SA committed to small businesses
Following your article ’Stifling the grass roots’ (BB 16 July), I would like to point out that The Soil Association is thoroughly committed to encouraging small businesses to go organic, but we cannot relax our standards which are, like all UK organic standards, governed by EU regulation and have been developed with the interest of consumers at heart. The plan to develop a system more appropriate to business’ size and scale, as referred to in the article, is not possible until DEFRA and the EU adjust their standards accordingly. While the Soil Association has been lobbying for this it looks unlikely in the near future but we will continue to try.
Although other certifiers may have a lower application fee, the Soil Association offers unprecedented services and does not charge additional costs throughout the licensing year. Our Trade Support team offers sourcing support, technical guidance, reduced cost stand space at national events and business opportunities throughout the year. We are happy to visit any size of business free of charge to talk through the requirements of certification and the likely impact in terms of administration and changes to systems.
The Soil Association is a not-for-profit certification body and charity the only organic certifier to put 100% financial surplus back into the organic movement rather than to shareholders. We do not charge £75 per recipe, as suggested by one interviewee in the article. Our campaigning work on issues that really matter to the organic industry are having fantastic results in educating the public and consumers about the benefits of organic production.
During the last two years, the availability of choice of organic bread and bakery products has diminished within supermarkets. It is difficult to find an organic baguette or loaf and, often, these are the products which sell out quickly, but are not replenished. This has more of a fundamental impact on the growth of organic bakery sector than any other factor.
James Kightley, Trade relations manager, Soil Association
Tackling the problems head-on
Having read your piece by Helen Gregory on organic certification seeming to be prohibitively challenging and costly for small bakers (’Stifling the grass roots?’, BB July 16), Organic Farmers & Growers is taking steps to address the points raised in the article about the prohibitive costs and complex paperwork associated with organics.
We are convinced that entry into organic certification need not be prohibitively costly and complex for small bakeries. To that end, we have decided to introduce a subsidised fee of just £400pa for bakeries with an organic turnover of up to £50,000pa, which we will guarantee for two years, with only a modest price increase after that. This is at our own expense, but we are convinced that the UK arable, milling and bakery industries must be protected and promoted.
There is no reason why people should be put under pressure by the paperwork involved. Organisation is key, which is why we create pro-forma documents and other tools to make it as simple as we can. There is no excuse for adding complexity to the process for the sake of it and we were distressed to hear that businesses which should be contributing to the growth of organics were being put off taking that step. We will not charge for changes to recipes or new products being added to the certificate and we make available a direct debit scheme to allow payments to be spread through the year.
While Organic Farmers & Growers is rigorous in the application of the certification standards, we pride ourselves on having the practical touch, employing only industry-experienced certification staff.
I would urge any small baker who harbours concerns about organic certification to talk to us and hope we can assist many of them to join UK organics. More information is available at www.organicfarmers.org.uk.
Richard Jacobs, Chief executive, Organic Farmers & Growers