Organic beef prices too low to support growth, cut food miles

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soil association, Organic food, Sustainable agriculture

Prices paid to Britain's organic beef producers are too low, claims
organic certifier the Soil Association, hampering growth of local
food production and leading to higher food miles.

A new report from the organisation says that the average price for organic beef in 2006 was in the region of £2.90 per kilo while the average cost of production was more than £3.30 per kilo. This means that while demand for organic meat is growing rapidly, costs in Britain are too high to encourage farmers to meet the demand, says the Soil Association. "When low farmgate prices are considered, alongside the implications of increasing feed costs and anticipated cuts in the Single Payment Scheme, it is not surprising that farmers lack the confidence needed to boost organic beef production to the levels that would support 100 per cent UK sourcing and cover anticipated growth in the market,"​ it said in a statement. The Soil Association supports locally produced food, claiming that this reduces the pollution caused when importing products from outside the country. It argues that beef farmers could supply all of the population's demands for organic beef if the economic incentives were in place. Yet imports of organic meat appear to be growing, against the recommendations of the Government's Organic Action Plan, which aimed to ensure that more of the organic food eaten in the UK comes from local farmers. In 2005 the proportion of organic red meat from UK producers sold through UK supermarkets fell from 85 per cent to 79 per cent, according to the Soil Association. It is calling on retailers and processors to increase the prices they pay by at least 10 per cent next year, and offer long-term supply contracts through organic livestock marketing groups. It also wants supermarkets still relying significantly on imports to increase the volumes of beef they are prepared to source from the UK in the future. A commitment to clear targets would give farmers the security they need to expand production, it says. "The issues raised in this beef report are similar or worse for every organic meat sector,"​ said Phil Stocker, the Soil Association's Head of Food & Farming. "We focused on beef because it is an area where supply could meet demand year round almost immediately, and the public would expect this iconic product to be British. Unless we overhaul market structures, and implement some of the changes suggested in the report, there won't be a UK organic beef sector of any scale." ​In October 2007 the Soil Association proposed that organic produce that is flown into the UK may not be certified as organic until it meets standards on ethical and fair trade. The aim of the controversial proposal is to reduce carbon emissions from air freighting, a rather embarrassing side effect for an industry that is largely driven by green considerations. The details of the proposal will be up for further consultation next year, and the new certification rules are expected to come into effect from January 2009.

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