In a nutshell, organic is food as it should be, made by working with nature, using real ingredients, with animals free to forage and graze on land that’s home to more wildlife. It’s also a fully traceable system of producing food that is governed by legal standards and subject to statutory control.

We get asked a lot of questions about organic food and farming – you can find the answers to the most common ones below. If your query isn’t answered here, please get in touch and we will try to help.

General questions

Can anyone claim to be organic?

Absolutely not! Organic farming is governed by legal standards. Unlike most food assurance schemes, organic food production is subject to statutory control. Once a producer or processor decides to go organic, they become subject to an EU Regulation, which has been incorporated into the laws of the UK. 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 or the Soil Association, and undergo inspections at least annually by a trained inspector. This ensures that the strict organic standards are met. Only then can products legally be labelled and marketed as ‘organic’. You can see a list of the UK’s approved certification bodies, here.

Why is organic so expensive?

Organic can be more expensive but not always! If comparing own brand supermarket organic ranges with branded items, organic can often be a similar price or even cheaper. Simply put though, organic costs more to produce. For example, organic is more labour intensive because weeds can't simply be sprayed away. Although, as the costs of chemical inputs to non-organic farmers continue to rise, we are likely to see less difference in price.

The careful controls placed on organic systems add to the cost of production, and organic inputs, such as seeds and animal feeds, cost more than non-organic versions. But we should always bear in mind that organic farming does not have costly environmental impacts, such as the expense of cleaning up polluted water courses and treating drinking water to remove chemicals used in some non-organic production.

While people argue that organic food is too expensive, the reality is that non-organic food is often too cheap. You might find this article on the 'true cost' of food interesting - with cheap food there can often be a hidden cost paid by the environment or by the workers who made it.

There are many ways you can eat better for less, check out our blog post with some great shopping tips to make organic more affordable.

How can we be sure a product is organic?

Just look for the little green leaf, it’s the EU organic logo which is on every product sold in the EU, no matter where it’s made. It’s a shortcut to find food you can trust. In addition to the EU logo, you’ll also find the number of a certification body (like the Soil Association or Organic Farmers & Growers) and often their logo too. Find out more, here.

How will Brexit affect UK organic food and farming?

The advice recently issued by DEFRA is based on the assumption of a no deal agreement, but the final outcome of our trading relationship with the EU is yet to be decided and no doubt will be subject to changes in the coming months and years ahead.

Since the introduction of the UK Register of Organic Foods Standards in the early 1980s and the adoption of EU organic Regulations, organic food standards in the UK and mainland Europe have been underpinned by strong legislation that provides confidence in organic production.

We have a long and reliable history of government-appointed certifiers and inspection bodies in the UK, with strong links to equivalent partners around the world. Therefore we remain confident that an agreement will be reached which secures a successful future for organic both in the UK and for export markets in mainland Europe and further afield.

Is organic produce washed in chlorine?

No. The EU Organic Regulations allow the use of drinking water for washing produce. In the UK levels of residual chlorine in tap water are very low, typically 0.1 – 0.5mg/l.

Do organic farmers, pickers and packers get paid fairly?

The EU organic regulations cover the technical requirements related to agricultural production and currently, fair compensation is not something that is included. However, one of the founding principles of organic is around fairness, with the ambition of providing a good quality of life for all involved and the reduction of poverty. The Fairtrade scheme fights for better rights for farmers and workers around the world and is closely linked with the organic movement - in fact, 51% of Fairtrade farmers also hold organic certification.

The Soil Association, do include detail about workers’ rights in their certification standards. They ensure that all their licensees comply with the UN convention for human rights, and the core standards of the international labour organisation, as well as not allowing involuntary labour or child labour.

There are lots of examples in the organic industry of companies going above and beyond to look after their workers. Last year, organic veg company Riverford became employee-owned, ensuring a fair deal for all its staff and suppliers.

Isn’t everything organic?

We’re talking about organic food and farming that is governed by legal standards. Unlike many food assurance schemes, organic food production is subject to statutory control. Anyone labelling their product as organic must be registered with an approved control body, such as Organic Farmers & Growers or the Soil Association, 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. The initial certification process and subsequent annual inspections look at the entire supply chain, including processors, feed mills and abattoirs.

Is organic actually better for you?

In 2014, ground-breaking research by Newcastle University found that organic is nutritionally different, with some organic crops up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants. In 2016, another study found that both organic meat and milk contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic products. You can read more, here.

What about non-certified farmers who observe organic practices?

In the UK, farmers and producers have to pay to be certified organic. This can be a barrier for some and we would welcome a shift to the Danish model where the state covers the costs of certifying and inspecting. We recognise that there are many non-organic farmers who are doing great things for the environment and trying to increase biodiversity, soil health and water quality in and around the land that they farm. However, certified organic products guarantee that the EU regulations have been met and you can be sure that you are choosing food you can trust.

