Friday, 23 November 2007

Organic Certification...but at what cost?

Following on from Kate's info on Air freight and Organics , I thought you may be interested in this article I found on the Slow Food page back in January 2005. For lots of good articles check out

Organic certification - but at what cost?
Jim Twine

The Oxford dictionary tells us that certification is: a system of guaranteeing that certain standards/requirements have been met. The need to certify that food, the very building block of life, has not been unduly adulterated is perhaps the saddest reflection on the globalisation of agriculture. Less than one hundred years ago the notion would have seemed bizarre. Not only was so much more food produced by individuals themselves, it was both grown and sold locally in an open and transparent way by small-scale farmers and growers. Today it is these farmers, right throughout the world, that sit at the very heart of the organic movement. Indeed if it were not for their commitment the organic market would not have grown to it's current retail value, which in the UK is worth over £1Bn alone. This consumer lead, food revolution has been underpinned by the most important factor of all - public trust in food that is labelled organic or biologic. For many consumers this has become the ultimate mark of integrity. A regrettable consequence of this huge growth has been that the law, which now covers the use of the word 'organic', does not cater appropriately for the small-scale producer. Primarily due to cost and in some cases the burden of an unsuitable level of paperwork. This is clearly a distasteful irony given their unique ability it produce high quality, artisan, vital, local food which meets the public's expectations. At the Soil Association we believe passionately that organic farming should be for everyone - irrespective of size or scale. The question is how we overcome some of the challenges and fulfil our mission. During the next three years we intend to work with a number of partners, including the Slow Food Movement, on key projects to evaluate the efficacy of alternative certification systems. The essential tenets to a change in approach will be the use of peer review, self-assessment and risk based inspection. The key to the success of these projects will be critically evaluating the outcomes. If the evidence from these projects proves that alternative certification systems are just as effective at ensuring organic integrity (perhaps even more so) we can not only make changes to the way that the Soil Association delivers organic certification, but lobby for a change world wide. Most importantly of all we will be able to better embrace the small-scale farmer, grower and artisan food producer whilst retaining the public's trust.
Does Slow Food mean organic?
Slow Food is in favour of the principles behind organic agriculture, like promoting agriculture that has a low impact cc the environment and reducing pesticide use around the world. Yet Slow Food maintains that organic agriculture, when practiced on a massive and extensive scale! is very similar to conventional monoculture cropping and therefore organic certification alone should not he considered a sure sign that a product is grown sustainably. Although most of the Presidia practice organic techniques! very few are certified due to the high casts of organic certification. To become Presidia, products must be consistent with the concepts of agricultural sustainability, and beyond that, Slow Food works to guarantee that they are traditional, natural, safe, and - above all - of high taste quality. It is a goal of the Foundation far Biodiversity in the next few years to promote (and finance, where possible) the certification of Presidia products for which this certification could broaden markets or increase earnings.

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