VEGA News Item

Consultation on Organic Farming - 03/07/2006
VEGA responds to a DEFRA consultation on the future structure of the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS) in England.
VEGA responds to a DEFRA consultation on the future structure of the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS) in England, shortly available on DEFRA's website.

1. Organic farming is being overhauled and developed as it is being practised and put into commercial activity. We think it worthy of official support by way of specialized grants to support by the way of specialized grants to support objective research projects and to assist farmers in conversion (which, as a grade, may not satisfy UKROFS definitions and certainly not those of “organic” organizations such as the Soil Association). Many of such supportive and start-up enterprise must run on limited terms and be replaced by the growing industry and market competing and controlling supply and demand in a commercial fashion. Retailers’ requirements must therefore be acknowledged and acted on (as cogent indicators of well-informed consumer power).

2. This support must take allowance of the farmers’ ability to opt-in and out of organic husbandry and of other enterprises that could vie for consideration, possibly within the broad organic scope or conflicting, with it, e.g. stock free, minimum till, and zero-grazing, zero-housing dairy herding, as well as the challenges in GM innovations and zoonotic contamination, vaccination, culling etc.

3. Organic enterprise must establish, especially in the revisions of CAP and modulation and diversification, its benefits to animal welfare and the environment (and thus of claims that may be made and how it may contribute to earnests linking the wellbeing of animals, human and non-human, and wildlife). Out manifest and the title of a meeting to be held in September at the Royal Society in London illustrate these factors. The meeting, organized by the Universities’ Federation for Animal Welfare in collaboration with the British Veterinary Association, goes under the title of The Quality of Life – the Heart of the Matter. The BVA’s Animal Welfare Foundation held a professional meeting a week or two ago (reported in this week’s Veterinary Record) that covered some of these topics.

4. The issues concern – or should concern – organizations not included in the lists of consultees we have received. The RSPB is included and has extensive environmental interests, but the RSPCA is absent (although we are pleased to see the involvement of the FAWC). The topics should also be brought to the attention of the Jewish and Muslim authorities and to consumers of kosher and halal meats and how their interpretations of the husbandry described in, say, the Old Testament and Qur’an inspire their commercial and dietary observances. An item on our website illustrates such factors. We understand at the moment that the Soil Association exercises reservations on the methods of marketing and slaughtering animals killed for products bearing their organic imprimatur. The RSPCA’s Freedom Foods scheme and the stipulations of the Real Meat Company apply somewhat likewise, whether or not the animal-derived products justify organic claims. Animal welfarists still need reassurance that withholding officinal drugs while untested or dubious therapies are applied, possibly ineffectually, causes delays entailing avoidable suffering for the animal at the cost of lost premium for farmer an retailer.

5. Organic principles have served the public well with educative examinations of agronomy and the sociological principles of “cheap food” policies. They extend to fish farming, the status of imported foods and the cultivation of crops for household goods, clothing, pharmaceuticals, and drugs, both licit (such as tobacco) and illicit (such as cannabis and opium). They have emphasized the virtue of thrift and have brought respect where it has been lost in many areas of employment in the farm-to-food industry and attainment of standards that the FSA should embrace. Many of the practitioners or organic farming have tackled or are tackling honestly practices that still daunt full realization of their tenets.

6. In addition to further consultees whom we have mentioned or alluded to, the Association of Applied Biologists would be a useful source of comment.

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