Organic food producers are relieved to avoid horsegate
NORTH Devon's organic food producers are feeling vindicated as revelations about contaminated meat spread across Europe.
The crisis over traceability is giving them a chance to regain public faith in their style of farming.
They have been suffering a decline in sales in recent years as shoppers snubbed their goods in favour of cheaper but less identifiable meat and veg.
Now they are saying that if anyone can claim to sell products containing "what it says on the tin", it's the organic movement.
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Among the few who have stuck with their beliefs are Tim and Jo Budden at Higher Hacknell Farm, near Burrington, and Dave and Vanessa Ebdon of Marshford Organics at Northam.
Long before "horsegate" the Buddens were producing ready meals like lasagne and cottage pie containing organic meat from their own cattle, selling by mail order and through their colleagues at Marshford Farm.
Vanessa said: "The key thing is that organic farmers are inspected in a way I don't think anyone else is.
"Although environmental health checks the records of non-organic producers part of our authenticity means that inspectors come and follow an audit trail of every product. To my knowledge that doesn't happen on other schemes unless something goes wrong. We do it as a matter of routine."
Jo at Higher Hacknell added: "As a farm that produces our own ready meals, our supply chain is approximately 30 feet – from one side of the farmyard to the other."
"We are proud of the fact that we can trace every pack of mince beef and steakburger back to an individual bullock which has been born, raised and fed on and from Higher Hacknell."
The Soil Association checks the records of each animal's life cycle – how it was reared, what it has eaten, the fields it has grazed, right through to the abattoir (which must also be registered organic and inspected) and then how the meat products are processed, packaged and labelled.
Jo said: "Each one of our recipes has to be approved by the Soil Association which checks that the ingredients are from an authorised organic source.
"I'm very pleased that you can relax knowing where your meat comes from, but I can't say that we are feeling smug about it. The recession has taken it's toll and organic farming has received a lot of knocks lately.
"The economic pressures of such a rigorous and strict farming system has meant that many farmers who converted to organic farming methods a few years ago have now changed back to farming conventionally.
"Our farm is not huge, we don't keep thousands of animals and by having the butchery here on the farm everything that is produced here is fully traceable. But this isn't the way to produce cheap food; when people are faced with two products, seemingly the same, it's hard to choose the more expensive one.
"When I see the price of a supermarket ready made lasagne or burger, I know that it is below the cost of production in my book.
"Our ready made meals do cost a little more but they take time to make, using home made stocks, local organic vegetables and genuine meat.
"The cost of cheap food is that we don't know what we are eating."
Visit www.higherhacknell.co.uk or on the phone 01769 560909.
Churchill Way, Northam, North Devon, EX39 1NS.