Hard decisions for importers and producers

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One area where the industry has come in for criticism is on carbon emissions. The Soil Association is currently running a second stage in its widely publicised consultation programme to decide exactly how it should approach the issue. Following the first stage the association’s standards board recommended that the organisation’s standards should be changed so that organic produce can only be air-freighted if it also meets the Soil Association’s own Ethical Trade or the Fairtrade Foundation’s standard.

The second round of consultation, which closes on 30 May, gives people the opportunity to comment on the implementation of this recommendation. Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association’s standards board said: “By addressing concerns over air freight in our standards, we aim to make it easier for consumers to make informed and sustainable choices, allowing poor farmers in developing countries, achieve the social and environmental benefits of organic production along with the economic benefits achieved by selling in developed country markets.”

The first round of consultation revealed that the actual extent of organic food currently imported using airfreight has been inaccurately reported.

“The initial consultation and research carried out before and during the process, has provided a clearer understanding of how much organic food is air freighted – we calculate less than one per cent of all imported organic food. Airfreight is predominantly used to guarantee a year round supply of fresh fruit and vegetables – 96 per cent of organic airfreight is fresh fruit and vegetables imported out of season. A small minority of products is air freighted to top up normal supply.”


However, there is concern among producers at the approach adopted by the Soil Association. The seventy-eight farmers of the Blue Skies Organic Collective, who grow pineapples in Ghana, expressed both relief and concern at the Soil Association’s proposal to permit only the air-freighting of organic produce that has been subjected to particular ethical audits.

Collective chairman, Kweku Ntsiful, said: “We are all relieved that this ban will not be imposed immediately, however we plead with senior figures of the Soil Association to come to visit our farms and see the positive impact that this business has on our community and the environment.”

And Blue Skies’ chairman Anthony Pile said: “We need to get across the message that measuring environmental impact is not as simple as counting the ‘food miles’ or targeting the aeroplanes; it’s about looking at the whole story from when it is grown to when it is eaten.

“It’s a complicated issue that cannot be summarised with a couple of words or a logo. We believe our customers have the right to know more,” argues Pile.

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