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Country News - 2002

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Stunned silence on organic farming plan
Tuesday 30 July

Our rural affairs writer John Sheard discusses yesterday's much-leaked - and very thin - Government announcement on the future of organic farming.

YESTERDAY, I promised a full report on the reactions to the Government's much-leaked "action plan" for the future of organic farming, which I fully expected to be one of the most important statements for years about British agriculture.

Sorry but I was wrong. Not only did the report carry very few hard-fact proposals - the main action is to set up yet another committee - but it has also been received in almost deathly silence.

By 9 am today, none of the normally vocal farming and countryside conservation bodies had issued a word. This could be down to three possible causes:

A) They do not understand the plan and need longer to digest it. B) They feel there is nothing in the plan to justify comment. Or C) they realise that the report is yet another triumph of spin over substance.

There are some important points, as pointed out by Elliot Morley, the junior DEFRA minister. One of them is that he has a new title, Minister for Organic Farming. Other include:

A tiny DEFRA grant of £1 million a year for five years for research into organic food production; further small grants to farmers who have converted to organic methods after the five year period, when they now run out; and an agreement by the food retailers to join in discussions on how they can help the industry prosper by buying more British organic food - some 75% of it is at present imported.

But the main proposal is the creation of an Advisory Committee on Organic Food and Farming - but that will not start work until April next year.

If and when there is more public reaction from non-government bodies, Daelnet will report them. But so far, we are looking at a damp squib.

Anyone wishing to look at the "action plan" in detail should log onto www.defra.gov.uk/farm/organic/actionplan/index.htm

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