Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Soil Association

This response is made on behalf of the Soil Association and produced by its policy department. The Soil Association is the main organisation for organic food and farming in the UK, and is a membership charity with over 27,000 members including approximately 4,000 producer members. The Soil Association also owns an accredited organic certification company.

Any key elements in the White Paper which are supported

1. With regard to the Nature Improvement Areas policy, investment in reconnecting nature and improving biodiversity at the landscape scale is to be supported (Chapter 2, 2.27, page 21). However, this policy lacks detail on what changes this will mean in practice. We hope that land managers and farmers who are using farming systems that enhance biodiversity, such as organic,1 will be supported within this scheme.

2. With regard to the “reconnecting people and nature” theme (Chapter 4), we support commitments to improving adult and children’s access to the outdoors, particularly opportunities for growing their own food.

3. We welcome the commitment to undertake a significant research programme to explore how soil degradation can affect the soil’s ability to support vital ecosystem services (Chapter 3, 2.60, page 28). Of course, we hope that research into the role that organic farming systems can play with regard to this, will form a key part of this programme.

Any particular sections which could be improved

4. We disagree with the statement that one of the major challenges is to increase food production in the UK (Chapter 2, 2.46, page 23). We believe that the assumptions behind this should be challenged, drawing on the available evidence. We believe that the a key priority for addressing the problems of feeding a growing world population, and the environmental destruction and greenhouse gas emissions caused by our current food and farming system, is a change in diets in the Global North. There are widespread concerns about the health impacts that the structural changes in diet have already had in the Global North, and that are increasingly occurring in the Global South. Such diets are a leading cause of non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes.2

Any omissions from the White Paper which Defra should rectify

5. We believe it is possible to produce food and protect and enhance the natural environment at the same time, on the same land area through farming systems, like organic that can enhance biodiversity. Thus, it was disappointing there was no new, strong commitment to reversing the decline of wildlife in the UK countryside (particularly farmland bird populations) through supporting farming systems, such as organic.

6. The Government failed to take the opportunity in the White Paper to give a clear steer on how management of the natural environment can contribute to climate change mitigation (and not just adaptation to its effects) through encouraging measures such as agricultural practices that promote the sequestration of carbon in soils and the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions.

7. It was also disappointing that there was no clear acknowledgement that we are now living in a resource-constrained world and are facing water shortages, as well as the reality of peak oil and peak phosphorus. These resource constraints will impact on our ability to produce food and protect the natural environment in the future.3

20 June 2011

1 Bengtesson J, Anhstrom J, Weilbull A (2005) The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and abundance: a meta-analysis, Journal of Applied Ecology, 42: 261–269; Hole D G, Perkins A J, Wilson J D, Alexander I H, Grice P V and Evans A D (2005) ‘Does organic farming benefit biodiversity? Biological Conservation 122, 113-130; Fuller R J, Norton L R, Feber R E, Johnson P J, Chamberlain D E, Joys A C, Mathews F, Stuart R C, Townsend M C, Manley M J, Wolfe M S, Macdonald D W and Firbank L G (2005) Benefits of organic farming to biodiversity vary among taxa, Biological Letters, Published online.

2 Soil Association (2010) Telling Porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production, available at

3 Soil Association (2010) A rock and a hard place :Peak phosphorus and the threat to our food security

Prepared 16th July 2012