Speaking to the Financial Times, organic
farmer Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford says that organic produce has yet to
become mainstream and that consumers must get used to paying more.
“I just hate the fact that
the food choices we make have become defining of status and class,” he said.
Supplying around 50,000 boxes of produce a week, Riverford runs the largest
organic box scheme in the UK, with a turnover of almost £60 million last year.
Accepting that his organic produce costs about 30 per cent more than
conventionally-grown vegetables in the supermarkets, he said that consumers
should expect to pay more – as much as double in the case of some organic meat
products. “You have got to expect to pay more,” Guy added, “As anyone would,
certainly in northern Europe. You are paying for it being grown on a small
scale, for the reduced environmental impact: for loads of external costs which
are not considered in our simplistic, neoliberal way of looking at the world.”
The Soil Association
pointed out that in much of Europe organic food is seen as more mainstream,
with many public bodies, such as the city government in Amsterdam and Denmark,
where organic produce is supported by the public sector. Business Development
Director Clare McDermott added that she hoped that recent moves by the London
borough of Tower Hamlets to include 15 per cent organic ingredients in free
school meals could lead to a growth in demand.
Photo Caption: Guy
Singh-Watson says consumers should be prepared to pay more to eat organic
The Soil Association has
revised its organic standards following a major review in 2016, which included
input from the public, farmers, expert advisers and the food industry.
The certification body,
which claims it has the ‘highest UK organic standards’ said the changes would
ensure organic farmers and processors can provide the highest level of
protection for the environment, food and livestock in the most straightforward
way possible. The updated format is also expected to make it more
straightforward for farmers to become certified by the Soil Association.
The updated standards are
now available to preview and will come into effect from spring 2019. Dr
Benjamin Dent, chair of the Soil Association Standards Board, said, “We believe
that the Soil Association’s higher standards are the right standards for
organic food and farming in the UK. This has been an extremely thorough,
evidence-based review. Our expert committees and consultations have ensured the
new standards are practical for our licensees and encourage them to innovate,
and that where we are more demanding than the regulations, that this is
justified in terms of enhanced impacts on animal welfare and the environment.”
Key changes for farmers
include: a number of changes to animal welfare rules, as well as less
repetition and the ‘freedom to innovate.’
Daisy Blackhurst, standards
impact manager for the Soil Association added, “These revised organic standards
mean independent retailers can continue to be assured that when they stock
organic products they are helping to support the highest standards of food and
farming. For their shoppers, it means supporting the things we know they are
concerned about, like protection for the environment, animal welfare and
It has emerged that European countries are divided about the continued approval of copper products for crop protection, after its last extension in January.
Negotiations on the
compounds are ongoing with reports suggesting the European Commission will put
new proposals to member states later this month. However, despite being “of
particular concern to public health or the environment,” according to the
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and being candidates for substitution,
materials such as copper sulphate are still widely used by organic farmers who
say they have now suitable alternatives.
“Considering the information
available in the framework of the confirmatory data, the risk assessment
remains unchanged, and therefore the new information provided does not change
the overall conclusion drawn during the renewal assessment of copper
compounds,” EFSA said recently. There is particular concern about the effects
on vineyard workers in particular.
association Copa Cogeca told journalists, “At this stage, we do not have
concrete and robust solutions, leaving producers in a truly uncomfortable
situation. We would suggest appropriate risk mitigation measures, as considered
by the Commission. These could be considered as a transition, allowing for the
management of all risks while leaving farmers with time to find adequate
The area of organic farmland in the United Kingdom has increased for the first time in more than six years according to the latest Defra statistics.
According to the data, UK’s organic land area rose by almost 2 per cent in 2017 to 517,400ha, including 32,600ha which is currently in conversion from conventional production, with livestock and mixed farming dominating the area of organics.
Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G) chief executive Roger Kerr said, “More shoppers than ever are looking to buy organic food, and with figures showing a 29.4% increase in UK land currently under organic conversion, it suggests more land will become fully organic in the coming years, which is hugely positive for the sector.”
In a recent report the Soil Association said that the number of organic producers and processors continues to increase. Martin Sawyer, chief executive of Soil Association Certification, said: “There is a growth across the organic market for the first time in a decade from field to fork and today’s land statistics are supported by our recent Organic Market Report findings.”
A new study by The National Soil Project at Northeastern University in the United States, in collaboration with the Organic Center, concludes that organic agricultural practices build healthy soils and can be part of the solution in the fight on global warming.
One of the key findings is that on average, organic farms have 44% higher levels of humic acid (the component of soil that sequesters carbon over the long term) than soils which are not managed organically.
The Organic Center contacted organic farmers who acted as “citizen scientists” to collect organic soil samples from throughout the country to compare with the conventional soil samples already in the National Soil Project’s data set. Altogether, the study measured 659 organic soil samples from 39 states and 728 conventional soil samples from all 48 contiguous states. It found that that all the components of humic substances were higher in organic than in conventional soils.
