The Soil Association has hit out at its critics and defended proposals to include "food miles" on the labels of organic foods flown into the UK.

The UK's Department for International Development and local retailer The Co-operative Group have been among the critics of the Soil Association's plans, arguing that the plans could threaten the livelihoods of African farmers.

The Soil Association has insisted it does not want to ban organic foods flown into the UK but wants to encourage consumers to buy low-carbon goods by including carbon-dioxide emissions on labels.

A spokesperson for the UK organic certification group told just-food that labelling airfreight would not necessarily disadvantage Third-World producers who have no alternative but to fly their products to the UK.

"Our position as it stands is that airfreight could be certified as fairtrade or ethical trade. A lot of produce that is flown into the UK is connected with social initiatives, and labelling these foods could highlight the ethical programmes linked to the product," the spokesperson said.

However, the spokesperson added: "We have also said that businesses should have a plan to reduce the amount of goods that are shipped by airfreight, where possible. We do recognise that this is not always feasible."

The Soil Association highlighted that it is currently in a consultation process started due to consumer concern and confusion over carbon emissions.

"We welcome comments from all stakeholders," the spokesperson said. "These criticisms are valid and what we now have to do is take them on board and come to a final decision."