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U.K. Soil Association May Deny Organic Label to Air-Freighted Imported Organic Food


The Soil Association Standard's Board decided at a meeting last night that it will consult on a range of options to tackle the environmental impact of airfreighting organic food.

The board will publish a consultation paper outlining options ranging from labelling produce and carbon offsetting to an outright ban on airfreighting. This outline document will lead to a formal recommendation given to the Soil Association elected council within 12 months. The Soil Association, as an independent certification body, will introduce through its standards whatever measures are deemed appropriate – regardless of any parallel actions taken by the British Government or the European Union.

"There is a strong demand, from the public and many of our licensees, to reduce food miles," said Soil Association director Patrick Holden, speaking from the Soil Association conference in Cardiff. "Although there is very little airfreighting of organic produce, we believe there is an urgent and pressing need to make every contribution to curbing climate change that we can. This is a complex issue though: especially for producers in developing countries where it involves equity and ethical trading issues, and that's why we shall actively engage a wide-range of stakeholders to ensure we get it right.

"The Soil Association, and the organic farming movement, must continue to lead the way on real, practical measures to tackle the impact of food production and distribution on climate change, and work towards a climate friendly food and farming future."

Life-cycle studies for the Government show that, on average, organic farming requires about 15% less energy to produce the same amount of food. Typically organic farming is around 30% more energy efficient, but it is less energy efficient for poultry and glasshouse vegetables. The main reason for its lower energy use is because it uses natural rather than industrial processes, in particular not using energy-intensive fertilisers.[1]

Holden is speaking today at the sold-out Soil Association conference in Cardiff: 'One Planet Agriculture - preparing for a post-peak oil food and farming future' (25 -27 January). Speakers will address the real threats of peak oil and climate change, the urgent need to create climate-friendly food and farming systems, and the crucial role for grassroots, community action.

This Conference will provide every delegate with a practical tool-kit to take action and they will have the opportunity to input their ideas and suggestions into a detailed citizen action manual, to be produced post-conference.

Patrick Holden, will call for urgent, community-based, grassroots action to achieve a post-peak oil, and climate-friendly, food and farming future:

"This Conference is the most important in the Soil Association's 60 year history, confirming the vision of our founders in highlighting the unsustainability of the post-war shift to industrial farming, long before the term sustainability had been coined. But the scale and urgency of the challenge to get farming and food production globally onto a sustainable, climate-friendly footing is greater than those organic pioneers could have envisaged. Individual, grassroots action is at the heart of our Conference agenda, neither the Soil Association, the public or the planet have the appetite or time for more political rhetoric."

Holden will be grilled on this new phase of the Soil Association's work by Jonathan Dimbleby, BBC Radio 4's 'Any Questions?' presenter, and Soil Association president.

Some other conference highlights include:

Leading experts on peak oil and climate change Colin Campbell (founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil), Jeremy Leggett (author of Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisisand CEO of Solar Century), Richard Heinberg (author of The Party's Over, Powderdown, and his latest book, The Oil Depletion Protocol),Rob Hopkins and other speakers, have prioritised this Conference as a key platform to raise awareness and build momentum for action.

Climate-friendly food and farming The Soil Association's policy director, Peter Melchett, will highlight organic farming's ability to deliver climate-friendly food and sustainable agriculture as well as identifying areas for improvement. David Miliband commented in The Guardian paper recently, "Organic farming…in many, but not all cases, produces fewer greenhouse gases."

Life after oil for our cities? Urban areas are likely to be hit hardest by the gathering energy crisis. Supermarkets' 'just in time', long-distance food distribution networks are vulnerable to disruption (The fuel protests of 2000 brought London to within three days of running out of food). More diverse, regional and local food networks offer greater resilience to rising energy costs and reduced oil availability. At last year's Soil Association Conference, Mayor of London, Ken Livingston called for London, "To set a standard for other cities around the world to follow in reducing its own contribution to climate change. How we deal with food will play an important role in this."


The Soil Association would like to thank their Conference sponsors: The Countryside Council for Wales, Ecover, Triodos Bank, Welsh Assembly Government, Yeo Valley Organic and Rachel's Organic.

[1] Williams, A.G., Audsley, E. and Sandars, D.L. (2006) Determining the environmental burdens and resource use in the production of agricultural and horticultural commodities. Main Report. Defra Research Project IS0205. Bedford: Cranfield University and Defra. Available on, and

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