Organic Consumers Association


3 January, Soil Association          

The Soil Association and the Fairtrade Foundation have launched a groundbreaking new pilot project to combine organic and Fairtrade certification which will apply to British and imported foods. The one-year pilot project has been developed to increase the range of organic products that can carry the FAIRTRADE Mark, which is the only independent consumer label that ensures farmers and workers in the developing world a better deal. Fairtrade standards can be applied to a continually expanding list of commodities from developing countries.

The products that qualify as organic and Fairtrade must fall within Fairtrade requirements and the pilot project will speed up the process of developing new products that meet both standards. Under the pilot project, companies selling products from UK farms as well as from developing countries and elsewhere can apply to carry the FAIRTRADE and Soil Association marks. "Many farmers around the world are suffering from prices for their products which do not cover the cost of production, and this is certainly true in the UK. People talk about the food chain in the food industry but in reality it's a fear chain," said Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association. "Everyone involved is frightened of losing out - the buyer of not meeting his profit margin, the packer of being de-listed by the supermarkets, the grower of rejects or being priced out of business. 

Existing trading practices contribute to this problem and this new scheme will help promote the changes needed to ensure a fair return to farmers." "The success of the FAIRTRADE Mark in getting a better deal for producers of major global commodities like coffee, cocoa and bananas has demonstrated that alternative forms of trade are viable. We are keen to extend the benefits of Fairtrade to more producers and to enable consumers to express their preference for Organic Fairtrade products with the confidence that our respective assurance schemes provide," says Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation. "While our priority is to assist producers in the South who suffer most from the problems of world trade, we recognise that many of these problems are shared by farmers in developed countries as well.

This trial with the Soil Association will help us learn how the philosophy and principles of our work can best be applied in the UK context." Both organisations are seeking feedback from businesses throughout the food industry about the pilot project and will assess the scale of demand from consumers. One of the objectives of the trial is to develop a simplified procedure for obtaining the certification required for organic and Fairtrade labels. Under Fairtrade standards, the price paid to farmers must cover the sustainable cost of production, which includes a margin for profit and investment. In addition, buyers should commit to long-term relationships that enable growers to plan future production with confidence.

A commitment to human rights and social justice are already an integral part of the principles which inform organic agriculture and processing, and are recognised as such in international organic standards. For the Fairtrade Foundation, a vision of a more equitable trading system that provides sustainable livelihoods for farmers, workers and their families is at the heart of its work and Fairtrade standards define ways in which producer organisations and their trading partners can realise this. In developing countries, Fairtrade ensures that basic human rights are respected and provides resources to improve basic social facilities such as health and education.  UK businesses applying for the new certificate will have to demonstrate that they are making a real contribution to social, cultural and environmental development.

This can be through projects such as staff training; encouraging public access to farmland; recycling and composting programmes; initiatives designed to improve community relationships, and support for the wider organic movement. It is expected that grapes from South Africa, which could be on sale through major retailers in the next two months, will be the first product which meets both organisations' standards under the trial scheme.

Other products which are expected to be certified as organic and Fairtrade as part of the trial programme include potatoes from the UK, green beans, citrus fruit and grapes from Egypt, and beef, bacon, lamb and pork from the UK.  UK organic milk and other dairy products will be included in the trial if possible. "On the whole, consumers have had no way of knowing when they buy organic food whether the farmer who produced it is getting a fair price, and that the highest standards of social and ethical practices have been followed. Now they will," said Patrick Holden.  "This groundbreaking pilot scheme will enable consumers to use their purchasing power to keep farmers on the land and promote ethical trading practices throughout the food chain." Harriet Lamb said, "Consumers want their food produced in ways that are truly sustainable to people and the environment. This is why it makes sense for the Fairtrade Foundation and the Soil Association to work together through their established assurance schemes so that consumers can trust the claims that are made by companies."

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