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Hands up and a huge apology - Soil Association chief executive attempts to repair damage

3rd Dec 2016 / By Alistair Driver

The Soil Association's chief executive has issued a 'huge apology' over a tweet that suggested conventional farmers were 'abusing' animals.

Helen Browning

In a letter in the Farmers Weekly, Helen Browning admits the organic body 'horribly over-simplified our concerns about animal welfare' and upset a lot of farmers with a Twitter post published in mid-November. 

It claimed: “Millions of animals are abused in pursuit of cheap food, but there is another way.”

The tweet linked to a video and a webpage arguing that “low welfare is still the norm” on non-organic UK farms and urging people to donate to the Soil Association.

The association, a prominent member of an alliance lobbying to reduce antibiotic usage in farming, subsequently apologised for the 'misunderstanding caused by a recent tweet'.

Huge apology 

But in Friday's FW, Mrs Browning goes a step further, issuing an unprecdented apology in response to farmers who she admitted had rightly pointed out animal welfare is 'not a black and white issue of organic good, everyone else bad'.

"We were trying to convey the need for an enriching environment to give a good life to farm animals - but using words such as abuse on Twitter didn't help do this. Hands up and huge apologies."

Mrs Browning goes onto stress how she 'dislikes division, as do most farmers', and would much rather 'negotiate improvements without getting the public involved'. 

So does this signal an entirely new approach from an organisation that has largely sidelined itself from the contructive debate around reducing and refining antibiotic usage on farms through its aggressive and sometimes misleading campaigning on the subject?

Not necessarily. Mrs Browning acknowledges that sometimes this non-confrontational approach is 'impossible' if NGOs want to change public opinion. 

But she adds: "We will take care too, to be as fair and accurate as 140 characters allow."

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