20 Years In Certification
This article was published to celebrate 20 years in certification at OF&G in November 2011
Organic food and farming has come a long way. From the aspirations of the early pioneers (one of whom, Angela Bates, is still on the OF&G board of directors) to the current, widespread phenomenon organic has become, it has been a long and sometimes difficult journey.
Organic Farmers & Growers is proud to have been at the forefront when organic standards were formalised across the UK and EU, becoming the first body to be accredited by the government to carry out inspection and certification in the sector, in 1992.
That’s why our denominator – the number you’ll see on our licensees’ products – is GB-ORG-02. When the numbers were originally issued we were ‘Organic Certification UK2′, but recent Europe-wide standardisation has led to the change. You may be thinking, if we were first, why weren’t we ‘UK1’? Simple, the Government kept that one for itself, denoting its overseeing body, the now defunct United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards, or UKROFS for short, as UK1.
Organic Farmers & Growers has actually existed much longer than these 20 years. The business was started in 1973 as a marketing co-operative for members’ organic produce. The arrival of recognised standards provided an opportunity for OF&G to become much more central to the whole arena of organics and the organisation moved solely into certification, from where it has been at the very heart of the sector ever since.
Numbers of licensees have soared since those early days and organic food has truly entered the consciousness of the buying public. It’s great to be able to say that you can find organic food very easily now, which is a far cry from the trials of tracking it down 20, or even 10, years ago.
The sector has not been without its trials and tribulations; growing pains, if you will. Right now, 20 years on from inception of formal certification, parts of the organic sector are feeling the pain of a global credit crisis that is, to some extent, limiting the amount of people prepared to pay the small premium that covers the costs of more labour-intensive organic production.
That said, there are organic brands forging ahead and research has told us of the ingenuity and drive of organic farmers in creating their own markets or delivering what existing markets want. Smart supply chain initiatives and more cohesive working as a sector are becoming more and more evident.
Our place in organics
The first determinedly organic farmers adopted their methods as a definite and distinct approach to farming not long after World War II. In a time that focused on the need to produce ever greater quantities of food, and quickly, they were viewed by many with extreme scepticism. In some quarters they still are. But the methods they used then, and which are still the basis of organic farming, are increasingly proving themselves to be the signpost for the way forward, in a world of growing demands by an ever-increasing population. Those demands have to be met sustainably, from the precious resource that is our soil. It’s a resource that will dwindle if it is not nurtured and protected from depletion.
Among those pioneers was the family of OF&Gs’ current chairman, Richard Thompson. His father, Michael, began farming their land in North Yorkshire organically in 1949 and Richard continues to do so. Theirs is one of the UK’s original organic farms.
Today OF&G is a thoroughly modern, smoothly-functioning organisation that fully utilises modern information technology but with a backbone of people who really understand their business and speak the language of their licensees.
OF&Gs’ team of Certification Officers are all drawn from relevant industry backgrounds, be it farming, food production or composting. They are led by a Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, who has been at the heart of organic regulation and policy-making for many years and who, prior to which, was an organic farmer himself at the prestigious Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm.
Backing up the certification team is a Quality Systems Department and dedicated support in the areas of research and development as well as media and public relations. OF&G was among the first agriculture-focused organisations to adopt social media and keeps on pushing the boundaries on the ways it can communicate with both its licensees and the public generally.
The company is now based in offices it owns in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, providing its services in organic, compost and anaerobic digestion certification across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Meeting the new challenges
In more recent years, OF&G has spread its certification expertise into new but complimentary sectors. In partnership with the relevant standards holders, the company now provides inspection and certification for commercial composting (to the PAS 100 and Quality Compost Protocol) and anaerobic digestion (PAS 100 and the Quality Digestate Protocol).
As the organic sector has expanded and been accepted more into the mainstream of people’s daily food choices, so it has had to become more sophisticated. To be heard amid the clamour of high profile, high cost marketing, organic brands have developed that trade on their own strengths.
It has become clear in recent years that organic offers so many benefits that communicating all of them to shoppers is still one of the most difficult challenges. Some people are looking for the welfare benefits of organic, while others prioritise the ability to avoid herbicides or genetically modified organisms in their food.
Similarly, more and more farmers are looking with greater interest at organic methods and finding themselves wondering seriously for the first time whether organic is the way forward for them and for their land and animals.
These are practical issues which, in recent years, Organic Farmers & Growers has been playing its part in addressing. A series of events focused on practical and specific areas, including arable production and the marketing of organic food, have provided a forum for the industry to come together and share advice and best practice.
Much progress is being made. Organic is still a small part of overall UK food production, but its an important part and one that millions of shoppers rely on being able to easily access.
Organic Farmers & Growers is committed to the development of the organic sector, with an overriding focus on providing the highest quality inspection and certification service to its licensees.
For 20 years OF&G has been central to the trust people are able to put in the organic food they buy. The next 20 years for organic food and farming are going to be a fascinating time and Organic Farmers & Growers will continue to play its part.Back to top