THE BSE RISK: Organic farmers claim a clean record

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The Independent Online
No animal born on a certified organic farm has ever contracted BSE, the Soil Association said yesterday.

There have been seven cases of organically farmed cows infected with BSE, but all were on farms that had recently converted or were in the process of converting to organic methods. The use in livestock feed of animal remains, which is the transmission route for BSE, was banned in 1920 by organic farmers, said a spokeswoman.

Tim Finney, who runs a organic meat company near Swindon, Wiltshire, said when he first heard about BSE he was unsurprised. "I thought it served dairy farmers right.

"Dairy cows live a very hard life on conventional farms because milk is such a precious commodity. They were fed products made from old sheep and cows, even though they are naturally herbivores. If cows had never been given the feed in the first place we might never have seen BSE," he said.

Mr Finney, who has worked organically since the late 1980s, said that 99 per cent of BSE cases had been found in dairy cattle. "It is not beef cattle we need to worry about. It is dairy cattle who have come to the end of their lives and been slaughtered for meat which have contracted BSE to date.

"These cows are turned into manufacturing beef which goes into beef pies, tins and pasties - and is also used in schools, hospitals and work canteens because it is cheap."

Oliver Dowding, whose farm in Somerset is also recognised by the Soil Association as organic, said eating organic produce gave the public "personal guarantees of health and happiness". When he changed over to organic methods seven years ago he said his cows acted "like junkies coming off junk".

The cost of milk can be 20 per cent higher, and beef 10-12 per cent higher, when farmed organically. However, demand for organic produce exceeds availability and Mr Finney said his farm could not produce enough milk and meat. Patrick Holden, of the Soil Association, said not enough is being done to support organic farming.

The Soil Association uses a kitemark to identify produce farmed in a manner which complies with its regulations, and this is a guarantee that beef, or any other meat, has not been fed any animal or fish products or raised on land treated with any agro-chemicals or fertilisers.

Customers can check through the Soil Association how recently an organic farm has converted, should they be concerned about the lingering effects of previous conventional farming.