Sales of organic food in the UK rose in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, after a another fall during 2012.

According to a report released by the UK certification body The Soil Association, sales of organic products fell by 1.5% during 2012 to GBP1.64bn (US$2.78bn) as consumers looked to reduce household expenditure.

“In the worst economic downturn in living memory, it’s not surprising to find subdued sales of a wide variety of goods and services – and the UK organic sector is not immune to these,” Soil Association business development director Jim Twine said.

The decline followed a 3.7% drop in 2011, the Soil Association revealed in its annual report. However, the group rebuffed the possibility the market for organic foods is facing a long-term structural decline, insisting the horsemeat saga has had a positive impact on the sector.

According to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, total supermarket organic sales rose 8.4% in February from January’s levels.

“Total supermarket organic sales increased to their highest level in nine months indicating consumers choosing to buy organic as a guarantee of integrity,” the association said.

The Soil Association added the UK organic sector is experiencing sluggish growth compared to sales on continental Europe, with were up 25% since the onset of the economic downturn in 2008. The industry body called on the UK government to take a more active approach to promoting the organic sector.

“Our government has much to learn from its European counterparts who back the organic sector strongly through a combination of environmentally based producer support, firm targets for public-sector procurement of organic and investment in promoting organic products,” the report said.