ARCHIVE: England organic action plan group: Meeting in June 2007
Minutes of meeting held on 14 June 2007
Brian Harding (Defra, Director, Food Industry & Crops) – Chair
Nic Lampkin (Organic Centre, Wales)
Peter Melchett (Soil Association - Charity)
Renee Elliott (Planet Organic)
Alex Smith (FDF)
David Buffin (Centre for Food Policy)
Abi Bunker (RSPB)
Emma Hockridge (Sustain)
Lawrence Woodward (the Organic Research Centre – Elm farm)
Jeremy Cowper (Defra, Crops Hub Manager)
Andrew Eldridge (Defra Organics, Secretariat, Organic Team)
Amanda Renn (Defra, OAPSG Secretariat, Organic Team)
Sarah Joshi (Defra, OAPSG Secretariat, Organic Team)
Simon Huish (Defra, SFF Delivery Team)
Agenda Item 1: Apologies for absence
1. The chair notified the Group that due to unforeseen circumstances, Sir Don Curry would not be attending the meeting. The Secretariat had however had a short meeting with him earlier in the week to run through the agenda and the discussion papers that were available at the time, and would be feeding his views into the discussion of each item.
2. The Secretariat also advised that it had been notified of the following apologies for absence shortly before the meeting: Ben Underwood (CLA); Peter Hall (NFU); Alex Dinsdale (NFU); Andrew Opie (BRC); Richard Jacobs (O,F&G); Peter Whitehead (IGD) and David Barling (CFP).The following members were also unable on the day to attend the meeting: Victoria Bakshi (No. 10 Policy Unit), Catherine Fookes (Sustain), Jill Johnstone (NCC) and John Dyson (BHA).
Agenda Item 2: Minutes from 8 March 2007 meeting (ORG 241)
3. No amendments were suggested and ORG 241 was approved, as circulated before the meeting.
Agenda Item 3: Outstanding Action Points from 8 March 2007 and earlier meetings (ORG 237)
4. The Group took the opportunity to review ORG 237 and discuss outstanding action points with the Chair/Secretariat. The Group were advised that the actions associated with items 26, 27,48, 55, 56 and 59 had all recently been completed and a revised log, in line with action point 49 (which was an ongoing commitment), would be circulated shortly. On action 26, members were invited to visit the new Action plan web pages on Defra’s website1 (where the minutes of previous meetings would now be published) and to let the Secretariat have any further suggestions for this site’s improvement, over the summer. Finally following a brief discussion of action 52 (notification of technical issues) the Secretariat agreed to add a new item to all future Strategic meeting agendas, to capture any technical issues members wished to lodge with the Secretariat for future discussion with Defra policy officials. The Secretariat confirmed that all other outstanding actions would be followed up, where possible and appropriate, before the Group’s next meeting.
Action: Secretariat to review content of Group’s web pages in light of any suggestions received from members over the summer; update the ‘Outstanding Actions Log’ to record latest activities carried out; add a new item heading to all future strategic level agenda meetings to capture any technical issues raised by the Group.
Agenda Item 4: Feedback from the UK Action Plan Forum Meeting held on 27 April 2007
5.The Secretariat provided a brief summary of the six main issues and subsequent action points that had been discussed and agreed at the UK Organic Action Plan Forum meeting held on 26 April in Northern Island. The following issues and requests for clarification were raised by members on the back of the Secretariats presentation:
6. New regulation and consultation with the sector: A number of members were concerned that there had been insufficient consultation on the new regulation and that organic farmers in particular had not been given sufficient opportunity to input into the process, prompting one member to repeat his request that a Defra sponsored stakeholder conference should be organised over the summer to allow for involvement. The Secretariat replied that it already had what it took to be a well established means for stakeholder engagement and that it would be difficult to find funds to host such an event. It was also explained that the Commission’s plans to launch a web based public consultation on should give stakeholders, including farmers, ample opportunity to register their views on the forthcoming implementing regulation. However the Secretariat confirmed the undertaking it had given at the Forum meeting to consider the possibility of organising such an event after the summer.
