Author: Craig Sams
How can we free organic from its self-imposed bureaucratic box? We could always ask Brussels to privatize us, says Craig Sams
Q. What do Slow Food, LEAF, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Cosmos, Marine Stewardship Council, Red Tractor, Vegan, Vegetarian, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and Woodmark all have in common?
A. They all operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% independent. They can decide what they can certify and how they can certify.
Q. What do the Soil Association, Ecocert, EKO, KRAV, Nature et Progres, OCIA, QAI, OFF, OF&G and 400 or so other organic symbols have in common?
A. They operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% Government-controlled. They cannot decide what they can certify and how they can certify.
This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it. The independent symbols have grown organically to global respect and stature while the organic ‘brands’ have been stifled in their self-imposed bureaucratic box.
“This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it”
Back in the late 1980s I got to know key players at the Soil Association (up till then we were OF&G licensees). When I heard they were seeking to get the EU to enforce organic standards I was dismayed. Francis Blake of IFOAM and the Soil Association told me that if I wanted to have any influence I should stand for the Soil Association board. I did and didn’t get elected. Boo Hoo. But the Council wanted me anyway and appointed me Treasurer In 1990. I argued from within against letting our precious organic standards go under the control of the agricultural departments which subsidised industrial farming and were 100% behind GMOs. Regrettably the train had already left the station and, short of tying myself to the tracks, there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The infant organic industry was stressed about fraudulent claims and thought calling in big brother would stop that. In fact the opposite happened. When the Soil Association sampled a licensee’s oat flakes a few years ago and found chlormequat residues at quite a high level they told the licensee to take them off the market. Defra and UKAS and the oat processor who supplied them all cried foul. The paperwork was in order, that was all that mattered to the enforcers. The Soil Association came close to being banned from certifying but luckily the horsemeat scandal broke out and the EU said lab sampling of products should be permitted.