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Setting the bar for organic food standards

Setting the bar for organic standards

This week, after a major review, I am delighted that we have launched our updated organic food and farming standards, strengthening their impact for the challenges ahead.

It has been a huge amount of work by our internal team, aided greatly by the independent Standards Board and by the 800 people who responded to our consultations. We are so grateful to all who have helped us with this considerable endeavour.

The Soil Association developed the world’s first organic standards in the 1960s and we’re proud to have some of the highest organic standards in the world. They are are at the heart of our work, as a key way to put our principles into practice. They help us prove that it’s possible to produce high quality food within a system which puts values such as animal welfare, human health, soils and the natural environment at its core.

We have higher standards because we want to drive change in food and farming. The Soil Association developed standards on livestock, wine production and fish farming long before they became enshrined in EU organic production law, paving the way for change on a continental level. In reviewing our standards, we have ensured that they are based on strong evidence, so that where we are asking producers to go the extra mile, it is for a good reason.

There is much fantastic work being done by organic farmers, growers and food businesses across the UK, and by working to our standards they can deliver even more for human health and the natural world, by helping us to prove the benefits of organic systems in the UK and setting a leading example worldwide.

Our new standards

Our revised standards have a new practical format that will make it more straightforward for Soil Association certified businesses to understand what they need to do to meet our standards, and why.

And we haven’t just updated our current standards in line with regulatory changes and the latest evidence, we’ve also introduced some new higher standards where it is clear that this will make an even bigger difference to our natural world, the quality of life for farm animals and the organic food we eat.

Here are just a few of the things our new standards will do:

  1. Deliver the highest levels of animal welfare on farm

For example, by requiring that chickens and other poultry birds have natural shelter on at least 5% of their range. Providing natural shelter, particularly trees, is an effective way to encourage birds to range further and express their natural roosting behaviours. Increasing the number of trees and hedgerows is also vital to improving the health of our soils and fighting the worst effects of climate change. It’s a win-win for animal welfare and the environment.

This new standard will come into effect from 2020 to give farmers enough time to plant trees and bushes or adapt their environments if they need to. 

  1. Protect human health

Soil Association standards ban the routine use of antibiotics for farm animals; good husbandry and high welfare conditions should prevent disease so that antibiotics are needed infrequently.

Britain has made significant advances in antibiotic reduction and animal welfare in recent years, but with the threat of resistance to antibiotics growing, putting pressure on our health care systems, we need to further reduce the use of critically important antibiotics.

The antibiotic Colistin is used in human medicine as a last resort to treat infection. We cannot afford to develop resistance to it, so we don’t think there’s a case for it being used on farms and have banned its use entirely.

  1. Safeguard animal welfare at slaughter

From now on, we will explicitly require CCTV in all licensed abattoirs in the UK, including outside England where CCTV is already a legislative requirement. This will not only provide further assurance that welfare regulations are being adhered to across the UK, but that staff are well trained, and the abattoir environment is managed in a way that minimises any stress.

  1. Increase protection from toxic packaging

We are banning the intentional use of Bisphenol A (BPA) and other Bisphenols in packaging, containers or any other food contact material. Evidence is emerging that BPA has endocrine-disrupting properties and toxic effects on human reproduction – not something we want from a tin can! Find out more about our wider approach to plastics and packaging here.

I have been farming for 33 years and during that time I’ve visited hundreds of farms. Believe me – no two are ever the same! So, as well as providing you with the confidence that your food has been produced in a way that cares for our natural world, our standards will also allow producers more freedom to innovate, to meet our standards in the best way for them, their farm and their animals.

We hope our updated standards will inspire even more farmers and food businesses to start the journey to becoming organically certified, so that together we can build a greener, healthier food and farming future – with more wonderful organic produce available for us all to enjoy. 

Find out more about Soil Association organic standards