HC Deb 21 October 1999 vol 336 cc561-2
6. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

What action his Department is taking to assist farmers wishing to produce organic food. [93390]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

We have allocated more than £16 million of aid under the organic farming scheme, we are funding the organic conversion information service and we are spending more than £2 million this year on organic research and development.

Mr. Borrow

I welcome the Government's increased spending on the organic farming scheme and the review announced last week or the week before into that scheme. Given that more than 70 per cent. of organic food consumed in the United Kingdom is produced overseas, will my hon. Friend consider setting clear targets in that review to reduce dependence in the UK on the import of organic food and to increase production of such food in the UK?

Mr. Morley

That is certainly a helpful suggestion. Obviously, we want the organic sector in Britain to expand and we have committed substantial extra resources to that. The area under organic production increased by 400 per cent. in the past 12 months. It is right to say that 70 per cent. of organic food is imported, but we are self-sufficient in some organic products, such as organic meat, and one reason for the review is to consider those areas where we should be giving some priority to addressing the marketing balance.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

Many of my farmers in the dairy sector are switching to organic milk production. In order to keep public confidence in organically produced milk, which is not treated in any way—it is not pasteurised—it is fundamental that the Government resolve the problem of bovine TB as fast as possible. Of the 10 proposed triplets, the Government have set up only two and that is not good enough. When will the Government take some real action on bovine TB?

Mr. Morley

Bovine TB is a serious problem facing the dairy herd, with welfare issues for badgers as well as cattle. We have set up five triplets and we are implementing the Krebs programme, on which there was a great deal of discussion. The advice from independent scientific groups revealed great difficulties in dealing with bovine TB, but this is an issue that we cannot ignore, and, difficult though it is, we are addressing it.

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