MPs find claims for organic food are misleading

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The Independent Online

Many claims made about the benefits of organic food may not be backed up by fact and should be verified by independent tests, an influential committee of MPs warned yesterday.

Many claims made about the benefits of organic food may not be backed up by fact and should be verified by independent tests, an influential committee of MPs warned yesterday.

The Agriculture Select Committee said there are fears that consumer demand for organic food could be leading to the loss of control by the organic industry over its "traditional values".

The MPs said that organic farming was "one of the few bright spots in the depressed picture of UK agriculture" and recognised that the "strongest case" for organic food was its environmental benefits. But they said claims that it was beneficial to animal welfare, food safety, support for rural communities and fair trade were not clearly supported by the evidence.

"We have seen no evidence to enable us to state unequivocally that any of these claims are always and invariably true," the MPs said in the report. "All claims need to be properly evaluated in order to help consumers make their own judgements on the benefits of organic produce."

The MPs said organic farming was under threat from supermarkets and commercial farmers seeking to exploit the market. But the report recognised the growing consumer demand for organic produce and said the Government should increase its budget for organic research and development and "encourage the development of organic training schemes".

Friends of the Earth welcomed the report's call for more government support for research. But it said that it was disappointed the MPs had failed to recommend a target for an increase in the amount of land cultivated for organic produce.

"The UK organic market has really suffered because of the government's stop-start approach to organic farming," said Sandra Bell, of Friends of the Earth. "If the Government put as much money into developing and trialling organic farming as it has spent on farm-scale trials of genetically modified food the sector would be far better off."

The MPs criticised some supporters of organic food: "Organic farming is now a mature sector," the report said. "Some of its apostles still proselytise with an almost religious fervour and, occasionally, a sectarian spirit. This helps nobody. The past perhaps belonged to messianics; the future belongs to marketing."

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