found in some conventional produce, WWF believes that
the choice to avoid these chemicals should be within the reach
of all of us. This requires, in accordance with the aims of the
Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill, a substantial reduction
in the price differential between commercial and organic food.
20. The UK currently imports around 70 per
cent of the organic food sold. It is desirable that demand should
be met locally so that the environmental costs associated with
transport are avoided. WWF supports the Organic Food and Farming
Targets Bill which will ensure we increase our own organic production
to avoid import and will promote the desirability of local or
regional food economies.
21. Organic farming in the EU is worth some
£4.8 billion a year and around £10.3 billion worldwide3
(using exchange rate at 8 June 2000). Overall, European organic
farming has increased by 25 per cent per year over the last 10
years5, with only 6,300 organic farms in the EU in 1985, compared
with over 100,000 in 19986.
22. The area of organic and in-conversion
land across the EU varies from country to country as the following
||% Agricultural Land
These figures illustrate the growth of organic farming across
Europe, but it also signifies that while the UK holds above the
EU average, there are substantial opportunities for growth in
23. A number of Member States have introduced targets
and initiatives for organic farming. For example, Denmark's target
is to reach 50 per cent by 2010, Sweden's target is 10 per cent
by 2000 and Wales' is 10 per cent by 20055.
24. Most EU Member States offer continuing public assistance
to organic agriculture. The absence of this support in the UK
clearly favours the location of production in other Member States.
25. The UK's Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill will
help us compete with the already expanding European market so
that we can become better able to meet consumer demand, while
reaping the many benefits that organic farming provides.
26. The growing level of public concern about food quality
shows no sign of abating, thus demand for organic produce appears
likely to increase. WWF believes expansion in organic farming
benefits farmland biodiversity and, with CAP reform and expansion
of agri-environment schemes, will help stem declines in wildlife.
WWF therefore seeks a threefold increase in organic produce purchased
by 2005. However, whilst recognising the benefits of organic,
increased government support for organic farming should be part
of a package that also includes significant increases for other
27. There is a danger, as shown in Austria and Finland,
that the organic market will stop growing when 10 to 20 per cent
of market share has been reached. The challenge for the UK is
to reach and break through this level of production so that the
environmental benefits of organic farming to people and nature
are available to all.
1. Soil Association (2000) The Biodiversity Benefits
of Organic Farming.
4. Stopes C, Redman M, Harrison D (1999) The Organic
Farming Environment. An Assessment of the Agronomic impact, biodiversity
and landscape benefits of enhanced organic conversation standards.
6. Lampkin N, Foster C, Padel S and Midmore P (1998)
The Policy and regulatory environment for organic farming in Europe,
Technical Deliverable: Ri, FAIR3-CT96-1794. Welsh Institute of
Rural Studies, Aberystwyth University, Wales.
12 June 2000