Recession threatens organic standards
A number of leading UK organic certification bodies, including the Soil Association, have asked Defra to relax the rules on organic feed standards for organic eggs, poultry, lamb, beef and pork.
Organic producers have been hit hard by the economic downturn - sales of organic food have slumped by 10% in the last 3 months - and the certification bodies want their members to be allowed to use conventional animal feed instead of organic food concentrate, which costs double. Average organic feed prices are £320 a tonne compared with £160 a tonne for conventional feed.
With over 400 producers completing the organic conversion process and preparing to enter the organic poultry and meat market in 2009, many organic farmers believe they will not be able to stay in business unless the current rules are relaxed.
Phil Stocker, director of Farmer and Grower Relations at the Soil Association said: "We have seen a dip in organic sales and buyers have drifted away from organic beef, lamb, pork, eggs and poultry, many organic businesses are struggling and suffering and we are trying to find a solution acceptable to everyone".
The Organic Research Centre has not welcomed the proposal, warning that a weakening of organic feed standards would further undermine confidence in the organic brand and lead to an even larger slump in sales.
A spokesperson for Defra said that it was willing to consider a change to organic feed standards to support the UK organic market during the economic downturn, provided farmers still comply with EU organic certification rules.