7. Some members said that the lack of agreement on GM thresholds for seeds and the fact that GM co-existence measures were not yet in place would complicate discussions on the implementing rules for the new council regulation or organic production. The Secretariat noted the point but said that neither would deflect the Commission from proceeding with the implementing rules and that the UK had to engage with that process. However the Secretariat undertook to investigate what the current situation was with regard to setting GM thresholds for seeds and update members shortly. The Secretariat also confirmed that Defra was proceeding with a 2 – 3 page guidance note for Action Plan member’s benefit, summarising the differences between the old and new regulations promised at the Forum, and which would be circulated to OAPSG members by the end of June.
8. Arrangements for the 2008 Forum meeting: It was noted from the minutes of this year’s Forum meeting that next year’s meeting would most likely be held in England and possibly outside London. Members were keen to ensure that an appropriate venue should be found to host this event (Sheepdrove Conference Centre was suggested) and that the meeting should include an element of sharing best practise between participants. One member also questioned the need to hold the Forum and the ACOS meeting/farm visit on consecutive days, although it was acknowledged that the presence of ACOS members at the Forum was strength and one which the Group should like to continue. The same member also asked whether it would be possible to invite representatives from the Isle of Man (who were in the process of writing an action plan for the development of the Manx organic sector) to attend next year’s Forum. The Secretariat agreed to consider all of these suggestions when it came to planning next year’s meeting.
Agenda item 5: Further discussion of the Group’s Terms of Reference (TOR) (ORG 243)
9. The Secretariat gave a short presentation on ORG 234, explaining the new TOR were intended to reflect the Group’s newly agreed strategic role and closer links to the SFF. Despite a number of assurances to the contrary (from both the Secretariat and the Chair), a small group of members had argued that the proposed wording not only appeared to suggest that Defra no longer wanted to have a separate Action Plan for England, but that it was also intending to pull back from its commitment to support the development of a organic sector. The Secretariat explained that this was not the case; the aim was merely to reflect the Group’s new, broader range of strategic priorities and provide sufficient flexibility for the Group to operate at a time when Defra was reviewing its stakeholder engagement mechanisms. Despite these assurances, the Group preferred to continue with the current TOR until the end of the year, when they would be revisited as part of the wider review of the Groups new working arrangements.
Action: Secretariat and Group to revisit its existing TOR at the end of 2007/08, as part of the wider review of the Group’s new working arrangements.
Agenda item 6: Strategic paper on the contribution that organic farming makes in supplying public goods [ORG 245]
10. Peter Melchett presented ORG 245 to the Group, explaining that it was intended to quantify and deal with the increased public good supplied by organic farming, building on and extending the evidence base that had been developed to underpin both the original Action Plan (published in 2002. See “Organic farming and the environment” at www.defra.gov.uk/farm/organic/policy/actionplan/annex3.htm) and the Business case used to justify the introduction of the organic strand of the Entry Level Agri-Environment Scheme (See Entry Level agri-environment Scheme: Organic Strand Business case in 2005. He acknowledged that despite a wealth of new evidence that had accumulated since the publication of both of these earlier papers there were still an number of gaps in the evidence/knowledge base and that there was still some way to go in convincing some sections of the science community and Government (and FSA with regards to the health and nutritional benefits of organic food) of the broader benefits to society as whole. Nonetheless, he hoped that the Group could further refine this paper so that it could became a valuable tool in informing and influencing policy makers of the wider societal benefits that could accrue from increase in organic farming and food production.
