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April 23, 2008

UK: Soil Association faces flak over air-freight labels

The UK’s organic watchdog, the Soil Association, has faced heavy criticism over proposals to include details of food miles in its labelling system.

The UK government has attacked The Soil Association over the organic body’s proposals to include details of the “food miles” of air-freighted goods in its proposed labelling scheme.

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.

The organic certification body, however, has flown straight into row over its proposals.

The UK’s Department for International Development told just-food today (23 April) that it was concerned the labelling system could hit African farmers produced goods for export to the UK.

“In our view, were the Soil Association to push ahead with these changes it could certainly have a negative effect on the livelihoods of thousands of African farmers,” a spokesperson said.

UK retailer the Co-operative Group accused the Soil Association of failing to take a holistic approach on the issue.

“We think you should look at a products total carbon footprint,” a spokesperson said. “As a classic example, roses grown in Africa have a smaller carbon footprint than those grown here, even talking into account aviation pollution, because of the methods used to grow them and the type of fertilisers used. It is a mistake to demonise airfreight because it is a more complex picture than that.”

The Co-op was also eager to highlight the impact such a move could have on third-world farmers. “It is wrong to look at the environment in isolation – or indeed Fairtrade in isolation. We have to use joined-up-thinking, and consider both the environmental and social implications of products,” the spokesperson added.

For its part, the Soil Association claims the new labelling system would encourage higher ethical standards.

“Organic production is all about sustainability and the balance this implies between social, environmental and economic objectives,” said Anna Bradley, chair of the organisation’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.”

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