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Curbs on foreign food aim to cut emmissions

Soil Association wants less use of air freight


Food flown into the UK must meet more stringent trade standards or face being stripped of organic status, according to proposals released today.

Overseas producers must also show they will reduce future use of air freight, the Soil Association said.

The measures follow a public consultation in which scores of respondents called for food transported by air to be banned from carrying the organic logo.

Ban would ‘hit producers’

But the Soil Association, which certifies around 70% of Britain’s £1.9 billion organic food sector, said an outright ban would hit producers in developing countries who relied on organic exports for a decent profit.

Instead, the Soil Association wants all organic air-freighted food to meet either Fairtrade or its own Ethical Trade standards.

The group’s policy director Peter Melchett said only a small minority of overseas producers currently met those standards.

‘Some will find it impossible I suspect,’ he said.

‘One of the things we assume this will do is eliminate the casual use of air freight.’

New standards

The Soil Association expects producers in the US to find it difficult to meet its new standards.

It says air freight causes ‘exceptionally high’ greenhouse gas emissions and will become increasingly expensive and socially unacceptable for that reason.

The group is aiming to balance the importance of the organic market for developing countries with environmental concerns about spiralling CO2 emissions.

Around 1% of the UK’s organic food is flown in from overseas, of which around 80% comes from low or lower-middle income countries.

Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association’s Standards Board, said: ‘It is neither sustainable nor responsible to encourage poorer farmers to be reliant on air freight, but we recognise that building alternative markets that off the same social and economic benefits as organic exports will take time.’

She said the Soil Association wanted to encourage farmers in developing countries not to be air freight-reliant in future.

The new measures were drawn up by the Soil Association’s independent Standards Board. They will be put out to consultation next year, with a view to implementation from January 2009.

In addition, the group will publish a new consumer guide to air freight issues and work with the Carbon Trust and the British Standards Institute to create a system for working out the carbon footprint of food products.

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