The UK Soil Association announced this week that organic standards have had a major facelift, for the first time in 10 years. According to a statement released by the agency the standards have been completely redesigned and re-written in a clearer language and are now available in ready-to-file chapters.
Guidance notes have been added to aid interpretation or explain the reasons for certain standards. In addition a number of new standards and sections have been incorporated. Clear distinctions have been made in the text between the standards (which are obligatory) and recommended best practice.
All common labelling standards have been brought in to one section. New standards insist that the country of origin of single ingredient products must be indicated, juice made from concentrate must be stated on the front of pack, and the percentage of added water made clear.
Recommended practices include that labels show: processing methods that are not clear from the nature of the product, such as homogenisation, ultra-heat treatment, par-baked and electrical tenderisation of meat; the country of origin of primary ingredients; all ingredients - for example, salt containing anti-caking agent should be identified.
Measures to safeguard the environment on organic farms - in addition to those inherent in the system - have been expanded. Farmers are now required to draw up an environmental map of their holding, within a reasonable timeframe. Key environmental features, such as species-rich pasture, undrained meadows, ancient hedges, ponds and archeological features, must be identified so that they can be managed appropriately; avoid any operations that may damage conservation sites, except with the consent of the relevant conservation agency; avoid seeding clover into pastures 'recognised' as of conservation importance. Clover increases nitrogen fixation and therefore the fertility of the pasture - pastures of conservation importance tend to be low fertility.
The Soil Association has also made, the organisation claims, the first serious attempt in the world to set comprehensive standards for gathering plants from the wild that may then be sold as organic. This is a rapidly growing new area with strong demand from the herbal and toiletries industries, which has the potential to threaten endangered species and sensitive wild environments.