UK organic sector 'well behind' its counterparts, calls for unity

The UK organic sector is seen to be lagging behind its counterparts
The UK organic sector is seen to be lagging behind its counterparts

The UK organic sector is “well behind” its counterparts in Europe and must now “unite” to capitalise on the growth of organic food.

Delegates of the UK Organic Congress were told that British consumers are “increasingly moving towards organic food”.

However, the sector remains behind counterparts in Europe and across the world, having been through a difficult period since the recession.

Co-organised by several leading organic organisations including the Organic Research Centre (ORC), OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers), the Soil Association and the Organic Trade Board (OTB), the event held in Warwickshire conveyed a sense of opportunity.

Nic Lampkin, CEO of the ORC, opened the event, saying: “The UK led the global movement for organic but we’re now well behind our counterparts.

“As a sector, we’ve been through a difficult period since the recession but we’re now moving in an upward direction, with the domestic market estimated to be worth £2.2 billion and growing.”

He challenged the sector to create a transition to move things forward: “20% of land is organic in some countries and 10% of the food market, this should be the vision for the UK.”

'Huge opportunity'

Sue Hayman, Shadow Defra Secretary, gave the opening address and said the development of the new Agriculture Bill brings opportunity for organic.

“The Agriculture Bill provides a huge opportunity to integrate environmental and food benefits. We know they’re compatible, and we must make sure policy supports this,” said Ms Hayman.

She said there are “clear benefits” to organic methods of farming and questioned why Government has “failed” to recognise the merits of organic, unlike other countries.

“The development of a post-Brexit UK agricultural policy is a seminal moment and talking proactively is very important. Sustainability must be at the forefront of a thriving British farming, food and drink sector,” said Ms Hayman.

“Shifting public support from land-based payments to the delivery of public and environmental benefits is a welcome move, but there’s a need for a strategy that also safeguards food security.”

Organic in Denmark

The scope for growth in UK organic was reinforced by Paul Holmbeck, Political Director of Organic Denmark, who presented progress of the organic sector in Denmark.

Organic food now accounts for 13.3% of the total food market in Denmark and over 30% of the total market for eggs, milk, flour and bananas.

“More than 90% of public procurement of food in Copenhagen is now organic, with 60% an overall target for the country,” said Mr Holmbeck.

Roger Kerr, CEO of OF&G, concluded the closing plenary by calling for more efforts for “greater unity” in the UK, and for the achievements of organic farming to be emphasised without denigrating others.