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News | 28 Mar 2018
At the inaugural meeting of the newly formulated ministerially-appointed Organic Strategy Group, the Organic Trust sought the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme and submitted cogent arguments for the strategic development of Ireland’s organic sector.
• At the outset, the Organic Trust wish to express our appreciation for the establishment of the Organic Strategy Group and continuance of the positive legacy of the original Organic Development Committee (ODC) established in 2000.
• To ensure that Ireland reaps the benefits of the groundswell of positive attitudes towards organic food, a first step must be the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme to new entrants. New entrants are the lifeblood of any industry and Ireland’s organic sector is no different.
• The Organic Trust emphasises that the appetite within retail communities has never been more favourably disposed towards organic food than at the present time – consumer growth in the purchase of organic foodstuffs is at an all time high (30% increase over the past two years).
• Improvements in the terms of the Organic Farming Scheme in 2015 resulted in the most significant growth in the numbers converting to organic production than under any previous government-led organic support scheme. It is essential that the momentum created is built upon and nurtured – to leave a developing sector unsupported at a time when more marketing opportunities exist than ever before is surely folly in the extreme.
• Space on retail shelves will be filled by organically certified imports if Ireland does not capitalise on the impetus which has been created on the world stage in the production of organic food and feed.
• A new budget must be allocated in 2018 to facilitate the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme so that Ireland can realise its potential in the production, supply and export of organic food – this cannot wait until 2021 – the massive opportunities which currently exist will be lost to overseas competitors if we do not act now.
• Government must realise that organic production not only provides healthy nutritious food but also delivers on a number of other key fronts such as the fulfilment of Ireland’s environmental obligations; re-invigoration of rural communities (the Organic Trust has observed within its membership a high instance of generational family farming businesses – keeping young farmers on the land and living in our rural communities) and the positive effects on the health of the nation to name but a few.
• Is Ireland to be left behind yet again? Are external markets going to reap the benefit of the hard work undertaken by a myriad of organic entities in Ireland who have painstakingly and patiently been building a sector – at times in the face of apathy and in extreme cases in the case of vested conventional interests?
- On the cusp of success, is Ireland going to not only allow but actually facilitate overseas markets taking advantage of the groundswell of consumer opinion which is so well disposed towards organic food and organic food production?
• In the context of budgets, the Organic Trust cannot over-emphasise that the budgetary allocation required to re-open the Organic Farming Scheme is very modest when one realises the benefits that can ensue – the re-allocation of even a tenth of the under-spend on a small number of agricultural budgets would go a long way towards allowing Ireland to fulfil even part of its potential on the world stage of organic production.
• The statistics speak for themselves – we could show charts and a myriad of statistics which demonstrate how other countries are capitalising on the upsurge in the demand for organic food and yet Ireland continues to ignore the potential by withdrawing supports at production level. We feel that the time for quoting statistics has passed – the market for organic food is a reality NOW and Ireland must display a demonstrable belief in the development of Ireland’s organic sector – governments elsewhere do not require to be persuaded, market forces speak for themselves.
• The Organic Trust wholeheartedly welcomes the establishment of the Organic Strategy Group and will do everything in its power to support the initiatives which will undoubtedly unfold – we do not have to reinvent the wheel – many models exist in other countries and we can emulate the best of them with our own unique stamp of Irish originality and authenticity .
• As a starting point, we would welcome dialogue on the re-opening of the OFS; how this could be framed to ensure a strategic market-led approach; how the adoption of a totally integrated approach such as those adopted by countries such as Denmark can allow Ireland to take its place on the world stage of organic production.
• Ireland can do it; we must develop the required critical mass so that areas such as, for example, the home production of organic feed becomes a reality and a major contributor towards import substitution; we must recognise and harness the benefits of organic production to address EU environmental directives (possibly using the Belgian model as an example) and we must capitalise on the potential offered to Ireland’s organic sector through Brexit.
• Once the critical mass is achieved, the Irish government will be repaid in spades through increased employment, re-vitalisation of rural communities, the creation of a vibrant industry with huge export potential and a continuous supply of organic food for our population. We are not looking for a handout – we are seeking a hand up for Ireland’s organic sector – it is not government aid we seek but real investment in the future of Ireland’s organic industry. A thriving organic sector (which is a recognised European/worldwide objective) can only have a positive impact on Ireland’s strong reputation for quality produce abroad.
• Critically, we must emphasise that supporting the organic sector in no way implies a lack of support for Ireland’s conventional food producers – just as other markets have numerous tiers, so too does the production of food – we are simply offering consumers a choice – a choice they are asking for - and in tandem with this we believe that Ireland could be a serious contender on the world stage of organic food production - government support is crucial and Organic Trust support to the achievement of this goal is unequivocal.