What are Organic Standards?
What are Organic Standards?
Next time you visit a supermarket, take a look at the food labels. You'll see plenty of claims about sustainability and welfare, but amongst them, the organic logo stands out as the only one underpinned by law. All organic food and drink sold in the EU must meet the EU Organic Regulation - shown by the green leaf logo on pack. You can find a summary of what the EU standards guarantee here.
Soil Association certified products must legally comply with the EU Organic Regulation. They must also meet our additional higher standards – as shown by the Soil Association logo. Standards put our principles into practice and are at the heart of our work.
Look for the logo
Soil Association logo EU organic logo
Why does the Soil Association have higher standards?
The Soil Association wants to ensure the highest possible standards of animal welfare, environmental and wildlife protection, so we have our own higher – or stricter – standards in key areas.
We have higher standards because we want to drive change. The Soil Association had standards on livestock, wine production and fish farming before they became enshrined in EU law. We have also developed trustworthy standards for areas which were not supported in EU law, such as health and beauty, and textiles.
Organic food is certified - an independent guarantee
All organic food sold in the EU has to be certified by registered certification bodies. Soil Association Certification Limited is the UK’s largest and oldest organic certification body, licensing over 70% of the organic food on sale here. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soil Association charity.
How certification works
For a food product to be labelled as organic, every organisation working up and down its supply chain – from farmers, to packers, to food processors, and organic retailers – have to meet organic standards and prove it to an organic certification body.
- All organic farms and food companies are thoroughly inspected at least once a year. They also need robust systems in place and paperwork that shows the standards are being met the rest of the time.
- Once organic farms and food companies are certified as meeting strict organic standards, they are issued with a certificate and a trading schedule. This lists all the crops, livestock or products they are certified to trade as organic. This certificate acts like a passport and is necessary to prove the organic status of the goods when they are sold on.
- When products are imported from countries outside of the EU, they not only have to be accompanied by an organic certificate, but they also need a Certificate of Import. This verifies the product is produced to organic standards equivalent to those in the EU.
- To ensure that organic certification is carried out consistently, the inspectors themselves are inspected every year. Checks are made by accreditation bodies such as UKAS and UK certification bodies are required to regularly report to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
This might sound like a complex bureaucratic process, but it’s designed to ensure that organic food is food you can trust. The system needs to work whether you’re buying veg directly from a farmer or spices in a supermarket where ingredients may have come from smallholders on the other side of the world.
How are Soil Association higher standards applied worldwide?
Soil Association Certification Limited is one of a family of organic certification bodies (CBs) working together to ensure that strict organic standards are being met the world over. We certify around half of organic farming in the UK. When our licensees want to use or process imported organic ingredients -such as cocoa for making organic chocolate - we must rely on the checks of other CBs. The availability of all sorts of organic foods, from bananas to ginger, but also ingredients like flour or oil made at a large scale, relies on imports from companies certified by other CBs.
When we set a new higher standard for Soil Association farms, we need to decide whether we can also feasibly apply it to imported ingredients. Some products like spices may be farmed by lots of small-scale producers, are highly mixed from organic sources and are often bought in small quantities, so it would be impossible for us to require every CB involved to provide evidence that the farms met a new higher standard we introduced, before allowing our licensee to use it. Requiring this level of scrutiny for all ingredients would be a disproportionate use of our resources, and simply mean ruling such ingredients out of organic products.
For other ingredients like meat or eggs, the picture is usually much simpler, and other CBs can easily show us that the farms met our higher standards.
Soil Association organic standards are among the best in the world
This is how organic certification works the world over. We’re proud that the Soil Association has one of the most rigorous and transparent certification processes we’ve ever come across.
Our standards are still driving change today. For example, the routine use of antibiotics is not allowed in organic farming under the EU Organic Regulation, but our higher standards go further. We explicitly restrict any use of antibiotics which are critically important for human health, and are working to influence the EU Organic Regulation to come into line with our standard.