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PEI - A Backwater In a World Going Organic
April 2, 2001

Sometimes it feels like we live in a time warp here on PEI. There are advantages to this - less violent crime and a slower pace of life. The downside is things are slow to change and information about what's happening in the rest of the world, even in the information age, is slow to percolate down to the ordinary person. Government and industry work side by side to pump out a never-ending stream of propaganda about the wonderfully healthy food we grow on PEI, and how we need pesticides to grow it.

"Slick TV and radio ads are designed to con the gullible into believing PEI food is grown by Farmer Jones... What's missing ...are dead fish, parents running for cover with their kids when the sprayers come, convulsing poisoned birds, children in cancer wards and the stench of pesticides in the air."

Last fall, at the UPEI forum on the State of the PEI environment, I sat on a panel with Minister of Agriculture Mitch Murphy. He had the nerve to stand up in a room packed to the rafters and tell people that we need pesticides, that the benefits out-weigh the risks. This was the same line he gave us last summer after the all fishkills.

Now the province has concocted a crazy ad campaign to 'brand' Canadian and American 'consumers' with PEI food. Slick TV and radio ads are designed to con the gullible into believing PEI food is grown by Farmer Jones in overalls and a straw hat - no factory farms here. What's missing from this picture are dead fish, parents running for cover with their kids when the sprayers come, convulsing poisoned birds, children in cancer wards and the stench of pesticides in the air.

"PEI children are the most pesticide exposed in Canada. If blood and urine samples were taken from children during spray season, the results would be terrifying"

What follows is a little glimpse into the outside world - news clippings about a world going organic. When you read about the amazing things going on in other countries, think about the $24 million in subsidies Canadian taxpayers just shelled out so that PEI potato growers can keep poisoning us. Think about the 773% increase in agricultural pesticide sales on PEI from 1982 to 1999 and RAGE!

PEI children are the most pesticide exposed in Canada. If blood and urine samples were taken from children during spray season, the results would be terrifying.

There is no need for the poisoning to continue. There are only 395,000 acres of cropland on all of PEI. This is exactly the number of acres in organic production in England, and close to Finland's organic acreage. Saskatchewan will have 700,000 acres of organically farmed land this year. Islanders are being ripped off and lied to by the Binns government. Pesticides are not needed to grow food and all subsidies to pesticide-spraying growers, not in the process of converting to organic, should end.

Clippings from various sources:

(December 2000) England's growing organic sector receives a boost from the New Year when more funds become available to encourage farmers to convert. Around £13m will become available for new organic farmers as part of a £140m seven year programme to expand the sector. The injection of funds could increase the sector by up to a fifth over the coming year. A further £5m will go this year to farmers who are already signed up to the scheme. Under the Organic Farming Scheme's first round, 1270 farmers were allocated £30m over five years to assist their move to organic production: three times more than in the previous five years put together. The latest figures suggest that the organic acreage in England is 395,000 acres or 1.7 per cent of agricultural land.

Countryside Minister Elliot Morley said: "We believe firmly in consumer choice and we want to see that consumers are able to buy organic produce if they wish to. We also want to capture the environmental benefits which organic farming can provide. 1270 farmers are already benefiting from aid under the Organic Farming Scheme and we aim to build on that success by bringing much more land into organic production."

(June 2000) A reliable supply of quality UK grown organic fruit at reasonable prices will be available in around five years time if a major research programme by Horticulture Research International proves successful. The work is backed by a recent £2.26 million award from the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a new European Centre of Excellence for both organic fruit research and hardy nursery stock in the heart of the apple-growing Kent countryside.

(October 2000) New research claims that over 16,000 new jobs could be created if the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill became law. At a time of a depression in the agriculture sector, research suggests that conversion to organic farming results in an employment increase on farms of between 10% and 30%, as organic farms are characterized by less external inputs and more on farm activities, thereby creating a greater demand for labour.

The Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill is backed by over 200 MPs and 100 organisations and aims to ensure that:

  • a strategy is put in place for the organic sector;
  • 30% of agricultural land in England and Wales is organic by 2010;
  • 20% of the food marketed in England and Wales is organic by 2010 (i.e. that sufficient marketing and processing infrastructure is in place for the increased organic food to reach the consumer);
  • organic food becomes more affordable to more people.
(March 2001) Sales of organic food in the UK grew by a record 55 per cent in the year to April 2000, according to the Organic Food and Farming Report 2000, published today.

