Soil Association launches air organics debate part 2

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food, Organic farming

The Soil Association yesterday launched a second round consultation
to decide how to implement its new policy saying organic produce
must only be air-freighted if it meets ethical trade standards.

The new policy was decided on to cut the environmental impact of imports, and now people involved in the whole food supply chain have the opportunity to comment on the implementation of this recommendation and ensure it is practical and fit for purpose. There has been lively debate on this area since last May, when the Soil Association, which certifies 70 per cent of organic food in the UK, published a discussion document on possible approaches to curbing the effects. While carbon emissions is a contradictory side effect of an industry largely driven by green considerations, care must be taken not to damage the livelihoods of farmers who rely on exporting their organic produce. "Organic production is all about sustainability and the balance this implies between social, environmental and economic objectives,"​ said Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association's Standards Board. "By addressing concerns over air freight in our standards, we aim to make it easier for consumers to make informed and sustainable choices, allowing poor farmers in developing countries achieve the social and environmental benefits of organic production along with the economic benefits achieved by selling in developed country markets." Ethical considerations ​The Soil Association's first round consultation lasted four months, and brought together responses from the public, NGOs, industry, government bodies and international agencies. The group now calls for a response before 30 May on the logistics of requiring organic produce to meet the Fairtrade Foundation's standards or the organisation's own Ethical Trade standards to be air-freighted. The latter applies to the whole supply chain and requires fair trading arrangements, ethical employment relationships including fair pay and concrete social and cultural contributions to the local community of society more widely. The Soil Association said: "Being able to demonstrate compliance with Ethical Trade standards offers an effective marketing tool for air freighting businesses in the face of criticism over their carbon footprint." ​Concerns remain on whether such actions could have a negative impact on farmers, despite the ethical considerations. The Soil Association said the UK government had wanted it to leave the situation as it is, quoting Gareth Thomas, trade and development minister, as saying to The Guardian: "We oppose a general ban and we would be pretty worried by a selective ban too as it would penalise the very people it helps. Our view is the Soil Association should leave things as they are." ​However, the Soil Association said it believe is proposal balances both concerns, "ensuring organic produce will only be air freighted if is also delivers real benefits for farmers in developing countries". ​Peter Melchett, policy director, added: "There's no doubt that encouraging organic farming brings very significant environmental and human health benefits for local people - latest UN statistics show a shocking 60m people in developing countries suffer pesticide poisoning incidents each year thanks to non-organic agriculture."Righting misconceptions ​The Soil Association said its proposals had been routinely misreported as being an outright ban on air freight, something the organisation says it has no intention of doing. It also hopes to put right the conception that a large amount of organic food is air imported. Air freight is the fastest growing form of food transport, doubling since 1992 as a result of consumer demand for fresh produce all year round. It can generate 177 times more greenhouse gas than shipping. And around 30 per cent of all organic produce sold in the UK are imported, the majority being exotic produce such as citrus fruit and coffee that cannot be grown here, However, it says only 1 per cent of imported organic food is air freighted. The world organic market has been growing by 20 per cent a year since the early 1990s, as concern has grown about food quality and safety. Typically organic farming uses 26 per cent less energy to produce the same amount of food as non-organic farming, which is dependent on fossil-fuel hungry artificial fertilisers.

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