Airfreight ban is not the answer

Date Published: 25/10/2007

A leading UK organic body has moved to distance itself from the Soil Association’s plans to ban the import of organic food by air.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which was the first body approved by the Government for the inspection and licensing of organic products, believes the proposals by the Soil Association are a negative move.

OF&G fears the Soil Association position has the potential to harm not only overseas organic producers, particularly in Africa, but also to position the organic sector as elitist and dictatorial.

The organisation has stressed that Soil Association certification is not the only option for importers, who are in a position to turn to a number of alternative bodies whose standards for organic food are robust and respected and based on Europe-wide regulation.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, explained: “From our perspective organic food is about the environment, welfare of animals and the ability for the consumer to choose a method of production that does not rely on chemicals and artificial additives. Yes, there is an ethical dimension to this, but we believe those ethics should be extended in a fair way to all organic farmers, be they in the UK, Africa or beyond.

“The social benefits organic farming has brought to African farmers and their communities are immense. It can’t be right to threaten that their progress could come to a grinding halt. Would we prefer them to be reliant on chemicals or genetically modified organisms, or simply lose their livelihoods altogether?

“The debate is much wider than simply threatening to ban air freight. We have recently heard suggestions that container ships could be producing more emissions than aircraft and I would say we should look closer to home, for example to our use of unnecessary four wheeled drive vehicles and heated greenhouses, before we penalise some of the world’s poorer communities.”

Organic Farmers & Growers will continue to offer certification to produce imported by air in the belief that the global benefits of organic food are greater than the negatives of air transport, which can be dealt with in other ways and by agencies and governments who are responsible for the bigger picture on carbon emissions. Some foods would perish while being transported by sea and in many cases food is carried as cargo by passenger aircraft, which would be flying anyway.

Mr Jacobs added: “As a government-approved certifier OF&G will be sticking with the fundamentals of organic food and farming and focusing on the provenance of the food. What the Soil Association proposes with its demand to meet its ‘ethical’ standard will only bring further regulation and cost to those who can least afford it.”

OF&G has always espoused a practical approach to certification for the benefit of the environment, the consumer and the industry, while rigorously policing the organic standards with evaluation and enforcement practices which are second to none.