BSE boosts demand for organic milk

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Demand for organic milk has risen so sharply in the wake of the BSE crisis that extra supplies are being shipped in from Holland. British producers are working at full stretch and are unable to keep up with its popularity.

The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative, which claims 80 per cent of the UK market, says it has been inundated with requests for the product. Demand for organic cheese is also rising.

Since the Government admitted in March that BSE in cows may cause Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease in humans, the co-operative's sales have increased by 14 per cent.

Sally Bagenal, organiser of the co-operative's 10 producers, said they were still unable to meet demand, and logistics prevented the importing of supplies from further afield, such as Austria, Denmark or Germany.

She said: "The phone has been ringing the whole time with people wanting organic milk. It has been frustrating: we can't help because we haven't got any."

Organic milk comes from cows reared on non-intensive farms, which do not use pesticides, fertilisers or feed containing animal remnants.

BSE is widely believed to have been spread by feed containing infected animal remnants. Dairy herds have been hit the worst.

The Government has assured consumers that milk is "absolutely safe". But its scientists are looking at whether there is any relation between the amount of time calves are fed their mothers' milk and their chances of contracting BSE.

Organic farming used to be dismissed as a fad, but growing revulsion at intensive farming methods has increased its consumer appeal. However, organic milk sales still represent less than a tenth of one per cent of the milk market.

Mrs Bagenal, who has an organic farm near Weston-super-Mare, said: "Organic milk sales have been steadily increasing for some time. Sales of organic dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, have also been rising." Since April, she said, the co-operative had been importing a tanker of organic milk a week.

She added: "Other European countries produce far more organic milk than we do because their governments have actively encouraged it by helping farms convert to organic."

John Alvis, managing director of Alvis Brothers, a small company making cheese for supermarkets and other retailers under the Lye Cross brand, said: "We have seen demand for organic cheese rise over the past two years. There aren't sufficient farms at this stage producing organic milk to supply the demands that exist."

One yoghurt maker said that he was worried that the BSE crisis might trigger an over-reaction, producing a surplus of organic milk in a few years' time.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, the organic farming group, said: "Demand for organic products has been growing, especially in the last year. BSE has just put more power in the market."

He said Britain was 11th in the European league table of the amount of farmland which was organic. "A fifth of dairy products in Denmark is organic, and nearly all farm products in baby food in Germany is organic. Britain has a long way to go."

Bad food, page 19