Organic Shift Provokes Study; PRODUCTION: Economic and Moral Questions to Be Addressed by Assembly

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Organic Shift Provokes Study; PRODUCTION: Economic and Moral Questions to Be Addressed by Assembly


Byline: PADDY ROONEY

THE decision by the National Assembly agriculture committee to carry out a study of organic farming is welcome and timely.

The subject is complex, and it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and aspiration. With some practical experience behind us, and a target of converting a substantial proportion of Welsh farmland to organic methods over the coming years, an objective assessment of the practicalities and implications is essential.

But if the study is to command confidence and not be dismissed as just another exercise in spin, transparent objectivity is crucial. The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) believes the subject to be important for the future of our rural economy, and will submit formal evidence.

Any study of the subject has to consider two broad sets of issues. Firstly there are the economic aspects: costs and prices, how efficiency might be improved; and the competition, especially with regard to imported products and the practices in countries of origin.

Secondly there are what might be termed the moral aspects: are organic methods and products ``better'' - more nutritious, healthier, kinder to the environment (however that may be understood), and so on - than those of conventional farming. And underlying both sets of issues is the matter of the extent and objectives of Government support.

On the economic front some tentative conclusions can be drawn from experience, both here and abroad. Production costs can be high compared with conventional methods: land productivity tends to be lower; weed, pest, parasite and disease control can be serious problems; and labour inputs can be higher, though this may be offset by lower chemical inputs.

Prices, on the other hand, can be capricious, with premiums holding up for some products but collapsing for others - as always, farmers are affected by other links in the food chain. …

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