HC Deb 08 May 1986 vol 97 cc245-6
13. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards organic farming.

Mrs. Fenner

My Department takes an interest in all farming systems, including what has become known as organic farming, with the objective of helping farmers to make the fullest possible use of the resources available to them according to the economic circumstances and to meet market requirements. Provided that those farming organically continue to pay attention to the market for their products, I believe that this form of production will develop to meet a specialised retail demand.

Mr. Davies

Does the Minister accept that, for all practical purposes, the Government give no assistance for research into, or development of, systems of organic farming? Does she not accept that there are very good reasons, on grounds of both personal and environmental health, for encouraging these practices, and that if the Government were to reverse their policies and encourage those systems they it would go some way towards introducing a more extensive form of farming and reducing surpluses?

Mrs. Fenner

The first part of the hon. Member's assertion is untrue. MAFF began funding a three-year project at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1985, designed to obtain, on a whole-farm basis, information on nitrogen balance and the nitrogen cycle in organic farming systems. Work is planned and monitored with the assistance of a steering group which includes senior representatives of the organic farming sector. ADAS is also carrying out a three-year study, monitoring pests and diseases in organically grown crops on a commercial farm in Wiltshire.

Sir John Wells

Can my hon. Friend give some assurance to those who are anxious about the fact that there are no satisfactory definitions in organic farming? Consumers do not know how organic "organic" is. It would be helpful if there were some definitions.

Mrs. Fenner

The Community intends to take action to promote organic farming by introducing a legislative framework that will ensure free movement for organic produce—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to give the answer, he might find out that I am interested in protecting the consumers' interests. The Commission is to make proposals for satisfactory guarantees to consumers through proper labelling.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the hon. Lady, in her ususal straighforward way, tell organic farmers whether the Government have any proposals to assist with the marketing of organic produce? Will she also tell us whether she is satisfied with the statutory protection given to organic farmers against those who label their goods falsely as organic when they are not organic?

Mrs. Fenner

I have just answered the last part of the hon. and learned Member's question. The Commission and Europe are looking at the protection of the consumer in respect of the labelling of organic produce. As regards the promotion of marketing, I have no doubt that they will support Food from Britain, the organisation which markets both agricultural and horticultural produce.

Mr. Marland

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should see organic farming in proportion? At the moment we are about 80 per cent, self-sufficient in temperate foodstuffs. If there were a big move to organic farming, there would be a massive shortfall of temperate foodstuffs that we could produce in this country.

Mrs. Fenner

I believe that there is likely to be an increasing demand for organically grown produce, but, although organic farming methods have attractions for some producers, they are unlikely to be the total answer for British agriculture generally.