Letter from the Chief Executive, J G Quicke
and Partners, to the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (F 29)
I enclose an observation on organic farming,
framed in non-technical language. This newsletter (not printed),
sent to delicatessen owners, food writers and influencers, was
very well received as a counterweight to the media presumption
that "organic" is the sole indicator of quality in food.
I can put it in more technical language with more reasoned and
quantitative argument should you so wish.
Other points to include are:
1. Organic standards reflect the concerns,
interests and understanding of the relatively small and coherent
group of people on the UKROFS committee. The limitations of this
(a) inexperience eg the traditional coatings
of lard and cheese cloth for cheese were not organic because none
of the committee know that was how traditional cheese was made
(I have now had the issue resolved, but it makes the point);
(b) beliefthe drivers of the legal
standard are belief and commitment, not logic, so that UK organic
standards reflect hobby horses not a wider consensus. For instance,
in the UK; organic pigs must be outdoors, with questionable welfare
and environmental benefits and questionable fulfilment of organic
principles. In most other European countries, organic pigs are
not required to be outside. This matters to cheese because feeding
whey to pigs is fulfilling organic principles but becomes quite
unsustainable if it must be tankered out to outdoor pigs (power
requirement, damage to soils, expense of specialist pipework to
a new area each year).
2. Organics is attempting to seize the environmental
and quality "high ground". The success of organic "brand"
deflects attention and credibility from other markers of quality,
like "Specialist Cheese".
3. Organic farming has gained a privileged
hearing in Whitehall, for instance with R&D funding ear-marked
specifically to organic food and farming. Long term, consumers
and the environment will be better served by upgrading of standards
throughout the industry. The organic R&D is carried out for
the "organic cartel" and does not see itself as interacting
or feeding into mainstream or other specialist food or agricultural
research. A wider remit and would serve the whole industry better.
4. Since organics is a legal standard, legal
standards of proof and regulation apply. For greatest consumer
benefit, a reversal of the prescriptive standards of proof to
a risk assessment basis (ie prove to your EHO or trading standards
that your system complies to organic farming principles) and you
will lose the nonsense of the personal and belief-motivated minutiae
of the organic standards.
I hope these comments are useful and I would
be delighted to provide more support if you wish.
30 May 2000