Organic needs global co-operation, says Holden

Posted by Josette Dunn on 30th June 2010

Organic bodies around the world need to work together more closely to promote the environmental benefits of sustainable farming, the departing director of the UK’s Soil Association said yesterday (29 June).


Patrick Holden, director of the organic certification body since 1995, plans to step down from the role in September to forward the case for sustainable agriculture around the world.

Speaking to just-food, he refused to be drawn on the exact nature of his next role and said more would be announced in the autumn.

However, the 59-year-old said the organic sector needed to work harder to convince consumers that, as well as having health benefits, organic food could help the environment too.

“Against the background of climate change, resource depletion and peak oil, there is a frightening fragility about our food system,” Holden said. “We need to accelerate change to address this fragility. We’ve had tremendous success developing organic food but we’ve got to do much more.”

Holden said more attention needed to be given to research to convince farmers to move to sustainable practices and shoppers to buy organic.

Holden said consumers “intuitively understand” that organic food benefits their health, despite the “rebuttals” from the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

Last summer, the FSA, the UK’s food watchdog, argued that organic food gives consumers no extra health benefits.

Holden said he was “proud” to have built on the ideals of the advocates who founded the Soil Association in 1946. He said the “post-war intensification” of farming had “swept away” the calls for sustainable practices.

“What I feel proud to have been associated with is the transformation of their ideas and enabling sustainable farming to flourish,” Holden explained.

The downturn has hit organic sales in the UK; in 2009, sales fell almost 13%. Holden, however, said a market worth GBP1.8bn (US$2.72bn) was “not to be sneezed at” and was optimistic at the sector seeing a recovery in sales led by the dairy sector.

“There are some exciting signs of a return to growth in the dairy sector. Milk is a primal product and where milk leads other products will follow,” Holden said.

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