Miliband angers organic farmers

Organic farmers in the North hit back yesterday at environment minister David Miliband, after he claimed their produce was no better than mass-produced food.

David Miliband

Organic farmers in the North hit back yesterday at environment minister David Miliband, after he claimed their produce was no better than mass-produced food.

The South Shields MP and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs described organic produce as "a lifestyle choice".

And he also said that food grown with the use of pesticides and other chemicals should not be seen as second-best.

Asked about the benefits claimed for organic food, Mr Miliband said yesterday: "It's a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn't any conclusive evidence either way.

"It's only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I would not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it's not organic."

But his views have outraged some of the region's most respected producers.

Bellingham farmer Colin Anderson, who raises organic livestock, is now challenging Mr Miliband to visit him and experience the difference for himself.

In November he hosted a Royal Visit at Dunterley Farm, where he was highly praised by Prince Charles for his efforts.

And speaking last night, Mr Anderson said: "We challenge David Miliband to come to our farm - he can see what we do and actually taste what we produce.

"Organic farming reduces exposure to chemicals used in sprays and fertilisers, some which have been linked to asthma and even cancer. Our animals are reared humanely, allowed to forage in natural pastures and no chemicals, pesticides or GM are used. Customers tell us they really can taste the difference.

"We don't want to put other farmers down - the British farmer does a cracking job - but we are proud of what we do and what we produce. I can't understand where the man is coming from."

Ian Sutherland, whose family has run a small organic farm at Rock Midstead near Alnwick for the last 40 years, accused Mr Miliband of "huge generalisation" on green produce.

He said: "It's very unfortunate that he has come out with this. He's missing the point in a very big way. The real difference with organic farming is the way things are produced. It's a lot more environmentally friendly, also in terms of animal welfare and for wildlife.

"In some sectors there is also a huge improvement in the quality of produce, especially organic poultry and pork, eggs and milk.

"The minister is making a huge generalisation, which is very unfortunate."

NFU county chairman for Northumberland, Ponteland organic farmer Carron Craighead, said: "It's not a lifestyle choice, its a health choice.

"Many people who are suffering from serious illness are advised by their doctors to switch to organic because of the absence of residual chemicals.

"We stand by the quality of our produce, but organic farming is still a niche market and there's no conflict with conventional farmers. Mr Miliband needs to justify his comments with facts."

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