Following an extensive first round consultation on the issue of air freight, lasting 4 months, receiving nearly 400 responses from the public, NGOs, industry, government and international agencies plus meetings with 100 organisations, the Soil 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.
A second round of consultation launched, in accordance with best practice, gives people the opportunity to comment on the implementation of this recommendation and provides an opportunity to ensure it is practical and fit for purpose. Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association’s Standards Board said,
“This has proved to be a powerful and positive process, ensuring the best outcome for people and planet. This second stage of consultation gives the opportunity for people, especially affected licensees, to comment on our proposal, ensuring the final published standard is workable and effective.
“Organic production is all about sustainability and the balance this implies between social, environmental and economic objectives. 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. “Our consultation was open and broad. We have called on national and international policy makers to adopt a similar approach; rather than criticising us for opening up this debate, they should be showing some leadership and joining us to find solutions.”
This proposal has been routinely misreported as, ‘Soil Association bans air freight’. Not true. The Standards Board concluded that a ban on air freight would be the wrong response to people’s rightful concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, but also their equally strong concern that producers in developing countries should not be disadvantaged. The Soil Association believes the proposal constructively balances both concerns, ensuring organic produce will only be air freighted if it also delivers real benefits for farmers in developing countries. The actual extent of organic food currently imported using airfreight has also 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 1% of all imported organic food. Airfreight is predominantly used to guarantee a year round supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, 96% 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.
There was also widespread misreporting of the amount of organic food consumed in the UK that is imported overall i.e. whether by road, ship, train as well as air. In fact, around 30% of all organic produce sold in the UK is imported, the majority being exotic produce, citrus fruit, bananas, mangoes, pineapples, tea, coffee, chocolate etc. that can’t be grown here.