“This study is truly groundbreaking,” said Dr Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center. “We don’t just look at total soil organic carbon, but also the components of soil that have stable pools of carbon – humic substances, which gives us a much more accurate and precise view of the stable, long-term storage of carbon in the soils.”
A new European association for traders and processors of organics has been formed. The Organic Processing and Trade Association (OPTA) was inaugurated in Milan, Italy on 7 June with five initial board members from four countries.
“The goal of our association is to empower the progress of organic food and farming in Europe in close cooperation with our customers, the organic farmers and other parts of the organic chain,” explained Volkert Engelsman, general manager of Eosta, one of the new members of the board. “The organic food and agricultural system with its strong values is best equipped to lead the transition to a more sustainable food system. The current system of food production, which is driven by externalising costs, is a dead-end. The OPTA will encourage the sustainable innovation and quality development of organic products, based on the principles of the organic movement: ecology, health, care and fairness. We need a powerful supply chain with active processors and trade companies to build a future-proof food and agricultural system in Europe.”
The new organisation, which has 15 founding members, says that it will work closely with existing national and European lobby organisations, as well as the European branch of the international organic umbrella organisation IFOAM.
According to the BBC, organic farmer Martin Godfrey has lobbied Tesco to remove a photograph of him after revealing he had never supplied the supermarket.
The picture, which was used online and in the supermarket’s magazines to promote what the company is doing on food waste, was taken around 10 years ago when Mr Godfrey worked at Shillingford Organics and acquired as a stock image by an agency.
Tesco has removed the image and offered to donate £1,000 to a local charity. Mr Godfrey, who is a campaigner for the Land Workers’ Alliance called the use of the photograph a “marketing blunder,” but praised the retailer for highlighting the issue of food waste.
A Tesco spokesperson said, “We work tirelessly to support farmers and suppliers and we are sorry for any upset that has been caused.”
The Soil Association has said that it expects the organic market to exceed £2 billion this year thanks to a potential boost from Organic September.
Overall growth of organic products sold through supermarkets in the 52 weeks to 18 June has increased over 5% this year. This year’s Organic September, sponsored by renewable energy company Good Energy, aims to boost this even further.
Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification said, “Despite an uncertain market following Brexit, Soil Association Certification is positive about the future of organic and we expect this year’s Organic September to have an even bigger impact than before. Market growth is already strong and there is a clear demand for organic, environmentally friendly and sustainable purchasing with many young professionals. The UK will still be required to comply with EU organic standards as minimum to maintain the flow of organic products to and from the EU and the Soil Association will continue to influence and improve the marketplace for organic businesses.”
The organisation highlighted organic produce as one of the areas where growth is ‘buoyant,’ but added that organic meat is the star performer. Soil Association Certification also reported an increased interest in conversion to organic farming in the last year.
Mark Haynes, Managing Director at G’s Fresh commented, “It’s clear that there is a growing demand for organic at the moment. Organic September is a great way to focus customers’ attention on organic and link products right through the supply chain, from point of sale to producer. Organic fresh produce is doing very well so we’re really pleased that the Soil Association is continuing to support the whole industry for an added push in September.”
Leading organic producer and box supplier Riverford has unveiled a new logo and branding which it says underlines its passion and expertise in vegetables.
The new look, which will be found across the company and its franchisees on boxes, as well as delivery vans and the company’s website features colourful hand drawn vegetables and a black carrot silhouette. It is also using the tagline and social media hashtag ‘Live Life on the Veg.’. It worked with design agency Big Fish to achieve a look which would tell the Riverford story while engaging with customers.
Riverford’s Brand & Communications Manager, Vitha Powell explained, “We want to show the world we’re mad about – and experts in – veg. We want to put our authority about veg back at the heart of our business and think this new look and refocusing on veg will help us reach as many like-minded people as possible.”
She added, “The carrot is a distinctive, memorable shape that helps us communicate who we are and what we do. We have also changed our name very slightly from Riverford Organic Farms to Riverford Organic Farmers, to celebrate the fact that we are an independent, personal business and farmers at heart.”
The European Commission is due to publish a legislative proposal which will recognise digestate from anaerobic digestion and compost as fertilisers under EU law.
Only mineral fertilisers are currently under the Fertilisers Regulation of EU law meaning they can be freely traded across the EU market, something that it is not possible for organic fertilisers which are subject to diverse national legislation.
This revision aims to create a level playing field between the two sectors and opening up the possibility to trade digestate and compost freely across the EU. It is expected that the regime would run in parallel to existing national legislation on organic fertilisers, offering the possibility to producers to comply with national rules if the product is intended for use within the country’s borders.
The proposal is expected to be formally published by the European Commission at the end of March. Once published it will be formally considered, and may be amended, by the European Parliament and the Council.