Organic Conflict at the Soil Assocation

When is organic not organic and which organic is good organic? This is a subject that was examined in Michael Pollan's brilliant book "Omnivore's Dilemma" and is now at the centre of a debate about air miles. The Soil Association certifies about 80 per cent of organic produce in the United Kingdom. It has threatened to take away the organic certification from farms in East Africa because their produce is transported to Europe by air, thus contributing to global warming. But these are poor farmers who switched to organic farming recently, joined up with 32 other farmers with small plots, learnt new techniques and ceased the few non-organic practices they had. The happy ending was that their products received the Soil Association's treasured "Organic" stamp and they began exporting vegetables to Britain and Saudi Arabia.

The Soil Association is now considering a partial or total ban on air-freighted organic exports because it says that it "must carefully consider the social and economic benefits of air freight for international development and growth of the organic market as a whole." If banned, this could be a killing blow to the 150,000 Kenyans who are dependent on organic farming for their livelihood. The bitter irony, according to one Kenyan journalist is "that UK farmers use tractors, heat up greenhouses, drive to work in cars or on motorbikes . . " Calculations show that it takes 4kg of carbon emissions to fly 1kg of green beans or cucumbers from Nairobi to London. "This figure is utterly irrelevant when you work out how much carbon Britons use going to the supermarket in their cars or driving to a restaurant for dinner," he added. Fair miles or air miles? We say that we want to eliminate poverty in Africa, trade is a positive way to do this, and yet there is a legitimate concern about air miles. A serious debate to hold in the organic sector, and one with global implications. :: The Times

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