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
Are you interested in innovation and trying new techniques? Do you perform your own on-farm trials or develop novel solutions to practical problems? If so, you might be eligible to take part in the Innovative Farmers programme.
Part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme and funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, the scheme aims to bring together and support farmers who want to test the latest thinking on their farm. The network is backed by a team from LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), Innovation for Agriculture, the Organic Research Centre and the Soil Association, and supported by Waitrose.
It works by bringing together groups of farmers with researchers from top agricultural institutions in practical ‘field labs’. This means you can get reliable results and practical solutions to the challenges your business is facing. Over the last three years 750 farmers and growers have been involved in 35 different field labs covering topics from antibiotic use in dairy cattle to controlling blackgrass.
Half the farmers who have taken part say they have made changes to their farming practices as a result of being involved in the field labs, with nine out of ten saying they learned something from the experience.
Membership of the scheme costs £240 plus VAT per year, although sponsorship of up to £2,000 may be available for groups of up to 24 farmers. Participating groups can get up to £10,000 research funding per field lab.
The scheme can match farmers and growers with the necessary expertise and interest to set up a new field lab, or put them in touch with an appropriate existing one. For more information on the scheme, visit: www.innovativefarmers.org
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.”
The Soil Association has begun the New Year with the launch of the new BOOM Awards (Best of Organic Market) celebrating great taste, exceptional quality, innovation and creativity in organic products and places to eat. The awards open for entries on Tuesday 5th January 2016, with the presentation ceremony taking place on 11th May 2016.
Clare McDermott, business development director of Soil Association Certification said; “We’re really excited to launch our new BOOM Awards – we’re going to make some noise for the very best in organic and raise the profile of new and existing organic businesses. With over 1,000 new products licensed with Soil Association Certification in 2015 we know that there is fantastic innovation going on in the organic sector. Coupled with a panel of expert judges and the amazing Anna Jones, this year’s BOOM Awards are naturally worth shouting about!”
According to the Soil Association, growth in the organic market is coming from new consumers who value innovation, creativity and craftsmanship in food production and presentation and says the awards reflect this.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its peer review of glyphosate which is part of the EU renewal process for the chemical.
Crucially it concludes that, ‘Glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential.’
Nick von Westenholz, CEO of the Crop Protection Association commented, “We are pleased to see that EFSA concurs with the numerous health assessments conducted by public authorities on glyphosate over the past 40 years which have all concluded that, when used correctly, it poses no meaningful risk to human health.”
However, the Soil Association slammed the report’s findings. “Given that this review of glyphosate relies almost entirely on industry funded, unpublished studies, it would be unthinkable for the EFSA to come to any conclusion other than that glyphosate is safe to use,” said SA Policy Director Peter Melchett.
According to the latest Soil Association figures, the last year has seen steady growth in organic sales with sector outperforming non-organic products.
The Soil Association also says that the number of new products released with Soil Association Certification shows there is confidence in further growth in the sector.
The figures showed growth in the organic market of +3% in the 52 weeks to 15 August 2015, compared a fall in non-organic sales of -1.2% in the same period. Mike Watkins of Nielsen said, “To me it is clear that brands need to look for growth through new channels and to reach out to developing categories, such as alcoholic drinks, confectionary and snacks, that offer the opportunity to capture their customer and create loyalty. Products should be affordable, accessible and achievable.”
Speaking at the market briefing where the figures were unveiled, Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification said, “The UK’s organic market is looking immensely positive for the future. Brands are releasing new lines and expanding their offerings to respond to food trends and demands.”
Consumer group Which? and the Government Office for Science have published a new report on Food System Challenges.
The report summarises the findings of a project, carried out with additional support from Sciencewise, to understand the public’s priorities for Britain’s future food supply and the wider food system. Group discussions took place in London, Paisley and Cardiff, and while the discussions focused on chicken, meat and wheat, many of the conclusions apply to all food including fresh produce.
One of the main findings was that consumers do not know enough about where their food comes from and have a limited understanding that the food system has an impact on the environment. However, there was an awareness of the environmental and transport issues surrounding out of season produce and attempts to reduce food miles.
