I only wish that I could be with you today for the fourth annual seminar organized by the Food and Drink Federation's Organic Manufacturers Liaison Group but, sadly, I can only join you in this somewhat disembodied form! As you all know, this event is taking place during Organic Week, which I understand was initiated by the Soil Association as Organic Harvest Month more than ten years ago and, in its somewhat truncated form, it is now becoming an important means of promoting organic food and farming to a wider public. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved with the organization of this significant event.
My commitment to organic food and farming goes back twenty years when I first endeavoured to put my principles into practice on the farm at Highgrove. Since then I have also developed a food company, Duchy Originals and, through the sales of Duchy products, I am not only trying to enable consumers to use their buying power to support sustainable and organic food production, but also to create a virtuous circle. That is why all the profits are donated to charitable causes, including educational and development projects, such as those run by the Soil Association and the HDRA in the United Kingdom as well as some small-scale sustainable development ventures overseas. Indeed, last year we made our first million pounds for charity which is something of which I am extremely proud.
The development of the organic food market over the last few years has been staggering. It is extraordinary that sales of organic food have now topped £1 billion in the United Kingdom and are predicted to grow by more than £2 million a week. I sense that in the past some of the larger food manufacturers might have been rather sceptical about the potential of the organic market, but with figures like this it is little wonder that more and more of them are responding to demand and recognizing that the consumer is becoming increasingly sophisticated and minding more and more about what they feed themselves and their families. Ultimately, the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for organic food depends on awareness of the benefits, and that in turn is connected to the education of the public. It should never be forgotten that in 1970 the average household in this country spent 25 per cent of its income on food. The equivalent figure today is little more than 10 per cent. This is an astonishing change and I suspect it has much to do with consumers not valuing as much as once they did the food they eat and losing that vital connection with the land and what it produces. But what could be more important than what we put inside ourselves and, more importantly, our children? As the saying goes “we are what we eat”. So I do hope that as companies become more involved with organic production all of you will be prepared to invest in raising people's awareness of the underlying principles behind the organic approach – that is the way to bring not only real and lasting commercial benefits but, more importantly, better health and a more sustainable agricultural system.
And I have no doubt that there are real and currently under-used opportunities to tell the story of food on the label, including information about the farmer, the place of production and the production method. It is only with this information that consumers can make a genuine choice. I am convinced that with even better marketing, and greater transparency and traceability, we will be able to reconnect the consumer with the farmer and the producer and so rebuild a thriving, indigenous food culture in this country.
Finally, I did just want to wish you every possible success with the seminar. I hope that it will yield lasting benefits, building a stronger future for the development of the organic market in this country.