Farmers 'fail to exploit the boom in organic food'

BRITISH farmers are failing to cash in on the booming pounds 100m organic food market, according to a report published yesterday.

'Green' non-chemical farming methods are used on 125,000 acres in the United Kingdom, 150 per cent more than three years ago, the study by the Organic Food and Farming Centre in Bristol said.

But farmers are failing to meet consumers' rising demand with the result that imports account for 70 per cent of the annual organic food market.

The 'green' food trade gap sparked a fresh demand by Britain's organic farmers for government support to boost pesticide-free farming. There are about 1,100 organic farmers, but the land they farm represents just 0.2 per cent of UK agricultural land.

Patrick Holden, director of British Organic Farmers, said UK-wide support for organic farming was a better way of reducing European Community food mountains than the 'set-aside' scheme, under which farmers are paid to leave their land fallow.

'Paying farmers to do nothing is degrading both to the producer and the environment,' he told a news conference at the Royal Show, at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. 'Offering incentives to organic farmers to produce food using environmentally-friendly methods for which there is a growing demand makes so much more sense.'

Safeway said demand for its organic meat had increased so much that it now cost just 10 to 15 per cent more than 'standard' beef and lamb, compared with a price premium of 30 per cent 18 months ago.