One dialogue participant said, “I think we’ve all got responsibility there and if we all do our little bit and come together rather than one blaming the other, it’s easy to blame the manufacturers and say it’s one or the other but I think we should all come together on this.”
Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association commented, “This research shows that people will back food and farming policies that deliver a healthier climate, more wildlife and slimmer waistlines. They want the government to deliver radical improvements in agriculture and diets. Defra’s forthcoming 25 Year Food and Farming Plan must reflect this, by committing to far reaching cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and curbing the use of agricultural chemicals in favour of more climate and wildlife friendly approaches. The plan will also need to help people to eat well and this means less and better meat, more fruit and veg and fewer processed foods.”
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published its latest progress report, which includes an assessment of the effects of climate change in UK farmland.
In particular the report highlighted the risk of erosion to some of the UK’s most productive, but fragile soils, such as the Fens in East Anglia. In particular the authors call on the Government to: ‘Preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital, in order to sustain agriculture productivity in a changing climate, maximise carbon sequestration, and safeguard the economic and amenity benefits the natural environment provides.’ This should include ‘firm measures to preserve the fertility and organic content of important agricultural soils, to achieve the stated goal for all soils to be sustainably managed by 2030.’
Commenting on the report, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said, “This report, highlighting how productive land is at risk, demonstrates the need to retain funding in voluntary initiatives such as Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) to incentivise and support farmers who want to be leaders in protecting soils.”
Trevor Mansfield, head of policy at the Soil Association added, “For the first time, this report highlights the critical red list status of British soils, threatening our climate and future food production. The Soil Association supports the Committee’s call on government to implement measures to protect organic matter in agricultural soils.” He also echoed warnings in the report about the effect that increased maize production could have on soil erosion during adverse weather.
The Soil Association wrote to the reappointed Defra Minister of State, Liz Truss, last month calling on her to establish a long-term plan to protect and improve UK soils.
The organisation also called on her to set a target to increase soil organic matter by 20% over the next 20 years. In her letter, Soil Association Chief Executive Helen Browning said, “As you will know, soils are vital to maintaining and lifting our productive capacity, as a habitat for 25% of all known species and in improving our resilience to climate change. Improving soil health requires a vision and understanding beyond the here and now, and so the start of a new term of office for the Government coinciding with the FAO’s International Year of Soils suggests that there has never been a better opportunity to establish a long term plan to improve our soils.”
As part of its Year of Soils the UN-backed Save Our Soils initiative has launched an ‘I Like Organic’ campaign on Facebook. According to the group, for every ‘like’ that the page receives, €5 from the Save Our Soils initiative will be released, enough to save 500m² of fertile soil.
Campaign founder Volkert Engelsman said: “With every ‘like’, financial support can be provided to help educate and support growers in developing sustainable farming practices and in saving soil fertility through the use of organic techniques.”
The Soil Association and Bridgwater College’s Cannington Centre have teamed up to offer new modules in organic farming and horticulture within the college’s range of undergraduate qualifications.
Cannington’s Head of Land based provision, Jeremy Kerswell, said, “We have seen a growth in the demand for new sustainable farming practices from producers and growers, across our engagement with employers in agriculture and horticultural industries. This exciting partnership is vital to ensuring that the future needs of the industry are met.”
From September 2015, students on the Higher National Certificate in Horticulture will study organic principles and practices as a core module. The college will offer tailored intermediate and advanced level apprenticeships in organic agriculture and horticulture. The college is also developing a new module within the BSc Hons. in Agriculture focusing on organic principles and practices, to run from September 2016.
Both modules will feature speakers from the Soil Association as well as expert organic farmers and growers. The modules will also be available as stand-alone courses for people wanting to develop their knowledge of organic horticulture and agriculture.
Liz Bowles Head of Farming at the Soil Association added, “We are delighted to be working with Cannington to support the introduction of these new modules and qualifications in organic farming. These new qualifications will enable more young people to find out about organic farming practices and how they might apply them within their careers in the land based sector.”