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Soiled Association with Standards - 17/10/2006
 
The Soil Association (SA) is riven with difficulties and divisions over its difficulties in attaining its standards without ignominious excuses for derogations. The Association’s acceptance of fish-farming among acceptable “organic” practices has sullied its reputation, which has prompted comment from the Meat Trades Journal (13 October 2006).

The Soil Association (SA) is riven with difficulties and divisions over its difficulties in attaining its standards without ignominious excuses for derogations. The Association’s acceptance of fish-farming among acceptable “organic” practices has sullied its reputation, which has prompted comment from the Meat Trades Journal (13 October 2006).

Lawrence Woodward, a former head of the SA, said that “grey areas” in organic certification were allowing supermarkets to encourage producers to exploit them. He singled out organic poultry as an area where loopholes are regularly abused: “beak tipping, the use of conventional feed and the use of conventional chicks should be banned”, he said, continuing: “It is completely against organic principles. If they’re clipping beaks because there is a problem, those systems should not be allowed. It is a symptom of too high a stocking density” (We note that the SA’s codes on this matter make stipulations stricter than most major commercial producers of poultry products. At this time of the year we don’t overlook the “crop” of turkeys scheduled for the Christmas massacre).

Lawrence Woodward added: “The Soil Association should take the lead, take the moral high ground and close the loopholes, the derogations”. Robin Maynard, communications director of the SA, said that it had “the most rigorous standards of the organic certification bodies, 10 of which operate in the UK. The Soil Association has always chosen to have a higher set of standards than the EU. The EU has a great interest in the market trade and we don’t want to become like the US, where the standards have been dumbed down. Some supermarkets are seeking or choosing some certifiers who have lower standards on poultry and pigs”. He acknowledged that “supermarket producers may be under pressure to use methods that aren’t sympathetic to organic principles”, because their margins are so tight. “It’s a cautious balance between keeping the principles pure and putting an awful lot of people out of business”, Robin Maynard added (and depriving consumers’ overweening demands for cheap food, we can’t resist observing).

Robin Maynard defended the SA’s record on poultry farming. Beak tipping is allowed only “if there is a welfare problem. It you’ve got severe pecking and/or cannibalism, and if a vet recommends it, we allow it”. (We note that customers are too readily assured by glib claims for free-range systems).

“Use of up to 15% non-organic feed for poultry and pigs is allowed if the farmer can show there is no alternative available. This will reduce to 5% by 2001”, Robin Maynard added. (These stipulations would include GM ingredients).

A spokesman for Tesco complained that “it is nonsense to suggest we are putting pressure on anyone to reduce standards”.
 
 
 

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