Introduction to organic food and farming
Organic food production is based, at its heart, upon modern, sustainable farming systems which maintain the long-term fertility of the soil, use less of the Earth’s finite resources to produce our food and which put animal welfare at the heart of farming practice.
This ethos extends into the production of food and other items using organically farmed ingredients, usually referred to as organic processing.
Organic techniques have been developed from an understanding of, and research into, soil science, crop breeding, animal husbandry and ecology. The maintenance of soil fertility relies principally on the use of legumes, crop rotations, the application of composted animal manures, green manures and ground rock minerals. Weeds are controlled by mechanical methods while pests and diseases tend not to be a problem due to the inherent biodiversity in the system.
Artificial fertilisers, herbicides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives are prohibited.
Whilst the sector is still a relatively small part of the UK’s overall food production, organic farming has expanded at a dramatic rate in recent years, both in this country and around the world.
Unlike most food assurance schemes, organic food production is subject to statutory control. Once a producer or processor decides to become involved in organic food production and processing, they become subject to an EU Regulation, which has been incorporated into the laws of the United Kingdom.
This Regulation controls all organic food production by specifying:
- That each member state must establish a Control or Inspection Authority to implement the law in the state;
- How organic products (made of essentially plant ingredients intended for human consumption) must be labelled;
- How the agricultural ingredients must be produced;
- What inputs are permitted for soil fertilising and conditioning and pest and disease control by listing these in the annexes;
- How organic products must be processed;
- What additional non-organic ingredients, non-agricultural materials such as additives and processing aids can be used by listing these in the annexes;
- The procedures by which organic products can be imported from non-member states, known as third countries;
- The minimum inspection requirements that all organic operators must be subject to;
- The penalties which must be imposed when infringements of the Regulation are found;
- The mechanism by which amendments to the Regulation can be made.
All organic plant and animal products are subject to statutory control.
The consequence of the Regulation is that a farmer or grower, food processor, or an importer of organic food from a non-EU country must be registered with an approved control body, such as Organic Farmers & Growers, and undergo regular inspections to ensure that they meet the strict organic standards. Only then can their products legally be labelled and marketed as organic.
How the standards are set
Regulations on organic production and processing stem from the European Union. In the UK responsibility for applying the rules lies with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The following list shows the control bodies that have been approved by Defra, as well as those who are no longer certifying. Each is allocated a number to identify it as the certifier on produce and packaging. The wording associated with this identifier was changed in 2010 from ‘Organic Certification UKX’ to ‘GB-ORG-XX’:
- GB-ORG-02 – Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd (OF&G)
- GB-ORG-04 – Organic Food Federation (OFF)
- GB-ORG-05 – Soil Association Certification Ltd (SA Cert)
- GB-ORG-06 – Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association (BDAA)
- GB-ORG-07 – Irish Organic Farmers & Growers (IOFGA)
- GB-ORG-09 – The Organic Trust Ltd (OT)
- GB-ORG-13 – Quality Welsh Foods Certification Ltd (QWFC)
- GB-ORG-14 – Not allocated
- GB-ORG-15 – Asisco Ltd (Soil Association Certification Defra programme)
- GB-ORG-17 – Acoura (SOPA)
The following is a list of bodies no longer certifying and their, now defunct, operator numbers:
- Organic Certification UK1 – No longer certifying – formerly UKROFS
- Organic Certification UK8 – No longer certifying – Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd
- Organic Certification UK10 – No longer certifying – Checkmate International (Cmi) (Processor Certification only)
- Organic Certification UK11 – No longer certifying – Farm Verified Organic (FVO)
- Organic Certification UK12 – No longer certifying – Organic Certification Ltd (OCL)