Share this article

The Soil Association, the UK organic certification association, is to create “ethical trade” standards that air-freighted organic food must meet to keep its organic status.

From now on, air-freighted organic food will have to meet the Soil Association’s “ethical trade” requirements or the Fairtrade Foundation’s standards. Certification will also be dependent on licensees developing plans to reduce dependence on shipping by air.

The planned changes, reached after four months of consultation, will be subject to further consultation during 2008, and will begin to take effect from January 2009.

When the Soil Association first announced earlier this year that it was looking at changing its rules on air-freighted goods, there was the threat of a complete ban on air-freighted organic goods being sold in the UK.

Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association’s Standards Board, said it was “neither sustainable nor responsible” to encourage poor farmers to become reliant on air freight.

However, she added: “We recognise that building alternative markets that offer the same social and economic benefits as organic exports will take time. Therefore, the Soil Association will be doing all it can to encourage farmers in developing countries to create and build organic markets that do not depend on air freight.”

Although less than 1% of organic imports come to the UK by air, as much as 80% of air freighted organic produce comes from poorer countries. The Soil Association conceded that being able to export fresh organic fruit and vegetables provides significant economic, social and local environmental benefits, often for farmers with otherwise very low carbon footprints.

While organic food accounts for less than 2% of the UK market and air freighted produce only accounts for a tiny proportion of organic food, the announcement by the Soil Association was keenly watched, as the organisation has often set trends in organic monitoring.