‘Organic is increasingly being considered as the most sustainable option for consumers’

17 February 2024, 13:00 PM
  • Rob Percival, head of food policy at The Soil Association shares his views on the state of sustainability in the UK
‘Organic is increasingly being considered as the most sustainable option for consumers’

I’m writing this on a very grey day, as everyone around me seems to be giving things up as part of their New Year resolutions.

There’s plenty to reflect on at this time of year, and not all of it positive – each December we throw out an estimated five million puddings, two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies. As extreme weather becomes more common, fuelled by our society’s excesses, it’s hard not to dwell on the impact that our poor choices have on the environment.

Food waste is one obvious environmental issue, but the full story is more complicated.

Almost half of our food’s sustainability impact comes from how it is grown, far more than its transport or packaging, or eventual waste. Half a century of increasingly intensive farming – relying on fossil fuel-derived fertilisers – hasn’t worked for the planet or built resilient farm businesses.

Shoppers increasingly know this. Issues like climate change are beginning to be taken seriously and are informing their habits – despite the ongoing challenges associated with the cost-of-living crisis, shoppers are looking to engage with sustainability. 

The complexity of these issues can feel overwhelming. If only there was a label to guide them, a farming system taking a joined-up approach.

Enter organic.

Organic farming can be good for the climate, as it cuts emissions by reducing fertiliser and pesticides, which are also hugely damaging for wildlife. Reducing agrochemicals produces healthier soils, helping to store more carbon from the atmosphere.

Plus, organic farms use less energy on average, livestock are fed at least 60% grass instead of imported soya from Latin America, and fewer chemicals mean less run-off into rivers, saving nature. 

The benefits mean organic is increasingly being considered as the most sustainable option for consumers – over the past decade, the organic market has been in steady growth. 

The sector is constantly evolving. New software like Growing Good makes ordering a veg box easier. And independent retailers have started signposting the benefits of organic in store, making direct supermarket RRP comparisons – highlighting the relative cheapness of organic whilst improving footfall and spending.

At the same time, we need government investment, robust legislation and standards that encourage innovation. Farmers need access to information, training and support to develop their practices and help the sector grow.

There are no magic bullets to solve the climate crisis – we need long-term thinking, and this is the place to start.

Instead of giving something up this year, why not do something new, incorporate more ethical and environmentally-friendly foods into your offering, and experiment with organic?

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