Organic Standards Review
Organic Standards Review
The Soil Association has recently completed a review of our organic standards to ensure they are as straightforward, transparent and clear as possible for our licensees to use and for the public to understand. And, most importantly, that what we ask our licensees to do makes a big difference to our natural world, the quality of life for farm animals and the organic food we eat.
As a result of the review, we are launching updates to our standards. This will happen in two phases.
Phase 1 - Harmonised Standards
A first round of updates will be launched on the 25th June 2018. In this phase of the launch, only our farming and growing, food and drink and abattoir and slaughtering standards are affected. The updates to these standards reflect where we have aligned some of our standards with the current EU organic regulation, where the regulation has improved, or other legislation, scientific evidence or good practice has developed.
We hope that by ‘harmonising’ standards with the regulation, where the evidence supports it, we will make certification more straightforward. To complete the guidance and materials that will accompany our full set of revised standards will take a little longer, but we wanted to make sure licensees could benefit from these areas of harmonisation in the meantime.
You can find the revised documents, as well as a ‘guide to the changes’, on our Soil Association Standards pages.
Phase 2 – Full set of revised standards
We will launch our full set of revised standards in a second phase in autumn 2018. These standards will be in a new, more user-friendly format. We believe these standards are the right standards for organic farming and food in the UK. They are backed up by rigorous evidence and wide consultation. We have a strong mandate from the public, farmers and the food industry, who have helped to shape the updated standards and the vision for what they can achieve for the environment, animals and people. We are looking forward to sharing the full set of revised standards with you.
We will announce the launch of our full set of revised standards to licensees as soon as we are able to, through the usual channels of Certification Updates and our website. A suitable lead-in period will be put in place to enable licensees to adapt to any changes. Thank you for your patience.
Why are you launching the standards in two phases?
We are launching the revised standards in two phases because, while we finalise the guidance and materials to support this update, we want licensees to be able to benefit in the meantime from areas where we have ‘harmonised’ standards with the EU organic regulation as a result of the review. We are therefore launching a first set of harmonised standards in June 2018. Licensees will now be able to benefit from changes to the standards which have come into line with the EU organic regulation, because the regulation, or scientific evidence or good practice, has improved.
Are you making it harder or easier for licensees?
The aim of this review has always been to ensure that all our organic standards are clear, impactful and practical. We want to make it more straightforward for licensees to see what they need to do in order to achieve or retain organic status.
In June 2018 licensees will be able to benefit immediately from changes to the standards which have come into line with the EU organic regulation, because the regulation, or scientific evidence or good practice, has improved.
Why does this new standards document look the same as the current standards? I thought you were making the standards more user-friendly?
When we launch the full set of revised standards later in 2018, they will be in a new user-friendly format. This format will be much easier to navigate than our current standards documents. It will clearly indicate which of the standards are part of the EU organic regulation, and which are Soil Association higher standards. It will include practical guidance to help our licensees meet the standards, as well as the rationale behind why we have higher standards on certain subjects. We will also slim down the standards document by avoiding repetition. This new format will be launched in autumn 2018.
For now, the harmonised standards are being launched in the same format as our current standards. This is so that licensees can benefit more immediately from changes to our standards which have come into line with the EU organic regulation. Thank you for your patience.
Can you give me an example of an area where previous higher standards are no longer needed and why?
A good example is withdrawal periods for veterinary medication. Our previous higher standard said that Soil Association organic farmers had to wait for three times the recommended withdrawal period. However, the methods for determining standard withdrawal periods for veterinary medication have considerably improved in recent years. We now know that asking organic farmers to wait for twice the required withdrawal period (in line with the EU organic regulation) is sufficient to ensure that organic animal products are not contaminated with medicinal residues.
Are we losing the Soil Association higher standards and going to the EU organic standards?
No. The Soil Association will continue to have higher standards to protect our natural world and the organic food we eat. However in some areas, external legislation, industry practice or the EU organic regulation have changed or improved to the point that our higher standards no longer deliver added benefits; so we have harmonised those standards to ensure that conditions are fair for our licensees.
Which sectors are affected?
Our standards review covered all areas which are governed by the EU organic regulation: agriculture, aquaculture, processing and horticulture. Our standards in each of these areas are overseen by our independent Standards Board made up of industry experts and lay members, who are supporting the standards review.
In this first phase of the launch in June 2018, organic farmers, growers and food processors will benefit from the harmonised approach.
At a later date, we will be reviewing deer, poultry breeding, rearing and hatchery standards. For our licensees who produce watercress, we will be conducting a special focussed consultation exercise to help us review our standards for watercress. This is because of the small number of organic producers and the highly specialised nature of watercress production.
I’ve heard that a new EU Organic Regulation has just been published. Is there a connection between these two announcements? Will Soil Association organic standards be affected?
The Soil Association Standards Review Project has taken place entirely independently from the review of the EU Organic Regulation, which has happened in parallel. There is no connection between these two announcements. Furthermore, the publication of a new EU Organic Regulation for organic food and farming has no effect on the updates to Soil Association organic standards. The reasons for this are that: 1) The new EU Regulation won’t come into force until 2021, and 2) The EU Organic Regulation is not yet complete – the regulation that has been published by the EU in June 2018 is a framework text, the detailed rules for which will not be finalised until the middle of 2020.