Supermarkets give evidence in favour of British organic farming

Market forces have not been sufficient to increase supplies of British organic food, Sainsbury’s and Iceland supermarkets said in their oral evidence to the Commons Agriculture Committee on 25 October.

Following on from written evidence given in June of this year, the two supermarkets told the Committee that more Government support is needed for British organic farming, a Committee spokesman confirmed to edie. Both supermarkets would like to offer more British organic products to their customers (see related story), but are unable to do so due to a lack of supply, and instead having to import 70% of their organic produce from abroad.

Sainsbury’s, whose sales of organics have increased forty-fold since 1996 to £3 million per week, with the supermarket now selling 950 lines of organic produce. The organic market in the UK is predicted to grow by 40% in 2000 alone, putting sales of organic food at around £1 billion by the end of 2001, according to the evidence from Sainsbury’s.

“The British farming community has reacted very slowly to this market, whereas other countries are modernising their farms to produce organic food,” Bill Wadsworth, Technical Director of Iceland, told the Committee. However, this slow uptake comes against a background of increasing numbers of farmers wishing to convert away from pesticides to the more sustainable system (see related story).

“It is environmental and economic madness that our farmers are missing out on the organic boom,” said Sandra Bell, Real Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “With the right support from Government organic farming in the UK could bring huge benefits to rural areas, bring back birds and butterflies to our farmland, and make organic food available to more people. The supermarkets realise this, consumers realise this – it’s time for Ministers to wake up to the potential of organic farming and give it the backing it deserves.”

Both supermarkets, as well as Asda, Marks & Spencer, and Waitrose, are supporting the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill, aimed to increase organic farming in the UK. Campaigners for the Bill claim that if 30% of the UK land was farmed organically there would be 16,000 new jobs, and 11.5 million hectares of arable land would no longer be sprayed with pesticides, resulting in over 10% more birds, and a 25% increase in butterflies (see related story).

The principle aim of the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill is to bring about a major increase in organic farming in the next 10 years, and aims more specifically to:

  • ensure the development of a strategy for organic farming;
  • ensure that 30% of land in England and Wales is organic by 2010;
  • ensure that 20% of food marketed in England and Wales is organic by 2010;
  • make organic food more accessible to more people.

Other evidence being submitted to the enquiry is also coming from National Farmers Union Organic Working Group, academics, individual farmers, the Soil Association, Agriculture Minister Eliot Morley, and the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS).

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