"The organic market topped £600 million in 1999-2000, and our new report shows not only that more people are buying organic but they are buying more frequently and spending more when they buy," says Patrick Holden, the Soil Association's Director

(July 2000) Iceland Frozen Foods is to convert its entire ice cream range organic within the next 12 months. Iceland sells over 13 percent of ice cream in the UK. Its standard ice cream tubs will be produced by Cheshire-based Harvest House Foods, a company formed by farmers, Jonathon Middlemiss and Tom Fell, who developed Iceland's first organic ice cream last year. The new contract has enabled the two to invest £1.5 million to build a dedicated organic ice cream processing factory at their Tattenhall Dairy, producing seven ice cream flavours and creating 30 new jobs.

There are around 100 organic dairy farmers in the UK and Iceland is seeking to talk to them about supply. The vast majority of milk from these farmers currently supplies the liquid milk market, therefore, there is insufficient double cream available. Because of this lack of availability, Harvest House can only source a third of its organic cream requirements from this country and has to import the other two thirds of its cream requirements from Austria. Russell Ford, Iceland's managing director, said: "Our aim is to source ingredients from UK farmers but there just isn't enough organic cream in this country to satisfy our requirements. We are now working together to talk to UK dairy farmers about supply."

Farmer Jonathan Middlemiss said: "Our contract with Iceland means that a new market for organic products is being created, which will give dairy farmers a real incentive to convert to organic. We are now working in partnership with Iceland and the NFU to share advice and give support to UK dairy farmers about organic conversion and supply."

(August 2000) SAC's Craibstone Farm in Aberdeenshire has become the first producer of wholesale, commercial organic milk in Scotland. Now the 2000 litres of organic milk produced each day at Craibstone is being sold to OMSCO (the Organic Milk Supply Company) for onward distribution to retailers and dairy product manufacturers. For the first time manufacturers of organic products in Scotland can buy home-produced supplies of organic milk.

Glasgoforest Farm, a near neighbour, achieved organic status simultaneously with Craibstone and is also supplying its organically-produced milk to OMSCO.

(November 2000) The switch to organic farming is increasingly being seen as a viable, mainstream alternative to conventional agriculture and will afford significant opportunities for the Northern Ireland farming community, according to Brid Rodgers, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Brid Rodgers said: "One way of catering for the increasing demand of consumers is to consider moving to organic production. That is why I have made provision within the Northern Ireland Rural Development Regulation Plan to boost significantly the resources available under the Organic Farming Scheme. This will support up to 1,000 farmers during their conversion to organic production methods over the next 6 years."

"I have also commissioned a strategic study to identify the nature and scale of the opportunities that are open to the Northern Ireland organic sector. The study will aim to produce a development plan to enable farmers to realize its potential."

(March 2001) Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast has promised Germany will turn increasingly to natural farming methods, even though it will add to the costs the sector already faces because of the mad cow crisis. Kuenast was cited as saying late Friday that Berlin hopes to increase the amount of German land being farmed organically -- without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers -- from 2.4 percent to 20 percent over the next 10 years.

From 2002 to 2005, the government would invest 250 million euros (218 million dollars) in organic farming, she added during a speech in Berlin. But she kept to her tough line regarding Germany's regional governments, which have called for extra federal aid to cope with the mad cow crisis, which has, the story says, been blamed on intensive, industrial methods, stating, "It is not for the consumers or the taxpayers to take on 100 percent of the consequences of bad agricultural policy."

(October 2000) Plenty of organic products are now available in Finnish grocery shops, especially supermarkets and hypermarkets. The supply of organic dairy products, flours and breads has expanded. Organic meat is difficult to find. Organic tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and onions are easiest to find in shops. Organic dairy products are easy to find throughout the country. Organic milk was available at nearly every shop in the survey. Organic eggs were available in 75% of shops. Different types of organic bread were easy to find in shops. Bona and Elo-Eväs organic baby foods were available in shops. Organic coffee has established its place in grocery shops. Different types of organic teas were available in 20-bag packages.

(August 2000) Finland has one of the highest percentages of land area under organic farming at 6.4% in the year 2000, totalling 351,000 acres. The current volume of processed organic products is small and is mainly soft liquorice and bread (crispy dry and frozen). In 2000 Finland will also export certified organic wild berries and jams.

