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How to make a pig’s ear of organics

A leading member of the Soil Association, which urges consumers to buy locally produced food, is transporting meat hundreds of miles across Europe to produce bacon and sausages.

Helen Browning, the director of food and farming at the charity, which campaigns for and certifies organic produce, sends pig shoulders from Wiltshire to Germany for processing into sausages and imports pork loins from Sweden to make bacon.

The Soil Association’s website endorses a campaign to “Eat Organic, Buy Local” and urges consumers to seek out local produce.

“With a healthily growing local food sector, there are now more opportunities to buy fresh locally grown organic produce. We can all play our part in supporting local organic food by voting with our shopping basket,” it says.

Oliver Walston, a prominent arable farmer who has 2,000 acres near Cambridge, said that Ms Browning was guilty of double standards. “I like organic food and I like Helen Browning. But what sticks in my throat is to hear an organisation say on the one hand ‘eat local’ and on the other hand she can say, ‘our sausages will be made in Germany and our bacon will come from Sweden’.

“Any consumer who listens to the Soil Association saying you should eat local and cut food miles will be amazed about Helen Browning’s produce,” he said.

Ms Browning, who advises the Government on the Sustainable Food and Farming Strategy, is supplied with pigs for sausage meat from farms in Gloucestershire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset. The animals are slaughtered in Gloucester before their frozen shoulders are sent to Nuremberg to be processed and packaged.

Her bacon supplies come from pigs reared near Gothenburg, where they are slaughtered. Their loins are then sent to Suffolk for packaging and sold in Tesco and Sainsbury.

Ms Browning, 45, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Tim Finney, the commercial director of her company, Eastbrook Farm Organic Meats, said that the business was forced to seek pig farms outside Britain last July because of a shortfall in the supply of British organic pigs.

“We found suitable farms in Sweden. We have changed their practices to ensure that they are raised in full accordance with Soil Association guidelines,” he said.

“ Mr Finney added that the company had sent frozen shoulders to Germany since 2002 because the Nuremberg packers preserved meat using a heat process that was not available in Britain. “It meant that the sausages lasted longer, which is vital if you are dedicated to not using preservatives, as we are,” he said. Mr Finney said that Ms Browning was not guilty of hypocrisy. “I have never met anybody who has less inclination towards double standards. She has spent 20 years of her life trying to persuade British people to rear organic produce and set up a business to try and sell it. If she could sell just British products, she would,” he said.

He added that three more British organic pig producers will begin supplying Eastbrook from May 2008.

Lawrence Woodward, director of the Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, which campaigns to tighten organic standards, said: “It is not good that they have to transport the meat out. But they have not been able to find a processor in Britain willing to guarantee the quality they want and to work to their recipes.

“People would be surprised about it and don’t expect it and it is hard to explain. But if you can’t find anyone in the UK, what do you do? The alternative is to go out of business. The lack of facilities for small-scale operators in this country is desperate.”

Full story from the Times

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