UK Supermarkets import a much higher proportion of organic pork than is the case with conventional supplies, according to organic food lobby group the Soil Association.

According to a survey done by the association, a fifth of fresh organic pork available in Asda and Morrisons was from UK farms. On average, 95% of non-organic fresh pork sold is from the UK. Half of the organic beef and pork from Tesco was imported. The beef was mainly from Argentina and Australia and the pork was from Denmark.

In the association’s survey, over 1,200 shoppers around England, Scotland and Wales visited their local supermarkets to find out what percentage of staple organic vegetables and meat on sale were produced in the UK. All these products were in season at the time and readily available from UK organic farmers, the Soil Association said.

This is the second year that the Soil Association has undertaken this survey.

Overall, the amount of organic food sourced from UK farmers rose from 72% in 2003 to 76% in 2004 for the eight products surveyed. But, as with last year’s findings, the results show a mixed picture, with significant variations between products, and retailers.

Last year’s survey highlighted onions as a real issue and the supermarkets have listened, the association said. The amount of UK organic onions was nearly 20% higher this year than last. Last year only 38% of organic onions were from the UK and this has now risen to 55%. Significant improvements have been made by Waitrose, Tesco and the Co-op, it said

There had been increases in the proportion of potatoes from UK sources. Marks & Spencer increased the level of UK organic potatoes from 58% to 82%. Nearly all of Asda’s organic potatoes (94%) compared with their previous 74 per cent. The Co-op has shot to the top of the league with a 100% record in potatoes, compared to 87% in last year’s survey, the association said.

Imports of organic apples have increased by 5%. The Soil Association is urging shoppers to support the major retailers who give preference to homegrown produce. Somerfield had no UK organic apples in stock, and nearly all the apples in Asda, Morrisons and the Co-op were imported. Overall, only a quarter of organic apples on sale were from the UK, with supermarkets choosing fruit from New Zealand, USA and Italy instead.

The Soil Association found that 100% UK sourcing for most products is possible. Most of the organic pork in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose was UK. Nearly all the organic beef in Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s was UK. High levels of home produced chicken, lamb, potatoes and carrots were achieved by most supermarkets. Waitrose achieved the best results overall, with 86% UK sourcing across the eight products. It is also alone among the major retailers in selling both chicken and eggs produced to the Soil Association’s higher animal welfare standards.

“It is unacceptable for staple food to be imported when it is in season in the UK, and in plentiful supply,” said Peter Melchett, the Soil Association’s Policy Director. “Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer are shining examples to the other supermarkets that are still letting down their customers and UK organic farmers by comparison. Tesco accounts for around 30% of all the organic food sold in the UK and their beef and pork buyers could do much more to support organic farmers in this country.”