Organic beef support needed

Organic leaders have accused retailers and processors of short-changing organic beef producers and choosing imports over home-grown products.

The Soil Association (SA) claimed the situation is now endangering the security and development of organic beef production in the UK.

A report by the organisation, called 'Where's the beef?', claimed the current farmgate price of organic beef is unfair and unsustainable. The average price for organic beef in 2006 was in the region of £2.90 per kilo.

Compared with the average cost of production, of more than £3.30 per kilo over the same period, it shows a loss of around 40 pence for every kilo of beef produced.

The SA said farmers now lack the confidence to boost organic beef production to ensure 100% UK sourcing and is calling on retailers and processors to demonstrate greater support for the industry by increasing the prices they pay by 10% and offering long-term supply contracts through the established organic livestock marketing groups.

Phil Stocker, the Soil Association's head of food & farming, said the intention was not to attack the supermarkets, but find a workable framework for British organic meat which, he stated, meant providing more stability for the UK's beef, pork and lamb producers.

"The issues raised in this beef report are similar or worse for every organic meat sector," he said. "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."

The study also claimed to find evidence of rising imports. In 2005 the proportion of organic red meat from UK producers sold through UK supermarkets fell from 85% to 79%.