Reset moment: Soil Association unveils ‘organic for all’ vision

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The Soil Association has unveiled its new vision for making ‘organic for all’ in what it is calling a “reset moment” for the UK organics sector.

The announcement came at this week’s Soil Association Certification Organic Trade Conference, which was devoted to discussing and debating the structural interventions needed make organic affordable and accessible for all in society.

Setting the scene, senior business development & trade manager, Lee Holdstock, said that while organic had a huge amount to offer in terms of dealing with the climate, nature and health crises the reality was that organic still accounted for less than 2% of the UK’s food and drink market. 

He said: “If we are serious about tackling this triple crisis, organic agriculture must be scaled up and the products that come from organic agriculture cannot be the preserve of the privileged few”. 

The Soil Association’s new vision and pathway for organic for all was introduced by Sarah Compson (associate director standards innovation) and Alex Cullen (commercial and marketing director, Soil Association Certification). 

Organic had a lot to be proud of, said Compson, and was a “globally scalable approach to food and farming backed by compelling scientific evidence and safeguarded by regulation”. Organic, she added, was also “ahead of its time in terms of addressing and mitigating the climate and biodiversity crises”. 

Lee Holdstock in conversation with Dr Tamsin Edwards, King’s College London

But, in the UK at least, organic had a problem: “Organic isn’t affordable, available and accessible to everyone in society. It’s not fulfilling its full potential – and that needs to change.” In this respect, Compson said, the UK was “something of an outlier”. She contrasted the picture on Continental Europe where the EU has set a highly ambitious 25% organic land target by 2030, and member states have implemented polices and incentives to drive organic production and accessibility. In the UK, “where we have largely left it to the market to scale organic”, organic often ended up “premiumised and used as a margin opportunity”. 

The Soil Association’s new ‘theory of change’ is based on a three-pronged strategy: 

Motivationorganic is valued. Making the value of organic clear for different audiences is an important starting point. Being valued starts with being understood. The contribution that organic production and consumption makes to climate, nature and health must be well-evidenced and shared in a way that’s fitting for the context and starts where people are.

Capability organic is supported. Organic must be financially and practically supported in order to scale. Favourable national policies, backed up by appropriate financial support and incentives have been a cornerstone of organic sector development in other countries. They are the engine of organic market growth 

Opportunity -organic is available. There must be easy access to organic food, both at home and in public settings such as schools and hospitals. To achieve this, we’ll need to work closely with retailers so that they expand organic product assortments, position organic better in stores, ensure fair mark-ups and communicate the ‘why’ of organic much more clearly.

Alex Cullen said that the sector would need to engage “a whole range of different actors” who each had slightly different priorities. To be able to influence key discussions on the transition to more sustainable farming, the organic sector “must show up and take a set at the table”. As well as strong support – financial and practical – growing the organic sector would need robust regulation, underpinned by organic action plans. 

Cullen said that regulatory development would be a key aspect of Britain’s post-Brexit economic development. “Crucially, what will the first GB organic standards look like in terms of regulation? Here is an opportunity for us to have a collective voice across the industry and to influence and land that opportunity with government”. 

Both presenters made clear that the Soil Association was making a pitch to the whole of the UK organic sector. Compson elaborated: “We can’t do this alone. We need all of your help. So over the next few months we will be starting to talk to the whole of the sector.

“This physical and online room is full of change-makers. So the question is, how do we as a sector keep coming together to emulate the way other countries have successfully developed their organic sectors. So we are planning a series of meetings and industry roundtables so we can bring key voices and key themes across the sector together. It’s a sector that is built on grass roots collaboration, and it’s our unique competitive strength against business as usual. This is a reset moment, to get us to the next level which we have seen in other countries is eminently achievable.”

• Further Natural Newsdesk reporting from the Conference will be posted shortly 

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