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Future proofing the Organic Supply Chain

Future proofing the Organic Supply Chain

Yesterday we held a leading event for the UK Organic sector at Triodos Bank in Bristol, to begin to lay the foundations for future proofing and protecting the integrity of organic supply chains.

From consumer trust of organic when they make a purchase, to brands trust in their suppliers and farmers, trust was a consistent theme throughout this event, all the way back to the seed and soil. Research carried out by the Soil Association in September showed that trust remains a key priority for organic consumers, something Soil Association Certification will take a lead in ensuring is maintained.

From fraud to accidental contamination - such as drift and pollution or transportation contamination - speakers explored several potential threats, as well as the need to build stronger relationships along supply chains and work more closely with producers, who may not always get the support they need.

“Certification may be rigorous, but as markets grow and supply chains draw from regions where operators may have less experience, or the control infrastructure may be less sophisticated, risks can emerge” said Sarah Hathway.

Lively discussion continued around how risk might be further managed, not just by certification, but also through building relationships, improving product knowledge, ensuring consistent controls, clear responsibilities, better communication, reviews of supply chains (keeping them short) and identification of risks.

Ben Heron from Pukka Herbs shared his experience of his direct relationships work with organic suppliers and how extra vigilance is sometimes required to deliver a further level of risk management in some countries, to complement certification in ensuring organic integrity and sustainability. Working hand-to-hand with farmers and supplier to educate and support rather than simply switching suppliers where quality issues arise, is part of Pukka’s commitment to supply. Ben concluded that supplier relationships are an essential part of Pukka's quality assurance and a valuable tool in risk mitigation.

Alison Johnson reminded the audience that testing is a tool to assess risk rather than total solution proving or disproving organic status. “There isn't one solution to deal with contamination, it is data fusion”. Don't look for black & white - grey is a useful tool if you ask the right questions” she continued, warning of the dangers of ‘false positives’ in residue testing and urging further consideration of other tests for isotopes and GM - all of which can provide information that supports certification.

Jessi Baker from tech startup, Provenance explained how information technology could also assist in preventing fraud and providing consumers with more information on origin or practices.  "There is no one silver bullet so my part of the jigsaw is the creation of digital passports and the evolution of trust via a new way of working using open-data systems called Blockchains”

Ronald van Marlen argued for an improved measure of trust in organic business culture, whilst presenting Biotrust, a Dutch quality assurance tool which helps collate an additional level of risk information in supply chains. "We simply need people in the supply chain who behave. We cannot create a risk-free food system, so we need to bring ethics and trust back into business, or we risk losing our relevance if we don't stand up for further change."

Soil Association Certification committed to staying ahead of the game.  Martin Sawyer said; "This is just the beginning. Organic has the highest levels of integrity and everyone involved recognises that there are always going to be new and evolving challenges especially as the market starts to grow rapidly”.

It was agreed that opening the debate around the future of trusted supply was key, along with increased use of the tools and facilities available and a willingness among organic businesses to share information on risk. “This isn't a fire-fighting situation” continued Martin, “we are anticipating the challenges the industry will face and the increasing demand from consumer that brands and businesses maintain their hard-earned integrity."

Not only will Soil Association Certification continue to explore where risk tools complement certification, but we will keep businesses updated and informed. Our Supply Chain Challenges and Opportunities report due in September will share further insights around not just integrity, but also efficiency, supply & demand and opportunities for organic via new and emerging routes to market.

If you’d like to find out more about Soil Association Certification’s work in support of organic supply chains, contact our Supply Chain Development Manager, Lee Holdstock.