Friday, 11 March 2011

Ethics in Organic Farming, Stone Walls

As complete contrast to the hilarity at the beginning of the week thanks to the Rhod Gibert programme, yesterday the Farmer & I attended a workshop on Ethics. One would think that such a subject would be incredibly dull & boring but it wasn't at all, it was fascinating and stimulated a lot of very lively debate & discussion.
The workshop entitled 'Ethics; a toolkit for Welsh organic businesses' had been put on by the Organic Centre Wales as part of its BOBL initiative (Better Organic Business Links). We were part of a small group of farmers & growers  & representatives from the Soil Association, OCW & Calon Wen and  the speaker Dr. Tom MacMillan from the Food Ethics Council.
What we were discussing was the role of Ethics in organic farming and the need for understanding the values & principles by which people make decisions in their lives with particular regards to consumerism. There are ethical consumers who go out of their way to buy the 'right thing' which means taking into account how fairly the people who made the product were treated, whether it harmed animals and a number of other issues.
Some interesting statistics from the the IGD (Institute for Grocery Distibution) show that 15% of UK shoppers are 'ethical evangelists' & a further 64% are part-time or aspiring ethical consumers. This is in contrast to just few years ago. Now the 21% of people who have no interest in shopping ethically have become the new niche market.
The 'ethical market' has grown to £6 billion p.a but is still only 3.4% of all food service sales.
When it comes to marketing it has been found that shoppers are willing to pay more for regional products than by making choices on welfare or a fair price for farmers.
Ethics has become a business strategy and value based decision making is all pervasive. The public trusts retail businesses to be ethical and they have a responsibility to be so as do farmers and other food producers.
The question that has to be asked is 'Would your customers still eat your food or buy your product if they knew where it came from?' If you are not sure about the answer there is something wrong. Ethics is a huge subject but in simple terms the  application of  the principles of respect for welfare, autonomy and fairness helps with ethical decision making.
It emerged during the discussions that ethics & sustainability in food production & marketing is becoming more important than organic (about which there is still great ignorance & confusion) and that value for money has become values for money.

Sorry if all that is bit earnest, but is so interesting and important.

Having baked a cake, written blog & cooked lunch I am now off to gather more stones to continue the wall building that is going on around the house and its purlieus (nice word, not often used!). I and my trusty wheel-barrow will trawl up the drive for any stray small boulders that have been pushed to one side by tractors  and will now have a useful life in a wall.
Inevitably Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall' come's to mind, though the walls we are building at the moment are not to keep anyone out, but it is a great poem.

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