SA Responds To Claims Of Lowering Organic Standards

UK - A BBC Newsnight piece broadcast wednesday claimed that it had 'evidence' that the Soil Association's organic standards and principles were 'slipping' under pressure from major retailers and the growth of the organic market. This claim was repeated in an article in The Guardian, based on the Newsnight broadcast.
calendar icon 6 October 2006
clock icon 5 minute read
Two key sectors were singled out for criticism: Poultry and fish farming.


Ironically, this is the very area where the Soil Association has suffered the greatest loss of market share due to upholding higher standards than both the EU Directive on organic farming or those of other certifiers of organic produce in the UK and Europe. Consequently only 7% of organic laying birds and 30% of organic table birds in the UK are certified to Soil Association standards, with the overall majority of birds certified by other bodies operating to the baseline standards set by the EU Directive.

Soil Association recommends flock sizes up to 500 birds – although with special permission and the drawing up of an environmental and animal welfare management plan, producers can keep up to a maximum of 2000 laying birds and 1000 table birds. Consumer research confirms that the public agrees with us that 2000 birds is the maximum number that should be allowed.

In contrast, the EU Directive allows organic flock sizes of 4800 for table birds and 3000 for laying birds. However, a recent 'derogation' of the Directive allows unlimited flock sizes for houses set up before 1999. There is official evidence that organic flocks up to 9000 are certified by other bodies in the UK. The Soil Association has lobbied the Government to remove this derogation that we believe allows unacceptably high flock sizes.

The Soil Association's standards are endorsed by leading animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming, 'Smaller flock sizes increase the potential for higher welfare and larger flock sizes decrease this potential. CIWF strongly supports the Soil Association's position on this issue.'


The application of Soil Association organic standards to aquaculture was described as an 'absolute betrayal' of organic principles. For some people, we recognise that no form of salmon farming can ever be acceptable, but the unanimous view of the Soil Association Council Trustees following an eight year period when fish-farming was not granted full Soil Association organic status, as well as a detailed three year research project looking at all concerns, was that the organic principles and practices should be brought to bear on one of the fastest-growing food sectors:

  • Nearly half of fish consumed world-wide are now farmed and further huge leaps in demand for seafood are predicted for coming decades.

  • Latest figures from the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicate that over two thirds of the world's fish stocks are fully or over-exploited.

  • Organic fish farms certified by the Soil Association contain approximately half the density of fish of a non-organic farm. The maximum density permitted on organic sites is also a third lower than the RSPCA's Freedom Foods maximum level.

  • Salmon pens can only be sited in areas with good tidal flushing – hence Soil Association salmon farms are found mainly in the Outer Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney.

  • We specify fishmeal made from the waste products of fish already caught for human consumption. Recycling such wastes into high quality food reduces pressure on wild stocks. By 2010 all Soil Association fishmeal will come from wastes from fish caught in Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable fisheries.

  • Only natural pigments are allowed in organic fish feeds.

  • 85% of Scottish salmon farming is controlled by Norwegian multinationals. The majority of the remnant independent and small producers have survived by becoming organic – sustaining local jobs, economies and small-scale production.

Soil Association, Director, Patrick Holden said, 'We take any criticisms of our practices and standards extremely seriously. Public support and trust has been critical to the growth of organic food and farming and we are determined to maintain it. We recognise that there are areas for improvement and our standards committees are set-up for the very purpose of marrying our principles with actual practice.

'Accusing us of selling out to market pressures is simply not true – particularly when you consider that by sticking to our principles we lost the majority of the poultry market to other organic certifiers with lower standards. As for fish-farming, I respect the views of those who believe it is beyond their pale – but with nearly half of all fish consumed world-wide coming from farming and with the world's wild fisheries seriously over-exploited, it would be a dereliction of duty not to engage with and improve the environmental and welfare record of this sector. Our aquaculture standards can rightly be claimed to be the highest in the world.

'We welcome constructive criticism, but our critics' energies would be better directed at more real and immediate threats, such as the EU bowing to lobbying by the GM companies to raise the threshold for GM contamination of organic food by ten-fold.'

ThePoultrySite News Desk

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