11. Members highlighted a number of areas of the paper that might be strengthened (including local employment/pesticide levels and usage) and where issues were missing and needed to be incorporated (suggestions included methane, animal welfare, nitrous oxide, carbon sequestration in soils, vegetarianism v meat consumption). ORG 245 would therefore be revised to take account of these comments and a further copy would be circulated to the Group, Sir Don Curry and the SFF Delivery Group over the summer. Simon Huish agreed to propose to Sir Don that 1 or 2 members of the OAPSG attend any future discussion that the SFFS Deliver group might have on public goods from farming. The secretariat also suggested that ORG 245 should be placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the Action Plan Group to allow for further discussion of the issue. One member also asked whether a copy of ORG 245 should be passed to the Environmental Stewardship Review team, but as the review was not going to be making any fundamental changes to the way in the schemes (and in particular OELS) operates or make any recommendations on how agri-environment funds are spent, it was agreed to wait for the mid term review of environmental stewardship.
12. Before bringing the discussion to a close, the Secretariat confirmed (through Simon Huish) that Sir Don Curry had found the paper extremely useful and that whilst he did not necessarily agree with all of the points raised by the paper, he nonetheless thought it would make a valuable and timely contribution to the forthcoming debate across Government about how to ensure farming is properly rewarded for the public goods it delivers, particularly within the context of further CAP reform and the CAP health check.
Action: Peter Melchett to update ORG 245 in light of comments received and submit a revised paper to the Secretariat for onward circulation to OAPSG members, Sir Don Curry, SFFS Delivery Group members and Defra policy colleagues.
Action: Secretariat to put ORG 245 (once revised) on the agenda for the next strategic meeting of the Group and to ensure that a copy of it is retained as part of the library of evidence needed to inform the mid-term review of agri-environment schemes.
Action: Simon Huish to propose to Sir Don that one or two members of the OAPSG attend any future discussion that the SFFS Delivery Group might have on public goods from farming.
Agenda item 7: Strategic paper on how the supply of organic goods from UK production might be maintained
13. Lawrence Woodard made a short presentation to the Group (and circulated a handout to those members who were present) about the levels of imports into the UK in four distinct commodity categories (pork, potatoes, beef and brassicas2 ) and gave the Group an individual assessment of where he believed there were opportunities and threats to the organic supply chain and suggested a number of ways in which the proportion of UK supply could be further increased through UK production. He argued that with current growth rates and no intervention by Government or stakeholders to increase UK supply, imports would continue to increase and UK organic production would fail to reach the level similar to that enjoyed by the conventional sector. Although a number of preliminary conclusions and possible recommendations for intervention by key policy makers (both Government and commercial) were suggested in the handout, they were not discussed by the Group. The Group instead choose to identify and discuss two key factors which they felt were having a negative impact on the UK’s ability to supply the home market: namely the lack of confidence in the market and the different application and enforcement of standards across the EU which meant that it was difficult for UK producers to compete with some European and third country producers on price, type and range of product, quality specifications and continuity and availability of supply.
14. On the first issue, members and the Secretariat acknowledged that future prospects for growth of the sector very much depended on the numbers of farmers willing to convert to organic production. Aid was available to encourage conversion and OELS uptake rates showed that the scheme was having a positive effect, but more work needed to be done to build confidence right across the organic supply chain. Members were therefore invited to reflect on the suggestions put forward in Lawrence’s handout for tackling this issue and to let him have any additional ideas they might have concerning what other interventions might be undertaken. Lawrence would then produce a list of draft recommendations for discussion and approval by the Group at their next meeting. On the second issue, the Secretariat acknowledged that in some instances certain operating procedures across the EU and in some third countries etc could be seen has having a negative effect on UK producers ability to compete in certain commodity areas, but that it was difficult for Defra to challenge the Commission and other members states etc on these issues without firm evidence. However the forthcoming consultation on the new implementing regulations would provide an opportunity to address the enforcement of standards. In order to investigate what particular issues might be addressed at a governmental level, the Group agreed to return to this issue at their next meeting and invite the chairman of ACOS to attend this meeting.
