To What Extent Should Organic Farming Be Consumer Driven?

Tracy Jones is a FOAM EU Organic Leadership graduate, ex-smallholder, and self described farming & countryside anorak! She’s a UK Board member for the CSA Network, a Farm Committee member of Vana Trust Organic Farm. and is currently writing her MSc organic farming thesis.
Tracy Jones
When discussing organic agriculture I usually find myself taking the viewpoint of the farmer. However, although organic farms provide many additional benefits to the environment and wider community, they’re essentially about producing food using a particular farming system.

Advocates of organic farming believe strongly in the methods used to produce organic food, and when standards are altered there can be either caution or a positive response.

At the end of the day it is about producing a product that consumers want to buy. Whether it‘s for health, animal welfare or environmental benefits, or all three, consumers buy organic food because they want to support this type of farming.

The trend appears to be strengthening and tightening standards to fulfil consumers’ expectations of what organic farming delivers, but the fact remains that organic farming practices are varied and sometimes complex, which can result in consumer confusion.

My point is this; consumers are not farmers, but without them there is no marketplace for organic produce. What, therefore, are the best ways to balance consumer needs with organic farming?

The recent news story of four Soil Association trustees resigning led to some very knee jerk reactions from members of the public who claimed that they will no longer be able to trust that the Soil Association logo on products means that it is truly organic. In reality nothing had changed regarding the standards or certification of farms as organic.

The principles of organic agriculture are ‘Health, Ecology, Fairness & Care. In my view these four principles are easily communicated to consumers and are perhaps a simpler message.

It is sometimes useful to remember the IFOAM (2008) definition which for me encompasses the essence of what organic agriculture is really about:

Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems & people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity & cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation & science to benefit the shared environment & promote fair relationships & a good quality of life for all involved.”

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