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Public benefits of organic farming need formal recognition

06 February 2018

The public benefits offered to the UK by organic agriculture need to be properly recognised and rewarded by government post-Brexit, according to leading organic certifier OF&G.

OF&G says the development of a new UK Domestic Agricultural Policy (UK DAP) offers the chance to address systematic failures in the food system which have led to a decline in soils, biodiversity and water quality.

And it says that by recognising those farming systems which provide clear and substantiated benefits to the public, the government has the opportunity to create a robust food system which offers long-term benefits.

To set out its suggestions for a new approach to UK agriculture, OF&G has written a policy paper which it hopes will help inform and shape the debate about the future of food and farming.

The paper, 'An Organic Systems Approach to the Provision of Public Goods', says that by combining modern techniques with traditional farming practices, organic farming simultaneously offers numerous benefits to the public.

As well as maintaining the long-term fertility of soils, it protects biodiversity, preserves water quality and maintains high animal welfare alongside several other distinct benefits, all whilst producing high quality, safe and nutritious foods.

However by preserving public goods, organic farming systems have - to date - had to bear much of the cost, as seen by the premium shoppers have to pay for organic food, the paper says.

If organic production was properly rewarded for the multiple public goods it offers, then potentially organic food would be more accessible to all.

The paper, launched today (6 February) sets out a number of issues OF&G believes the government needs to consider if it is to create a future-proof, productive and profitable farming system.

In particular, OF&G uses the paper to call for:

  • organic agriculture to be recognised as a distinct farming system, which offers multiple, simultaneous benefits;
  • the delivery of these public goods to be recognised and adequately rewarded: costs should not be passed onto organic consumers;
  • an increase in agro-ecological farmland: Within the UK DAP it is recommended that agro-ecological farming should about for about 20% of the UK agricultural area, with organic representing half of that total.

Roger Kerr, OF&G chief executive, says:

Defra minister Michael Gove has said that he wants to embrace change in order to secure a more sustainable future for the environment, which will include support for those who farm in the most sustainable way.

‘Public money for public good’ is a core principle guiding reform of UK agricultural support policy, and this is the perfect opportunity for government to recognise the role organic can play in delivering those goods.

We can’t put clean water, biodiversity and climate challenges on hold while we sort out soils, any more than we can solve biodiversity issues but ignore challenges.

We need a systematic, regenerative approach to food production which addresses all of these challenges, and recognises and values those who are embracing that approach.

 

As reported by OF&G



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