Shoppers tempted to choose organic: A new way of farming

January 27, 2002 The Observer by Gaby Hinsliff
THE ORGANIC food revolution is set to receive a major boost from a government inquiry outlining new ways to restore British shoppers' trust in food.

The Curry commission on the future of farming in the wake of foot and mouth disease, to be published on Tuesday, is expected to back financial incentives for farmers to meet growing demand for more 'wholesome' food.

Anxiety over toxic pesticides, BSE and practices such as dosing livestock with antibiotics have turned organic food into an pounds 800 million industry. But producers say there is too little financial support for farmers during the expensive process of winning organic certification.

Up to 80 per cent of organic products on UK supermarket shelves are imported - a 'missed market opportunity' for British farmers according to Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

'There is a lot of discussion about whether we have the right kind of incentives for people who may have been interested in moving into organic farming,' she told The Observer . 'There are oth ers who argue that the structure of the incentives we pay is inadequate. We will look at this issue.

'There are also those who argue that if you look at the kind of support given to people elsewhere in the EU, we are in danger of placing organic farms at a competitive disadvantage.'

The commission, chaired by former Meat and Livestock Commission chairman Sir Don Curry, is designed to guide farmers hit by foot and mouth who are wondering whether to sell up.

Beckett insisted there was a 'viable and prosperous future for British farming', adding that labour-intensive organic farming could create jobs.

'When people talk about change and modernisation in industry, you are often talking about fewer people,' she said. 'But those who have moved into organic farming say more people are involved, so it is a mixed picture.'

The commission is not likely to endorse a target of turning 30 per cent of farms organic proposed by the Soil Association, but is understood to accept that subsidies in other EU countries - where some farmers receive annual 'stewardship' payments of up to pounds 700 a hectare for being organic - leave British farmers at a disadvantage.

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