Soil Association mulls over ban on organics by air

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soil association, Organic food

The UK's Soil Association is to publish a consultation document
this week that suggests a ban on labelling produce flown into the
country as organic - a move that could compound the existing
shortage of organic supplies.

The Soil Association, which oversees food with organic credentials in the UK, is seeking approaches to reduce carbon emissions caused by organic produce being flow into the UK - a rather embarrassing side effect of the organic cause, which is largely driven by green interests. A large proportion of organic food sold in UK supermarkets is imported (over 30 per cent according to some estimates), since there is a shortfall in organic produce being grown in the country. On Friday, Organic Monitor analyst Amarjit Sahota told FoodNavigator.com that shortage of organic produce could curb development of the market in general, especially given the growing demand. Organic Monitor estimates that the UK organic food & drink market grew by an impressive 25 per cent last year to be worth £1.97bn (c €2.9bn). The shortage has already caused problems for retailers, as well as food manufacturers seeking to develop products to meet demand. For instance, the first Whole Foods Market superstore is finally opening next week after nine months of delays caused by supply issues. Sainsbury's has resorted to selling 'transitional organic' milk, as it cannot source enough organic milk from the UK. Tesco and Asda have sought to get around the problem by sourcing dairy from mainland Europe, according to Sahota. An outright ban on air-freighted organics is not the only course of action being considered by the Soil Association. It is also looking at the possibility of labelling organic food products with the number of air miles they have travelled, or a programme whereby the carbon produced by flying is off-set. The consultation document follows comments made by Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association director, at its annual conference in January. "We believe there is an urgent and pressing need to make every contribution to curbing climate change that we can,"​ he said. "This is a complex issue though: especially for producers in developing countries where it involves equity and ethical trading issues, and that's why we shall actively engage a wide-range of stakeholders to ensure we get it right." ​The association will be speaking with registered organic producers in the UK and overseas, supermarkets and other stakeholders about the proposals. In particular there are concerns that if a ban on flow-in organic food were to be put in place, it would have a serious effect on the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries. In the absence of infrastructure, air-freighting is instrumental in helping them get their produce to market. The full consultation document has not been seen by FoodNavigator.com and a Soil Association spokesperson could not be reached for comment prior to publication because of the public holiday in the UK.

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