15. The Secretariat also agreed to send a copy of Lawrence’s original handout to Sir Don Curry so that he could consider it in time for the next meeting of the Group.
Action: Secretariat to circulate Lawrence’s original handout to Sir Don Curry and those OAPSG members not at June’s meeting.
Action: Members to send any ideas/suggestions they might have for improving farmer’s confidence etc direct to Lawrence, so that a revised handout (to become ORG 244) and list of possible recommendations for Governmental /stakeholder action can be prepared in readiness for the next strategic meeting of the Group.
Action: Secretariat to place ORG 244 on the agenda for the next strategic meeting of the Group and invite the Chair of ACOS to attend this meeting, diary commitments permitting.
Agenda item 8: Promotion of organic food [ORG 246]
16. Nic Lampkin presented ORG 246 to the Group, explaining that it was intended to deal with the issue of EU funding for the promotion of organic food and the possible role that the Levy Board might play in promoting the organic sector (through a range of activities, not only in helping to stimulate demand but also in helping to insulate the sector against future shocks and in helping to grow a more informed and sustain ably focused brand of consumers), and in providing the national match funding needed to draw down EU funds. The Group were unanimous in their support of the paper’s main argument that urgent discussions needed to be held between Sir Don Curry and John Bridge, Chair designate of Levy Board UK (the body that will replace the statutory Levy Boards from April 2008), on the possibility of Levy Board receipts being used to match fund organic promotion projects. Simon Huish confirmed that Don was happy to raise this issue with John Bridge at their next scheduled meeting. However, he thought that the sector would be better served by taking a more general approach aimed at securing that a proportionate share of levy receipts from organic producers was applied to expenditure of benefit to the organic sector across the board, i.e. by ensuring that an appropriate proportion of LBUK spend on R&D is targeted at the organic sector. Notwithstanding these comments, which were supported by some members of the Group, the Group nonetheless urged that the discussion go ahead, using ORG 246 and Nic Lampkin’s forthcoming strategic paper on the sectoral and market information needs of organic producers as the basis of the discussion. The Chair also agreed to pursue the issue of promotion funding at his next scheduled meeting with Sir John Bridge, too.
17.Finally, the Group agreed to revisit ORG 246 at their next meeting so an update on progress could be made by Sir Don, the Chair and that John Bridge should be invited to attend this meeting, diary commitments permitting.
Action: Nic Lampkin to submit the first draft of his paper on the sectoral and market information needs of the sector (hereafter to be numbered ORG 239), over the summer.
Action: Secretariat to circulate the first draft of ORG 239 to Sir Don Curry’s private office and place it, together with ORG 246(the levy board paper) on the agenda for the next strategic meeting of the Group.
Action: Simon Huish to flag the issue of EU promotion funding and Levy Board UK’s potential involvement, for Sir Don’s next scheduled meeting with Sir John Bridge. Sir Don’s secretariat to feedback any outcomes to the Group via Amanda Renn.
Agenda item 9: Any other business
18. No AOB items were raised.
Agenda item 10 – Date of next meeting
19. The next strategic meeting of the Group will be held on Wednesday 24 October 2007. The Secretariat will advise on the start time and venue to be used shortly. However as Sir Don Curry will only be available from 3:00pm to 4:30pm, it was agreed that the agenda for this meeting should be split into two sections, so that the following draft papers could be discussed before his arrival:
- Public Procurement (will be ORG 238)
- The economic, social, health and environmental benefits of organic farming and food (will be ORG 249)
- The provision of sectoral and market information needed to encourage conversion (will be ORG 239)
20. The following papers from today’s meeting would then be discussed with Sir Don Curry and guests:
- ORG 244 – the supply of organic goods from UK production
- ORG 245 – the contribution that organic farming makes in supplying public goods
- ORG 246 – EU funding for promotion of organic food and the role of the Levy Boards
modified: 27 November 2007
Page published: 27 November 2007