In late 2008 organic certifiers began floating the idea for organic farmers to have the option to feed some animals conventional feed for a limited time, in order to have some respite from the higher costs of organic feed.
These animals would cease to be organic and any produce derived from them would not be labelled as organic. However under the rules of organic certification, switching some animals to conventional feed would mean the entire farm would lose its organic status, even if other practices – such as low stocking densities, minimal antibiotic use and no chemical fertilizers – remained in place.
But the independent Soil Association Standards Board has opted not to go ahead with the relaxation, which would need approval from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as three quarters of respondents in its consultation were opposed to it.
The main concerns they raise pertained to the importance of retaining the integrity of standards, and the potential to damage consumer confidence.
Moreover, such a move may be designed to help out livestock farmers, but it could have a knock-on negative effect on the organic feed market and arable farmers during the recession.
Organic feed is said to cost around £320 per tonne (c €349 at today’s exchange rate), compared to around £160 (c €175) per tonne for conventional feed.
The consultation ran from 5 to 28 February, and the board received 180 responses.
Anna Bradley, chair of the Standards Board, said: “The board agreed that making ad hoc changes of this sort would damage the integrity of the standards and could rock consumer confidence. Consumers expect ‘Soil Association Organic’ to stand for the highest quality in organic food and that is a reputation the Standards Board wants to retain”.
The board is made up of 10 members: the chair, three lay members, three stakeholder representatives (farmers/growers/processors), and three chairs of standards committees.
Under the current rules farmers who are nearing the end of their conversion period can apply for agreement to extend it, if they are not yet in a position to market their livestock as organic.
The Soil Association has said there is no change to this window, which could help some recent convertees if they are struggling in the recession.