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Consumers Push UK Supermarkets to Buy More Domestically Produced Organic Food

50 Connect - UK

The Organic Movement

Which supermarkets are buying British organic produce?

A new survey by the Soil Association shows that Britain's leading supermarkets are buying more organic food from UK farmers, but Asda, Morrisons and Tesco are all shunning UK beef and pork producers in favour of cheaper imports.

The survey, conducted in November 2004 and published in April 2005, found that only a fifth of fresh organic pork available in Asda and Morrisons was from UK farms. On average, 95 per cent 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. 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. This is the second year that the Soil Association has undertaken this survey.

Overall, the amount of organic food sourced from UK farmers rose significantly, from 72 per cent in 2003 to 76 per cent in 2004, for the eight products surveyed. But, as with last year¹s findings, the results also show a mixed picture, with significant variations between products, and retailers.

Last year¹s survey highlighted onions as a real issue and the supermarkets have listened: the amount of UK organic onions was nearly 20 per cent higher this year than last. Last year only 38 per cent of organic onions were from the UK and this has now risen to 55 per cent. Significant improvements have been made by Waitrose, Tesco and the Co-op.

Supermarkets have listened on potatoes too, with Marks & Spencer increasing the level of UK organic potatoes from 58 per cent to 82 per cent. Nearly all of Asda¹s organic potatoes (94 per cent) are now from the UK, a marked improvement on their previous 74 per cent. The Co-op has shot to the top of the league with a 100 per cent record in potatoes, compared to 87 per cent in last year¹s survey.

On the other hand, imports of organic apples have increased by 5 per cent. 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 per cent 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 Sainsbury¹s 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 per cent UK sourcing across the eight products. It is also alone among the major retailers in selling both chicken and eggs produced to the Soil Association¹s higher animal welfare standards.

Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director said, "It is unacceptable for staple food to be imported when it is in season in the UK, and in plentiful supply". 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 per cent 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.

"Buying British organic food supports British farmers, guarantees the highest standards of animal welfare and helps British wildlife thrive. It also cuts down unnecessary food miles, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions."

The Government has set a target for 70 per cent of in-season organic food to be sourced from the UK by 2010 as part of the Organic Action Plan, which was launched by the Government in 2002. Although some supermarkets are meeting or exceeding this target for some products, the Soil Association is particularly concerned about the high levels of imported pork, apples and beef.

Although imported pork must meet minimum European Union organic standards by law, UK organic standards are higher than some European countries. In some countries there are no requirements for organic pigs to have access to grass and live free range while they are growing: pigs may only have access to an outdoor concrete run. Organic pigs reared in the UK live outdoors and have access to fresh, growing grass for most of their lives. Because UK organic pigs live longer and spend more of their lives outdoors, they cost more to produce. The main countries supplying organic pork to the UK are Denmark and Holland.

The supermarkets' unrealistic expectations of cosmetic perfection are a significant factor in the high level of imported organic apples. Even the slightest blemish means that fruit is rejected. Warmer climates help reduce blemishes on apples which is why supermarkets prefer to buy from other

Importing beef long distances from countries like Argentina and Australia creates unnecessary food miles, leading to increased pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Soil Association will discuss the results with individual supermarkets, and will check on progress by repeating the survey later this year.

The best way to support UK organic farmers is to buy from local box schemes, farmers¹ markets, farm shops and independent retailers. For details about local organic outlets, visit or call 0117 914 2446 for information about how to buy a printed copy of the Organic Directory.