Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers Union of Scotland (F 34)

  1.  The Union is responding to a consultation on organic farming following an invite via press release from the House of Commons Agriculture Committee dated 5 May and a covering letter from the clerk to the Committee dated 8 May.


  2.  In summary, the Union's views are:

    —  It is a commercial judgement for farmers whether latent demand for organic food is sufficient to justify conversion.

    —  The Union would welcome an increase in organic production in Scotland, so that more of consumer demand for organic food would be met by domestic produce.

    —  Organic aid should provide a genuine incentive and should be available on comparable terms to that provided to producers elsewhere in Europe.

    —  Standards for organic conversion and organic produce must be attainable by producers in Scotland and should not be stricter than those required by other EU Member States.

    —  The Union recognises the House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities' report into organic conversion, which found that organic farming does bring benefits and that government support is justified. However, in respect of nutritional quality and food safety there is no evidence for or against organic farming relative to conventional farming.


  3.  The Union supports the principle of voluntary participation by producers in environmental programmes.

  Whilst the Union does not advocate any particular farming system, an increase in the volume of organic production in Scotland, so that more of the consumer demand for organic food can be met, is welcome. However, it is a commercial judgement for producers whether latent demand for organic food is sufficient to justify conversion.

  4.  One of the most important trends in food consumption is that consumers are demanding an ever widening variety of food. There is growing retailer and consumer interest in organically grown foods.

  Organic food is produced in limited ranges. This is a factor preventing further demand for organic food being generated. And much of the existing demand for organic produce is met by imported supplies.

  5.  Organically farmed produce may be a worthwhile extension of the range of produce in Scotland. Indeed, the definition of "organic" may allow many existing producers to be classified with little change to their businesses. The Scottish Agricultural College which provides a farm business advisory service has reported a substantial increase in interest by hill livestock producers. Extensive sheep producers may be motivated by the much larger premium available for organic lamb when prices are otherwise very depressed.

  6.  Organic aid should provide a genuine incentive. And it should be available in equivalent terms to that provided to producers elsewhere. But aid should not be used to create unfair competition between different classes of producer.

  7.  The Union welcomes the formation of Organic Scotland, a new Scottish charity being established by the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) and the Soil Association. Its purpose is to promote the principles of organic food and farming in Scotland to consumers, producers, processors and policy-makers.


  8.  The Union has previously said:

    —  Few producers in Scotland have applied for aid under the Organic Aid Scheme (OAS) which is a component of the UK's CAP obligations to have agri-environment schemes. The Union believes this kind of assistance should be available on comparable terms to that provided to producers elsewhere in Europe.

    —  The choice of converting all or part of holdings, with support, should continue to be available to producers.

    —  An EU-wide obligation to include a standardised system of support in agri-environment measures would ensure equitable treatment for UK producers who want to convert.

    —  Commercial judgement is required of what part(s) of the emerging demand for organically produced food may be viably supplied from Scotland.

    —  In making the judgement to convert, producers should have a clear indication of the incentive available through the aid scheme.

    —  Producers should be fully informed of the technical and business experience of past conversions to organic production.

    —  As far as is practicable, retailers' long term commitment to organic produce should be confirmed as part of the information made available to producers.

    —  Assistance should not favour the competitive position of new producers over established producers.

    —  Common standards should be applied to all producers wishing to join the scheme.


  9.  The Union responded in May of this year to a consultation paper from the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department on the standards for organic livestock and livestock products as laid down by UKROFS (United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards). The summary of the Union's submission is relevant for the scope of this inquiry:

    —  The UKROF standards must be attainable by producers who wish to participate in organic livestock production in Scotland.

    —  The Union welcomes UKROFS's intention that in general terms the standards applicable in this country should not be stricter than those required by the EU and applicable in other Member States.

    —  Certain aspects of the proposed standards, such as those relating to feed availability, need to be adjusted to reflect conditions in the Scottish less favoured areas.

  10.  Evidence was also submitted on aid to organic conversion to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities in March 1999. The Union would refer the Agriculture Committee to the subsequent report and its findings. To briefly summarise;

    —  The House of Lords Committee considered that organic farming does bring benefits and that government support is justified. They rejected on-going subsidies but they said that initial support for conversion to organic production should continue, bearing in mind the time lag before produce is accepted as organic and the costs involved in getting there.

    —  They said that training should be supported, both for those starting organic production and those established in it.

    —  They did not accept that organic farming was the only way to achieve environmental and other benefits.

    —  With respect to food safety, no evidence was found for or against organic production relative to conventional farming.

    —  On food quality, evidence suggests there is no difference in nutritional quality. However, consumers may be expected to be expressing other preferences in purchasing food, other than the content of the food itself.

    —  Retailers supported the view that purchasers of organically produced foods believe that they taste better and this is the main reason for buying them.

    —  The Committee was critical of the lack, scientifically based, standards for the processing of organic produce. Further development of organic production standards by UKROFS should also be scientifically based.

    —  Co-operative selling should enable producers to improve their supply relationship with supermarkets.

12 June 2000

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