The domestic organic food market is developing rapidly (30-40% per year) but is still only about 1% of the Finnish food market.

As primary production is growing in most countries it is estimated that the European organic market will grow by 30-40% each year to average a 5-6% market share in 2006. The same trend is seen in North America and Japan but an even more severe undersupply is expected in those countries if organic subsidies are not introduced. It is estimated that organic food exports from Finland could reach 100 million Euro by 2006, equalling 10% of the Finnish food exports.

(September 2000) A recent survey of 1000 Australian consumers shows that over half of all Australians are prepared to pay more for organic food. ****
(June 2000) A State Government program to position Queensland to secure its share of the world organic food market, estimated to be worth $150 billion within five years, focused on Brisbane today.

"The State Government believes Queensland is very well-positioned to become a major supplier of organic food to both domestic and international markets," Primary Industries and Rural Communities Minister Palaszczuk said. "Already our organic producers are making in-roads into export markets, including Queensland organic beef being sold in Japanese supermarkets. Australian organic production is valued at about $250 million. There are significant opportunities for Queensland producers to explore and the State Government is offering its support."

(September 2000) A recent survey shows that around 70 per cent of farmers in this country believe the future of farming lies with organics.

(June 2000) Nikken Foods Ltd, a large Japanese health food company, has recently brought a farm and an old school in South Island, New Zealand, to convert to organic production and processing as well as a health and environmental education centre.

"Foreign nations are moving their business to New Zealand as they clearly see the merits in producing organic food in a country with a clean, green reputation," said Green Party's Mr Ewen-Street. "The appeal is also because to date New Zealand is free of genetic engineering and this holds massive appeal to organic producers."

Mr. Ewen-Street congratulated Nikken Foods for setting up a 'showcase organic farm' near Oamaru and said the company's investment in the area would be good news for the regional economy.

"Companies like Nikken are the tip of the iceberg and there is no way they would be choosing to come here if we had fields full of genetically engineered corn, wheat, soy or rape," he claimed.

"Seventy per cent of New Zealanders know our future lies in organics, 70 per cent of those who produce our crops know it too," Ewan-Street continued.

(November 2000) The Horizon Organic Dairy, Farm and Education Center was opened on Saturday, October 14, 2000, after a year-long period of construction and restoration. The centre, located in Maryland, is the most extensive organic learning facility in the United States.

The 875-acre farm features interactive exhibits, cow milking demonstrations, product tasting and an opportunity for visitors to meet the animals. The Center will also host ongoing events, entertainment and seminars. Tens of thousands of local schoolchildren and their teachers will tour the facility in its first year.

According to Jan Stanton, Education Center manager, "The goal of the facility is to create an experience that educates children and adults, and is a lot of fun at the same time." Kids can try their hand at crop rotation, choose which bugs are good or bad for the farm, even crawl through a "worm tunnel" and experience a day in the life of a healthy, happy cow. "Visitors will explore the natural balance achieved by raising plants and animals without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or antibiotics," Stanton says.

Exhibits at the Center address local environmental issues, such as the impact of farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

(December 2000) Organic food production is exploding in Saskatchewan. In 1996, there were 380 certified organic growers in the province and 241,000 certified organic acres. Three years later there were 590 fully certified producers and 240 in the process of transition. It is expected that organic acreage will top 700,000 next year, which would give Saskatchewan the highest percentage of organic cultivated acres anywhere in the world.

Saskatchewan has the fastest rate of adoption of organic farming in Canada. Beckie, who recently completed a dissertation on organic and zero-till farming in Saskatchewan, outlined the economic reasons for the rapid expansion of the organic sector at a time when agriculture is in decline:

  • Organic farmer's input costs are about 20-60 per cent lower than those on conventional farms.
  • Organic farmers receive prices 30 per cent to 300 per cent above those received by conventional farmers. A big market is the European Union, where organic food represents four per cent of the total food market.
  • Organic farming is ``scale-neutral,'' meaning it can be done on a large or small scale. Beckie says that a smaller-scale organic farm growing high-value specialty crops, and with additional diversification in processing and marketing, can generate the same or a higher gross income than a large-scale conventional grain farm.
  • Organic farms usually support greater income stability than other farms, reducing risks associated with crop failure or rapid shifts in market trends. And organic farmers can utilize their time in ways that allow them to diversify into processing and marketing.