Organic Food Production and Regulation in the UK
The demand for organic food has been rising steadily in the UK over the last years. The UK public is becoming increasingly aware of the potential threats of conventional food as well as the damaging effects of the conventional agriculture on the environment. Concerns about residues of pesticides and other chemicals in food, animal welfare and dramatic decrease of native wildlife species due to the impact of human activity on the environment are only a few of many reasons why the UK consumers are becoming increasingly interested in organic food.
Despite the fact that the interest in organically grown food is rising, only about 4.2% or 738,700 hectares of UK farmland is organically managed. The rate has slightly decreased from in the last year but the statistics show that the consumers continue to buy organic despite the economic crisis. It is difficult to foresee the trend of organic food production in the UK over the next years, however, resource depletion and the threat of the global climate change will without a doubt require dramatic changes in the current conventional food production and farming methods.
A number of bodies such as the Soil Association regulate organic food production in the UK and give organic certification to farmers who meet very strict criteria which among other include giving up pesticides completely (except for a few which are allowed only under very strict conditions), use of natural pest and weed control such as crop rotating and companion planting, providing livestock special environment including organic food, maintenance of habitat for wildlife such as field margins and hedges, and other environmentally sustainable farming practices. Only food products that meet all the criteria of the certification body are certified organic and the consumers can be therefore sure that they are really eating organic food. Organic food manufacturers are allowed to use specific non-organic ingredients if organic alternative is not available but only if they do not exceed 5% of the food product. In addition to making sure that organic food is really organic, organic certification bodies also carry out scientific researches, help farmers in transition to organic food production and educate the public about the benefits of organically grown food.
As a result of increased interest in organic food products, it is also possible to find a number of products which are labelled as “bio“, “eco“, “natural“, “all natural“, etc. Some of them may be a healthier and environmentally-friendlier choice, however, they are not necessarily any better from the conventional food products. The mentioned labels are not regulated by the organic certification bodies nor by the law which means that they can be used freely by anyone including conventional food producers. Only food that is labelled “organic“ and includes at least code number of the certification body that guarantees that the product meets all the criteria for organic certification is truly organic. Certified organic food products typically also include the logo of the certification body but this is not a legal requirement.