Animal welfare

Isn’t it bad for animal welfare if you don’t use antibiotics?

Antibiotics are still used to treat sick animals, as we wouldn’t want them to suffer. The difference is that antibiotics are not permitted to be used routinely as a preventative measure under organic standards, as they often are in intensive, non-organic livestock farming. This is leading to serious problems of antibiotic resistance building up in the population. When you buy organic meat, you know you’re helping safeguard the effectiveness of antibiotics in the future.

Are organic calves still separated from their mothers?

There are some practices that are inherent aspects of dairy farming. For instance, while under normal circumstances a calf would never be removed from its mother immediately after it is born, it is true that calves and cows are separated. This is normal practice across the dairy industry in order that milk is available for us to drink. We understand many find this difficult and choose not to consume dairy products. For those that do, organic is the gold standard. For more information about welfare for organic cows, see this page.

Organic or not, isn’t eating eggs, meat and dairy inhumane?

We understand that there are communities that find the inherent aspects of dairy farming or egg and meat production difficult to justify and we respect their decision not to consume those products. We respect an individual’s right to make their own choices when it comes to food. For those choosing to follow an omnivorous diet, organic farming offers the highest standards of animal welfare available.


Why does organic use any pesticides at all?

Only a limited list of 28 carefully selected pesticides are approved for use in organic farming. Some of those allowed are naturally occurring substances such as gelatine, beeswax and plant oils. These pesticides are only used as a last resort and with special permission from the organic certifier. Organic farmers do not use herbicides (such as glyphosate), instead they rely on crop rotation, well-timed cultivation, hand or mechanical weeding and carefully selected crop varieties. In contrast, non-organic farming can use up to 490 pesticides, so organic makes a huge contribution to reducing toxic inputs to the land, and to us. You can see the list of permitted pesticides in organic, here.

I’ve heard organic pesticides are more toxic than non-organic ones. Why does organic allow copper?

The 28 pesticides allowed in organic farming are also allowed in non-organic, so to say that organic pesticides are more toxic is not true. Copper can be used on organic farms as a fungicide but this practice is on the way out - a move that is welcomed by the organic industry. In fact, the Netherlands and Finland have banned the use of copper as a fungicide in organic systems. In other EU countries including the UK, use has been restricted to 6kg/ha/year to try and prevent accumulation in the soil. However, due to increasing restrictions on product availability it is likely that there will be no use whatsoever in the very near future. Instead, organic farmers will have to use more disease resistant varieties instead.

What’s the issue with GM? There are no proven health risks…

There are other concerns surrounding GM besides health risks. We believe it’s worse for farmers - GM crops are patented so farmers cannot save seed and are locked into expensive contracts with big corporations. It’s also worse for the environment, GM crops are designed to withstand repeated spraying of pesticides and herbicides and the weeds and pests are evolving resistance, trapping farmers in an increasingly expensive chemical arms race which is damaging to biodiversity. Currently, the UK does not grow any GM crops commercially but nearly all UK non-organic livestock is raised on imported GM feed. You can read more, here.


Doesn’t organic farming plough more – making it worse for the environment?

If managed well, soils can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated 9.8 billion tonnes of carbon currently being stored in soils. In recent years, minimising ploughing has become popular to save on fuel costs and avoid damage to the soil structure. There is a common myth that non-organic farming has a lighter carbon footprint simply by not ploughing. The evidence is scant and despite using artificial nitrogen (which requires colossal amounts of energy to produce and causes problems with soils), many non-organic farms still appear to plough. Organic isn't perfect and we agree it would be good if organic farmers could plough less. Indeed, many are starting to make changes, including reducing the depth of the plough and surface tilling wherever possible. You can read more on the subject, here.

Organic yields are lower and take up more land. Can it really feed the world’s growing population?

Some organic crops have lower yields, yes, but it's important to look at the issue of global food security in a wider context. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the world already produces enough food. The problem is with distribution and food waste - up to one third of all food grown doesn't make it to our plates.

As the global population grows, the planet faces many challenges in food security and climate change. How do we grow enough food in an environmentally-friendly way? We believe organic food production can offer real and practical solutions. You can read more on this topic, here.

Does organic allow palm oil to be used?

Yes, organic certified palm oil is allowed. It’s worth checking with the organic brand that produces the product you are concerned about, because many work with organisations like the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) who have a strict set of environmental and social criteria to help minimise the negative impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities.

Is organic farming better for the environment?

At its heart, organic farming is about producing food in a way that looks after people, animals, society and the environment. Organic farming is home to more wildlife, reduces pollution and helps future-proof our land and soil. In fact, it has significant potential to help tackle climate change - if all UK farmland was converted to organic, it is estimated that 1.3 million tonnes more carbon would be taken up by the soil each year - the equivalent of taking nearly 1 million cars off the road! You can read more, here.

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